Usable Knowledge Link It to Learning Concrete tips for making family engagement happen Posted October 1, 2014 By Bari Walsh Educational leaders know a lot about family engagement, says Senior Lecturer Karen Mapp, speaking at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Bold Ideas & Critical Conversations event on September 19, and they know a lot about its impact on student outcomes. Students with engaged families: earn higher grades and test scores; enroll in higher-level academic programs; are promoted on time and earn more credits; adapt better to school and attend more regularly; have better social skills and behaviors; and graduate and go on to postsecondary opportunities. So if we know all of this, Mapp asks, why are schools still struggling to increase family engagement? What really works when it comes to cultivating partnerships between home and school? Mapp has assembled a list of best practices, based on her work with districts, schools, and parents. Effective family engagement, she says, must be: Relational. “Relationships matter,” she says. “A lot of times we jump straight to the program — do this — but we haven’t gotten to know each other as people, and that’s really important in districts where there’s been a lot of distrust between home and school.” Interactive. “We learn more when we get some dirt under our fingernails and do it together,” Mapp says. Collaborative. “Families and communities have funds of knowledge that we need [in order] to be better educators.” Developmental. “If we’re only going to provide services to families, and not build their capacities, then nobody learns, nobody grows.” Linked to learning. “This is one of the pieces that’s easy to fix, but we don’t get it right,” Mapp says, asking the audience to think about a typical school open house, where parents are shunted from the auditorium or cafeteria — where they hear from the principal about rules and requirements — to the classroom, where they hear from the teacher about more rules and requirements. “Do I get to learn, as a parent, a new tip or tool, or [do I get to] practice something that helps support my kids’ learning? Not usually,” says Mapp. “Do the teachers get to hear from me about what I know about my kid that might help them be a better teacher to my child? No.” By not linking school events like open houses to real learning opportunities, Mapp says, we’re missing a key opportunity to build lasting family engagement. *** Get Usable Knowledge — DeliveredOur free monthly newsletter sends you tips, tools, and ideas from research and practice leaders at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Sign up now. Usable Knowledge Connecting education research to practice — with timely insights for educators, families, and communities Explore All Articles Related Articles News Bridging the Gap Between Home and School At her school in Okayama, Japan, master's student Mari Sawa innovates by involving the whole family in literacy instruction Usable Knowledge Equity in the PTA How parent teacher associations strengthen relationships across schools and communities, giving everyone a voice. Usable Knowledge What You Can Do How schools can keep parents and caregivers involved as students head back into the classroom.