It is so important to our student success that we find ways to involve families more than just in periodic conversations or events at school, but go beyond and truly bring them in to the learning experience of our students. Family engagement means that we work to connect schools, families and the community, to work together to support students during their education. By being intentional in fostering these connections, it leads to a network of support for students and their families, and amplifies the learning potential of all students.
Why we need to connect
We need to understand the background of our families and learn about their needs, preferences and start conversations so that we can begin building relationships. We have to be intentional by setting up an initial connection, where we invite families in to our schools and learn about their prior experiences with school and how we can best support them during the year. It is important that we also consider any possible barriers that exist which might limit the opportunity for families to come in to the school or to access resources when needed. Having these conversations and then designing a plan that works for each family, is critical for our student success and developing the home to school connection.
There have been surveys done of parents, asking what they considered to be some barriers to being more involved in the schooling experience of their children. Over 18,000 parents had been surveyed and had indicated that the biggest barriers were: time, availability of child care, lack of information, inconsistency in policies when working with students. By knowing about these possible barriers, schools can be proactive when planning ways to engage all families and make them feel welcome and supported in the school system. We know that when there is a strong and collaborative partnership created between home and school that it will positively impact student performance.
Educators need to have a variety of ways to communicate with families, whether by sending information home by letter, an email or by making a phone call. These are still quite useful methods but there are other options that make these communications more timely. With the digital tools and a variety of options for communicating, it definitely helps with the timeliness factor, but we still want to first find out what might be the best way to connect with parents. Building a community and sharing the right resources with families will benefit students and lead to greater student success in the classroom.
Ideas for Connecting with families
So many choices with the edtech tools available and now we can send so much more than just an email or quick message. Parents and families can feel even more involved because teachers can send photos of class events, calendars, class updates, assignment reminders, and much more. It is important to make sure that families have access to devices and WI-FI, and if not, find a way to help families have the access they need. Schools can refer to the many resources and helpful tips for promoting family engagement. Here are five different ways to foster family involvement.
- Communication tools: Try using social media tools such as Twitter or Instagram, or even apps like Remind, or BloomzApp that can enable teachers and parents to communicate quickly. Remind and Bloomz offer translation capabilities which is a great feature for promoting digital equity and accessibility for all families. Bloomz even has features of a messaging app, LMS, digital portfolio and behavior management tool, which help to reduce barriers of time. These tools, connect teachers and parents instantly, privately and can be quite useful throughout the year.
- Video Tools: What better way to share student work or even to design a lesson for students to complete on their own schedule, by using some of the digital tools for video responses and video lesson creation. Look into some tools like Educreations, Flipgrid, or Screencastify. Get started by recording a welcome greeting, advertising a special event, or teach a lesson and add links to share with parents, creating a more supportive connection between home and school.
- Blogging/Class Webpage: It is nice when families know exactly where to look for information and how to ask questions or interact with the teach. When teachers use some tools like Kidblog or Padlet, or some of the web-based learning platforms like Edmodo or Schoology, or Google Classroom, they can maintain a classroom space such as a blog or a class website. Families know where to look and it offers a more structured framework and fosters a greater connection between school and home.
- School and Community: Social media can be another way of connecting with families, or reaching into the community to bring in real-world experiences for students and to inform the community of the events happening at school. When schools host Open Houses, or Parent events, Back to School nights, or even a night where families can come in and learn new trends and try some of the digital tools, it is another great way to engage families in learning.
- Family activities: I recently heard of creating a “family playlist” devised by PowerMyLearning, which lets students and parents learn together. In their role as “teacher”, students share what they are learning with the family. The family then gives feedback to the teacher, and together they work on the students’ skills. This would give more insight into the types of activities that students are doing in schools and leads to more supportive collaboration between home and families.
There are a lot of great strategies that schools can use to keep families connected and the idea is to find what works for each family. Technology can help to open up access to more resources and when they are needed. Check out some of the tools mentioned here and those that will be available during the conference.
Rachelle Dene Poth is a French and Spanish Teacher, and designed the course “What’s nExT? In Emerging Technology.” Rachelle is also an Attorney and has a Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology. She is President of the ISTE Teacher Education Network and Communications Chair for the Mobile Learning Network. She is a Future Ready Instructional Coach, a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and a Nearpod PioNear. Rachelle has presented at the state and national levels on topics ranging from AR/VR, to PBL, assessments and more.
Rachelle is the author of uNcoventional, a Times 10 Publication and has two other books coming out with Edugladiators and Edumatch. She is a contributing author to books including EduMatch Snapshot in Education, Gamify Literacy, and Stories in EDU. She is a blogger for DefinedSTEM, Getting Smart, and Synth. Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 Blog is www.rdene915.com