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All Hands On Deck Approach to Connecting with Families

The pandemic has brought to light numerous challenges, many of which were known prior to the rapid spread of COVID-19, that have rocked our world.  Equity, primarily digital, might be at the top of the list. More than ever, schools realize that to facilitate learning in equitable ways, they must provide all learners with personalized supports.  Another pressing challenge is engagement both in and out of the classroom.  Having the right pedagogy in place is a critical step in keeping those who are attending classes, either remote or face-to-face, engaged. However, it is impossible to overlook the need to assist further those who are currently failing or not showing up at all. 

A great deal has been researched on this topic over the years and has provided some crucial aspects to remember. Regardless of family income or background, students whose parents are involved in their schooling are more likely to have higher grades and test scores, attend school regularly, have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school (Henderson & Mapp, 2002). Engagement strategies need to start early and be sustained. During elementary school years, parent partnerships build a strong foundation for student success and future engagement opportunities (Dearing et al., 2006). The goal is to have kids engaged in class, but we need to ensure that they are actually attending.  Even after accounting for grade level and previous absences, students with engaged parents report fewer days of school missed overall.

There is a great deal more research out there that makes the connection between student outcomes and family engagement.  As leaders are experiencing difficulty with engaging families across the globe, an “all hands on deck” mentality in terms of the strategies utilized should be embraced.  In a recent post, I provided some detail on ideas that have gained traction during the pandemic.  While these are definitely useful, I am always on the lookout for even more to assist the district and schools I work with on an on-going basis.  Below are some additional strategies to employ for your consideration:

  • Houses of worship
  • Parent-Teacher Organizations (PTO’s)
  • Local businesses
  • Alumni networks
  • Mainstream media
  • Tips from learners who are thriving

Houses of worship are an untapped resource. While many families are not engaging with their schools, they are still attending religious services. Herein lies a great opportunity to provide important messages for families that the leader of the service can read. This idea also solves a problem with language barriers as many houses of worship speak in the native language depending on the denomination.  Another community resource is local businesses.  When I was a principal, I always left paper flyers on the checkout counter and even asked to display some in the windows.  If you have not tapped into these two resources, I hope you now will.

PTOs and alumni groups are also excellent pathways to get information out. Since each group has unique relationships with families, I leveraged them to distribute emails, paper flyers, and social media posts.  While each group was impactful in its own way, the mainstream media had a different type of influence that could not be overlooked. As such, I was always reaching out to newspapers, radio stations, and televised news networks to get powerful stories out there that would improve connections with families.  Do you know what makes a great story that can be shared with the media and through your own channels? Tips and ideas from learners who have excelled during the pandemic!  Getting their insight is invaluable, in my opinion.

Digital leadership calls for a multi-faceted approach to engage families where they are the leads to some form of two-way communication.  Please don’t discount any strategy that can help make a connection, as the impact could be priceless if it helps our learners. I hope you will consider sharing in the comments below specific actions that you have taken that have led to a positive outcome with families.  Stay safe, everyone, and know that your work really matters. 

Epstein, J.L., & Sheldon, S.B. (2004) Getting Students to School: Using Family and Community Involvement to Reduce Chronic Absenteeism. School Community Journal, 14, pp 39-56.

Dearing, E., Kreider, H., Simpkins, S., & Weiss, H. B. (2006). Family involvement in school and low-income children’s literacy performance: Longitudinal associations between and within families. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 653-664.

Henderson, A. T., & Mapp, K. L. (2002). A new wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory