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Jun 21, 2019 |

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 Family Learning Program

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

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 reach the 35.7 million adults ages 18-64 who do not have a high school diploma by guiding them to better-paying, more stable jobs.

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®.

Go to Dollar General Literacy Foundation's website

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 to advance early literacy and learning resources for vulnerable families. Current efforts supported by PNC include a collaborative initiative in two at-risk Detroit communities that engages families to support vocabulary development for children under age 5.

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.

PNC Grow Up Great

W.K. Kellogg Foundation

NCFL has partnered with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation since January 2016. The Foundation is currently supporting a dynamic two-generation family engagement initiative that expands NCFL's Family Learning model into select Head Start programs nationwide. NCFL's model presents an innovative way to support Head Start programs in meeting outcomes aligned with the Parent, Family, and Community Engagement Framework.

Visit the Foundation website

Better World Books

Better World Books selected NCFL as its domestic literacy partner in 2005 and has raised more than $1 million to support NCFL’s work and donated more than $15 million to support literacy and education efforts worldwide. Better World Books is a triple-bottom-line online bookstore, working equally for people, planet and profit. Each book purchased powers literacy across the world.

Better World Books’ support of NCFL has provided books and workshops to families after Hurricane Katrina, donated large book donations to literacy programs and families nationwide and fueled innovative family literacy and learning programs and resources in libraries, schools and community-based organizations. In addition to their work for literacy and education, Better World Books diverts books from landfills and offers carbon-balanced shipping.

Better World Books

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

In 2013, NCFL began a partnership with the Gates Foundation to ensure that our network of students, teachers, and families thrive among recent shifts in standards-based education. NCFL will leverage the unique strengths of our award-winning Wonderopolis® platform to build upon the growing teacher network that uses the resource for core daily instruction and as a basis for professional growth.

Foundation Website

Goodling Institute

NCFL has partnered with the Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University since 2001, working collaboratively to further research, professional development, and policy efforts for family literacy and intergenerational learning.

The work of this partnership includes, but is not limited to, a strong research strand at NCFL's national annual convening, the Families Learning Summit; advocacy for family literacy and learning to further support for and inclusion of family-focused education in new and ongoing legislation; and dissemination of the latest research, resources, information, and professional development opportunities for literacy and learning practitioners and advocates, including the Certificate in Family Literacy provided by the Goodling Institute.

Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University