The four core components of Check & Connect are:
- a mentor who makes a two-year commitment to students and families;
- systematic monitoring of educational progress;
- timely, personalized intervention; and
- family engagement.
While each of these components is necessary to implementing Check & Connect with fidelity, sites often find it especially difficult to implement component 4, family engagement. In this blog post, we provide some ideas for how sites can successfully engage with families.
In Check & Connect, the mentor engages with parents and strives to foster their active participation with their child’s education, whether by getting directly involved in the school, supporting their student’s learning at home, or both. The Check & Connect mentor also serves as a liaison between the home and the school, working to strengthen the family-school relationship. In Check & Connect, the family-school relationship is seen as a strong influence on students’ learning and educational outcomes.
In Check & Connect, four main strategies have been used to engage with parents. Below, we’ll describe each and provide some specific tips and examples for using them (adapted from Christenson, Stout, & Pohl, 2012).
1) Home-school communication
Parents of disengaged students most often receive negative communication from schools, such as in response to the student’s poor academic or behavioral performance at school. Check & Connect mentors work to communicate regularly, positively, and proactively with parents to keep parents aware of their student’s academic progress. We have found personal contact (home visits, phone calls, personal notes) to be the most effective approach to reaching uninvolved families.
Common home-school communication strategies mentors use include:
- Call or email parents on a regular basis, not just when there are problems.
- Write notes to parents to let them know what is going on in school (make your language simple and in family’s first language). Updates on students’ academic progress are especially helpful when provided well in advance of the end of grading periods.
- Share good news. A positive note is a few words or lines that share with parents something good about their child. Once parents have heard positive things from you, it is easier to contact them if a problem arises. The spontaneous but genuine aspect of positive notes is very powerful.
- Send positive postcards home. Postcards are nice because mail that is obviously from the school may disappear before parents can see it. Postcards with a positive message are more likely to make it into parents’ hands, and parents love receiving a quick, positive note about their student’s success. It’s something they can hang on the fridge, too!
- Personalize the messages sent. Address parents by name and mention the student’s name in the message.
- If parents help in some way with their student’s progress, thank them via a note or phone call, even if they just collaborate in setting up a goal. Acknowledge parents’ contributions, large and small.
2) Home visits
Mentors build trust with families and get to know families better by visiting students’ homes and meeting families on their turf. By making home visits, mentors demonstrate concern, caring, and commitment to students and their families.
Some tips for successful home visits include:
- Identify the purpose of the visit. Ensure that the parent understands that the purpose of the visit is to support the child’s education.
- If the parent prefers, meet at a neutral site in the community rather than at the home.
- Be flexible with respect to scheduling home visits; adapt to family circumstances.
- Describe how you will follow up on information discussed during the home visit. Agree on how you and the parent(s) will communicate in the future.
- Conduct home visits with a colleague if safety is a concern.
Some sites implementing Check & Connect do not allow mentors to conduct home visits. The important thing to keep in mind in such cases is that some families do not feel welcome or comfortable at schools, and so if you cannot visit parents in their home, consider meeting them at a neutral location outside of the school such as a coffee shop or community center.
3) Responding to parents’ questions, concerns, and goals for their children
Mentors use the following strategies to be responsive to parents:
- Help families navigate the often confusing and complicated school system.
- Answer families’ questions.
- Connect families to school and community resources that help them support their children’s education. For example, share information about resources in the community that offer homework support for students outside of school hours such as libraries, YMCAs, community centers, and Boys & Girls Clubs.
- Ask parents about their goals for their children.
4) Encouraging home support for learning
Mentors strive to improve home support for both academic learning (e.g., help with homework) and motivational learning (e.g., setting expectations, making education a priority in the home, emphasizing effort); however, the type of support needs to be personalized to each family. We have learned that “one size does not fit all families”.
In Check & Connect, strategies mentors use to encourage home support for learning are:
- Sharing with parents the messages that they are communicating to students so that they can be reinforced at home (e.g., education is important for your future, it’s important to get to school on time, success in school takes effort and hard work).
- Helping families work on their evening routine (e.g., establishing a time for homework, dinner, fun activities, and sleep).
- Helping families find space in the home where children can work on homework free of distractions.
- Offering examples of questions parents can ask their children about school and what they are learning.
- Letting parents know when they should expect to receive progress reports and report cards from the school so that they can talk with their children about their progress.
- Providing educational resources for the home such as books, textbooks, academic games, etc.
In addition to these four strategies, the Check & Connect manual contains guidelines for mentors to successfully engage with parents (excerpted and provided as a PDF download).
So having shared these strategies and guidelines, we’re curious if you’ve tried any of them and if so how they worked, or if you’ve tried other things that worked to help you engage with parents. Let us know in the comment section below!
Christenson, S. L., Stout, K. E., & Pohl, A. J. (2012). Check & Connect: A comprehensive student engagement intervention: Implementing with fidelity. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration.
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