Families are as unique as each individual member. But anyone who has been teaching for a while knows that when it comes to family engagement, most parents fall into one of four groups. Some are engaged and supporting, some are overly engaged, some seem to never be engaged, and others try but find their engagement activities limited. In the post-pandemic era in which we find ourselves, learning to support family engagement at all levels is more important than ever.
The Supporting and Engaging Parent
Supporting and engaging parents are those that all educators want. They volunteer at school when they can. They sign all the papers sent home. They reinforce learning at home and offer support for behavior and guidance on school issues. Unfortunately, these are also the parents who can get burned out or stressed out. Because they are reliable supports for students, staff, and teachers, they are the ones who get called on for every need. Reinforce family engagement among these parents. Let them know that they are valued. Also, let them know that you respect their time and other demands enough to not call on them for every activity.
The Overly Engaged Parent
While it is important to engage parents and families, it is also important to recognize when they may be too involved in their child’s education. If you find that a parent is overly involved, it is important to have an open and honest conversation with them. Explain to them that while their involvement is appreciated, it is also important for their child to learn independence and to take ownership of their own learning. Encourage the parent to let their child take the lead, and to provide support and guidance when needed. By setting clear boundaries and expectations with parents, you can ensure that the relationship between home and school is positive and productive.
The Unengaged Parent
It’s easy to look at a parent who doesn’t seem to be engaged with their child’s learning and pass judgment. After all, we provide countless opportunities for families to be involved and engaged. If they’re not doing it, then it must be their fault. Yet judgments like this hamper engagement and may even be part of the reason why some parents aren’t engaged. The key is to individualize engagement for that parent. For example, a parent who experienced a lot of negativity as a student may be reluctant to get engaged as a parent. A parent who struggled to complete high school math may not have the skills to help their child with complex math homework. You don’t need to investigate each reason. Instead, talk with the parent about the importance of family engagement and work with them to find one or two ways that they can be engaged. Rather than judging, make them part of the solution.
The Wanna Be Parent
Finally, some parents want to be engaged at higher levels but have conflicts or issues that keep them from doing it. When you come across those parents, show them grace. Help them to see how the engagement that they are doing is helpful and is directly benefiting their child. Then let them know that they don’t have to do it all.
Family engagement is valuable with direct benefits to students, families, staff, teachers, and the school. Support families individually to help them become engaged in healthy and productive ways. The time and effort it takes will be worth it as students experience greater success and school staff feel more supported.