Navigating Family Engagement

What is it and why is it Important?

As a family engagement liaison, I engage all families at the school, not just specific ones in a classroom. With over 360 families at the school this year, engagement can be a little more of a challenge. It’s more important now more than ever though. With families feeling a disconnect with schools, keeping in contact with families is crucial.

Studies have shown that with all these disciplinary phone calls families have stopped picking up the phone and have stopped reading the notes home. So how is a teacher or educator supposed to communicate with families? Where can they start if families are not answering them?

First things first, do not add anything to what you are already doing. The point of family engagement is to engage families with what you are doing in the classroom already. It is not to add more work to you. If you have a weekly newsletter, switching your newsletter to include questions about the work your students will be doing in the coming week can be a way to include families in their students’ work instead of just writing a paragraph about the coming work.

Use the same questions you would ask your students, but ask those questions to parents. Include the explanation of the work you would normally give to students, in your newsletter to parents so that parents will have talking points for their student.

Back to my original question though.

What is so important about family engagement and why do we need it?

Studies have shown that when families engage with their students about their work, students' grades are affected. When a parent or guardian is engaged in a student’s work, student’s confidence in their abilities have improved which leads to an improvement in the classroom.

Engagement may not happen right away, and the evidence may not present itself as quickly as you may like, but pay attention to the small signs too. Is a disengaged student sitting up and paying attention to the board more? Did the student that never raises their hand finally raise it to answer a question?

It may take a while for the engagement to show through, but when it does, make a note of it. What worked for you? What didn’t? Engagement isn’t something that happens overnight, it happens over time.

What is so important about family engagement and why do we need it? This is the question that comes up at every training and conference I have attended. Family engagement seems like the latest, newest phenomenon in the education world, but it’s really not. Teachers have been engaging families for years, but it used to be called writing notes home or calling parents. The problem with this is that for years those notes home or phone calls home were usually for disruptive behaviors or disciplinary reasons.

What if you’ve been trying to engage families though and you don’t think it’s working? I’ll leave you with this. I contacted a family once a month for a whole school year to let them know how their students were doing and if they needed anything, I was available to contact. The following school year, the parent picked up and we have a wonderful rapport now.

Maria Parcels has been in education for the past 6 years and has been a Title I Family Engagement Liaison for the past 3 years. She has a passion for bringing family engagement to schools and believes that through that partnership students and their families can achieve success together. Maria also enjoys working with non-profits and helping them succeed in their goals through creating awareness in the community.


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