Did you know that only about half of all Educator Preparation Programs offer a course in family and community engagement? As educators work to make schools more inclusive and welcoming places, families must be a part of that equation. This sentiment is at the heart of the chapter I co-authored with Helen Westmoreland, “Leading for More Inclusive Education”. The chapter is part of the recently released volume, Family and Community Partnerships: Promising Practices for Teachers and Teacher Educators.
The chapter elevates parents’ perspectives on family engagement, which we captured as part of the update to PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships. We dig into how educators can advocate for a culturally and linguistically responsive approach to communication and for communication practices that enhance student learning and empower students and parents as leaders.
Be intentional about the messages your school environment sends to families. If a parent walks into the front office and no one speaks their language or knows how to communicate with them, that’s a message. If the school lobby is a welcoming environment where families feel comfortable sitting, reading, chatting, or drinking a cup of coffee in the morning after drop-off, that’s a message too. Schools should keep in mind the messages families receive when they walk into the building. If families from certain cultures and backgrounds feel more comfortable than others, it’s important to consider why and address that head-on.
Think about how communication with families connects to student success and well-being. Before teachers hit send on an email, what is the goal? Are you looking for support in addressing a behavioral issue? Are you proactively building a relationship with the parents to learn more about the student and their needs? Are you sharing a strategy that the family can use to reinforce an academic skill? In order to make family engagement as impactful as possible, educators should think intentionally about the desired outcomes of their outreach.
Prioritize listening to families, seeking their feedback, and empowering them to lead in meaningful ways. Regularly surveying families and creating opportunities for them to speak their mind is a great starting point, but what more can you do? Districts across the country have been implementing innovative practices, from inviting parents to be a part of school hiring committees to including student members on the board of education. Think through ways your school can create opportunities like these that help ensure families and students have a seat at the table and can weigh in on important decisions that will affect their education.
Read the full chapter for even more insights. The volume, edited by Margaret Caspe and Reyna Hernandez, was produced by the National Association for Family, School & Community Engagement (NAFSCE) as part of their ongoing work to strengthen educator preparation with a focus on engaging families.