4 Ways to Drive Family Engagement at Back-To-School Night
Family engagement is an important factor in student academic achievement at all grade levels. In fact, a report by Child Trends indicated that children with families who are engaged in their school life have greater academic success and fewer behavioral problems, and that parental involvement in school is more highly associated with achievement than simply helping with homework.
Engaging families from the start is a goal of many educators, and one of the best opportunities to begin driving family engagement is Back-to-School Night.
Back-to-School Night: The starting point of family engagement
Edcuators know how valuable families are to student learning. Back-To-School Night is the first (and sometimes only) opportunity to meet parents and caregivers face-to-face and begin building relationships. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, general school meetings (such as Back-to-School Night) and PTO/PTA meetings were the most common school-related activity in which parents participated, topping the list at 87%.
It is vital, then, to maximize this chance to not only discuss how learning will occur in the classroom for the year, but also to create a memorable experience for parents that lays the foundation for continued engagement as the year goes on.
Here are 4 ways to engage families right from the start at Back-to-School Night:
Gather parents’ points of view
While it is necessary to present critical information (such as curriculum, routine, and procedures) at a family orientation night, it's also important to take a few moments to gather insight from the people who know the students best. A parent survey focusing on individual students' strengths, goals, and concerns (like this survey) shows families that teachers value their input and provides the groundwork for personalized communication. You can address specific comments via follow-up emails or phone calls, and don't forget to use the surveys during end-of-year reflection to determine if parents' goals were met.
- Arrange an authentic learning experience
Students benefit from authentic learning experiences in the classroom, and Back-to-School Night is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate what this project-based learning looks like to parents. Rather than telling families how learning will occur, engage them in a hands-on authentic learning experience right there in the classroom. When parents and their children enter the classroom, pass out cards with a problem for them to solve using resources in the room, and watch how students work together with their parents to find a solution.
Alternatively, plan for students to engage with a short authentic learning project prior to Back-to-School Night. Then, have students demonstrate the final result to provide a realistic example for families who may be unfamiliar with both the terminology and the structure of authentic learning. This activity tends to work well, as many students love to show off their work during Back-to-School Night.
- Host a Bilingual Family Night for families of English Language Learners
On Back-to-School Night, a great deal of information is handed out over a short period of time, with teachers' attention being pulled in multiple directions at once. For families of English language learners (ELLs), it may be difficult to fully comprehend this information or to ask questions, particularly if a translator's services are spread thin.
Ensuring a successful Back-to-School Night experience for families of students learning English is essential to driving their engagement later on, and will help them feel connected and invested in their child's classroom environment. This can be accomplished by:
Presenting materials in home languages
Arranging for translators to be present
Hosting a Bilingual Family Night
Hosting a separate Bilingual Family Night may be particularly beneficial if a school or district has a large percentage of students learning English. During this event, topics and information can be targeted to the specific needs of the families, including providing resources and the opportunity for discussion in a comfortable environment. Colorín Colorado has some great tips for hosting a Bilingual Family Night.
- Increase awareness and understanding of educational technology
Educational technology (edtech) is playing an increasingly prominent role in the academic lives of today's students. However, some parents may not be familiar with the terminology or use of certain forms of edtech, such as computer-based assessments. Darri Stephens, senior director of education content at Common Sense Education, recommends the following ways to make the most of a Back-to-School Night that involves edtech:
Be transparent with families by explaining educational terms, sharing common language, and detailing the reasoning behind using certain forms of ed tech.
Be direct about expectations when it comes to technology use, and use Back-to-School Night as a means to gauge families' perception of technology use at home.
Be consistent with updates and helping families navigate the ever-changing world of edtech.
Back-To-School Night is one of the best ways to generate family engagement from the start of the school year. When families continue to engage in the education of their children, students, educators, and families will all benefit, maximizing the success of each student.
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