One crucial factor that determines a child’ academic success is family support. Contrary to general belief, children are more likely to succeed when their parents are engaged with their studies.
Across the United States and elsewhere, the powerful effect of schools’ partnerships with families has been documented in research. When parents are involved, attendance and grades shoot up, as do a child’s likelihood of taking higher-level courses, graduating from high school, and enrolling in college. Dropout rates decrease and students act out less; children say they are more excited to learn.
In addition to students’ success, research has shown that family engagement is an essential component of teacher success in the classroom and job satisfaction. Teachers whose students’ have strong family partnerships report that their workload decreases and they find their work more enjoyable and fulfilling. Teachers also tend to remain at their school longer.
This partnership goes beyond asking parents to show up for the schools’ open day or parents teachers association meetings. True engagement is a partnership between equals; teachers and parents working to support individual children.
Unfortunately there has been minimal guidance, training, time, or support for teachers and schools in creating strong partnerships with students’ families. What is obtainable instead are schools, teachers and parents operating independently and sometimes at cross purposes to the detriment of the children.
So what can teachers and administrators do to deeply connect with their students’ families?
- Review biases: First, teachers must examine their core beliefs because it affects how they interact with their students’ families.
Teachers and families often come from different backgrounds; those differences can cause us unintentionally to make assumptions and judgments about the desire of families to be involved or their strength of commitment to their children’s education.
It is important to recognize the assets that families bring to such partnerships. Being willing to honestly examine our assumptions and appreciating families’ numerous strengths is a necessary foundation for creating strong working relationships.
- Build Trust: Powerful partnerships require trust on both sides. Unfortunately, families often have many reasons to distrust schools. From the education hierarchy to histories of disrespect and racism toward certain demographics of students, many barriers stand in the way of building trusting relationships between schools and families.
Yet when trust is established, students benefit. A University of Chicago study on 400 schools found significant academic gains by students in schools that prioritized relationship-building between families and teachers, compared with schools that didn’t.
- Make first contact: A teacher’s first conversation with families sets the tone for the rest of the school year. Don’t wait until a child acts out, instead reach out and invite families to engage as full partners. This involves asking some essential questions like; the family’s hopes and dreams for the child, what the family needs from the school to ensure the child succeeds etc. This initial conversation sends a clear message that families are the experts about their children, and that teachers want to learn from them in order to provide adequate support.
This first contact can take place in school, on the phone, in emails — or in students’ homes. Organizations like the national Parent Teacher Home Visit Project train school staff across the country to conduct home visits at the start of the school year. However building trust takes persistence and dedication.
- Follow through: Most schools already events that allow for parent-teacher communication. However due to the structure of these events, communication is often short and one-sided. For example events like open days, parent-teachers conferences etc can be structured in such a way that each parent gets to spend more than a few minutes with the teacher. Most importantly, they can discuss the students’ strengths, areas of growth, classroom expectations and curriculum content.