Every model of reform has as a necessary component: the idea that families need to be connected to learning. Family engagement is therefore not a nice-to-have, but a MUST-have if schools want to meet the goals they have for all students. Leaders in education can no longer ignore what sixty years of research has told us. Instead, they must focus on developing strategies and practices to engage families. This is what is going to ultimately increase the success and achievement of all students.
What’s Lacking in Family Engagement Strategies?
Family engagement strategies typically incorporate a mix of Home Visits, Parent-Teacher Conferences, School Events, etc. But what’s being used to regularly keep a strong connection between school and home? This is an important component that’s often overlooked in family engagement. And with advancements in technology, there is an endless amount of tools and options available to schools.
In a time when 95% of people in the United States own a cellphone, nine-in-ten or more adults younger than 50 say they go online or own a smartphone, and young adults report preferring texting to phone calls, it seems that technology is making one of the greatest impacts in society, as well as education.
While we know that technology can make communication with families easier, can it improve family engagement? To answer that question, let’s first take a look at a key component of family engagement: Meaningful Two-Way Communication.
A Key Component: Meaningful Two-Way Communication
To improve family engagement, it’s important to truly understand the role of meaningful two-way communication in promoting better learning outcomes. Research shows that when schools place an emphasis on effective two-way communication, they are more likely to create environments that are conducive to family engagement because of the trust that is restored and the relationships that are built. Relationships that promote family efficacy are the key ingredient in supporting learning outside of school.
There are a number of ways to communicate with families, but schools often forget to evaluate how these methods affect family engagement. Many schools and districts are proficient at one-way communication. But, this only provides families with information that may or may not be understood. Often, there is little or no mechanism for families to engage in a meaningful dialog about the information they received.
Weekly folders home, website posts, newsletters, blogs, social posts, mass texts and emails are all examples of one-way communication that at best, ask a family to verify that they have received the information. In order to actually register positive change and create meaningful dialogue with families to improve student achievement, schools must empower families and provide them the opportunities to have conversations about their child’s learning.
In order to actually register positive change and create meaningful dialogue with families to improve student achievement, schools must empower families and provide them the opportunities to have conversations about their child’s learning.
What Research Has Taught Us
According to national family engagement expert Dr. Steve Constantino: “family engagement is a process, not an event or a series of events.” Families do not become engaged or stay engaged through standalone school events, but instead the relationships that are built. With family engagement hinging on the relationships that are built with families, it’s important to realize that educators are the catalysts of the relationships. Families depend on the educators of their children to keep them informed, answer their questions, and involve them in the learning process.
In today’s digital society where new generations of families are consistently connecting online, it’s now possible to “go to” families and reach them anywhere, at their convenience. With the right online platform, educators can move beyond information sharing to meaningful two-way conversations which promote both family efficacy and engagement.
Bonus info: Get the Family Engagement Technology guide for the 4 capabilities your engagement platform must have and the best practices for school districts to implement a unified solution.
To promote the active engagement of families, it’s important to provide families with information about learning that is upcoming, instead of what has already occurred, with the addition of questions that they can ask their child.
Using this strategy will effectively start meaningful conversations that engage families in their child’s learning. It also creates opportunities for families to provide learning feedback to their child’s teacher. To carry out this strategy with today’s families, it’s important that staff and families have an open line of communication through a tool that keeps them connected.
How to Apply the Research
For families to be engaged, they must be able to receive information on a real-time, regular basis. There must be an open line of communication between staff and families, that both can depend on for receiving and responding to information.
It’s important to think about what this line of communication looks like in your school district. Things like phone calls, text messaging, social media, and email are a means of communication but have proven to be an unreliable method for consistently connecting with families.
That’s why many teachers and schools have found that having a dedicated system for parent communication is more effective, and ultimately makes it easy for families. Once families are connected in a reliable way, schools can provide them with information about future learning, questions, learning resources, upcoming events, and other effective strategies for garnering engagement.
So can technology improve family engagement?
The answer is yes – technology can improve family engagement immensely, especially when used to connect families with learning and enable conversation – instead of just sending information. By accounting for cultural shifts around technology, and adapting family engagement strategies, school districts can establish an impactful way through technology to have more meaningful two-way conversations with families that promote efficacy and engagement. At the root, providing a safe, secure space for educators and families to engage is what sustains relationships that create engaged families, and ultimately student success.
At the root, providing a safe, secure space for educators and families to engage is what sustains relationships that create engaged families, and ultimately student success.
Every family desires that their children exceed them in their quality of life. And engaged families produce better learning outcomes for every child.
If you’re interested in finding a communication technology that enhances family engagement, then….
To learn more about how Livingtree Engage (previously mentioned) can help sustain family engagement efforts and promote efficacy in your school district, click to learn more.
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