By Cassy Roberson, Guest Contributor
Family involvement and engagement should be a primary focus in any school. Our primary job is to serve our families and support children in their educational journey to becoming successful, self sufficient adults. But is that really all were doing?
Someone who has spent anytime in a classroom in recent years can tell you that educators today are doing so much more! Attaining to their students’ social-emotional well being, hunger, homelessness, unstable home lives and other adverse childhood experiences their students have faced. Without addressing and nurturing the realities previously stated, an educator can’t achieve their ultimate goal of TEACHING!
While managing all of the aspects seen in today’s schools and classrooms we also need to engage our parents. Beyond Involvement and Engagement: The Role of the Family in School-Community Partnerships by Amanda Stefanski, Linda Valli, and Reuben Jacobson, discuss the importance of bridging family involvement to family engagement.
Let’s first discuss the difference between involvement and engagement. Involve is defined as “include as necessary,” whereas engage means “to interlock with.” Involvement implies we want to accomplish something for each other; in contrast, engagement implies we accomplish things together.
When we’re aiming for family involvement, we tend to lead with our mouth by identifying projects, fundraising needs, goals for our school and telling parents how they can contribute and be involved. When striving for parent engagement, we will need to lead with our ears. In leading with our ears, we can listen to parents, understand what they think, how they feel, their dreams and what they worry about for their children and community. We are not serving clients; we need to gain partners!
It is easy to settle for parent involvement. With increased pressures to raise test scores, it is enticing for schools to focus on family involvement instead of engagement. Family involvement programs can have a positive effect on student achievement as well, and generally are easier to implement (open house at the school, literacy night or book fair, etc). But only spending your time on family involvement can have negative consequences.
The involvement approach can end up focusing on deficit assumptions about your parents and families. Whereas a family engaged approach will view families as funds of knowledge, resources and collaborators. We need to encourage our families to take their place alongside us as educators in schooling their children, collaborating with our collective knowledge and learning from each other while equally sharing the power.
As educators, let’s reflect on the parent interaction in our schools. Are we merely involving our parents, leading with our mouth; or are we engaging our families and leading with our ears? Let’s strive to transition from involvement to engagement and foster a strong community-school partnership.
Cassy Roberson is an Educational Leadership Master of Arts student in the IU School of Education at IUPUI.