It’s the end of the 2021-22 school year and teachers have given their all during another challenging year. Many are tired, frustrated, and overwhelmed. They have continued to educate students in environments where their roles, their students’ roles and especially the roles of families have irrevocably changed. Teachers know that families can be a powerful partner for student success, yet family engagement often becomes a secondary activity instead of a priority to support student learning.
Dr. Megan McNamara, Associate Superintendent at Redesign Schools and a FASTalk client, recently shared:
We all agree that engagement from family members strengthens our school community and enriches experiences for our children. Still, when other school operations sidetrack our plans, we tend to work inward instead of reaching out for support. Likely, it is the same at home for a busy parent or caregiver. We must be intentional about our outreach as it is imperative in building lasting relationships and meaningful communities.
With the challenges currently facing educators, we know that providing teachers with meaningful opportunities for professional learning around family engagement, especially equitable family engagement, is critical. Decades of research, including our own, point to the fact that when families are engaged in at-home learning, student performance improves.
Coaching and supporting teachers to engage their families in meaningful ways is valuable at all levels of our education system. However, in a recent study of K-12 teachers conducted by Edge Research, only 32% of teachers said that professional development has been an influential factor in how they engage with their families (C.1).
The teaching landscape looks different now, largely due to the pandemic, and the way we engage families can change too in order to ensure equitable access for all. Now more than ever it is imperative that families are engaged with their child’s development at all ages and stages. Families are valuable partners in their child’s educational journey when they are included in innovative, accessible ways. - Dr. Lisa Holliday LeBoeuf, Supervisor of Literacy Professional Development, Louisiana Department of Education
At Family Engagement Lab, many school districts we work with simply don’t have the time and/or resources to implement regular professional learning across their schools, especially around family engagement. Some districts implement traditional practices of family engagement, requiring parents and caregivers to be physically present, which was not possible during the pandemic and may not reach all families equitably. Other districts focus on family engagement at the district level but struggle to see that focus translated into ongoing, 2-way communication and collaboration between teachers and families in support of student learning.
What We’re Learning: What professional development do teachers need to build a trusted partnership with families?
Teachers want teamwork with families to support student success. So what does high impact professional development on family engagement look like? Let’s start by looking at the research. Effective professional development on family engagement must prioritize:
1. Teacher readiness to learn new strategies and tools,
2. Creating an ecosystem of support for teachers as they try out new strategies and,
3. Teachers being able to track progress towards goals and receive feedback on implementation (C.2).
According to a recent research study from Rivet Education, “96% of teachers believe that the number one factor leaders should consider when planning professional learning is whether it will help teachers effectively use their instructional materials.(C.3)” Knowing that, it’s important that professional learning around family engagement is designed with a clear connection to classroom instruction and builds equity when supporting families with learning at home. This type of professional learning should be active, ongoing, and collaborative as teachers need and want opportunities to reflect on their practices to ensure that they are prioritizing effective family engagement strategies.
At Family Engagement Lab, we have seen this play out in our practice. At our partner sites, meaningful professional learning occurs when the entire school community, from the literacy coach, to the teachers, to the front office staff, engage together in action planning. During the action planning process, educators are encouraged to reframe current notions of in-person parent involvement, and think more deeply about their own school communities and the traumas or barriers their students’ families may be facing. These barriers may make it difficult for families to get engaged or even enter the school building. Participants create and commit to short-term and longer term goals around high impact engagement strategies that are inclusive and accessible to all families, often incorporating FASTalk as part of their implementation strategy.
Parental involvement is a key component of our mission and vision, but communicating the “why” behind the importance of effective family engagement can be a challenge. This next year, we will be focusing our teacher professional learning and FASTalk training opportunities to set specific goals on how to involve and inform families about their students' day-to-day instruction. We want to improve our family engagement plan and build partnerships between families, educators, and the greater community. - Georgia Gross, Academic Coordinator at Redesign Schools
Our partner sites are desiring to move away from the brief, one-time teacher training option and opting into our yearlong model of building in regular touchpoints and coaching for teachers to feel successful in their family engagement efforts through FASTalk. Through a series of 3-4 sessions, teachers will be provided with the latest research around effective family engagement strategies; provided time to reflect on their own readiness and create goals to try out new strategies; and given hands-on practice time to carry out the new strategies through FASTalk. District and school leaders are also invited to participate in the training sessions to collaborate on how to effectively and authentically engage their students’ families.
We recognize that as school leaders, we have work to do to build connections, and our professional development strategy now has intentional checkpoints to make sure we are making family engagement a part of our learning, mindset, and scheduling. Just as we train and plan for curriculum and instruction, we must also plan to build regular habits in making lasting connections with our children’s families. - Dr. Megan McNamara, Associate Superintendent at Redesign Schools
Going forward, we are continuing to take a critical look at our own training and professional learning opportunities for teachers. We are focusing on research-based practices in order to build teacher’s capacity to form meaningful relationships with the families that they work with. When teachers are supported in their growth, we believe that school system change around family engagement is not only possible but powerful.
C.1: Learning Heroes, Parents 2021 “Going Beyond the Headlines”; Findings from Surveys of K-12 Parents, Teachers and Principals, December 8, 2021, Research Conducted by Edge Research