Need to Know:
- School and family partnerships are especially important in high-needs communities, where school-home partnerships have protective qualities for students.
- Parent engagement is central to school-family collaboration.
- Specific strategies make a significant impact on parent engagement.
A Closer Look:
School and family partnerships are instrumental to kids’ socio-academic success. This is even truer in high-needs communities. School-home collaboration has been shown to have insulating properties for students. It acts as what is referred to as a “protective factor.”
Protective factors are people, places, or things that soften the impact of risk factors in a child’s world. Poverty, adverse life experiences, systemic racism, and exposure to violence or substance abuse are all examples of risk factors. School and family partnerships offer protective benefits for students that not only counter risk factors, but also lead to better academic outcomes, healthier behavioral choices, and improved social skills (CDC, 2008; Kreuzer, 2016).
What’s at the heart of school and family partnerships? It’s parent/caretaker engagement. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention describes this as “a shared responsibility in which schools and organizations are committed to reaching out to engage parents in meaningful ways, and parents are committed to actively supporting their children’s and adolescents’ learning and development.”
Let’s explore four parent engagement strategies that make the biggest impact in high-needs communities.
- Consider your vantage point. Traditional views of “expected” parent engagement are often colored by lenses of privilege. It’s important to keep in mind that not all families feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, opinions, or time with the school. When we take the time to consider multiple perspectives, we realize the multitude of experiences that might get in the way of parent engagement. These can include culturally diverse reference points, immigration concerns, long work hours, or lack of childcare for younger siblings. In order to shape our messaging and approach to parent engagement, we’ve got to know who our families are (as well as the lived experiences that shape their view of school-family partnerships).
- Create opportunities for low-stakes input sharing. Keeping some of the above obstacles in mind, what are some alternative ways to bring families into the fold? For example, as I explain for Edutopia, we might try to “collect input via English-learner parent focus groups, advisory committees, suggestion boxes, surveys, and interviews” and then follow through with using this feedback to inform site-based decision making.
- Capitalize on existing funds of knowledge. Wisdom and life experiences are found in every child’s home. Too often, however, schools overlook these existing funds of knowledge as they exist within the communities of high-needs populations. In many culturally and linguistically diverse homes, for example, kids have access to a world of learning. This can include heritage language exposure, valuable life and work experience, and even cultural code-switching capabilities.
Unfortunately, parents and children aren’t always quick to recognize this wisdom as valuable because, in part, it’s not explicitly valued by the school. The fact is, if we’re not capitalizing on families’ funds of knowledge, we’re missing out on an enormous asset. And when we do make a point to invite this wisdom into our classrooms (and into decision making for the school), we’re amplifying the parent engagement piece by saying, “Yes! You are essential to this partnership!
- Focus on growing parent/caretaker efficacy. ExpandED Schools’ TASC Resource Guide recommends “establishing opportunities for parents to build their own skills and deepen knowledge.” United We Lead, an e-learning platform designed to support underserved students in English and Spanish, recognizes the value in growing parent efficacy. They offer a Parent Leadership Institute that teaches about US school systems and the value of family engagement, with the bolstering guardians as lifelong advocates for their children, for their families, and for their community. “Family involvement and leadership are crucial to the success of our students,” United We Lead says. “We believe that if we help parents who care, they will become parents who lead.”