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“To be effective, teachers must be prepared to collaborate with families to support student success.”

That statement was made by the National PTA and Harvard Family Research Project, which teamed up in 2011 to produce a report on the importance of preparing teachers to work better with families.

The report, titled “Teaching the Teachers: Preparing Educators to Engage Families for Student Achievement,” cited several studies that confirm what we already know: Strong parent-teacher relationships engender healthy social development, academic achievement, and high college enrollment rates among students.

Skills teachers must cultivate, the authors write, include the following:

  • Identifying and using family strengths to support positive student outcomes.
  • Communicating with families positively.
  • Sharing data about student progress and performance in an accessible, understandable and actionable manner.
  • Providing families with strategies and activities to help their children learn inside and outside the classroom.
  • Demonstrating respect, especially in working with culturally and religiously diverse families, and families of children with disabilities.
  • Advocating with families for policies and practices to increase student learning and achievement.

Although seemingly straightforward, the report argues that these skills are more likely to take hold when family engagement is embedded in a professional training. After all, “teachers report that they enter the classroom unprepared to engage families,” the authors write, viewing the lack of support from parents as a leading challenge to improving student outcomes.

The report recommends incorporating five core elements in teacher professional development systems:

  1. Standards for family engagement.
  2. Training specific to advancing the skills, knowledge and attitudes teachers need to engage families.
  3. Collaboration among stakeholders including “state educational agencies, institutions of higher education, school districts and schools, community-based organizations, early childhood programs, and families.”
  4. Ongoing professional development around family engagement.
  5. Evaluation for learning and continuous improvement.

Access the full report, complete with case studies, here.

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