Strong partnerships, in which families and schools work together, can empower families to engage in and support teaching and learning. There is ample evidence on how important these partnerships are to children's learning and lifelong success.1 Successful engagement depends on comprehensive, collaborative, and concentrated work to build relationships with families. Family engagement is also a key facet of school improvement.
As a result of the pandemic, family members became critical learning partners. In response, schools and districts have focused on implementing policies and programs that engage families more effectively. The innovative approaches that arose from these efforts are still emerging as we return to full-time, in-person learning. Some of these approaches foster ongoing relationships between teachers and families and the sharing of learning activities and tips.
REL Mid-Atlantic has supported its stakeholders across the region in several projects designed to understand and increase family engagement. Our partnership with the District of Columbia Public Schools revealed the important benefits of the district's home visiting program: students who had family visits from their teachers the summer before school started had fewer disciplinary actions and higher attendance during the following school year. In partnership with the Delaware Department of Education, we co-developed a framework for family engagement that we shared with districts statewide. In our work with the New Jersey Department of Education, we examined research-informed strategies for family engagement that support learning in preschool through 3rd grade. We also spoke directly with New Jersey practitioners to discuss aspects of feasibility and accessibility that should be considered when engaging families. We worked with the New Jersey Department of Education to co-develop resources and strategies that complemented the state's current model for engaging families in early childhood learning and development. This work included encouraging equitable family-school partnerships to expand learning beyond the classroom.
These collaborations suggested several lessons for districts and schools to keep in mind as they design and implement family engagement programs.
1 Epstein, J.L., Sanders, M.G., Sheldon, S. B., Simon, B. S., Salinas, K. C., Jansorn, N. R., Van Voorhis, F. L, Martin, C. S., Thomas, B.G., Greenfield, M. D., Hutchins, D. J., & Williams, K. J. (2019). School, family, and community partnerships: Your handbook for action (4th ed.). Corwin; University of Plymouth. (2019). Parental involvement plays key role in children's academic attainment, research shows: Parental engagement has a positive effect on a child's academic attainment—regardless of age or socioeconomic status. ScienceDaily; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2016). Parenting matters: Supporting parents of children ages 0–8. The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/21868; Henderson, A. T., & Mapp, K. L. (2002). A new wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement. National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools, Southwest Educational Development Laboratory. https://www.sedl. org/connections/resources/evidence.pdf
i This handout is also available in Spanish here: https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs/regions/midatlantic/app/Docs/technicalassistance/FamilyActivityHandout_Spanish.pdf
Jaimie Grazi Orland