Meeting the Challenge of Next-Generation Family Engagement by Changing Mindsets
Learn how changing mindsets can help to ensure all families are meaningfully engaged in building equitable pathways for their children.
Family engagement is one of the most powerful predictors of children’s development, educational attainment, and success in school and life. While family engagement has a long and marked history, and its benefits have long been studied by researchers, there have been recent efforts to shift the general perspective about family engagement to fully leverage all of the value and strength that families have to offer their children, schools, and communities.
This shift to next-generation family engagement requires a movement from where we are now—a scattered, marginal, and unaligned set of programs and policies—to more strategic and systemic approaches to family and community engagement across learning pathways in and out of school, from birth through young adulthood.
In a publication commissioned by Carnegie Corporation of New York, Joining Together to Create a Bold Vision for Next-Generation Family Engagement: Engaging Families to Transform Education, we highlight the critical role of family engagement in creating equitable learning pathways for children, and offer promising high-leverage areas that can be transformative for children, families, schools, and communities.
The challenge we put forth in this paper is to shift mindsets and encourage continuing innovation in family engagement across learning pathways by enabling families to be involved in their children’s development. We must move from doing this work for and to families, and instead co-create with them these opportunities for meaningful engagement.
The paper offers many illustrations and examples of how recent innovations are transforming the conversation about family and community engagement across the country. Here are three ways to meet the challenge of next-generation family engagement by changing mindsets.
1. Use teacher home visits to strengthen family-school relationships
When relationships with educators are characterized by mutual respect, trust, open communication, and inclusion, families are more likely to become increasingly engaged in their children’s learning. Yet there is often a mismatch between the expectations, beliefs, and practices held by teachers and families, which can result in the false belief that families of color and low-income families are less engaged than their middle-class peers.
Changing this narrative requires understanding the context in which families live and employing empathy based on the knowledge of what families desire and value. Teacher home visits have proven to be a valuable tool for addressing teachers’ implicit biases. As part of the Parent Teacher Home Visits program, for example, educators are trained to focus on what is positive and to dispel inherent biases about families as a “problem” that needs to be fixed.
2. Change narratives by focusing on the power and potential of family engagement
In order for families to share responsibility and play all the key roles in children’s learning and development, it is necessary to change not only individual but also organizational approaches and underlying attitudes. After all, family engagement is not about families supporting school goals and priorities but about creating a mutual responsibility for support of students’ academic success.
Schools and other organizations must shift from devaluing families to creating the structural conditions that empower them and enable their engagement by building relational trust. Many organizations are implementing initiatives to do this. The National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement, for instance, is developing a communications campaign to build a nationwide movement to support family engagement. And the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has convened a growing alliance of national parent-facing organizations, the Changing the Narrative coalition, to interrupt negative perceptions of low-income parents and parents of color.
3. Transform mindsets through new research methods
We have more than 50 years of research about family engagement, but it is a field that is multidisciplinary, complex, and nuanced. As such, it’s continually evolving, as innovative methods and practices reveal new ideas and approaches. To continue accurately measuring the impact of family engagement, we must take research in new directions.
We must reimagine what counts as evidence. Family engagement is a dynamic process existing across time and space, and it challenges us to expand our understanding of the kinds of research that will help families, schools, and communities. Randomized control trials, for example, won’t always be able to capture the nuances of family engagement research, but there is tremendous value in mixed-method approaches—that is, using both qualitative and quantitative methods—to studying family engagement. And there is a pressing need for more longitudinal studies that capture parents’ efforts to build learning pathways for their children beyond one point in time in one location.
To learn more about family engagement and creating equitable learning pathways, please download the full paper here.
We look forward to being part of a continuing conversation on family and community engagement. We invite you to share this important paper with your networks, and provide your feedback and ideas to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and to Carnegie Corporation of New York at email@example.com. We also encourage you to look at a related article that appears in The 74 and companion essays that Carnegie Corporation of New York has commissioned on ideas presented in the paper.