The coronavirus has revealed cracks but also strengths in our educational systems. While mass school closures revealed deep disparities in family resources, including access to technology, they also highlighted the importance of strong relationships between educators and families.
Effective school-family relationships were critical to transitioning learning from the classroom to the home and ensuring students were supported academically, socially, and emotionally.
Schools and districts with strong pre-existing family relationships were better positioned to communicate effectively with parents and caregivers about distance learning and resources available to families. They also did a better job staying connected with every student and family, which is important given that 92 percent of parents say it is helpful to have regular contact with or access to their child’s teacher.
These relationships remain critical as many students are transitioning back into the in-person setting. As we begin recovering from the pandemic, every school and district must strengthen its family engagement muscles, and educators must partner with families more than ever before.
In its 20 years of training and engaging with schools, families, and communities, Families In Schools has learned what effective engagement looks like. Some of these lessons are highlighted in our new report, Stronger Together: Lessons Learned from Professional Learning Networks Focused on Family Engagement, which describes what we learned from our experience facilitating district and charter Professional Learning Networks on family engagement.
This report highlights lessons we learned about professional learning networks and family engagement. Each of the family engagement lessons should inform the way school and district leaders and educators are engaging with parents and other family members during distance learning and through this pandemic. The four lessons learned about family engagement are:
- Authentic family engagement must stem from organizational values and belief systems, not compliance-oriented requirements. Although LCFF has improved stakeholder engagement, some schools and districts have not yet fully harnessed the power of their parent committees and family voices. During this time, it is more important than ever that districts closely and continually listen to the needs and perspectives of families. District and school leaders should be willing to fine-tune or adjust their instructional plans and services based on what they are hearing from family stakeholders.
- Equity needs to be front and center when families are engaged. The families most adversely impacted by this pandemic are those that are already marginalized by our school systems. Thanks to LCFF, many schools and districts are increasing their efforts to meaningfully engage these families. During this pandemic, schools and districts should prioritize outreach to and engagement of families that are low-income and non-English speaking families, as well as others that are often underrepresented in family surveys, on parent committees, and at school events. School and district plans should reflect their voices and should include programs and services that specifically address their needs.
- For family engagement to truly be a priority, school and district/CMO leaders must make it visible through their staffing structures and strategic plans. This is the right time to ensure that family engagement specialists sit on school and district planning teams and are present around decision-making tables. If schools and districts are forced to make painful budget cuts, they should protect family engagement staff and programs from those reductions, since they will be indispensable during distance learning and essential to an effective recovery.
- Education professionals are hungry for specific tools and resources to support authentic family engagement. Our report finds that even the most experienced family engagement professionals need support, training, and resources. In this era of distance learning, every teacher must become skilled at engaging parents. Districts should plan to train all teachers and staff on best practices in family engagement and involvement, and they should provide them with ample tools and resources.
To read more about what we learned from our Professional Learning Networks, read our new report, Stronger Together: Lessons Learned from Professional Learning Networks Focused on Family Engagement.
- Our work is guided by our vision for Authentic Parent Engagement. Download the infographic and read our report: Reimagining Parent Engagement: Moving from 1.0 to 2.0.
- Families in Schools Coronavirus Resources to Support Families and Student Success
- The Family Engagement Handbook created by the LA Charters PLN