“The way schools care about children is reflected in the way schools care about the children’s families. If educators view children simply as students, they are likely to see the family as separate from the school. That is, the family is expected to do its job and leave the education of children to the schools. If educators view students as children, they are likely to see both the family and the community as partners with the school in children’s education and development. Partners recognize their shared interests in and responsibilities for children, and they work together to create better programs and opportunities for students.”Joyce Epstein, “School, Family, Community Partnerships
One of the pillars of student success is family engagement, but involvement that moves beyond the bake sale and into their child’s learning process. When student’s families are intimately involved in their child’s education they are more likely to do well in school. It is therefore our duty to invite families into the process, it is not enough to expect them to do so on their own. There are a variety of reasons why families may be less likely to engage with the school community. From my experience some of the most common are work schedules, language barriers, family obligations, documentation issues, and even their own personal discomfort with school. That is not to suggest that most families do not want to be an active stakeholder in their child’s schooling. Linda Darling-Hammond highlights this point in “The Right To Learn” (p. 145) saying, “…what parents most need and most want are closer connections to the learning process for their individual child.” If we can engage families in a way that is conducive to them and their daily reality, their children will also be more engaged, and therefore more likely to achieve academically.
This is precisely why we have a Spanish/English Bilingual Family Guide that is included in every student binder. This guide translated in other languages as well, but at the moment the Spanish/English version is all that is in print. When students receive their Organized Binder and first open it, the first thing they see is this guide. Teachers instruct students to take it home as a gift for their family. The guide gives families an introduction to our program, but it takes them a critical step further. Embedded in this guide are prompts for the family to ask their children about their school day. These prompts move the conversation beyond the usual questions such as, “How was school today?” or “What did you learn today?”. The important thing about our guide is that it engages parents in their child’s education in a way that is not tied to content. If English is a second language for a parent, they can still support their child in any class or subject to get and stay organized. Or if a parent never took physics, or struggled in math, etc., they can daily support their child as she develops the noncognitive skills embedded in Organized Binder.
We know that family engagement is key to student success. It can also help us more accurately gauge a student’s ability to succeed when we transition back to in-person schooling in the fall. If, for example, there is little to no evidence that the family was actively engaged and supporting their child throughout virtual instruction it is likely that particular student is going to require targeted intervention and support immediately and in the fall.
Assessing student learning loss is challenging and we may not know the severity for individuals until we see them in the fall. With that said, we know learning loss has occurred and factors like family engagement will help us better understand its impact on individual students. Together, with other factors like attendance rates, class participation, and teacher effectiveness in virtual instruction, family engagement will shed light on the gaps caused by COVID so we can more effectively intervene as we journey back to school in the fall.