5 Habits to Help Build Family Engagement
Teachers and staff want to develop effective relationships with families, but adding another activity can be daunting.
During the edLeader Panel, “Highly Effective Family Engagement: 5 Habits to Start Now,” Jessica Webster, Ed.D., Senior Family Engagement Specialist for MAEC, Inc., and Rebecca Honig, Chief Content and Curriculum Officer at ParentPowered, explained how educators can build on existing activities and interactions to deepen school-home ties.
The key, they said, is to look at family engagement as a collection of habits that become so entrenched, you can’t imagine your school without them.
Habit 1: Reflection
Families will actively engage with the school when they feel welcome and supported. The panelists suggested that schools start by looking at their communications and thinking about their families. For example, how many speak English as a second language? How many are single-parent households or working parents?
Then, craft communications with as few barriers to understanding as possible. This could include translating pieces into multiple languages, using visuals, and writing copy at an accessible reading level.
In addition, think about the building itself and how easy it is for families to navigate. Are the front office and common areas like the gym clearly marked? Do signs rely on written language only, or do they have easily understood visuals? Are procedures for entering the school, attending events, etc. clearly explained?
Habit 2: Listening
Here, the panelists advocated for active listening in all situations. Their tips include:
- Offering your full attention, and being honest when you can’t give that
- Listening and reflecting back what they said
- Remaining curious and deferring judgment
- Letting the families speak first
- Building in a buffer at the start and end of each discussion to allow participants to ease in and out of the conversation
Habit 3: Making Learning Visible
Educators need to think about this connection in two ways: school to home, and home to school. For both, the key is to help parents understand how important their insights are.
For school to home, this could be as simple as flipping around Open House events so that students are giving their parents a tour. Have student work shared everywhere in the school alongside process statements. Or, plan family activities, and let the family take home the outcome of the evening.
For home to school, do an audit of current practices and find opportunities for families to share their observations. For instance, ask parents to provide comments on completed assignments—even just how long it took—or ask them to tell you about their child at various times throughout the year.
Habit 4: Partnering
For this habit, the goal is not to turn parents into teachers but to let them know how they can support the learning process. They can read aloud with younger children, for example, or ask older ones to explain the steps for a math problem.
An ideal time to turn parents into partners is during conferences. Allow the parents to share their hopes and dreams, plus any concerns, and come up with a plan to help the student meet the goals. Use data and focus on a plan for growth and how everyone can support the child.
Habit 5: Evaluating and Following Up
No matter what habits and tools you incorporate, you are less likely to stick with them if you’re not seeing results. With every event, you need to keep track of who came, who participated during the event, and who didn’t come, for instance.
When you have one-on-one meetings, set a reminder to follow up with the family at appropriate intervals. Also, provide families with multiple avenues for providing feedback—it could be a physical suggestion box, a QR code, or office hours.
While all of these habits can have a positive impact, even doing one or two on a regular basis can substantially help build your family relationships. Start with what you can realistically take on and make them a part of the continuous growth process.
Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, “Highly Effective Family Engagement: 5 Habits to Start Now,” sponsored by ParentPowered, creator of Ready4K.
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Research shows that families play a powerful role in fostering children’s development. ParentPowered is on a mission to help K–12 districts provide accessible, evidence-based family engagement curriculum, without adding more to teachers’ plates. Our Ready4K program — for PreK through grade 8 — supports, inspires, and activates parents and caregivers with simple, strengths-based insights they can turn into everyday teachable moments. Learn more and request a demo at ready4k.com.
Blog post by Stacey Pusey, based on this edLeader Panel