The family engagement movement is happening

A movement has emerged and the power of this movement is not to be underestimated. Parents, teachers, community organizers, and education leaders are coming together as partners and advocates in new and powerful ways.

Creating effective partnerships with parents and community organizations to support student success is recognized as one effective strategy within education reform and parent involvement has long been a component of federal education legislation. More than 50 years of research has demonstrated that when parents are more involved in their children’s learning and at school there are a myriad of positive outcomes. For example, when effective family-school-partnerships are in place, students’ test scores and grades increase and school dropout rates decrease.

Family engagement is being reimagined, reinvented, and forged anew as it takes center stage in education policy and practice. This movement is not to be ignored and is quickly gaining the visibility and capacity to transform what is possible for schools and communities across the nation.

More than 1,000 parents, parent advocates, community organization and school district leaders, funders, researchers, family and community outreach coordinators, and teachers gathered this summer to attend the Institute for Educational Leadership’s (IEL) 2016 National Family and Community Engagement Conference in Pittsburgh, PA. The conference, called “Owning our Movement, Maximizing our Impact,” was a gathering of courageous and skilled leaders and organizers who are working each day to build and strengthen partnerships among neighborhoods, schools, and communities. They came together to learn from one another, attend workshops, share best practices, gain motivation, support, and make connections to others in the movement.

The success and growth of this conference is just one indicator of the burgeoning strength and visibility of the family engagement movement. Last year, the conference took place in Chicago, IL, and was so successful that the organizers decided to hold a third conference this year.

The US Department of Education’s dual-capacity building framework for family-school partnerships has become one of central tools for conceptualizing the work of the family engagement movement. The framework was originally created with support from Dr. Karen Mapp. Dr. Mapp is a Senior Lecturer and the Faculty Director of the Education Policy and Management Master’s Program at Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE). She is also an IEL board member and the framework was originally presented at the National Family and Community Engagement Conference in Cincinnati, OH. Elements of the framework were utilized and referred to consistently during the conference in Pittsburgh and provided a useful way for organizing teaching and learning about the on-the-ground work of engagement.

Momentum continues to build, and the energy and urgency is palpable. The work of creating and expanding partnerships and relationships among schools, families, and communities is difficult and not without struggle, learning, success, and failure. Notwithstanding the hard work necessary, this movement is not going anywhere. The time for change is now.

We are excited, humbled, and awed to see the energy and amazing capacity that makes up this family engagement movement and to be a part of this bright future. When communities join together, real and lasting change is possible; the future of this movement is now.