I recently had the opportunity to attend the National Center for Families Learning Conference in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Roughly a 1,000 professionals gathered to learn from each other and to strengthen work happening all over the country in early learning, family literacy, adult education, and two-generation learning.
Many of the sessions I attended focused on best practices for family engagement.
Research shows that students with families engaged in their education are more likely to:
- Learn to read faster
- Have higher grades and test scores
- Adapt better to school and have better attendance
- Have better social skills and behavior
- Take more challenging classes
- Get promoted
Those listed benefits are appealing to both families and educators, yet effective family engagement is difficult to cultivate and sustain. Dr. Maria Paredes asked us to look at family engagement in a new way. Instead of considering the instruction that takes place during the school day as the “main event” and family engagement as the “something extra,” she encouraged us to look at the number of hours our children are in school, and compare it to the number of hours they are awake and out of school. For our region, the comparison would look like this:
Are you shocked that students are in school only 14% of the time? I was. Our children are awake and out of school 53% of the time. Over half of the time children can spend learning, they are with their family members or other trusted community members. The role of family members and other community partners in our children’s success is critical. Developing family engagement programs, family learning opportunities, and community partnerships are even more critical when considering the number of hours in school compared to the number of hours out of school.
What does successful family engagement look like? I asked several educators and parents attending the Families Learning Conference and received the following answers:
- Parents feeling welcome at school and welcome in the classroom
- Teachers being comfortable sharing both positive and negative feedback with parents
- Parents, family members, and teachers forming relationships, maybe even friendships
- Family activities happening at a time when families can be present
- Teachers being able to share essential concepts with parents and working together to make sure the students have mastery of those concepts
- Parents feeling being at school is an important use of their time
- The whole family would like being at school
- Open Houses wouldn’t be the teacher telling the rules. Instead, the teachers could show parents how they can help their children with important content
- Parents wouldn’t judge the teachers, and teachers wouldn’t judge the parents. They would all just love the kids