Tag Archives: parent engagement

Education is All Guts, No Glory for Some Parents

This week, Bellwether staff share their perspectives on family and parent engagement. Follow Ahead of the Heard from now until Friday for a series of blog posts that tackle common misconceptions about engaged parents, working with multilingual families, and more. Click here to read other posts in the series thus far.

 

We’ve heard the phrase “No Guts, No Glory” (like in this Air Force manual), but when it comes to parents and their children’s academic success, the phrase doesn’t hold true.

Parents can have all the “guts” — hopes, wishes, and high expectations for their kids — but their kids still may not get the “glory” — a great education and high academic achievement.

That’s because too often, kids don’t have equal odds when it comes to educational opportunities.

It’s not because their parents don’t care, as a misguided stigma against poor parents might suggest. A hypothesized culture of despair says that parents with the least financial resources discount their children’s odds for future success and hence invest less into their child’s academic experience.

In fact, parents across demographic characteristics and economic conditions tend to have strong and robust expectations for their children, and these patterns of thought are influential over the course of their children’s academic careers. However, the difference between economically advantaged and disadvantaged parents is in the objective probabilities that their children will succeed as hoped. That is, for parents at the bottom end of the economic spectrum, the gap between their high expectations and their child’s likely reality is much larger than it is for parents with greater economic means. All parents seem to have the guts to dream big, but only some of their children are likely to see the glory of results.

Then what can schools do to support parents in helping their kids? Schools must offer equitable educational opportunities and reinforce mechanisms in the home that drive student achievement. Parental expectations and behaviors can mitigate economic inequities, but schools must deliver the goods through rigorous learning standards and outstanding instruction, which sadly remains not a foregone conclusion.

As schools consider their approach to parental and family engagement, they should understand that high academic expectations don’t necessarily translate into parents attending school events or volunteering their services. Schools should acknowledge and continuously reinforce parental beliefs about their child’s potential, and they should emphasize ways parents can support — through the home environment and through specific behaviors — their child’s learning.

All parents are hopeful about their children’s futures: sometimes against real odds. This provides an opportunity to focus outreach to families. Schools can and should bolster what parents hope and do for their children. Yet they must reach inward too, to ensure what they expect from parents is mirrored by high expectations and excellent teaching during the school day.

Simple, Streamlined, and Supportive: Engaging Even Reluctant Families

This week, Bellwether staff share their perspectives on family and parent engagement. Follow Ahead of the Heard from now until Friday for a series of blog posts that tackle common misconceptions about engaged parents, working with multilingual families, and more. Click here to read other posts in the series thus far.

 

As a parent raising three kids, who at times attended three different schools, the requests for my involvement often felt excessive. Even though I was in a middle-class suburban community with a co-parent who could also participate, I still felt overwhelmed at times.

Photo via author.

Parents and caregivers are busy individuals with competing demands and limited time. It may feel intrusive or even impossible when school leaders ask them to engage in school activities and support their student academically at home. I’ve learned that the best requests for engagement are simple, streamlined, and supportive:

Simple: Families are faced with competing requests for their time and participation. School leaders need to simplify the engagement requests, prioritizing the activities that most impact student achievement and attendance. Communications need to be clear and reflective of how the specific activity will benefit the student. If scheduling a home visit or a school conference yields the best impact on student achievement, make that the single, simple first step.

Streamlined: School administrators often lament that family engagement only occurs when students are involved in sports. Parents who otherwise don’t engage show up regularly for a game or a match. Find a way for that support to flow into parent engagement. Is there a way to deploy staff or other connected parents in relationship building on a sideline or in the bleachers? Can you convert the basketball, soccer, or football fan into an ally for all the school provides, including academics?

Supportive: The primary goal of family engagement is to impact student achievement. What do your teachers need most from your families? If it is checking a student’s homework every night, make that clear to the student and to their families. Family members want to see their students succeed, and may be more open to engagement if their support is directly tied to student success.

Certainly the single parent with one or more kids may experience greater frustration than I did when asked to get involved. While I cannot speak to their experience, the simple, streamlined, and supportive framework can help when family members are reluctant to engage with their student’s school. Whatever path you choose as a teacher or school administrator, your students win when families get (more) involved.

One Area Where Parent Engagement Research is Clear: Early Childhood Education

This week, Bellwether staff share their perspectives on family and parent engagement. Follow Ahead of the Heard from now until Friday for a series of blog posts that tackle common misconceptions about engaged parents, working with multilingual families, and more. Click here to read other posts in the series thus far.

 

Let’s be honest: parent engagement is both an imprecise and confounding term. In theory it’s hard to argue against engaging parents in their child’s education. Yet, a couple of years ago, two sociology professors attempted to do so, claiming that parent involvement in education does not improve — and may actually hinder — student achievement. Their research methods were widely criticized and debunked, but the discussion that ensued raised questions about the underlying science regarding parent engagement. In general, few policymakers or practitioners can easily outline what effective parent engagement actually entails. Thankfully in recent years, a clearer answer has emerged in the field of early childhood education.

There is a long history of including parent engagement in early childhood education. In fact, parent engagement has been a fundamental aspect of Head Start — the only federal pre-k program — since the program’s inception in 1965. Head Start was founded on the principle that child development is the product of multiple levels of interaction, with both parents and teachers playing important roles. Based on this history, parent engagement has long been stressed as an important component of early childhood education.

On top of this foundational commitment to family engagement, the early childhood education space also benefits from an emerging body of research that shows that positively changing parents’ behaviors and expectations can directly improve children’s initial and long term academic performance, and that parent engagement is central to promoting children’s school readiness and social-emotional development. A 2017 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation brief outlined four types of parent engagement programs that have been tested using randomized-controlled trials and which were found to positively improve outcomes for low-income preschool aged children. Effective programs typically had at least one of these characteristics:

1.) Promote Positive Parenting Practices and Parent-Child Relationships

The first category of effective approaches to preschool parent engagement includes programs that target specific parenting skills. Examples of such programs include the Incredible Years Parent Training Program, Chicago Parent Program, Dare to by You, and ParentCorps. These programs include tailored lessons aimed at parents which emphasize parenting skills — such as routines, encouragement, and limit setting — known to promote children’s social and emotional development and reduce behavior problems. Each of these programs have been evaluated using rigorous methods and have been found to provide benefits for participating parents and their children.

2.) Promote Home Learning Activities

Programs in this category help parents learn how to engage in developmentally appropriate learning activities . These programs provide parents with home learning materials, coach parents how to use the materials effectively, and provide parents with opportunities to practice their new skills. These programs have been found to have positive effects on parent-child conversations and parent use of interactive reading strategies. In turn, these behaviors are associated with positive impacts on children’s literacy skills, academic performance, and self-directed learning. One notable program in this category is the Research-Based Developmentally Informed Parent (REDI-P) program. This program was designed as a complement to Head Start and was intended to promote sustained gains for children. The program includes home visits with parents before and after the kindergarten transition and provides parents with learning activities (e.g., guided books, evidence-based learning games, interactive stories, and guided pretend play) to use with their children in order to support school-readiness skills.

3.) Strengthen Parent Teacher Relationships

These programs provide teachers with training focused on building strong relationships with parents. Two successful programs focused on strengthening the teacher-parent partnership are the Getting Ready intervention and Companion Curriculum. The Getting Ready intervention supports teachers in making home visits and hosting collaborative planning conferences with parents with the goal of improving the parent-child and parent-teacher relationship. The program has been used as a supplement to Early Head Start settings across the country and has been found to produce gains in children’s language use, pre-reading skills, and positive learning behavior in the classroom. The Companion Curriculum is a professional development model for enhancing parent involvement in Head Start that also focuses on the parent-teacher relationship. One part of the model involves establishing family corners in children’s classrooms, where parents can informally engage their children in fun, stimulating activities.

4.) Emphasize the Child’s Health

These types of parent engagement programs are designed to increase parent knowledge about nutrition and healthy eating and facilitate healthier lifestyles. Many of these programs focus on reducing childhood obesity for children under five through home-based interventions. In the last five years, a number of studies of programs implemented in the home context have reported significant positive effects on BMI. These programs include Salud con la FamiliaPediatric Overweight Prevention through Parent Training Program; and Healthy Habits, Healthy Homes. Salud con la Familia is a community-based, culturally tailored childhood obesity intervention that engages Latino parents and their preschool-aged children in skills building to improve familial habits related to nutrition and physical activity. Healthy Habits, Health Homes is a home-based intervention aimed at low-income parents that focuses on improving household routines known to be associated with childhood obesity including frequency of family meals, time watching TV, and removing screen media from bedrooms of young children. This intervention was found to increase children’s sleep duration and reduce children’s TV viewing on weekends and BMI compared to controls.

Thanks to decades of high-quality research, we now know how to improve early childhood programs through targeted and effective parent engagement. This body of research also provides clues for strengthening parental engagement efforts during the early elementary grades and beyond. For example, the research on early childhood parent engagement interventions reveals the importance of developing culturally-tailored and culturally-appropriate interventions and the importance of utilizing interventions that help parents develop their child’s social emotional and physical development as well as their academic performance. 

“I’d Better Bring Home An A”: The Power Of Parent Expectations

This week, Bellwether staff share their perspectives on family and parent engagement. Follow Ahead of the Heard from now until Friday for a series of blog posts that tackle common misconceptions about engaged parents, working with multilingual families, and more. Click here to read other posts in the series thus far.

 

It’s the beginning of the school year, and I’m already behind on my assignments — that is, the flurry of forms to fill out, orientations to attend, and Back-to-School nights to add to the calendar. As an education researcher, I applaud all the efforts to engage me in what’s going on at school — and I love hearing about what my kids are learning — but as a working parent of a middle schooler and a high schooler, I admit I groan a little trying to fit it all in.

Often, parent involvement gets framed as caregivers’ level of interaction with the school — coming to school events and volunteering with the PTA, for example. While such activities may present minor scheduling headaches for me, many caregivers face much bigger obstacles, including lack of childcare, language barriers, or working multiple jobs. Framing engagement around school-based activities can lead to the assumption that the parents who don’t appear, especially low-income parents, are apathetic about their children’s education.

But that assumption is off the mark. A parent or guardian can have a powerful impact on a child’s achievement even if they never set foot in the school. A 2013 meta-synthesis of research on parental involvement drives this point home: out of a wide variety of types of involvement explored in many different studies, parents’ expectations for academic achievement had the strongest impact on students’ academic performance.

A student I met once in a focus group at a large city high school made this point even more succinctly. When asked her thoughts on parent involvement during high school, she said emphatically: “My mom is working in another city right now, so she’s not at home. But I know I better bring home an A, or else!” Even though they were physically separated, her mother’s expectations for high achievement were a very real motivating factor.

Ultimately, a central goal of family engagement is to increase the alignment between home and school in support of each child’s education. One way to do that is by inviting caregivers to the school, but there are many other ways to provide families with the tools they need to champion learning at home. For school leaders and policymakers seeking to engage a wider range of families, below are several examples of strategies that empower parents and guardians to reinforce high expectations for academic achievement, even if they are not able to physically come to the school. Continue reading

Assets, Not Barriers: 5 Ways Teachers Can Connect With and Empower Families Across Language Barriers

This week, Bellwether staff share their perspectives on family and parent engagement. Follow Ahead of the Heard from now until Friday for a series of blog posts that tackle common misconceptions about engaged parents, working with multilingual families, and more. Click here to read other posts in the series thus far.

 

We know that parent engagement makes a difference. Students whose family members are involved in their education, regardless of their background or income, have better attendance, higher grades, and more rigorous course schedules.

But what if a language barrier keeps schools from fully connecting with parents and families?  English Language Learners are the fastest growing segment of the student population — in 2014, 11.8 million students spoke a language other than English at home. It’s imperative for schools and teachers to collaborate in support of students and families across languages. Not only that, but embracing and encouraging multiple languages and cultures (in the classroom) can be an educational asset. In order to get there, teachers must be willing to engage.

Christian Martínez-Canchola, photo via author

I spoke with my friend and former colleague, Christian Martínez-Canchola, about the best strategies teachers can employ to connect across language barriers. Christian currently serves as the Primary Years Programme Dean at Uplift Grand Preparatory in Dallas, Texas. As a classroom teacher, Christian led her bilingual students to outstanding outcomes — they consistently outperformed district averages by 30-point margins on district, state, and national assessments.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, Christian suggests five ways teachers — regardless of their language abilities — can engage multilingual families and communities in a partnership for student success:

  1. Establish trust: Speaking in a language you aren’t comfortable with is a vulnerable experience; building a trusting relationship with students and families should be one of a teacher’s first priorities. To foster this, Christian is a proponent of starting the year off with a bilingual parent survey. The outreach effort signals immediate investment to parents, and allows teachers an early look into their students’ lives. Questions range from basic contact information, to more personal inquiries. “I ask parents to describe their child’s strengths, their weaknesses, what they want to be when they grow up,” says Christian. “These are the people who know their children best.”
  2. Listen and then act: It can be easy for teachers and school staff to make well-intentioned assumptions even without a language barrier — when communication is challenging, the danger for misdiagnosis intensifies. Make conscious contact with parents and community members to identify needs.“There are always parents talking to one another. Leverage conversations with those key stakeholders — you may think parents would benefit most from a car seat drive, but in reality, they may need assistance calling the electric company or accessing dental care instead.”
  3. Redefine what engagement looks like: A narrow definition of family engagement can lead otherwise interested parents to count themselves out. Says Christian, “the parents who typically volunteer in classrooms can afford the time. For most parents though, that’s a privilege. I found that there was this misconception that parents had to physically be in the school to help, when that wasn’t the case at all.” Family members, regardless of language, can assist teachers in other ways. Classroom support can happen at home, from cutting out math manipulatives to assembling packets and leveled books. Christian adds: “Parents want to be involved. Even something small, like sending home classroom materials to be cut out, allows them to have a role in the success of their kids.”
  4. Prioritize intentionality and structure: Home visits and back-to-school nights can provide opportunities to establish trust and build partnerships. At the same time, Christian stresses the importance of planning these interactions and of not allowing them to be too ad-hoc. “If they’re intentional, [home visits] can be really impactful, but they lose all power when flimsily done,” she says. “I like when they’re structured, when schools or even outside agencies provide [teachers with] training on their actual impact and the logistical needs a bilingual home visit requires.”
  5. Empower teachers with existing resources: Districts and school leaders can connect their teaching staff with free and low-cost tools to make translation easier. Many large districts, including District of Columbia Public Schools, New York City Department of Education, and Dallas Independent School District, have translation hotlines, where teachers can reach interpreters and teams dedicated to translating documents. In addition, the Google Translate app has text translation for over 100 languages, and can translate bilingual conversations for 32 others. While not a true replacement for face-to-face translation, these tools can serve as a point of entry.


Christian’s work is fueled by a fervent desire to exemplify the strength and power of her students and their families. As one of the few Latinx and bilingual school leaders in her network, Christian says she is passionate about building a pipeline of educators who both reflect the communities that they serve and driving transformational, sustainable change. We can borrow lessons from her work empowering teachers to connect across lines of differences in the pursuit of positive outcomes for all children.