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Family Engagement in Education

Creating Effective Home and School Partnerships for Student Success

Karen MappThere was a time when Professor Karen Mapp couldn’t imagine educators lining up to participate in a summer institute geared specifically toward family engagement, which once  wasn’t linked to student outcomes. But for Mapp, an expert in family and community engagement who recently helped draft the U.S. Department of Education’s Dual Capacity Framework for Family –School Partnerships, the times have changed. Across the board at the federal, state, and district level the role of partnerships between home and school is becoming a more important factor in education reform and student achievement, Mapp said.

This summer Mapp led her first Program in Professional Education (PPE) institute, “Family Engagement in Education: Creating Effective Home and School Partnerships for Student Success,” which focused on designing family engagement practices connected to student learning, and increasing the capacity of educators, families, and community members to develop and sustain partnerships that improve student outcomes. Although Mapp had previously taught individual sessions about family engagement in various PPE programs, this was the first time an entire institute was dedicated to the subject.

“The inaugural offering of this exciting institute was a home run. Kudos to Educational Chair Karen Mapp and an outstanding faculty line-up that included [Professors] Bridget Terry Long and Nancy Hill for delivering a research-based program that was also chock full of practical insights and applications,” said Senior Lecturer Mary Grassa-O’Neil, acting managing director of PPE. “Participants learned effective ways for schools and families to work together to produce the best academic results for students. The Family Engagement institute is a terrific addition to the PPE program portfolio and we look forward to its continued success.”

“Participants learned effective ways for schools and families to work together to produce the best academic results for students. The Family Engagement institute is a terrific addition to the PPE program portfolio and we look forward to its continued success.”

Soon after registration for the institute opened, it attracted an astounding 160 participants. “Interest in family engagement has grown,” Mapp said, pointing to the increased number of calls she receives for help. “I wanted to get as many diverse stakeholders into one room so that they could learn from us as well as each other.”

Program participants came from around the world indicating that issues with education and family and community engagement aren't unique to the United States. The education environment, as Mapp explained, is changing as many educators and districts recognize families and communities as key players in classroom and school outcomes. Additionally, the participants came from all facets of school and community including superintendents, teachers, board members, parents, family engagement coordinators, general staff, and nonprofit organizations.

At the program, participants delved deep into the research about the significance of family engagement in creating successful reform. They learned how to align family engagement programs with standards-based reform, and also how to truly develop and evaluate an integrated and effective family engagement initiative in their schools and districts.

As Mapp explained, many schools and districts interact differently with families and the community, but ultimately, the goal is to create a co-partnership that stretches far beyond simple parent-teacher meetings.

At the institute, small working groups allowed participants an opportunity to discuss topics particularly relevant to their interest or communities. Among the topics discussed were home visits, outreach to fathers, balancing privilege and power, race in family engagement, family engagement and the transition from early childhood to K–12, and funding family engagement.

Kim Graham, a kindergarten teacher at Rockway Public School in Ontario, Canada, discovered the program after being given the task to help develop a family engagement program for her high-needs school. Mapp’s program suited the school’s needs best, especially with its link to student outcomes, she noted. “I’ve received a ton of information and it has been an excellent experience,” Graham said. “Something needs to change in the school.”

Though some participants were just beginning to build family engagement programs, others had experience working in this area for some time. Marta Bentham, director of family services at Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut, has spent 15 years focused on communities and engagement. Many years ago, Bentham got advice from Mapp and was eager to have formal instruction on the topic. “I wanted an instructional experience on family engagement so it’s not just what I believe — it’s what I practice,” Bentham said. “This is my master class.”