Note: This is the second in a short series of blogs that will help 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.
In Visible Learning, Hattie expands on the importance of understanding the affects of socio-economics on schooling. “SES is more important at the school than at the individual level, and for the parents more than for the students . . . the culture and politics of schools have a major role in explaining why a school is or is not successful (p. 63).
The Five Simple Principles to Engage Every Family starts with this very important notion of culture understanding that without attention and the shaping of a culture that accepts family engagement, the likelihood of success is significantly diminished or altogether elusive.
A Lesson From Effective Schools
The late Ron Edmonds is responsible for researching and creating the Effective Schools research a few decades ago. It is still as relevant today as it was at it’s inception. Edmonds believed that all children could learn as his now famous article in Educational Leadership (October 1979) states:
It seems to me, therefore, that what is left of this discussion are three declarative statements: (a) We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us; (b) We already know more than we need to do that; and (c) Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.”
Fundamentally, Edmonds understood that our own perceptions and beliefs of our practice and too, our awareness of the culture of our schools are significant in shaping effective practice. He also understood how perceptions and beliefs, themselves evidence of an organization’s culture impacted families and student learning. While not as famous as the quote above, the following Edmonds statement speaks to the heart of the issues of socio-economics, achievement and families:
“How many effective schools would you have to see to be persuaded of the educability of poor children? If your answer is more than one, then I submit that you have reasons of your own for preferring to believe that pupil performance derives from family background instead of school response to family background.”
Hattie’s analysis and Edmonds’ research clearly establish a rationale for why delving into organizational culture is an important first step to engage every family. It is also interesting to note that Hattie finds very little effect from the receipt of welfare or family structures.
Upon a cursory glance, the culture of our organization can seem to be one thing. In the case of engaging families, it is easy to make a quick assumption that we are doing a pretty good job. Most of our students are eventually successful, we have family attendance to important events and generally speaking, families seem supportive of our efforts. But when we stop and take a close look and examine the culture carefully, we may very well see something completely different. We see now, things that have always been there, but have gone undetected.
Every organization, including schools, has a culture of its own. In most cases, the culture has evolved over time. Sadly, in many instances, school culture is not inclusive of every family especially those that are socio-economically disadvantaged. So what do we do?
Four Important Questions
Every educator should reflect on their responses to the following questions as a way to begin to understand the culture of your organization and your own role in shaping that culture:
What do I think about family engagement?
Will family engagement work at my school? Why or why not?
What is my role in promoting family engagement at our school?
Am I willing to rearrange time, resources and energy to work on family engagement to bring about more achievement of my students?
By reflecting on and maybe even discussing these questions with colleagues, you take an incredibly important first step in engaging every family. To learn more about The Five Simple Principles to Engage Every Family, visit www.drsteveconstantino/family-engagement
Breaking The Cycle
Every educator remembers school years when new initiatives were announced. We also remember how long most of those initiatives lasted! We outlived most of those initiatives designed to improve student learning and in many cases, had little return on investment to show for our efforts.
Why? The answer is simple: Initiatives and ideas do not last because the culture of organizations never changes to embrace and sustain the ideas. As Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats change for lunch.” In order to allow family engagement to be the important component to school reform, the culture of organizations must change and that change must start with you and what you think, believe, and value when it comes to engaging every family.