Keeping Students and Families Engaged

“Students need dedicated time to connect socially in ways that build community & engagement.” (Improving the Quality of Distance and Blended LearningPACE)

When schools moved online, the constant formal and informal social interactions and the in-person guidance from teachers, coaches, and counselors that make up such a large part of a regular day at school became profoundly different. The challenge for districts and schools now is to apply research-based strategies for engaging students through a remote learning environment. Essential to recalibrating student and family engagement is to recognize that, perhaps not surprisingly, remote learning seems to have exacerbated educational inequalities. In a survey administered in the summer of 2020, teachers reported concerning levels of student engagement with remote learning overall and stark differences along racial and socio-economic lines that make engagement in learning markedly more challenging (Teachers’ Experiences Working from Home During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Upbeat). It seems from this and other recent surveys, that schools serving Black, Latinx, and low-income students are disproportionally struggling with school engagement. (Voices from the Virtual Classroom, Educators for Excellence).

Young man with medical mask e-learning at home due to covid-19 or coronavirus isolation concept - college student taking notes by looking into virtual class on mobile due to quarantine.Also from Upbeat’s summer 2020 survey, teachers report that:

  • Only 60% of students regularly engage in remote learning activities. Teachers in high-poverty schools report that only 50% of students regularly engage in remote learning, whereas their counterparts at low-poverty schools engage at a much higher rate—75%.
  • In schools where a majority of students are Black, teachers report that 45% of students regularly engage in remote learning; at schools that enroll fewer than 10% of Black students, teachers report that 72% of students regularly engage in remote learning.

Guiding Questions

  • With student and family engagement as a top challenge for educators, how can we encourage meaningful participation and connection to school and learning?
  • What are effective ways to measure student engagement in remote or hybrid classrooms?

Professional Development Connections

  • Provide professional development on ways to measure student engagement and apply the findings to continuously improve relationships.
Use these selected strategies and resources
High-leverage Strategies Aligned Resources

Attendance Is an Engagement Strategy

It may be the oldest engagement indicator in the books. Attendance was not an equitable measure last spring, but this school year, it can at least be used as one indicator among others. Understanding barriers to attendance can also help with understanding specific family needs, such as housing and access to technology.

Attendance Works’ newly updated strategies to lessen chronic absenteeism uses 5 metrics that paint a holistic picture of whether students are positioned to benefit from distance and hybrid learning opportunities:

  • Contact
  • Connectivity
  • Relationships
  • Participation

Also updated is the Attendance Playbook: Smart Strategies for Reducing Chronic Absenteeism in the Covid Era (FutureEd in partnership with by Attendance Works). The Attendance Playbook has been expanded to include 26 strategies to address student chronic absence, whether it be mild, moderate, or severe (the three tiers of intervention). The COVID-19 considerations, included with the strategies, show ways to adapt evidence-based practices when it is not possible to meet face-to-face.

Relationships, Relationships, Relationships

The importance of relationships cannot be understated–between students and adults of course, but also student-to-student. ​Research has shown that “peer interactions can provide motivation and improve learning outcomes.” (Rapid Evidence Assessment from the Education Endowment Foundation ) 

Building Developmental Relationships During the COVID-19 Crisis checklist (Search Institute) offers specific actions for fostering relationships with students and families:

  • Express Care: Show me that I matter to you.
  • Challenge Growth: Push me to keep getting better.
  • Provide Support: Help me complete tasks and achieve goals.
  • Share Power: Treat me with respect and give me a say.
  • Expand Possibilities: Connect me with people and places that broaden my world.

Improving Student Engagement and Attendance During COVID-19 School Closures (Insight Policy Research and American Institutes for Research) reports teachers  success in contacting hard-to-reach students through their peers or friend groups. For secondary students in particular, districts can encourage and help schools to enlist students’ help in reaching their peers via text message or social media or by reaching out to groups of students who are friends and may be more likely to engage alongside their peers.

Get at the Root Causes of Disengagement

Early warning indicators–generally identified as failure in Math or ELA, low attendance, and poor behavior– are research-based predictors of students getting off track in school. But, in truth, they are often only surface indicators of deeper concerns that put students at risk for eventually dropping out. Thus, it is crucial to identify the root cause(s) of their distress in order to match students with interventions that most appropriately address the underlying problems aka the root causes.  

Use this Root Cause Analysis Activity: Identifying the Underlying Reasons a Student has Fallen Off-Track (FHI 360) to identify root causes to student distress signals in the early warning indicator areas (ELA/Math failure; poor attendance; poor behavior), the research-based indicators that can predict as early as 6th grade a student’s propensity to dropping out.

Foster School-wide Social Connections between  Students and Families

District, intermediary, and school leaders are in the position to take a bird’s eye view of students and families by and across grades, cohorts, remote and hybrid in order to facilitate connections so that students and families aren’t being limited to interactions with their in-person or remote cohort or group.

Strategies include organizing and providing space for multilingual virtual events, clubs, groups and activities and using surveys to find out student and family preferences for connecting and then helping to implement.

Connect and engage students in different cohorts or groups using these recommended strategies:   

Connect and engage their families using these recommended strategies: