Ask educators to define parent engagement and you’ll often hear about events or activities designed to bring families into the school building: parent-teacher conferences, movie showings, book fairs and evenings focused on a subject area such as reading and math. These events are usually attended by families who are already tuned in to their child’s school. However, to build a culture in which all families are engaged over time, parent engagement experts recommend looking inward. Building a foundation of significant and lasting parent engagement often requires the right mindset.
In Beyond the Bake Sale, authors Anne Henderson, Karen Mapp, Vivian Johnson, and Don Davies list four core beliefs that educators should have, and the first is: All parents have dreams for their children and want the best for them. “This first core belief is the most important of the four,” write the authors. “Assuming that all families want the best for their children is the first step in cultivating and maintaining strong partnerships.”
This belief is evidenced in a rubric that describes four levels of achievement in parent engagement. The authors’ gold standard is the Partnership School, described as, “All families and communities have something great to offer—we do whatever it takes to work closely together to make sure every single student succeeds.” At the low end of the rubric are Fortress Schools, described as, “Parents belong at home, not at school. If students don’t do well, it’s because their families don’t give them enough support.”
The belief that all families want the best for their children is at the core of the FAST® (Families & Schools Together) model. The program’s values include the statement, “All parents love their children and want a better life for them.” FAST Trainings provide time for team members to discuss this statement as well as nine others that relate to attitudes and understanding of the family-child-school relationship. Within each weekly FAST Session, parents and guardians are treated as partners in their child’s education. FAST Team Members strive to honor each family’s knowledge of their child.
As you think about parent engagement in your school, don’t overlook the importance of the right mindset. What assumptions do you have about your students’ families? And how do you think the educators in your building would answer this question? To start this conversation, consider sharing the parent engagement rubric at your next staff meeting. It can help you evaluate the current mindset within your school as well as provide a road map for inclusion of all families.