Dr. Steve Constantino states that the top predictor of a child’s success in school is meaningful and relevant family engagement. Dr. Constantino is the superintendent of Williamsburg-James City School District in Virginia. His family engagement journey began in March 1995 when he became principal at Stonewall Jackson High School. He described his first impression of the school and the tangible barrier to families feeling welcomed: the counter that greeted “visitors” at the school’s main entrance; he called it “the imposing bit of architecture in the main office that many administrators use to keep parents at bay.” On this day, his first day as high-school principal, he tore it down and that “imposing bit of architecture” became an allegory to promote positive school culture and to guide his family engagement practice and success.
Does your district have “an imposing piece of furniture?”
Educational leaders from twelve school districts in the CA BOCES region recently had the opportunity to spend the day with Dr. Constantino. Everyone agreed that having families engage and participate in the education of their children is one of the most significant factors for student success. What participants learned is that fostering meaningful and relevant family engagement begins with school culture. Dr. Constantino explained, “School culture plays a huge role in shaping family-school relationships. Without a significant shift in culture, it is highly unlikely that any strategies to engage families will be effective over long periods of time.” Culture change involves changing the behaviors, attitudes, assumptions, and beliefs of people within an organization; it is slow and tedious work.
What are the barriers impeding real family engagement at your district?
CA BOCES provided participants with Dr. Constantino’s book 101 Ways to Create Real Family Engagement and Dr. Constantino included “The Five Simple Principles to Engage Every Family”:
1. A Culture that Engages Every Family
2. Communicate Effectively and Build Relationships
3. Empower Every Family
4. Family Participation in Decision Making
5. Engage the Greater Community
Based on the descriptions, participants discussed where their districts were in relation to the principles. The work involved evaluating practices in place and practices that need to be implemented. The book is an invaluable tool. As part of the cultural shift, Dr. Constantino also recommended that districts invest in professional learning that will help teachers interact with families, communicate effectively, handle crucial conversations, etc., to help strengthen school-family relationships.
The day was a great success. District and building administrators, teachers, and curriculum coordinators left feeling empowered with a significant goal: create positive school culture that promotes and practices meaningful and relevant family engagement to ensure children’s success in school. It does not get any better than that.
Please contact me if you would like to plan for real family engagement at your district.
By Anne Mitchell, Portville Central School and CABOCES