Sharing a Continued Commitment to Family Engagement
A letter from GFRP staff regarding continued priorities for family engagement.
To those invested in family engagement,
In this time of universal uncertainty and stress over COVID-19, families and teachers are doing the best they can to keep kids engaged and to support home-based learning. With schools closed and children at home, families and teachers are stretched thin as they balance home-schooling with other demands, try to keep children on track, and worry about the negative impacts of lost learning time as well as how they, the economy, and the country will survive, recover, and move ahead.
In the midst of this turmoil, we and others are lifting up the many creative examples of how everyone—from national to community-based organizations and schools—are supporting families in their home-schooling roles and how families are helping each other. The pandemic is underscoring the value of continued family engagement. This crisis reinforces the importance of equitable, inclusive, and effective engagement. It is urgent that we come together to shift away from devaluing family engagement—and doing to and for families—toward valuing and co-creating family engagement in children’s learning.
We urge everyone to share stories through Twitter (via #OneGlobalFamily) and other means to inspire and encourage us all. Many of the stories we see and hear illustrate how people are coming together—everything meal distribution through school cafeterias to guidance on how to navigate online learning and find other enrichment opportunities. Teachers and families are having virtual conversations about how to help students with schoolwork and sharing free Web-based learning and play resources.
Some school districts are delivering paper packets to student and families who lack computers or Internet access; national organizations with fee-based learning resources are suspending the costs to enable more equitable access, while some groups are curating collections of their offerings for families. Others are providing free daily family engagement ideas and resources, harvesting their deep knowledge of how families support their children’s learning to provide a steady flow of practical ideas and reinforcing the importance of family engagement. Still others are using Facebook Live and similar tools to learn what families need, co-create family engagement resources with them, and enable them to share tips with each other.
Through all of this, teachers and families are building empathy for each other and a new understanding of how crucial they and their relationships with each other are for children’s education and school success. This growing sense of the value of family engagement and the recognition of shared responsibility for children’s learning in the midst of the pandemic is building the base for the essential and sustained family engagement for all families that will be necessary when schools reopen in order to recover from the inevitable pandemic learning loss ahead.
The pandemic is also heightening the visibility, need for, and power of family, school, and community engagement, but it is also pointing out the conditions that create inequitable engagement and increasing the urgency to address these conditions with powerful advocacy for resources as well as practice and policy changes that enable equitable family engagement. All families are deeply committed to ensuring their children get what is necessary to build a successful life, and as a country, we count on family engagement as a necessary public good.
All families now face the risks of pandemic learning loss for their children, but as with summer learning loss, the risks and losses fall disproportionately on the growing numbers living with economic disadvantage and on those experiencing racism and immigration challenges. These losses are likely to be large and consequential for years to come. Now is the time to lift up and listen to families and co-create family engagement initiatives with them, and to embed support for equitable and inclusive family and community engagement into the heart of education policy and into pandemic relief and recovery strategies and investments.
As policymakers and educators at all levels frame, prioritize, and begin to address the challenges ahead, it is imperative to recognize the perspectives, commitment, and expertise that families—as well as educators and others—bring to the process of rethinking and rebuilding our learning institutions and then employ approaches that include all of the partners in the process. These approaches center around working with families to co-create solutions to problems. Together, educators and families develop innovations and strategies through asking questions, listening, empowering, sharing perspectives, partnering, implementing, assessing new approaches, and supporting parent leadership and advocacy for educational equity and change. Over the coming months, Global Family Research Project will continue to search for and share examples of how people and organizations around the country are doing this. We hope you will, too.
As we go through this difficult time, stories of how people are coming together to build and support family engagement in children’s learning and development are important to share. They offer hope for now and ideas for the future. It is our wish that you will share them with each other and with us, and that you, your families and communities stay safe and well.