Defining Family Engagement
How would you define family engagement for someone who was new to the topic? I would define it as all of the things that families do to support their children’s success, both in relation to school and in relation to society.
I think of family engagement as a public good. I think of it as a shared responsibility. Fundamentally, I see engagement as a process of you and me, sitting down, and talking with each other about your child, who’s in my classroom, with whom I’m working.
And telling me what I need to know to be the best teacher I can be. I think family engagement is really about building a relationship and a collaborative experience around supporting that child.
Family engagement is really how you enjoin families in being part of the solution for their students first, and then their schools second. Family engagement is about engaging in the life of your child in school, but also in changing our system so that your child and all children have a chance for really a high quality education.
One can choose to set the boundaries someplace between family and the rest of the world, but it all matters. Parents have agency. It’s not we’re doing to, it’s we’re doing with.
Engagement is a two way street. It means letting families know not only about what’s happening, but what some of the challenges are, and relying on them for real solutions. It works where parents, caregivers, and teachers see themselves, in many ways, as equals.
“Parental Involvement” to “Family Engagement”
I’d like to take a moment to clarify some of the terms we will use in this course. There has been a shift in the field from using the term “parental involvement” to “family engagement.”
You can see this change in language in the new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA. This shift in language is more inclusive and pushes us to consider what makes up a family unit.
I think we all know that a child’s caretaker could be a biological parent, but also an auntie or uncle, grandparent, or even the person who lives down the block who you have always called “Auntie” but you don’t know how you’re related to them.
We have also gone from “involvement” to “engagement” in order to highlight the strength of the relationship, that it is a commitment and a shared responsibility among the stakeholders in a child’s life.
Does Family Engagement Matter
For someone who might come to you and say, well, Chancellor Henderson, you know, family education really doesn’t matter. What we really are supposed to be focused on is teaching and learning. What would your response be to someone who came at you that way and said that to you?
Well, I would say that anybody who thinks family engagement is not important is missing an important chance to really accelerate student success. They’re missing an important chance to have better solutions and better ideas for the work. And most importantly, they are missing the chance to ensure that whatever work they do is sustainable.
We have a lot of research that shows that when families are involved and engaged, students do better. We know that. Again and again and again, you see that family’s input, family support, and families engagement is related to youth’s outcome, both in the elementary school and the secondary school level. The more we focus on the partnership and the collaboration, the greater and the broader the effects become.
What would you say to the people who say, what parents do makes no difference whatsoever? I’d want to know what planet they live on. I don’t know why anyone would take seriously the idea that parenting doesn’t matter.
I’d say it’s hard to hold that view if you look at the evidence. Empowering parents with specific actionable things they can do to support student achievement leads them to actually do it, and improve student success.