Family school partnerships lead to success

Published 7:06 am Thursday, November 11, 2021

By Dreama Gentry
Executive Director of Partners for Education at Berea College

This Nov. 15-19, Partners for Education at Berea College joins the Commonwealth of Kentucky in recognizing the first statewide Kentucky Family Engagement in Education Week: a time dedicated to building awareness and support for effective family and school partnerships in Kentucky schools.

During Family Engagement in Education Week, we hope families and schools that have strong partnerships will share their journey and accomplishments on social media using #KyFamEngage. We also hope that staff and families in school systems across the state will take time to reflect on the value of these partnerships where they already exist and learn more about how to develop partnerships where they don’t.

Out of the many reasons to celebrate family-school partnerships, we want to highlight two.

First, partnerships improve performance. More than 50 years of evidence gathered by researchers like Henderson and Mapp demonstrates that when strong family-school partnerships exist, students are more likely to thrive in and out of school. When families and school staff work together, students earn higher grades, have better social skills and behavior, attend school more regularly, and are more likely to graduate and go on to higher education. A strong family partnership also benefits school staff: teachers express higher job satisfaction, feel more supported by their community, avoid burnout and continue teaching.

Second, as we all know, the last two school years have been particularly challenging due to COVID-19. Even as we have worked through unanticipated events and losses, strong family-school partnerships have been essential to supporting the needs of children across the state. Here in Kentucky, we’ve seen innovation in how schools and families have adapted to learning during a pandemic, from virtual brown bag lunches with principals and families to virtual home visits to outdoor parent-teacher conferences.

Beth Mullins, principal at Berea Community Elementary School, knew that starting the year off with a strong communication strategy would be essential as she brought students back in the building after a year away. She asked each teacher to call the parents on the phone to make a connection. She asked them to focus on getting to know the student and family rather than on academics or other issues. Mullins credits these conversations with creating a foundation of trust. According to Mullins, those early check-in calls between parents and teachers created a sense of common purpose with the student at the center.

In school districts just starting a family engagement program—or where there is a desire to energize an existing program—it’s important to engage the perspectives of the teachers and other staff who work directly with the students and families.

“One of the leadership lessons I learned a long time ago was to go directly to the people on the frontlines. They will tell you exactly what they need,” said Dayton Independent Superintendent, Jay Brewer. Staff in Brewer’s district agreed that current family engagement efforts weren’t strategic and that they need time together to plan. As a result, the district dedicated three days at the beginning of the year to identifying the strengths and weaknesses communications between the school and families.

Please join us online this week as we celebrate teachers, parents, and others who make the extra efforts to build positive relationships that support children’s growth and learning all year long. To learn more visit https://prichardcommittee.org/week-at-a-glance.