“I think teachers need to talk to me and share information about how my child is learning in school. I want to know where my child is possibly struggling, and what we can do at home to help.”
Family-school partnerships are powerful tools for supporting the academic, social, and behavioral growth of young children. When teachers and families create goals and share responsibility for children’s growth, a collaborative relationship is established and learning outcomes improve. Exchanging information about a young child’s performance of crucial skills such as early literacy and numeracy can provide a meaningful approach to working with families. This collaboration is a win-win situation because it encourages a shared responsibility for student learning- a vital step in determining next steps to support young children. Family members benefit from sharing information about their children and learning critical skills that can extend learning at home. School staff benefit because they develop a clearer understanding the young child’s personal, familial, cultural, and community assets. These assets can help customize school-based instruction and interventions. When families and school staff members engage in strengths-based collaborative teaming and decision-making, all contributors understand more clearly, what families need to become engaged, collaborative team members. Enhancing young children’s attainment of essential developmental and early academic outcomes can be achieved through several strategies, which improve family engagement in the strengths-based problem-solving process.
Steps to Support Family Engagement in Pre-K using Team-Based Decision-Making
- Consider Convenient Communication – Many families of young children will want to communicate with school staff about their child’s progress informally, such as when they are there for a school event, or when they arrive to pick up their child. Email and texting might be how families learn about their children’s progress. They will also need to communicate with school staff in a more formal way such as during family conferences offered by the school, specific teacher concerns regarding a child, and if a child has an Individual Education Plan or another formal accommodation plan like a 504 Plan or a behavior plan. So, be prepared to engage the parent in a quick update of skills (e.g., “Eddie independently matched his name tag with his name on his coat hook today!”) or to work with them to arrange another time when you can focus on child needs during a private conversation. During these types of meetings families will need advanced notice, a copy of the agenda, and even include the most updated progress monitoring and benchmarking charts so that families can preview the information that will be shared. Presenting this additional information to families ensures that they are active participants. Collaborating in this strengths-based collaborative team process also known as, problem solving (Byrd, 2011; Christenson & Sheridan, 2001; Sheridan & Kratochwill, 2010) to help “Eddie” be more successful in school is powerful because the process places the family in the position of advocate.
- Use “family friendly” terms and language – The use of many unfamiliar, educational, technical terms (“jargon”) can cause some families to feel intimidated and reluctant to collaborate with school personnel (Peña, 2000). So, consider creating “family friendly” definitions similar to those provided below that can be included in handouts or provided on program websites.
- Universal Screening – A “screening” is a quick evaluation of every child’s skills to ensure that children are learning skills essential for success at home and school. All children participate, so it is “universal”. Two examples of screeners include the myIGDIs Early Literacy tasks where the child names pictures of items at home and outdoors and the myIGDIs Early Numeracy task where the child orally identifies printed numbers shown to them.
- Tier 1 – Whole Group Instruction – This includes the new knowledge and skills we want children to learn and the ways teachers engage children in intentionally planned learning opportunities, so the children become stronger in those skills. Most instruction occurs in large groups, but small groups and one-to-one learning opportunities can also occur. This instruction is the core (foundation) for ALL children’s growth and development.
- Tier 2 – Small Group Instruction – This instruction is typically provided to just some of the children who have experienced difficulty mastering whole group skills. Sometimes Tier 2 involves an additional opportunity to learn a basic skill because the child gets more skill demonstrations from an adult, and more practice and feedback. Tier 2 often has an increase of small group and one-to-one instruction so that student performance can be monitored for progress. This type of additional instruction can include a basic skill which is broken into smaller steps to make sure the student can do each piece well before putting the steps together.
- Tier 3 – Intensive Instruction – This type of carefully planned instruction is designed for the highly specific needs of an individual child in mind, so usually, only a few children in a classroom might need it. The child has not performed successfully on an essential skill, or multiple skills, over time and they require significant modifications of goals, teaching methods and materials, and motivational strategies to be successful. Goals may be broken down into very small steps and progress toward achievement is measured very regularly so modifications can be made right away based on student growth or lack of progress. The child still participates in Tier 1 as well as additional instruction designed just for him/her with just a few other children or in one-to-one opportunities.
- Progress Monitoring – The frequent collection of information/data which that is graphed, to determine the effectiveness of the instruction.These terms are just a few that can be shared with families. It is helpful to add visuals and specific examples so that the terms and definitions are clear and meaningful to all stakeholders. Removing the educational jargon from family communication improves family-school collaboration (Fantuzzo, Tighe, & Childs, 2000; Henderson & Mapp, 2002).
- Communicate with Data – It is beneficial to use a variety of data sources, specific examples, and visuals such as graphs. Graphs and charts should be easily understood and include a simply written narrative explaining the chart or graph. First, confirm that data gathered from instruments are reliable and have been validated for the intended purposes. Also, collect data from a variety of sources, including a review of records, interview with essential people (including families), observation across multiple settings, and testing as appropriate to inform the team members about student strengths and areas of concern. In many school districts, family knowledge of child educational progress has increased. Therefore, a next step is to consider how to send information home to families for a follow-up conference that will take place later. Some schools do this with a progress report (report card) that is sent home and then becomes the basis for a conference to take place later. The advantage is that the family can preview the information that will be shared and can think of other details to add to create a more comprehensive picture of the child’s strengths and challenges. A disadvantage is that the information might be better shared in the context of a meeting where the teacher or other adults who gathered the information can interpret the outcomes.
- Encourage Family Reflection – Families benefit from “think time” so that they can process the information presented, add more detail if needed, and use the information to generate possible solutions. Families want to help their children succeed in school and as their child’s first teacher, they can play a pivotal role in developing early literacy and numeracy skills (Faires, Nichols, & Rickelman, 2000). Assist families in identifying goals and objectives around their child’s data. This process engages families in understanding expectations of students as they enter grade school. When families are empowered to be a part of the collaborative decision-making, they are more likely to increase their involvement in their child’s learning (Gerzel-Short, 2013). In this new role, families are advocates and can participate in collaborative decision-making.
It is essential to empower families so that they become involved as active participants and team members on their child’s collaborative team rather than peripheral bystanders waiting for teachers to contact them or give them solutions.
- Byrd, E. (2011). Educating and involving parents in the response to intervention process. Teaching Exceptional Children, 43(3), 32-39.
- Christenson, S. L., & Sheridan, S. (2001). Schools and families: Creating essential connections for learning. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
- Faires, J., Nichols, W., & Rickelman, R. (2000). Effects of parental involvement in developing competent readers in first grade. Reading Psychology, 21(3), 195-215.
- Fantuzzo, J., Tighe, E., and Childs, S. (2000). Family development questionnaire: A multivariate assessment of family participation in early childhood education. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(2), 367-376.
- Gerzel-Short, L. (2013). Response to intervention, family involvement, and student achievement at tier 2: A mixed methods study of K-1 students and their families (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest, LLC. (Accession No. ED554427)
- Henderson, A., & Mapp. K. (2002).A new wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.
- Sheridan, S. M., & Krachowill, T. R. (2010).Conjoint behavioral consultation: Promoting family-school connections and interventions (2nded.). New York, NY: Springer.