From the moment of birth throughout life, families have enormous influence on their children’s learning and development. A large body of research has identified high-impact strategies to engage families that can produce dramatic gains in children’s social and emotional development, academic achievement, and success in life (see Appendix B for citations). These guiding principles, which are grounded in that research, were the topic of lively discussions during the focus groups and Symposium:
- Build collaborative, trusting relationships focused on learning. For example: Offer getting-to-know-you meetings in smaller, informal settings. Make relationship-building home visits. Co-design with families a pre-school-elementary school transition program.
- Listen to what families say about their children’s interests and challenges. For example: Pay attention to different cultural perspectives and use families’ ideas to create programming, tailor instruction, improve discipline practices, design professional development, and recruit early learning providers, school leaders and staff.
- Model high-quality learning practices. For example: Share how families can engage children in interactive play, reading, and hands-on math activities that promote problem solving. Invite families to visit the after-school program, meet staff, and join the activities. Host “classroom visits” for families to see firsthand what their kids are doing in class and how the classroom is set up for learning.
- Share information frequently with families about how their children are doing. For example: Talk about the skills that will help children upon their transition to kindergarten and discuss children’s progress with families regularly. Explain your school or program’s high achievement goals and ask families about their ideas to help their kids reach them.
- Talk with students about how they want teachers and families to support their learning. For example: Include students’ ideas in Title I school-parent compacts, personal learning plans, and requests for professional learning. Respond to what students say about social and emotional issues. In middle and high school, set up an advisory system, so that all students have someone who knows them well and who can be their advocate in the school and the primary contact for their families.
- Co-develop cultural competence among staff and families. For example: Build students’ home cultures into programming and curriculum. Invite families and early learning providers/teachers/ community learning program staff to share their cultural and family traditions. Showcase the diversity in your early learning setting, school, or after-school program.
- Support parents to become effective leaders and advocates for children. For example: Collaborate with initiatives that develop parents’ knowledge and skills to become civic leaders and problem-solvers. Provide information about how the education system works, from early childhood to higher education, and how to advocate for their children’s needs and opportunities within that system.
(Charts 1-4 illustrate how elementary, middle and high schools, early childhood and after school programs can move from lower to higher impact.)
"I wish that teachers and staff would approach me with their heart, not just the standard expectation of our family/children. It would be nice to have a gathering where we just had a good time getting to know each other. Build positive relationships, without judgment or expectations." Connecticut Parent, August 2017
"Trusting relationships between families and educators lay the foundation for strong partnership." Symposium Participants, December 2017