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Strengthening the Connection Between School & Home

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Examine the pivotal role family engagement plays in student achievement, and explore in depth the process of creating and implementing a family-engagement plan. This research-based guide includes many specific strategies, handouts, and reproducibles leaders can use to make their schools family friendly and connect with those families who may be hard to reach.

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1 The Importance of Family Engagement

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A growing body of research shows the critical role families play in student success in U.S. public education (Elementary and Secondary Education Act [ESEA] Reauthorization, 2010). Families who are engaged in their children’s education support learning, advocate for opportunities for their children, collaborate with educators to ensure students’ needs are met, establish connections with community organizations to support overall school improvement, help children navigate the complexities of the K–12 system, and play a crucial role in closing the achievement gap. In his meta-analysis, William H. Jeynes (2005) finds that by setting expectations, communicating with their child, and reading with their child, parents have a significant effect on overall student achievement.

In their book on school improvement, Bryk et al. (2010) name parent involvement as one of the five key ingredients in school improvement in low-income schools. Henderson and Mapp (2007) indicate that when schools successfully engage parents in the educational process, students’ grades and test scores are higher, they have higher attendance rates and fewer discipline issues, and they have a stronger likelihood of education beyond high school. Engaged families also become advocates for the school and general public; a legion of informed, motivated families can do wonders when it’s time to vote for a bond issue (Warner, 1997).

 

2 Creating a Family-Friendly School

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When children reach school age, they enter a stage of life that will encompass the next twelve to thirteen years. On the day their families enroll them in kindergarten, they hand them over to other adults to influence their thinking, teach them information, and develop their academic skills. It is only logical that families should have an interest in and a need to develop some form of relationship with those adults. As we have seen (page 5), polls show that parents see themselves as having an essential role in their children’s education. Families want at a minimum to be informed, but they also want opportunities to talk with teachers—and many want more than that: they wish to be actively involved in the process of educating their children. The degree of their engagement relies on their comfort level, expectations, and knowledge of the process (Henderson et al., 2007).

What can schools do to make the process of engagement as friendly as possible? Following are eleven strategies you can use to make families feel welcomed as valuable members of your education team.

 

3 Improving Communication With Families

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In the 1990s, a survey was administered to educators in twenty-nine different states regarding what they consider to be vital skills when working with families (Nathan & Radcliffe, 1994). In 2011, Education Oasis conducted a similar study and identified the same skills (Advice from Teachers, 2011). Educators must be able to:

•  Conduct effective conferences

•  Consult with families when a student has a problem

•  Communicate with families about student progress

•  Help families understand class goals, strategies, and methods of assessment

The foundation of all these skills is effective communication. Communication should occur in a variety of forms, including face-to-face meetings, written notices, and where feasible, technology-assisted formats.

Consider the messages that each of these actions might send to a family (Educational Research Service, 1999b):

•  The principal makes evening hours available for appointments with working families. In the school’s monthly newsletter, the principal prints accessible phone numbers and invites families to call during certain hours.

 

4 Developing a Family Engagement Plan

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You have looked at your school’s current attitudes and practices with regard to family engagement and examined how your school communicates with families. This general information has helped you understand the climate in your school. Now it’s time to gather the specific data that will allow you to formulate a plan for improving family engagement in your school. Recommendations from publications such as Beyond the Bake Sale (Henderson, Mapp, Johnson, & Davies, 2007) and A New Wave of Evidence (Henderson & Mapp, 2002) can help frame family-engagement goals and plans. Another excellent place to start is with the PTA Implementation Guide.

An excellent means for acquiring data is the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships implementation guide (National Parent Teacher Association [NPTA], 2007). The guide is focused on helping schools meet the six standards the PTA has identified for school-home partnerships:

1.  Welcoming all families

 

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