When we engage, we can work together as a team to reach our goals. The first step, of course, is getting all team members through the door. Our students already know how to step into their classrooms, but do their families know we are looking for their participation too? Our school community is only complete when everyone feels that they are an important member of our team. We have the opportunity to increase family involvement and establish strong connections when we invite everyone into our school community.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation encourages schools to provide families with clear ideas for active participation, and to promote families by letting them know their voices are important. When done successfully, this helps remove any barriers to engagement.
Why not open our doors with clear communication tools from the SchoolStatus Connect Advanced Tier! Building community and engaging families is achieved through accessible 2-way messaging––automatically translated into the family’s preferred language––as well as broadcast communications––allowing you to send district-wide welcome messages, mass newsletters and event notifications, and circulate volunteer coordination. By implementing easy-to-use tools, engagement can be simple, more personal, and have lasting impacts for the success of all.
Here are 3 great ways to start engaging every family in your community.
Step 1: Engagement as a Relationship Life Cycle
Great relationships have a life cycle: they form, extend, and deepen as partners grow and mature together. With SchoolStatus Connect Advanced Tier, districts use the tools to help every stage of the relationship to thrive.
Families at all stages––new, returning, and alumni families––have different communication needs. By meeting families where they are, districts can successfully include everyone.
- New Families: offer targeted events, personalized attention, and family to family mentoring
- Returning Families: deepen relationships with opportunities for learning and service that connect families with teachers and other educators
- Alumni Families: encourage family members to step into mentoring roles and hold recognition events to honor the mutual benefits of long-standing family involvement
Insights from all levels can help school leaders prioritize improvement strategies. Sustaining involvement through the entire relationship capitalizes on every benefit of involving families in our community and in their student’s education.
Step 2: 1-way & 2-way Communications
Sometimes school efforts sound like a 1-way conversation. But that’s just the beginning. Broadcast messaging––emailing a general district update or sending schoolwide newsletters––are very important communications. We just need to be sure we don’t miss the next step. The next level of communication––true engagement––is what happens when 2-way communication extends a message with personalized strategies.
Examples of public forums, surveys, focus groups, and in-person discussion, can begin meaningful conversations and ways to learn which kinds of settings foster meaningful family involvement.
Some questions that work well for surveys, focus groups, and conversations include:
- What is your favorite thing about our school?
- What is one thing you wish our school would do more of?
- If our school makes the paper, what do you hope is the headline?
- What’s the best idea you’ve heard of that could make our school better?
- Tell us about a Family that you respect and admire.
- If we make one major change next year, what should it be?
Families want to learn how their child is doing, but they also want to share feedback about their child’s experiences and needs.
Families can’t always initiate the conversation, however. With the 2-way communication tools in the SchoolStatus Connect, districts can invite dialogue––in any language and at any time––turning messages into a resource helping schools improve and students achieve.
Step 3: Feature Family Engagement as a Celebration
It can be difficult to coordinate everyone’s schedule and get families to attend all events. If in-person attendance lapses at events, send a newsletter to share highlights and celebrate those who attended! SchoolStatus Connect keeps families informed through virtual communications at any time.
Schools can also double the effectiveness with follow-up communications that can turn any event into a source of information for future engagement. Ask attendees what worked? How might they improve? Do they have ideas for future events?
Here are some ideas from successful events that foster intrinsic engagement:
Elementary School Events That Build Community:
Learning-Focused events like “One School One Book.” Everyone reads the same book and then gathers to celebrate with a party or a movie. Some popular events included Willie Wonka, Charlotte’s Web, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The World According to Humphrey.
Family-Focused events like family-student parties invite families to attend and connect with other families. Carving pumpkins, cooking chili, racing matchbox cars, and “family olympics” are all events that schools have used to get more family members through the doors.
Community-Focused events like a clean-up day in a local park, volunteer service at a charity, or a collection drive to support local food banks are ways to give everyone a shared purpose while introducing philanthropy and service.
Celebration events like ice cream socials, spring picnics, and holiday parties are simple ways to use food and fellowship to bring families together.
Middle and High School Events to Build Community:
Career showcase events featuring families and their professions—think of a science fair where adults are the display, and students explain their profession
Life skills events—students and families team up to change a tire, make a snack, offer first aid, apply to vote, plan a purchase, etc. Engaging families and students with life-after-school topics are both practical and fun!
Topical events that focus on identified needs in the school community, such as financial aid applications, college selection, workforce planning, educational technology, personal wellness—whatever the community identifies as an interest is potential for a topical gathering.
Talent Shows. Family-student games, concerts, projects, and adventures all have proven appeal.
Hosting a series of events––and tracking participation––can provide information on what’s working and how to better support family engagement in the future.
Actions Are Better Than Ideas
Schools with great communication gain trust and inspire their community members. Opening our doors and inviting all to engage is the place to begin.
The Advanced Tier of SchoolStatus Connect
- Meet families where they are
- Reach families on in-app, SMS, phone calls, or email
- Learn how reporting lets you know who is engaging
- See how the portal makes event management easy for your educators
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