What's it about?
Families are a student's first teacher. They're a core partner in learning, and can be allies when it comes to improving health at school.
Engaging families in school health is about meaningful collaboration. The goal is for all families to know what’s going on, and to have the tools they need to get involved in school life.
Families come in all shapes and sizes.
We use families to mean anyone who might care for students at home—parents (including stepparents and foster parents), relatives (like uncles, aunties, grandparents, and siblings), and other guardians.
Here are some key strategies to engage families in school life. Many of them transition well into virtual formats during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Build relationships and trust
Recognize that some adults may have had very different school experiences than what their children have today. These families need our support to feel welcomed, accepted, and included in the school community. Try these tips for building trust and positive relationships:
- Focus on your common ground. You both want what’s best for their child. You’re partners.
- Look for strengths. Talk about what families are doing right.
- Help families understand what’s going on at school. For example:
- For families with younger students, explain what you’re teaching, and why. Share ideas about how they can support learning at home.
- For families with older students, explain course selection and requirements for post-secondary school and career paths. Help them learn about internships, apprenticeships, scholarships, bursaries, and other opportunities.
- Make extra effort to get in touch with families not fully engaged in the school community or disconnected during school closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Personal connections can go a long way to building a positive family-school relationship.
Help families expand skills
Families often look to teachers and school staff for advice when they have a question or concern, and they’re usually receptive to support that’s offered.
There’s good evidence that school-based efforts to build skills in families are effective, especially when it comes to how families can:
- Support social emotional development at home
- Role model and encourage positive, pro-social behaviour
- Have conversations about tough topics, like alcohol use, substance use, or sexual health
- Set age-appropriate expectations and boundaries for children and teens
- Keep kids safe online
- Reinforce and support school policies in the home, like those related to healthy eating
There’s no magic bullet for helping families to expand their skills—the best strategy is to use a variety of approaches.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, focus on clear communication. Use simple, straightforward language and consider translating key messages and resources, as needed. Complement written material with virtual or phone-based meetings, presentations, or workshops. If you can, offer virtual sessions in partnership with faith-based organizations or community groups, and record them for use by families who may not be able to participate in real-time due to work, childcare or other commitments.
Elevate family voice
Like students, families in Alberta have a lot to say about how to make schools healthy places.
Some families share their ideas, concerns, and questions through school councils, family advisory panels, and school authority committees. These structures help to formalize family voice in education, but they can be intimidating for some families.
To engage all families, try these other ideas:
- Make time and space for informal conversations between parents and teachers or school administrators. For example, try virtual coffee chats or conversation circles.
- Use online, anonymous surveys to collect input on school plans and decisions.
- Offer virtual meet-ups in partnership with nearby schools or local organizations, or using social media platforms.
How it connects
Family engagement that is intentional, inclusive, and consistent has positive effects for the whole school community. It may also benefit individual students. For example, mental health issues can be identified and addressed sooner when families and educators are well-connected.
Partnerships with families are a key part of the comprehensive school health framework.
You might also like these related topics:
Mental health: Family engagement
Government of Alberta
Parents for healthy schools: A guide for getting parents involved from K-12
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention