What Does Family Engagement Have to Do with Equity and Student Achievement?

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There is no question that teachers deserve the lion’s share of the credit when a student learns to read, write and grasp any academic concept covered during the school day. In fact, research and every respected education leader in the Country, will confirm teachers are the most important factor regarding a student’s opportunity to learn academic lessons. Yet and still teachers understand that many of their students spend more time in their community and with their family, than with them. With this in mind, it only makes sense to consider the broader context and influence a child or teenager’s family has on the impact of their learning. When given the opportunity, families provide funds of knowledge tied to cultural norms and assets that are not generally covered in a pre-service course or district professional development training. Even though parent- teacher collaboration opportunities are limited, teachers gain valuable insight about their students when they have time to connect with their families, especially the families that they have not typically been able to reach. I would even go as far to say that most teachers feel more confident and encouraged about their role as educators, when they receive support and reinforcements from their student’s families. Even if these parent supports come in the form of a simple reminder to study at home and complete assignments in class, the partnership effort matters. Some families feel invited and welcome at every stage of their child’s educational career but some have not been reached and the disconnect is often tied to cultural cues tied to implicit bias.

Given these considerations, there is no wonder why there are still those that ask the question; What Does Family Engagement Have to Do with Equity and Student Achievement? On occasion, in an effort to answer this question, I have talked about and directed people to the extensive research studies, stories and insights from experts like Dr. Karen Mapp, Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot, Ann Ishimaru, Anne T. Henderson, Joyce Epstein and Soo Hong. Nevertheless, I am keenly aware of the assumptions that dictate we inadvertently ‘blame’ parents for poor outcomes, if we choose to prioritize culturally responsive family partnerships, as a possible solution to the dilemma tied to high dropout rates and the achievement gap. Some might even say that focusing on partnerships with families to improve student achievement, offers permission to reinforce stereotypes and excuses so time is better spent focusing on things that are measurable and within the school’s control, rather than things that are hard to measure and even harder to control, like reaching families.

Regardless of the assumptions or arguments, I’ve discovered there is no research or ‘why’ more compelling than the personal stories and insights educators create for themselves, when they have time to engage in meaningful conversations with the families of their students. Because I believe unreached parents typically reflect the culture of unreached students and most educators want to engage families for equity and student achievement, I offer four recommendations, five practices and reflection questions, as conversation starters in my book “What Every Educator Wants to Know About Engaging Families for Equity and Student Achievement”. The book covers typical scenarios, tips, tools and lessons learned, to help educators start the types of collaborative discussions that will help them build a sense of community with parents and colleagues to find their personal why and their own answers to the question; What Does Family Engagement Have to Do with Equity and Student Achievement?

Check out the resource tool that lists that four recommendations, five practices and reflection questions here: Engaging Families to Support Student Achievement. The next blog will cover ‘lessons learned’ and 10 Questions every teacher wants to know about family partnerships but may be afraid to ask.