As educators, we often strive to find ways to increase family involvement in our classrooms. Research confirms that family involvement positively impacts students’ academic experiences. And in this moment of crisis, especially, engaging our students means engaging their families: Including caretakers is one way to support our students from a distance.
But what should that inclusion look like? What do we mean, exactly, by family involvement?
In my dissertation, I examined how parents from marginalized groups defined their own involvement in their children’s education. I discovered that, sometimes, this involvement aligned with educators’ expectations—like when caregivers spent time reading with children, helping with homework and volunteering.
More often, however, the examples caregivers used to describe their engagement did not align with what educators frequently identify as family involvement. Parents and guardians described teaching cultural lessons and supporting social emotional learning, for example. They engaged with their children’s schooling by relocating to change school districts and navigating social services to ensure their children’s needs were met.
Educators must remember there are many ways for families to engage. We must recognize that all families care about their children’s education and that engagement can vary based on many factors, including caregivers’ cultures and beliefs, their own educational experiences, their types of employment, responsibilities to others and more.
The need to broaden definitions of family involvement would be necessary at any time. But during this crisis, questioning the assumptions educators make about family involvement—and how those assumptions shape what we expect from caregivers—is more important than ever.