Parent Engagement: Beyond the Homework Helper

Improving outreach and visibility for students’ families.

GUEST COLUMN | by Ray Ackerlund

CREDIT SkywardIt’s time to rethink parent engagement.

Let’s start with the definition. “Engagement” and “involvement” are often used interchangeably, but it was refreshing to see some differentiation in a recent Gallup poll, which revealed that a higher percentage of parents are actively disengaged (23 percent) than engaged (20 percent). For this study, engaged parents were defined as those who “are emotionally attached and rationally loyal to their child’s school.”

But what does this mean for schools? First, we need to understand what the key drivers of engagement are. What factors led to that group of 20 percent becoming such strong advocates?

When those who are closest to students are given the resources to proactively support the learning process, achievement levels rise.

There are some common themes emerging in school districts that have placed a priority on parents, and it all starts with visibility. It’s hard for parents to feel engaged when they don’t know what’s going on. More and more, schools are turning to their student information systems (SIS) to make the review of grades, upcoming assignments and communication a part of the daily school-home routine.

Raising the Bar

Teachers will be the primary point of contact for most family communications. As such, they must understand the importance of clearly communicating standards, expectations and follow-up to their students’ guardians. As parents, we all want to be assured that our children are being challenged, that their learning experience is being personalized based on their own strengths and weaknesses, and that we are an important part of the learning process.

District leaders should be aware of the correlation between parent engagement and dropout rates. A recent study out of Harvard’s Kennedy School revealed that when educators provide weekly updates to parents about student progress, dropout rates fall by more than 40 percent. Having the right technology in place is important, but coaching, feedback and transparency are really what drive this success on a larger scale.

A Personalized Approach

The Gallup researchers cited personalized learning as a key factor in parent engagement. There is no substitute for a passionate teaching staff, but the sheer number of students for which each teacher is responsible can make it difficult to add that personal touch across the board. To avoid having any students fall through the cracks, administrators should foster a culture of data buy-in.

By emphasizing data strategies in professional development planning and one-on-one conversations, administrators and teachers alike will learn how to identify trends and adjust instruction accordingly. Here, again, is where a strong SIS can support those efforts by giving educators at all levels the insights they need to foster a personalized learning environment.

For any of these efforts to have an impact on parent engagement, they need to happen in the context of collaboration. Bring parents into the fold by using data at parent/teacher conferences or referencing trends in weekly communication. By explaining what the numbers mean, you’ll not only be creating a level of comfort, you’ll be making it clear that every student is receiving the individual attention parents want for their children.

The Bottom Line

Parents today demand more than off-the-cuff comments at the dinner table or weekly newsletter communications from school. The traditional model of infrequent progress reports and mass emails is becoming a thing of the past. Now, parents need to be able to see upcoming events, test scores and even food service balances at the drop of a hat, from their workplace, computer or even a mobile app. The parents using these tools often become the strongest advocates for their child’s school.

I see future ready district leaders actively searching for ways to improve visibility and outreach for their students’ families. As research continues to emphasize the impact of parent engagement on student outcomes, I expect this trend to continue. When those who are closest to students are given the resources to proactively support the learning process, achievement levels rise and public perception of the district follows not far behind. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Ray Ackerlund (@RayAckerlund) is the Chief Marketing Officer for Skyward Inc. With the company for more than 20 years, Ray guides the strategic execution of marketing and product vision for their administrative software exclusively designed for K-12 school districts, serving more than 5 million students and 1,700 school districts worldwide.

 

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