Last month, educators gathered at 2019’s National Family & Community Engagement (FCE) Conference hosted by the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) to discuss high-impact family-school-community partnerships that improve student outcomes. Workshop presenters and plenary leaders focused their talks on ways to take a more equitable approach to family engagement, one that engages ALL parents and families as “architects,” partners, advisors, community-builders and decision-makers. If equity for all truly means ALL, then family engagement efforts must consider and address the needs of all families and communities. Efforts include providing equitable access to information, resources and tools that enhance academics for all students.

To get started on these efforts — or to sustain your school’s or community’s current efforts — speakers offered up the following strategies and activities to engage all families equitably.

Face our ghosts

Equitable family engagement begins with a culture that is welcoming to all and recognizes the value in all families. The first step to valuing families and developing effective family-school-community partnerships is to self-assess and become aware of our “ghosts,” defined by Manny Lamarre, Senior Program Associate at WestEd as our past fears, biases, stories, and experiences. Our ghosts shape our conscience, our opinions, and our everyday thinking, affecting our actions toward families and our ability to engage with them.

No matter how hard we try, understanding and partnering with all families is near impossible without understanding our ghosts. To “face your ghosts,” one question to ask yourself is: “Do [I] know the specific fears, hesitations, stories, and/or experiences that shape [my] outlook in family, school, and community partnerships?”

Empower families with data and information

To empower families to engage more effectively in their children’s academic success, information is critical. Increased information leads to increased self-efficacy, affecting families’ behavior and how they support their children. According to workshop presenters Jane Groff, Ph.D. and Barbara Gannaway of the Kansas Parent Information Resource Center (KPIRC), all families deserve access to information to help them understand how their children are performing. In their workshop, “Demystifying Student Data for Families,” they described how information or data presented to families should shine light on their children’s strengths, challenges, and areas of interest. Data should also help families see where gaps exist in their children’s achievement. All too often, data-sharing opportunities are limited and infrequent with data being hard to interpret. “It’s unclear [from schools or report cards] what actions a parent or teacher should take to maximize student’s strengths,” says Jane Groff, Ph.D., KPIRC’s Executive Director. Schools and districts can do more than just share grades on a report card. They can, for example, provide data nights and engage families in ongoing progress monitoring discussions.

Connect families to meaningful opportunities

Springboard added to the conversations around equity in family engagement by sharing strategies to equip families with information in ways that will impact their growth in reading. Springboard’s workshop, “Empowering families as change agents to improve K-3 literacy skills,” introduced a few of Springboard’s tools for empowering families: family training workshops, at-home reading plans, and our goal-setting tool. Every family deserves access to opportunities that value their expertise and partnership, and recognize their role in meeting the academic needs of their children. Springboard family workshops are built on this premise, that when given meaningful upskilling opportunities, parents and families can take on a role that reinforces students’ literacy learning beyond school hours.

At a Springboard family workshop, families and teachers bring perspectives and information to the table that could enrich a child’s learning experience. Families are provided with the opportunity to learn and practice a reading tip with their children – with the presence of an educator in the space.

For equitable engagement to be the norm in schools and communities, we need to recognize families’ contributions and expertise, and aim to empower them. We need to provide equitable access to information, resources, and tools. We need to work with and alongside families. Schools, families, and communities share a responsibility to help children learn and meet educational and academic goals.

With this in mind, Springboard continues to look forward to partnering with schools and community agencies in their efforts to leverage the family unit as a change agent. Through the sharing of responsibilities for supporting literacy inside and outside of school, we can all take part in the goal of enabling each child to succeed in literacy and life.