Lessons Learned: Reaching Families for Equity and Student Achievement

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Educators and families have high expectations for themselves and each other and both feel overwhelmed when their students aren’t succeeding.  On occasion, differences involving culture, perception and perspective, cause assumptions and misunderstandings that can make communication and partnership efforts complicated. With this understanding, I’ve come to learn a few lessons connected to helping educators and community partners reach and engage families with a focus on trust, equity and student achievement.

In this blog, I cover two lessons and corresponding tips that can help support effective family outreach and engagement practices. The lessons and tips offer simple yet practical ideas that promote effective and positive family partnerships for student success.

Lesson #1: Initiate Positive Contact Early.

Whether the educator or family initiates the first connection, starting positive allows both parties to earn trust early and makes a difference long-term, regardless of the students grade or age. When educators initiate a positive introduction and make an effort to reach families, it often encourages helpful and supportive follow-up interactions from student’s families, in ways that support student success. When families are clear about whether the teacher knows or wants to know them, they typically identify positive contact as an opportunity to engage and build trust.

Practical tip:
Initiating connections that give families an opportunity to offer insight about their cultural norms, student’s strengths, aspirations and dreams, can help build trust and inform instructional practices and approaches. If incorporated effectively, these insights can be helpful in the effort to keep students effectively engaged and motivated as learners throughout the year. The initial effort can be anything from sending a postcard or leaving a voice, text or email message to a parent/family member, asking about family traditions or sharing something positive and specific about their child/teenager. While it may not be possible to make a positive connection with every student’s family, setting a manageable goal to reach a specific number of families within a reasonable period of time, is a great way to start the positive trust building effort.

Lesson #2: Be intentional about discussing ways to share responsibility for student progress and outcomes.

Most parents and educators believe in the importance of sharing responsibility for student success, but few have the opportunity to communicate what shared responsibility means from their individual perspective. Being intentional includes both parties having a chance to discuss their viewpoint regarding partnership roles and clarifying expectations linked to student achievement. Identifying resource supports the student may need before struggles occur and who might be the best point of contact when questions arise, prevents unnecessary conflict.

Practical tip:
Starting the discussion with the belief that families have their child’s best interest at heart, goes a long way toward them believing the same about you. With this in mind, don’t be afraid to share your views with families about what you believe makes a good partnership. Offer specific ideas about what you are willing to do to support their student’s success. Likewise, encourage families to offer the same information and provide a platform and opportunities for them to do so.

Understanding the fact that both families and educators alike, want the best for their students, makes it easier to recognize and learn lessons that promote equity and student achievement. Learning lessons is what education is all about and when the lessons help improve connections with all families, students aren’t the only ones that benefit.

To learn more lessons and practical tips for reaching families to support equity and achievement, check out the book, Unreached: What Every Educator Wants to Know About Engaging Families for Equity and Student Achievement.