The pandemic has taught us that authentic Parent and Family Engagement is definitely not a once size fits all approach. Especially if parents lack resources, or time, or formal schooling in their first language, or if they are English learners. And the list can go on.
Today in our schools we aim to include parents in the process of educating their kids so that their kids will thrive and succeed in school. It seems easy enough to do, and there is so much research that tells us that parent engagement is a key indicator to school success for students. But bridging the research with practical, hands-on parental involvement for academics is not easy if teachers are not trained to do this.
It would be easy enough to keep it simple and provide the same offerings to all parents. The same meeting, the same handouts, the same everything would be easiest. It’s easy to set up a parent night and offer the same materials to all parents. This approach is convenient, but this is not true engagement. And guess what? If parents are not truly engaged, they probably won’t return to these types of meetings simply because they don’t have time to waste on something that is not going to make a difference in their already hectic lives.
So the question is…what do we need to do to customize the engagement with parents and families at school in order to see real outcomes with students? Well, it starts with identifying specifically the students who are the most challenged in the school setting, and then work your way up the ladder to students who do thrive in the school setting. Next, brainstorming with your school team, and with parents, for solutions that resonate with both students and parents. If the parents do not speak English, that is not the problem, but it does need a solution if parents are to speak authentically and can have a real back and forth exchange with school staff and with other parents.
The challenges in authentic Parent and Family Engagement is not entirely the fault of the school. There are very few publishers who offer curriculum and materials for authentic engagement, especially for Spanish-speaking parents, and particularly to support culturally appropriate strategies for reading, language development, ESL, and activities that honor the family as they are. Programs and materials that excite parents is the aim. Lectura Books publishes curriculum and books for The Latino Family Literacy Project and offers practical solutions for teachers and school staff to better understand the Latino immigrant parent in a family literacy environment at school.