Families have always played a key role in their child’s learning. Activities that families engage in to support their children’s learning have a meaningful impact on child outcomes, from better grades, higher test scores, and improved attendance (Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Jeynes, 2005).
With this growing evidence base, parents have been exposed to countless news articles and social awareness campaigns reinforcing their critical role in their child’s learning. On a national level, research has uncovered that nearly 85% of parents believe that they can make a difference in their child’s learning and academic progress (Be a Learning Hero, 2016). Parents today are spending more time with their kids than they did 50 years ago, embracing a belief that “more parenting is better parenting.” One would expect that the growing involvement of parents would have led to dramatic increases in student performance. But that has not been the case.
As it turns out, the assumption that “more is better” is not only flawed, but we (speaking as moms, too) believe that line of thinking is way too stressful! Thankfully, it’s the quality - not quantity - of time that matters most, which means that understanding what to do to make that time count is essential.
Schools and teachers have an unprecedented opportunity to meaningfully engage families. Many families are already investing time, but are in need of information about how to best support their child’s learning. Furthermore, nearly all parents expect this type of information from their child’s school and teachers. Yet, teachers often lack the training, tools, time and support to meet this opportunity. A national survey we recently conducted revealed that families are significantly more likely to receive information from their child’s teacher or school about how their child is doing academically than how they can support their children’s learning.
We started Family Engagement Lab to help teachers and schools ignite the potential of millions of parents to support children’s learning. Our pathway is unique: we work to connect the key adults in children’s lives - parents, caregivers and teachers - around the common goal of supporting student learning. Families need and want to know the high impact activities (the ones that meaningfully affect learning) that they should be doing with their children and they want to learn them from a trusted and knowledgeable source like their child’s school or teacher. And we’ve seen evidence that this is the case from our direct work with families and educators. In our recent pilot program in Oakland Unified School District, we found that when teachers send home specific, curriculum-aligned activities, families do them. And just as important, as families demonstrate to teachers how invested they are in their child’s learning, they pave the way for ongoing collaboration.
We imagine a future where all parents have a savviness that matches their desire to see their children succeed, and teachers cultivate ongoing partnership with confident and engaged families. Families are ready. Are you?
Vidya Sundaram and Elisabeth O’Bryon are co-founders of Family Engagement Lab, LLC, along with Bill Jackson, founder of GreatSchools.