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The introduction to this sourcebook stresses the need for schools, communities, and families to work together to educate children to be productive and caring 21 st century citizens. American families are described as more diverse than ever before, spanning cultures, languages, levels of education, and socioeconomic and demographic differences. Family involvement is defined in an expansive way to include and recognize the value of a broad spectrum of activities that involve family members and/or guardians helping children to learn, both at home and at school. Barriers that limit family involvement are also recognized. Research evidence over the past three decades is cited that demonstrates family involvement significantly contributes to improved outcomes. Guidance for schools getting started in family involvement activities is provided with the caveat that not all of the more than 80 promising practices organized into eight “cluster strategies” included in the sourcebook will work for every school. To be most effective, school administrators and teachers, in consultation with parents and community representatives, need to select and/or adapt strategies based upon individual schools’ needs, priorities, resources, student population, and community support.
This strategy describes promising practices for creating a family-friendly school environment. The importance of assessing the diversity of families represented in the school is emphasized as is the inclusion of family members in planning and guiding the process. Guidance is provided on creating a family-friendly policy or mission for the school and developing a school environment that is welcoming to all families. Promising practices are also described for planning regular events to bring families and school staff together for positive interaction in support of learning.
Encouraging family involvement in schools requires the creation of an infrastructure to support these efforts. This strategy provides information and describes best practices for developing a family center in the school, hiring a family coordinator, and insuring ongoing resource commitments to maintain and/or expand family involvement activities.
Involving parents who represent the diversity of the school population in all aspects of planning, implementing, and evaluating volunteer activities is essential to developing an active family involvement program. This strategy describes a variety of practices utilized by schools to include families in educational activities at all levels of involvement and to recognize and value the many ways that families can contribute volunteer efforts, both at home and at school. Although these efforts are most effectively coordinated by a full-time family coordinator, this responsibility may be shared among various school personnel.
Family-school communication is essential to developing and maintaining an effective family involvement program. This strategy describes a variety of practices utilized by schools to convey both positive and negative news with families. Some of these practices take school personnel to families in their home communities with neighborhood walks, family focus group meetings, and home visits. Other practices utilize various technology tools to communicate to families in multiple ways. Being sensitive to cultural and linguistic differences among families is also important in all school-family communication.
One of the keys to supporting homefront family involvement is beginning early in children’s education to involve families in meaningful ways. Many families will benefit from guidance on developmentally appropriate practices for children and how learning progresses at each stage of development. Families can be involved in their children’s education a number of ways beyond traditional homework assignments, as described in this strategy.
Schools that develop effective family interaction programs recognize that education is a lifelong process and offer opportunities for both children and their families to continue to learn, often together. These may range from evening family science activity nights to support groups for families whose children have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This strategy emphasizes the importance ongoing assessments to determine educational needs of the school’s families and diverse participation of families in planning educational opportunities to meet those needs. Ways to reach out to families who are not typically involved in school activities are especially important.
Educators alone cannot prepare our children for 21st century challenges. Educating children to live in our rapidly changing and increasingly complex society “requires contributions and commitments from everyone in the community” (Dodd & Konzal, 2002, p. 288). Thus, as information provided in this strategy points out, families, schools, and community organizations must overcome traditional barriers and come together in a collaborative effort to meet the comprehensive needs of children, families, and the community. Practices discussed in the context of this strategy include building school-business partnerships, creating full-service schools, opening schools beyond traditional hours and uses as community learning centers, and developing comprehensive, wraparound services for families.
We cannot assume that educators know how to work effectively with families, especially during an era of rapid change of the American family composition and structure. Preservice teachers need experience in working with families to encourage involvement, and practicing teachers need ongoing professional development addressing ways to create family-friendly schools, build positive school-family relationships, and involve families in the education of their children. This strategy includes practices to better prepare educators to work with families in their shared mission of educating children together.
The concluding sections of the sourcebook include information and practices related to both formal and informal, ongoing evaluations of the effectiveness of family involvement programs in schools; a sample school-year calendar of family involvement activities; a list of national contacts and resources associated with each “cluster strategy”; and a list of references cited in the sourcebook.