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Jun 21, 2019 |
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What does learning look like? Picture two classrooms. In Classroom A, students sit at desks arranged in straight rows facing the board. They listen as a teacher imparts their wisdom. Some take notes. In Classroom B, students sit in desks that face each other. They talk through their questions and take part in hands-on activities. Instead of lecturing, the teacher moves around the classroom, facilitating learning by meeting students where they are. In which of these classrooms is learning more likely to take place?

Most practitioners today would point to Classroom B. That’s because educators know that engaged learners are more likely to be successful. Instead of simply being present for their learning, they take ownership of it. That makes them more likely to monitor their own understanding and seek help when they need it. When families learn together, engagement is still an essential piece of the puzzle.

“Stronger Families, Stronger Communities,” took a look at the evolution of family engagement. Often, schools have strived for family involvement. Room mothers help with classroom activities and family members attend PTA meetings. Family members attend family nights and other school events. But when it stops there, many families and educators feel there’s something missing.

Today, family engagement is the goal. The phrase better serves the meaningful ways parents take part in their children’s education. What’s the difference? Engaged families see parents as the primary educators of their children. Engaged families experience education that impacts adult learning and academic achievement. Most notably, learners from engaged families experience higher achievement than their peers.

How do we move from family involvement to family engagement? There are many steps practitioners can take to actively engage families in learning:

  • Home Visits: Several Toyota Family Learning Teachers of the Year cited home visits as a major contributor to family engagement. Home visiting allows educators to learn more about families on their own turf and become part of learners’ communities.
  • Two-way Communication: Too often, communication between practitioners and families only flows in one direction--newsletters, emails, and notes home move from school to home without any invitation for open dialogue. However, two-way communication, in which this dialogue is embraced, encourages family engagement and often improves family attitude toward school and educator understanding of family strengths and needs.
  • Family Journals: Several Toyota Family Teachers of the Year listed journaling as a way to end the day with students. Taking this a step further with family journals is a great way to promote family engagement. Family journals invite students, educators, and family members to communicate via writing together.
  • Family Events: Events at school often encourage family involvement. Families attend PTA meetings, after-school recitals, and sporting events. However, providing family events in which families can participate in learning activities together, such as NCFL’s Community Jamborees, will encourage family engagement in education.  
  • Family Projects: Design one or two projects per year for families to engage in together. Use Wonderopolis or Say and Play With Words as springboards for family projects surrounding literacy development.
  • Family Service Learning: Help families find ways to get involved in the community. By partnering with local businesses and nonprofits, practitioners can help families engage in learning and build social capital within their communities.

How do you invite parents to become actively involved in your classroom activities and engaged in their child’s education?


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NCFL Partners

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Toyota, one of the nation's most successful corporations, began a partnership with NCFL in 1991. In addition to a commitment of more than $50 million, Toyota has also contributed a wealth of in-kind support — including advertising, planning and management expertise — to form one of the most progressive corporate/nonprofit partnerships in the nation.

Three major programs have been developed through the Toyota partnership based on the family literacy model of parents and children learning together. These models have influenced federal and state legislation, leveraged local dollars to support family literacy and led to successful programs being replicated across the country.

Read more about Toyota's commitment to communities

William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

NCFL received its very first donation in 1989 from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to promote and implement family literacy programming, first in Kentucky and North Carolina and later nationwide. The Kenan Family Literacy Model in part laid the groundwork for 30 years of subsequent family literacy and family learning programming developed by NCFL.

Kenan has continued to support NCFL’s place-based family literacy programs since our inception. Most recently, it has invested in our organization’s Sharon Darling Innovation Fund, which will launch emerging ideas and programmatic evolutions in the multigenerational learning space.

Learn more about the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

Dollar General Literacy Foundation

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation began partnering with NCFL in 2006. A signature effort of this partnership is the National Literacy Directory, a resource that launched in 2010 and strives to guide potential students and volunteers to literacy services, community education programs, and testing centers in their communities.

The National Literacy Directory contains over 10,000 educational agencies located across the United States and has a dedicated toll-free number to help support those wanting to pursue educational opportunities in their communities.

Dollar General also provides support for development of NCFL’s innovative family learning resources centered on financial literacy and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®.

Learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation

PNC Grow Up Great

PNC Grow Up Great believes deeply in the power of high-quality early childhood education and provides innovative opportunities that assist families, educators and community organizations to enhance children's learning and development.

PNC Grow Up Great has partnered with NCFL since 1994, most recently in Louisville, Kentucky, to support Say & Play with Words, our pre-Kindergarten vocabulary-building initiative.

NCFL's work is also featured on the PNC Grow Up Great Lesson Center website. The Lesson Center includes over 100 free, high-quality preschool lesson plans and research-based instructional techniques and strategies. All lesson plans contain Home/School Connections printouts, in English and Spanish, to help families extend and reinforce the learning at home.

Learn more about PNC Grow Up Great

U.S. Department of Education

Initiated through the U.S. Department of Education in 2018, the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFEC) program provides 12 grantees and 13 states with five-year, $5 million grants to promote and implement systemic evidenced-based family engagement strategies. NCFL was selected to lead SFECs in two states, Arizona and Nebraska, and is a primary partner for two other SFECs in Kentucky and Maryland/Pennsylvania. 

The SFECs work to support family engagement through state- and local-level agencies while providing both professional development to school districts and direct services to families related to children’s academic outcomes and overall well-being.

Learn more about the U.S. Department of Education

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

NCFL was named a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s "Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge," which seeks to elevate diverse voices in order to broaden the conversation about the issues inhibiting economic mobility and generate deeper awareness along with actionable understanding. NCFL will develop and launch a podcast series that will highlight the remarkable stories of low-income, diverse families across the U.S. who have improved their communities through Family Service Learning.

Foundation Website