Educators have long known that increased family engagement results in increased student achievement, fewer disciplinary issues, and higher quality parent-teacher relationships. But the benefits don’t stop there. As schools throughout the country experience declining enrollment and struggle to retain existing students and families, strategic family engagement is emerging as one way to address this challenge.
Family Engagement and Retention
As families become more engaged in their child’s education, they naturally become more invested in the school community. Parents who volunteer in their child’s classroom develop a better understanding of what their child is learning at school. They have better relationships with teachers as they learn to work together. Parents who volunteer for school activities get to know other parents and school staff. They learn to help, support, and positively impact their school. When challenges arise, they have the working relationships to collaborate with teachers or other school staff to address them.
Families who are engaged in their school community take pride in the school. They share their stories and experiences. They serve as informal family ambassadors. Most importantly, families who are engaged in their child’s school value the school, are loyal to it, and stay at it. Increased levels of family engagement increase school retention.
Family Engagement and Recruitment
One outcome of the shutdowns that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic is greater levels of family engagement. Parents saw their children learning, their teachers working hard to face the challenges of sudden remote teaching, and the devotion of their children’s teachers. Others became teachers themselves, homeschooling their children, assisting them with virtual learning, or helping them with work assigned by other teachers. Many of these parents continue to be involved in their child’s education at higher levels even as schools reopened, and students returned to more traditional learning settings.
Family engagement is a critical element of education for these families. While they may not choose to homeschool, they want continued involvement at higher levels than before the pandemic. Schools that engage families at higher levels will naturally attract these families. Schools with family ambassadors, high levels of school-to-home communication, and multiple opportunities for parents, teachers, and school staff to collaborate with one another will draw families to them. Increased levels of family engagement increase school recruitment.
Increasing Family Engagement in Schools
Family engagement in schools today must be strategic. Many families continue to want traditional forms of engagement, such as open houses and parent-teacher conferences. However, many others seek opportunities to volunteer, serve on committees, and spend their time and talents supporting their child’s education and, thereby, the education of others at school.
Technology must also play a critical role in increasing family engagement. Schools must no longer rely solely on sending notes home with students. Just as businesses communicate with their customers through websites, Q&A videos, emails, social media, and chats, schools, too, should utilize these modern tools. This is where parents are. They’re online, on their phones, and on their computers. They want quick and easy access to information. They want to be aware of school events and how they can be involved in those events. They want to know how to support their children. Technology offers more avenues for communication than ever before. How will your school use them?