by By Kathleen Fay, California State PTA Family Engagement Commission Consultant
When families are involved in their children’s education they have better outcomes and when families and schools are partners all children do better. That’s the findings of more than 20 years of research on family engagement. But the trick is how do you get families involved and keep them involved?
Keeping families engaged with schools can be difficult even in the best of times, add in a worldwide pandemic and the challenge increases. COVID-19 upended the usual families engagement activities and school district rules about who can be on school campuses and when. Yet the pandemic also underscored the importance of families and schools working together.
In Orange County, a forum hosted by Fourth District PTA, included a panel of school district superintendents discussing how their districts are handling family engagement challenges as the pandemic continues. Here are some of their suggestions:
- Utilize Surveys – Inviting direct input from parents is critical in helping to insightfully determine spending priorities and learn how to meet student and family needs.
- Adjust – Remain flexible to “meet parents where they are” (such as adjusting schedules, offering virtual options, or providing outdoor meeting alternatives).
- Reach out to those families we don’t normally see – This is an important time to offer outreach to segments of the school community who face challenges staying in touch with their schools (due to language barriers, technology gaps, or work/childcare time limitations, for example).
- Offer communication from leaders – As the stress of COVID continues, it’s important for parents to hear from their school community leaders more often and in greater detail than usual, including information on available resources and how to access them.
- Tech tools – use all available. Many schools experienced an astonishing increase in participation when parent-teacher conferences went virtual, and PTAs saw big boosts in attendance when meetings and presentations were offered on Zoom or via webinar. Leveraging technology allows you to reach families in new ways. Parents appreciate being able to engage in school activities without having to take the day off work. It’s likely that many schools will keep new technologies that have proven useful even after the pandemic ends.
- Listen to parents. It’s important to remember that parents are children’s primary educators: Listen to them when they advocate for what students truly need. The voice of the parent is central to all education efforts; parents must be engaged as authentic partners in education.
- Encourage two-way communication. Many families are used to having information flow to them from school leaders; promote feedback by encouraging the use of email, for example, to stimulate direct back-and-forth interactions between school leaders and parents.
- Be patient, kind, and show love when dealing with families during this stressful time.
PTA leaders can encourage their schools, districts, and members to work together, using these ideas, to ensure that parents and schools remain partners in education. Decades of research shows when families and schools work together students succeed.