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September 1, 2017

EL Study Guide

Engagement

The September 2017 issue of Educational Leadership looks at how today's schools can do a better job of partnering with families, especially those who have felt traditionally marginalized in school communities. Many of the articles emphasize that effective family-engagement initiatives can benefit schools as well as families: They make families feel more welcome and empowered in schools, and they give educators new ways to deepen their instruction and curriculum and better support students.

Highlighting new ways of thinking about parent involvement, the issue provides a number of essential question for personal reflection or discussion in professional-development groups, particularly for back-to-school season.

How Can Schools "Repurpose" Family-Focused Events?

Several the articles argue that, in the customary form, conventional school events like back-to-events and parent-teacher conferences are not effective in engaging or empowering families because they put parents and families in a passive role and don't seek to build relationships or draw on families' knowledge. These pieces offer examples of how some schools have revamped events by, for example, making them more social, giving families greater roles or voice, or using them to build sustained home-school connections around student learning and development.

Consider how events in your school or district could be reinvented to better support sustained, meaningful family involvement. How could you make families feel more welcome in classrooms? How can you avoid the trap of just scheduling what Karen L. Mapp calls "random acts of parent involvement?"

How Can You Build Cultural Knowledge?

In light of schools' increasing diversity, many of the authors also stress the importance of seeing family engagement as a way to expand educators' understanding of students cultural and community backgrounds. Such knowledge, they argue, can help educators find new ways to support students, enhance their curriculum, make students feel more valued, and forge connections with parents to foster continuity in learning.

In what ways could you learn more about your students' backgrounds and how might that inform instruction? Have you or your colleagues ever considered making home visits or engaging with families in appropriate ways outside of school? What about encouraging family members to share more about themselves at in-school events, or linking instructional projects more closely to students' cultures? In what other ways can you learn can about families' expectations and needs?

How Can You Improve Your School's Communications Processes?

Some of the articles also highlight the often-underestimated value of strengthening school communication systems and policies so that outreach to parents is more consistent, more equitable, and more personalized. Such efforts can help build connections between schools and families and ultimately boost learning and expectations.

What steps can school leaders take to encourage more frequent and more meaningful contact between teachers and parents? How can educators make better use of technology to engage parents and keep them informed about student learning and progress? How can schools ensure they are providing equitable resources and communicating similar expectations to all families?

Resources for Further Study

Use these ASCD resources to learn more about developing global competencies in students.

ASCD Books

  • Partnering with Parents to Ask the Right Questions: A Powerful Strategy for Strengthening School-Family Partnerships (2016) by Luz Santana, Dan Rothstein and Agnes S. Bain.

  • Reaching Out to Latino Families of English Language Learners (2011) by David Campos, Rocio Delgado, and Mary Esther Soto Huerta

  • Everyday Engagement: Making Students and Parents Your Partners in Learning (2011) by Katy Ridnouer

PD Online Courses

  • Embracing Diversity: Managing Diverse Schools and Classrooms (2nd ed.)

  • Teaching With Poverty in Mind

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