Top Ways Teachers Can Engage with Families
The importance of family involvement in adolescents’ education has been identified repeatedly as a critical factor contributing to students’ school attainment (Henderson & Berla, 1996; Kellaghan, Sloane, Alvarez, & Bloom, 1993).
Professor John Hattie of Auckland University conducted a 15-year meta-analysis of 50,000 studies involving 83 million students to see what worked in education. He found a combination of parental encouragement and high parental expectations was the critical element in parenting support. The ‘parent engagement’ effect – i.e. the setting of goals, the displaying of enthusiasm, the encouragement of good study habits, the valuing of enquiry, of experimentation and of learning new things and the enjoyment of reading - over a student’s school career amounted to adding an extra two to three years education to the student (Hattie, 2008). We know that by working in partnership with students' families, teachers can expand their impact beyond their classroom walls.
An important skill for Pre-K-12 teachers is an ability to “build on the knowledge that students bring into classrooms, particularly that knowledge which is shaped by their family, community, and cultural histories" (Hughes).
Be inclusive (and mindful) of diverse families.
A simple way for teachers to be mindful of the diverse students in their classroom is to use language that centers on “families” rather than “parents”. Given the diverse range of family structures throughout the world, referring to the “adult who takes care of you at home” rather than “mom” or “dad” is inclusive of all family dynamics.
Encourage parents to attend school activities.
Most schools host a number of activities to encourage parents, from PTA events to Back to School Nights. Teachers can help organize programs designed support the entire family. Create opportunities for parents to volunteer their time in your classroom: from field trips to birthday parties.
Send home student work and provide frequent feedback.
Teachers can signal their investment in students’ education by providing targeted, specific feedback intended to promote long-term growth. Personalized feedback demonstrates to parents your commitment to their child’s education.
Engage in frequent, positive communication.
Weekly phone calls, texts, or notes ensure a steady stream of communication between teachers and families and support students from multiple directions. Families know the most about their child, and teachers can get important information about how to best serve their specific needs. Teachers’ positive interactions with parents should significantly outweigh the “negative” interactions related to poor test performance or student behavior.
Family engagement is not a one-off task for teachers to complete; it is a constantly occurring, developed relationship that teachers cultivate through warm, genuine interactions with parents and guardians. How do you engage with parents in the classroom or school?
Hattie, John. (2008). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. New York, NY: Routledge.
Hughes, Sherick How can we prepare teachers to work with culturally diverse students and their families? What skills should educators develop to do this successfully. The Family Involvement Network of Education, Harvard Family Research Project. Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Henderson, A. T., & Berla, N. (1996). A new generation of evidence: The family is critical to student achievement. Washington, DC: Center for Law and Education.
Kellaghan, T., Sloane, K., Alvarez, B., & Bloom, B. S. (1993). The home environment and school learning: Promoting parental involvement in the education of children. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.