Meeting families where they are…literally.

Title: Meeting families where they are....literally. Dr. Tim Grivois. Background is a map with a red push-pin indicating a location.

by Dr. Tim Grivois, Executive Director

Family engagement is guaranteed to come up in any conversation about improving schools. The Annie E. Casey Foundation notes that families involved in their children’s schools have students who “have better attendance and behavior, get better grades, demonstrate better social skills and adapt better to school.” But what does family involvement mean?

When I work with schools on family engagement initiatives, I first ask, “What do you want families to do?” Yes, we want families to be involved. Of course, we want the adults who care for our students to be engaged. But what do we actually want them to do?

Do it now. Imagine that every family were perfectly engaged and involved in their student’s education. Write down a list of five things that they’d do.

Once schools develop a good sense of how they would like families to engage their school, the next step is to consider why families might not already be doing this. Usually, it’s because no one communicates to families what they’d like them to do. Or, it might be that families have work schedules that prevent them from being present when schools want them to show up. Being honest about the barriers between school and home is a vital step in addressing obstacles to meaningful family engagement.

Do it now. For every action you wish families would do to be engaged and involved in their student’s education, write down why this might be hard for some families.

Now that we’ve examined what meaningful engagement looks like and what obstacles our families might experience, we need to meet our families where they are…literally. Until schools stop expecting families to overcome obvious barriers to engagement, families will understandably wonder if their involvement is genuinely welcome. 

So, if no one comes to the PTA meeting because it’s at 5:30 on a Thursday when most families are making dinner and getting homework done, maybe it’s time to deconstruct and re-construct what the PTA is for and have healthier expectations about family participation. Perhaps it’s time to make family engagement less about attendance at events and more about going through the backpack daily and ensuring their students turn in assignments. Finally, instead of feeling frustrated that the parent who works multiple jobs never seems available to meet during the school day, perhaps we express gratitude that they’re working hard, paying the rent, and keeping a stable home for their child. 

While every school culture and context is different, any family engagement initiative must include:

  1. Clear, frequent communication about exactly how we’d like families to be involved.
  2. An honest assessment of the barriers between family and school.
  3. Concrete action to reduce or remove barriers so that genuine invitation and welcome can come through.

Meet your families where they are….literally. Expect, accept, and celebrate that different families have different capacities to be involved. And most importantly, do something concrete today to welcome all families-without exception-to participate at the level that they can.

Leave a Reply