"When it comes to a breakfast of ham and eggs, the chicken is involved but the pig is committed." This humorous quote captures the differences between parent involvement (the chicken) and family engagement (the pig). (Anonymous) It can also serve to describe the struggles facing schools working to build strong family partnerships. Let's dig a little deeper into the specific school practices that differentiate parent involvement from family engagement.
When you "involve" parents, ideas and suggestions come primarily from the school. The school typically identifies priority areas and recruits parents to assist, based on these priority areas. Parents who are involved serve the school's agenda by- volunteering, parenting in positive ways and supporting student learning at home.
When schools engage parents and families, ideas come primarily from the conversations between families and communities based on their needs and priorities that is reflected in the data. The parent is considered a leader who is critical player in identifying a shared vision and goal. When we engage families, we have the potential to create a shared community, where families and educators work as partners to support and increase student learning.
Here are some suggestions to move your school towards family engagement:
- Actively solicit family participation on decision making committees. Communicate specifics on where decision-making skills are needed (i.e. site council, PTO, or other committee). Promote opportunities in newsletters, meetings and events, on the website and marquee, and best of all by personal invitation.
- Conduct an annual survey or form focus groups for family input on current or proposed school programs and policies.
- Ensure families on the school improvement team represent diversity of the school population
- Have a suggestion box in the front office or on the website, encouraging families to share concerns and ideas
- Provide various opportunities and different levels of engagement for parents at different stages of involvement. To ensure a variety of parents are involved in school decision-making committees, consider adopting a 1-2 year term limit on school committees/boards. Invite family representatives from each grade level to participate.
- Provide leadership development opportunities for families.
- Publicize successful changes resulting from family initiation and engagement.