This week, one of our state leaders contacted our office to ask for a simple definition of family engagement. This reminded me of one of the biggest challenges in this field: the lack of a common definition. Many people I worked with in the past defined family engagement as how many parents attended school events or volunteered in the school building. This type of “head count parent involvement” used to be the norm. Fortunately, a large body of research has opened our eyes!
We now know that the things families do at home with their children have the biggest impact on how well children do in school. It’s great if families can come to school and participate, and I hope that all of them do, but they can still be engaged even if they don’t! And in this day and age of hectic schedules and multiple jobs, some families can’t! That doesn’t mean they don’t care about their children or that they won’t do what they can to support their children’s education.
Our job is to promote a common definition so we can all work toward the same goals. The National PTA definition of family engagement is:
- A shared responsibility in which schools and other community agencies and organizations are committed to engaging families in meaningful and culturally respectful ways, and families are committed to actively supporting their children’s learning and development.
- From cradle to career, continuous across a child’s life, spanning from Early Head Start programs to college and career.
- Across contexts, carried out everywhere that children learn – at home, in pre-kindergarten programs, in school, in after-school programs, in faith-based institutions, and in community programs and activities.
Once we are all speaking the same language, it will be even easier to help ENGAGE!
ENGAGE! is a weekly column on Family Engagement written by Sherri Wilson, Senior Manager of Family and Community Engagement at the National PTA. Sherri is the former Director of the Alabama Parent Information and Resource Center and is currently responsible for developing and implementing programs related to family and community engagement at the National PTA.