STAFF BLOG: Family and Community Engagement is Something Good Schools Do — Tom Capretta, Family and Children Community Coordinator
By: Staff Blogger
Tracy Hill is the executive director of the Office of Family and Community Engagement at Cleveland Metropolitan School District and one of the 2014 Education Week Leaders to Learn From. The first time I heard her say, “Family and community engagement is something that good schools do,” it just clicked. She made the point simply and powerfully. Family engagement and community engagement are not separate from the everyday work of schools and districts. They are, in fact, critical to the success of that work. Research even shows that effective family and community engagement can result in better grades, test scores, attendance and enrollment in more challenging courses.
Because engagement with families and communities is so critical to school success, it is a part of any quality effort to improve schools. For example, when a district carries out the Ohio Improvement Process, the district must work with families and communities to collect data, determine needs, develop an improvement plan, work the plan and evaluate the plan. As the district does this work, it develops mutual relationships with families and community members. This allows everyone to recognize their roles in improving students’ education.
At a webinar I attended in August 2017, Ron Mirr, president of the Center for Active Family Engagement (CAFÉ), shared this process in simpler terms. Below are the five steps he outlined for meaningful and organized engagement:
- Commit: To get buy-in from the community and families, districts and schools must clearly define family and community engagement. Districts should develop policies that create a clear direction for engagement. Districts and organizations in the community must develop and subscribe to shared beliefs about family and community engagement.
- Assess: Districts and schools must assess the environment they operate in. To do this, they should survey stakeholders, review what they are already doing and identify opportunities for growth.
- Plan: Districts and schools should develop a team of parents, caretakers, students and community members. Writing a plan that includes all parties establishes a foundation of mutual trust. To be successful, schools and districts also must provide training to staff about how to engage families and the community.
- Implement: Districts and schools must move beyond traditional professional development and provide coaching. Their plans must include processes for checking progress and provide the necessary resources for success.
- Sustain: Engagement is not a one-time event. School and district teams must routinely review data and, if needed, adjust what they are doing. They should openly create and share the next steps in the process with their stakeholders.
These steps align to the Ohio Improvement Process. They also are accessible to parents and community members. Intentionally engaging families and communities establishes trust. Trust leads to meaningful collaboration and support in other areas.
The draft of EachChild=OurFuture, Ohio’s five-year strategic plan for education, includes Eight Guiding Principles that recognize the importance of family and community engagement. The goal of the strategic plan is to help each child become successful with the guidance and support of caring, empowered adults. The plan itself is the product of engagement with more than 150 preK-12 educators, higher education representatives, parents and caregivers, employers, business leaders and philanthropic organizations. In fact, the draft is still being discussed at public regional meetings around Ohio. You can read more about EachChild=OurFuture and comment on the draft here.
Ohio and the nation are realizing the importance of family and community engagement. It is the perfect time for our state to be the meeting place for the 2018 National Family and Community Engagement Conference. The conference, hosted by the Institute for Educational Leadership, will be in Cleveland July 11-13. More than 1,300 people are expected to attend, and there will be more than 75 workshops. This is an excellent opportunity to see how schools and communities around the country are realizing mutual goals and making the most of family-school-community partnerships. Participants will leave the conference with strategies, tips and tools they can immediately apply to their work. To learn more, please visit the conference website or contact me directly.
Tom Capretta is the family and children community coordinator at the Ohio Department of Education. He supports districts in their efforts to implement effective family and community engagement strategies and serve vulnerable student groups, including students in foster care. To contact Tom, click here.