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Harvard Shares Professional-Development Methods To Support Family Engagement

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Parent involvement is often emphasized as a crucial component to a child's academic success. Yet many in the education field bemoan the lack of a concerted and cohesive effort to meaningfully engage families in their child's school.

The Dec. 5 issue of the Harvard Family Research Project's FINE Newsletter features new professional-development methods for teachers to promote family engagement. FINE, which stands for The Family Involvement Network of Educators, surveyed its readers and respondents rated professional development among the top choices for future newsletter topics. 

"Because family engagement is a significant part of student success; because higher levels of family engagement are associated with higher job satisfaction among teachers; and because teachers are more likely to stay in schools where they have good relationships with parents, it is important for teachers to continue to learn and practice family engagement skills on an ongoing basis throughout their careers," write Christine Patton and Shannon Wanless in their article, "Professional Development in Family Engagement: A Few Often-Overlooked Strategies for Success."

In conjunction with the FINE Newsletter, Wanless, the director of the Supporting Early Education and Development (SEED) Lab at the University of Pittsburgh, will host a professional-development discussion board for educators, administrators, and trainers seeking guidance to develop new family engagement goals. (No date has been set for the discussion board.) Next year, the newsletter also plans to create a suite of additional professional-development materials.

"From the first time teachers walk into their classrooms, they should assume that all families want to be engaged in their children's education," Périsida Himmele, an associate professor in the elementary and early childhood education department at Millersville University in Pennsylvania, writes in her article, "Teaching Future Educators and Families: Helping Maximize Children's Learning." 

Himmele, a former teacher and the mother of two school-aged children, added that minimal preparation exists at the pre-service level for family engagement.

"Faculty who teach pre-service teachers can change that by making family engagement a cornerstone of all of their courses instead of positioning it as an add-on or a dispensable piece of their instruction," Himmele concluded in her piece. 

The FINE Newsletter is also asking its readers to consider the following question: "What changes do we, as a field, need to make to better prepare educators to partner with families?"

I'm eager to hear what kind of feedback the newsletter's editors receive in response to this question. The parent-teacher relationship is much like a couple's marriage. Cultivating a partnership based on respect but devoid of misplaced emotions and sensitivities can prove challenging to achieve.

But establishing that successful connection with your child's teacher can yield a wonderful result—an academically successful and happy student.

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