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 Woman reading Essential Reads

» A Culture that Engages Every Family, Steven M. Constantino, Ed.D.

» How to Revitalize Your School-Parent Compact, Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D.

» How Do You Know if You're Really Open to Partnership, Anne Henderson & Karen Mapp

»PTA--Gateway to Engagement, Advocacy, and Access, Meryl Ain, Ed.D.

» The Power of Asking-Instead of Telling, Jody McVittie, M.D.

» Empathy in Action, Rick Ackerly, Ed.M.

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I Don't Think There's an App for That

By Dr. Steven M. Constantino

iphonesWithout question, I am a digital immigrant. During my high school days, technology was limited to those who took the advanced typing class with IBM “Selectric” typewriters. It was in graduate school when I was first exposed to a new computer that had a mouse attached to it. While I work very hard at keeping up with the technological revolution and pride myself on my use of mobile technology and social media, none of it comes naturally.  In many ways, I envy those that are digital natives – who do not know a world without cell phones or the Internet. Conversely, in many ways, I don’t envy them at all.  

While I freely admit I am usually the one late to the technological party, I am discovering increased discussion of “family engagement apps.”  I’ve actually now seen a few of these things and I must say, the ingenuity and technology is impressive. I’m just not exactly sure these apps actually engage anyone.  It seems that the definition of engagement is now limited to the passing of information.  Is this important? Absolutely.  Is it all there is to engaging every family?  Absolutely not.

My involvement in the promotion of family engagement in education stems from the need to incorporate into the learning world of students their first and most influential teachers: families. The definition of engagement can be complex. While it certainly encompasses the sharing of important information, it cannot be limited to just that. Engagement must encompass how people perceive their role within organizations, the value they feel as a member of an organization and whether or not they believe they can contribute to the organization in a meaningful way.

 For example, Gallup’s now famous Q12 survey, which measures employee engagement in private business, asks respondents to rate a series of statements. Among those 12 very important statements are these:

  • At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day
  • This past year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow
  • At work, my opinions seem to count
  • My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person
  • I have a best friend at work
  • In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

You can view the entire Gallup Q12 here

What becomes evident when reviewing engagement research and the work done by Gallup is the clear notion that at the core of engagement is relationships and in order to have effective relationships, there must be at least two ingredients: trust and caring. In education and more specifically, family engagement with schools, the degree to which families feel valued by their children’s school is a core component of effective engagement practices. Take the few Q12 questions above and consider how families in your school might answer them. Do they have an opportunity to do what they do best each day? Are there opportunities for them to learn and grow? Do their opinions matter? Do they receive recognition for the work they do?  Do they have a best friend in you?  Do they perceive that we care?

Successful family engagement thrives when the culture of the school or district is accepting of all families as partners in education, where the efficacy of every family is nurtured and where all staff members believe in and value relationships that lead to productive partnerships with families. The key ingredients of building trusting relationships and caring about families cannot be substituted or dismissed.  An interesting quote appears on the Gallup website that summarizes this best: The ultimate goal of any engagement effort must be to transform the culture.

There is an important role for technology in family engagement and many educators have proven that it is a vehicle to further enhance the efforts of any school or district interested in engaging every family. What scares me a little is the notion that there may be those who think technology can fundamentally replace the relational efforts necessary to engage families. I don’t think there’s an app for that; at least not yet.

This advent of technology and social media into the arena of family engagement has given me pause to consider a modification to my own definition of family engagement. For many years, I have suggested that a clear definition of family engagement is this:

The degree to which families are engaged in the academic lives of their children and the ability of the school to promote the efficacy of every family.

I’m not sure, given what the 21st century has created, that my definition works anymore. I think it should be more like this:

The degree to which school personnel build the relationships necessary to ensure that all families can be engaged in the academic lives of their children and family efficacy is supported and enhanced.

I am not critical of the use of technology to promote family engagement with school. I am critical of recent promotions suggesting it to be a surrogate to what we know to be essential in culture-changing engagement.

I love the apps that tell me where the nearest cup of coffee is, or when the next bus will arrive at my stop. The fact that I can take a picture of a check and deposit it to my bank account is mind-boggling. I haven’t yet found one, though, that helps me build effective relationships with the families I serve.

Photo Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos

Posted on January 22, 2013 by Dr. Steven M. Constantino

Dr. Steve Constantino is an internationally-known author, speaker and thought leader in the field of family engagement as well as the Superintendent of the Williamsburg-James City County School District in Williamsburg, Virginia. Dr. Constantino's latest book on the topic of standards for family engagement will be out in 2013. Read more about Dr. Constantino on his website.

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Permalink   Comments (1)   Send to a Friend

Tags: 2-way communication, *Parent Engagement at Home , *School-Family Partnership, *Technology & Partnership, Building trust & respect, EdTech Resources

Posted January 22, 2013 by Dalinda Alcantar, eJucomm
Great article! As the maker of the Family Kinex app I highly support the idea of relationship first and then plug in. I began creating Family Kinex as an equitable form of accessing information and communication tools for the families at my school that didn't have internet but did have an Android device. However, I had already established a trusted relationship with them so they used the app to e-mail me and keep in touch. I still believe our Family Kinex app can assist and bridge the engagement deficit that exists in our schools but will be used more successfully when a real "ole school" relationship is fostered. Lastly, we cannot forget our modern world in which we can do everything important on our smartphone like banking, Facebook"ing", and scheduling. Therefore I believe schools need to have a mobile presence to connect with families where they are connecting. Check us out at www.ejucomm.com - we're the only app built by a teacher believing in family engagement through tech! Great article fellow family engagement change-maker! B_blessed. 


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