Schools do a fantastic job of staying in touch with their communities. But sometimes it’s a good idea to zoom out and revisit some of the key ideas around family engagement in schools. A good school engagement strategy should make life easier for everyone, and send the message to students that they have a whole village behind them who are cheering them on and wanting them to succeed. This week on School Stream, we’re looking at school engagement through a 2022 lens and sharing the results of recently released research. We also look at how the pandemic accelerated the uptake of school-family communication technology and has highlighted the importance of forging a good relationship with families.
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Effective school-family engagement is a partnership
“Education is like a three-legged stool. The school is one leg, the student is another, and the parents are the third. It takes all legs holding up their load for the stool to stand.”
You’ve probably heard this analogy before. In the ‘old days’, learning was a relationship confined strictly to school, but decades of research have proven students thrive when families are on board too. The peer-reviewed journal of the (US) Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development writes:
“A school striving for parent engagement, on the other hand, tends to lead with its ears—listening to what parents think, dream, and worry about. The goal of family engagement is not to serve clients but to gain partners”.
In other words, the aim of engaging parents in school life is to build a bridge between home and school. And it’s no surprise to hear that communicating consistently – even when it’s difficult – can pave the way for an effective partnership based on listening, welcoming and shared input (where relevant).
Schools and families want the same thing
Even though headlines would have us believe families and educators are forever pitted against each other, research tells us something quite different. Across varied geography, cultures and socioeconomic groups, parents and schools are consistently on the same side. Be A Learning Hero is a nonprofit organisation that supports parents and schools to form partnerships and strengthen school engagement. The advocacy group (and prodigious researchers) found a ‘hopeful, nuanced’ story:
“Parents and educators are united in what they want and need from school and are coming together. They believe family engagement and equity are essential for student success and want honest conversations about academic performance and to focus on student’s social and emotional well-being.”
Hot off the Press! Recent research into school engagement
Dr Rebecca Winthrop – Senior Fellow and Director of the Centre for Universal Education (CUE) at the Brookings Institution – published findings in June this year following a three-year study called Collaborating to Transform and Improve Education Systems: A Playbook for Family-School Engagement. To describe the study as in-depth feels like an understatement: Dr Winthrop and her team surveyed 6000 teachers and 25,000 parents from more than ten countries and spoke to hundreds more through focus groups during 2020 and 2021. They also analysed over 500 family-school engagement strategies across 60 countries and reviewed the existing global research on family engagement. The timing of the study coincided with remote learning, a period during which some schools, many for the first time, got to know their families. An example often cited is that families who had never attended information nights or parent-teacher interviews were actively participating in digital communication with their schools and teachers.
“‘We thought these families did not participate before because they didn’t care about their children’s education,’ was a common refrain I heard. Instead, they just needed a new way to be engaged.” Dr Rebecca Winthrop in Teacher Magazine
Key takeaway: Bring the school to parents
The idea of ‘bringing the school to families’, (as opposed to bringing parents to the school), is a useful framework if you’re thinking about how to engage parents in education. In her research, Dr Winthrop observed that families are busy and may struggle to attend events or meetings at school. To this, she suggests leveraging the digital and online methods established during the pandemic to facilitate communication between home and school. For example:
The Ministry of Education of Himachal Pradesh (India) found a major improvement in parent participation in parent-teacher meetings, from 20 percent to approximately 80 percent, when they moved to online meetings.
Get the school-family engagement ball rolling
Of course, it would be remiss of us if we didn’t take the opportunity to suggest introducing a fully integrated school communication app. A platform like School Stream is a practical and accessible tool that allows you to connect and communicate with families via their smartphones.
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