About 50 years of research has revealed the striking benefits of schools actively partnering with families to improve their children’s learning. For some educators though, it was not until COVID-19 blew the doors off their schools and the walls off their classrooms that the penny dropped, as Sonja Santelises, CEO the Baltimore public schools and Harvard Graduate School of Education alum, described in Education Week that first bleak winter of the pandemic.
“During the pandemic, educators realized that families knew a lot more about teaching and learning than they had given them credit for,” especially when it came to understanding the needs of their own children, explained Karen Mapp, a senior lecturer at HGSE. She recently shared some of Santelises’ insights and many of her own during a virtual event about effective family and community engagement, hosted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s EdRedesign Lab. “Now, a lot of educators want to know more about how to engage families because of the lessons that they learned during COVID,” Mapp added.
Mapp, a renowned family engagement specialist who said she has encountered a fair share of resistance to her ideas over the years, makes a strong case for them in the new book Everyone Wins! The Evidence for Family-School Partnerships & Implications for Practice. She and co-authors Anne Henderson, Stephany Cuevas, Martha Franco, and Suzanna Ewert dive into the latest research and drill down on the same question that senior citizen Clara Peller asked in the infamous 1984 Wendy’s commercial, as Mapp recalled with a chuckle, “Where’s the beef?” In other words, for any remaining skeptics, who benefits from effective family-school-community partnerships and what is the return on their investment?
As the title of Mapp’s book suggests, the answer is everyone:
- Students who enjoy higher grades, better engagement and attendance at school, greater self-esteem, and higher rates of graduation and college/ post-secondary enrollment.
- Educators who have increased job satisfaction, greater success in motivating and engaging with students from different backgrounds, more support from families, and an improved mindset about students and families.
- Families that enjoy stronger relationships with their children, better rapport with educators, and that can navigate their school systems, advocate for their children, and feel less isolated.
- Schools because of improved staff morale and school climate, greater retention of teachers, and more support from the broader community.
- School districts and communities, which become better places to live and raise children in, have students with fewer suspensions and high-risk behaviors, greater participation in afterschool programs, and expanded family and youth involvement in decision-making.