Volume 16 | February 7, 2021
Founder's Focus: What is Family Engagement?
While decades of research underscore the value of family engagement, the crises of the past year cast a new light on its importance. First, the pandemic-forced school closures blurred lines for educators and families, as parents abruptly took a front row seat to their children’s educational experience in a way that they never had before. Second, our country’s reckoning with racial injustice highlighted an urgent need to equitably engage families in their child’s education. With this heightened recognition that meaningful and authentic family engagement is critical, it has also become clear that establishing a shared, well-understood definition of family engagement is critical.

We, at Family Engagement Lab, have been focused on family engagement since our founding in 2016. Powerful insights directly from families and educators regarding their experiences and needs, paired with research uncovering that involvement from a parent or caregiver in at-home learning has more than twice the effect on student achievement than parents’ education levels or socio-economic status (Melhuish et al., 2008) motivates our work, drives our commitment, and has shaped our definition of family engagement. Our approach to family engagement builds off of the Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnership, which highlights how relationships between educators and parents are central to supporting student and school improvement.


Elisabeth O'Bryon, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, Family Engagement Lab
Upcoming Events
Join Vidya Sundarum, Elisabeth O’Bryon, Ph.D., and Hannah Jong Lee at the virtual 2021 National ESEA Conference as they present Supporting Our Youngest Readers: Use Data, Not Donuts on February 10 at 3:30 p.m. EST. 

During this workshop, participants will: 
  • Alter how you approach family engagement by learning about the latest research on the power of school-family collaboration in at-home learning to support early learning outcomes, including early language development.
  • Initiate and/or refine planning for your district and/or school to effectively engage families by examining evidence-based strategies that support young learners’ development of foundational skills.
  • Collaborate with colleagues to discover innovative family engagement methodologies.

The National Association of ESEA State Program Administrators (formerly the National Title I Association) is dedicated to building the capacity of education professionals to provide disadvantaged children with a high quality education.
NASP 2021 Virtual Convention (February 23-26)
Dr. Elisabeth O’Bryon will be presenting Understanding Latino Families' Experiences to Promote Meaningful Family Engagement at the NASP 2021 Virtual Convention on February 24 at 6:15 p.m. ET.

This session will help participants:
  • Identify ways that Latino families’ experiences and beliefs may influence their relationships and interactions with educators and the educational system.
  • Learn strategies for effectively reaching and engaging Latino families that consider and respond to families’ specific needs and experiences.
  • Build their capacity to support their school’s family engagement efforts and fulfill their role in providing family–school collaboration services as outlined by the NASP Practice Model.
Meaningful Moments
In Education Week’s recent article, 7 Ways for Teachers to Truly Connect With Parents, it is explained that teachers communicate because they want families to engage in their children’s education. However, even when teachers believe they have “strong” communication skills, many become frustrated when families, particularly minority and low-income families, don’t respond. What educators perceive as “disengagement” often arises not because minority and low-income families don’t care about their children’s education but because the way educators communicate misses the cultural mark.

When educators recognize this cultural difference, they can speak the right cultural language to elicit parental engagement. Relationship-focused communication builds trust, which allows families to feel safe asking questions and soliciting advice from teachers.

Key learnings from their work in Forest Grove to help educators implement relationship-focused communication includes:
  • Show caring.
  • Give families the benefit of the doubt.
  • Open multiple lines of communication.
  • Be consistent.
  • Build community among parents.
  • Offer flexible ways for families to support learning.
  • Make communication family-centered.

For many educators, the shift is not to communicate more but to communicate strategically. By centering relationships and family well-being, educators can tap into parents’ existing motivation to help their children succeed.

Educator Highlight: Kindergarten Teacher Benita O'Quin, Byrd Avenue Primary, Bogalusa City Schools, Louisiana
Like many schools, Byrd Avenue Primary in Bogalusa City, Louisiana has had to transition between virtual, hybrid, and in-person learning models this academic year. With teachers moving between the learning environments, FASTalk was a tool for teachers to increase touchpoints with families around curriculum in a flexible and accessible way.

"I absolutely love FASTalk! It is an easy and convenient way to communicate with parents. I can instantly receive my messages and shoot a message right back to them. FASTalk is also easy to navigate. I can easily add people or remove them, which is extremely helpful due to my ever changing virtual classroom role. Overall, FASTalk is a very useful tool." - Benita O'Quin
Share the Good News
As champions of family engagement, we encourage you to become a part of the conversation by sharing one of the following posts on social media, or using them as inspiration for your own unique post.
In this month’s Learning Series blog, @FamilyELab co-founder @elisabeth_cady shares how establishing a shared, well-understood definition of family engagement is critical. Read the full blog post: https://www.familyengagementlab.org/blog #FELfamilies
Join @FamilyELab at the virtual 2021 National ESEA Conference on February 10 as they present Supporting Our Youngest Readers: Use Data, Not Donuts. @ESEA_network
#familyengagement #ESEAConference
Contact Us
Have questions? Email us at felcommunications@fastalk.org.
Don't forget to follow us on social media for the latest tools and resources to support family engagement.