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Family Engagement is Critical to Help Students Meet High Expectations

One of the toughest aspects of parenting a school-age child is figuring out how to help support their achievement and make sure they stay on track with learning. A recent Learning Heroes report found that nearly nine out of ten parents of students in grades 3-8 believe their child is achieving at or above grade level. From my experience as a teacher, I know students are not all achieving at that level. State and national assessment data also illustrate that only around 40% of students are at or above grade level- in stark contrast to parent perception.

This is concerning to me, both for my students and my own children. But despite being a teacher myself, when my son entered kindergarten, I found myself at a bit of a loss in how to support him and monitor his progress. While I could tell my high school students’ families what they could be doing at home to help their student, I wasn’t quite sure what to do to help my own. Prepared with a list of questions, I reached out to my son’s teacher asking what I could do.

Without giving it too much thought, my initial outreach was the first step I could take in ensuring his success–being an engaged parent. A National PTA report published findings that prove “Family involvement improves student success, regardless of race/ethnicity, class, or parents’ level of education.” The act of reaching out to his teacher and opening up the lines of communication meant that he had two people in his corner working together to ensure his success.

Growing up, my parents struggled to stay “in the know” when it came to my education. They felt that because they knew neither the subject matter nor the language they were at a disadvantage. So, they did the only thing they could do. They showed up to school functions as much as possible and used a school translator to get whatever information they could. Armed with a pen and pad they frantically jotted down notes to refer to at a later time. The commitment they had to my academic success was something I want to provide for my son as well. And as a teacher, I want to make sure I am being the best partner to parents that I can be and encourage their questions and engagement in their child’s learning.

Fortunately, for families nowadays technology has made communicating with teachers much easier, but it is still not a silver bullet. Learning Heroes research also shows that although parents believe they are appropriately involved in their child’s education, most teachers say parents’ engagement is much lower than it should be, and wish their parents were more engaged. I also see this in my own classroom. It is widely known that parent engagement is critical to student success, which is why I make so much effort to establish a partnership with my students’ families, so we can work together to ensure student success.

In my classroom, I have found that families prefer email correspondence because it can be done so quickly and easily. It is also an efficient way to keep families up to date, which is so important in creating strong parent-teacher partnerships and ensuring parents and guardians know when a child may need additional support at home. It’s a lighter lift for teachers, as I can send a quick email as I wait for my copies to print and get a response just as quickly. While our interactions might be made with ease, the information contained in those emails is essential to a student’s success.

I also put a lot of effort into communicating with my parents at the beginning of the year to establish a trusted relationship. Although this is tough to do at the high school level, I have found that parents are truly appreciative of the effort and are more likely to check in with me throughout the year.

For many educators, parent communication and engagement can be time-consuming and difficult, especially when they don’t feel equipped with the resources and support they need to engage with families.  That is why I was so excited to hear about Learning HeroesSpring Ahead” campaign. It is a resource that provides parents with tools to help see the big picture of their child’s education.  It includes their “Readiness Check”, a quick gut check to let parents know whether their child is ready for the next grade level in math and reading by answering a few quick questions, and it also includes information about state test and school report cards. It is resources like these that can help give parents a more accurate picture of their child’s performance and help facilitate meaningful conversations about how well students are meeting the expectations.

Often, educators believe their instruction is what has the greatest impact on their students. But we can’t forget the power of family engagement. Just last week a parent’s email brought me to tears as she shared the milestones her son had overcome to be where he is today. She and I both knew he wasn’t performing to the best of his ability, but we worked together to create a plan to support both his academic and emotional growth.  After some discussion, we agreed that after school tutoring support and a subtle classroom check in system would be our best bet. Meanwhile, she agreed to discuss our classroom page with him nightly to review material covered in class. With the plan in place, he started to thrive.

When parents are engaged in their student’s education, students are better equipped to meet the high standards we set for them. Family engagement is as powerful as high-quality instruction, and in order to realize the potential of our students, it is critical that teachers build and sustain strong home-school partnerships.

Vilma Godoy is a high school English teacher in Shelby County, Kentucky.