Visible Family Engagement, Part 3

Note: This is the third and last is a series of blogs that connect the work of John Hattie’s Visible Learning, the important role that family engagement plays in Visible Learning and how Engage Every Family: Five Simple Principles can assist educators in maximizing student achievement potential.

Re-Thinking What a Positive Home Learning Environment Really Is

In the two previous blogs, there was a discussion of active family engagement versus passive family engagement. Hattie describes home environment as “…intellectual stimulation in the home” (p. 66). This type of environment has an impact on student achievement of d-.57, clearly in the zone of desired effects. But exactly what does an environment that is intellectually stimulating mean? What does it look like? How can schools help families achieve this desired result? We know what it doesn’t mean.

Home environments that are stimulating to students and their learning are not centered on a family “surveillance” approach to engagement. This type of approach, meaning, reviewing documents, grades, homework, etc., has little effect on achievement outcomes and can be described as passive which results in little support for improved student outcomes. What research proves is that parent aspirations for their children’s success played the biggest role in advancing student achievement. The relationship between student achievement and parental participation in learning had a positive impact on student learning, d=.56.

As educators, we often thing that parent involvement in school activities, communication with teachers, monitoring progress, including homework, and providing structure in the home are directly correlated to improved student achievement. They are not. Hattie clearly informs us that all of these attributes have an effect between d=.19 to d=-.09. Neither do external rewards, homework surveillance, negative control, and restrictions for unsatisfactory grades. These types of strategies are things that parents and teachers think work. Think again.

The most successful involvement is related to the degree to which parents and families can tutor their children and the degree to which schools make home visits to families. Yes, you heard me correctly, home visits. Those two words strike fear in the hearts of most teachers, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are great resources out there to help schools embrace the notion of home visits and, more importantly, to train teachers in the art of making home visits. I highly recommend you check out “The Parent-Home-Teacher Project, www.pthvp.org. This group knows how to train and can assist you in developing the kinds of relationships with families that inspire student growth in learning.

Family Expectations
The best predictor of how family engagement can impact the achievement of children rests in the area of family expectations (d = .58). This idea far exceeded the notion of family involvement with school activities. Parents who attend meetings or workshops (there was a very low correlation to parent training) do not register the same correlation as parents who are supported by the school to enhance learning at home. When we support families in their understanding of what needs to be achieved in schools, their expectations for their own children increases. When their expectations increase, there is a higher likelihood that student achievement will be positively impacted.

In the words of Hattie:

“Thus, parents need to hold high aspirations and expectations for their children and schools need to work in partnership with parents to make their expectations appropriately high and challenging, and then work in partnership with children and the home to realize, and even surpass, these expectations. Too often, the alienation of the home from school reduces the initial expectations.”

The Nucleus of the Five Simple Principles

The beauty of the Five Simple Principles are their alignment with research and the notion that the goal is not to increase attendance to meetings or events, but to leverage the efficacy of families such that they play a critical and important role in the education of their children. To begin the process, every school needs to take stock in their present culture as it relates to families and determine how to proceed forward to leverage the influence of the first and most influential teachers of children: their families.

Promoting family expectations and aspirations means that we pay close attention to how we can enhance the efficacy of families in the educational lives of their children. How can we allow them to have a hand in the process of learning? One of the simplest answers to that question is to ensure that families have knowledge of what is happening in school, not what has happened.

It is impossible to engage someone with something that has already happened. When we send grade reports, interims, folders, works samples and the like home, we are really getting no return for our investment of time, energy and resource. Consider this: how about sending home information about what WILL happen in school, not what HAS happened in school? Shifting our process to future learning has a profound impact on the ability of families to engage and become true partners in the education of their own children, regardless of their station in life.

To close with a thought from Hattie:

“It is not so much the structure of the family but rather the beliefs and expectations of the adults in the home that contributes most to achievement” (p. 71).

We can affect that, for sure…if we want to and we think it is important and valuable to our mission.

For more information on the five simple principles and the ideas presented here, visit www.drsteveconstantino.com

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.