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HS Series: Families Continue to Play 5 Essential Roles to Support Student Success

Flamboyan has been on a journey to understand what family engagement looks like in high school. This six-part series explores what we’ve learned along the way through five key insights.

Adolescence. It’s a time of significant change for students. Their brains are changing – as are their hormones! And, they are preparing to manage their success and future more independently. It’s also a time of change for educators and families. As high schoolers mature, they take on coaching roles to help students learn to manage their own activities and advocate for themselves, in the hopes that they can operate autonomously by the time they strike out on their postsecondary paths.

At Flamboyan, we have seen – and research shows – that families play five essential roles in support of their children’s education: communicating high expectations, monitoring their child’s performance, supporting learning at home, guiding their child’s education, and advocating for their child. Our work is grounded in helping educators support families to play these roles effectively.

Over the last decade, we have seen time after time that providing these supports to kids in elementary and middle schools is a predictor of academic success. After listening and learning to high school students and their families, we found that this still holds true in the upper grades. At the secondary level, three of these roles – communicating high expectations, monitoring progress, and guiding their education- stand out as especially impactful. Read on to learn how families described supporting their high school student’s success.

Communicating High Expectations

Families communicated high expectations to students by talking with them about their future plans, interests, and goals. Connecting their education to future goals and plans communicated the importance of school and academic performance to living fulfilling lives.

Families also communicated high expectations by setting high standards for grades, attendance, and in-school behavior. Families held students accountable to these expectations, leveraged what uniquely motivated, discussed resiliency with their child when their child felt apathetic, and celebrated student’s progress.

One DC high school student reflected on her mother’s demonstration of this role: “She’s everything, really, because if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be where I am today. She helps motivate me. I know that she t­old me, for 12th grade, to always stick by my counselor and my administrators, because they’re going to be the ones that help me graduate on time. I learned that from her.”

Monitoring Their Child’s Performance 

Families universally agreed that monitoring their child’s progress was critical to supporting their success; however, there was the most variation from family to family in what this role looked like. Some families check in with students regularly about their homework and assignments, some families monitor their child’s grades using the online gradebook, some families discuss prioritization to help students complete school work, and some families support skills like time management.

One parent of a DC high school students shared how they play this role, saying, “Even if it’s just a check-in with the student about ‘how is the homework going?’ Or, ‘Have you done this? This is a big assignment coming up.’ Or, ‘Your college applications are due.’ Just check in with the kids so that they know that they’re supported. But just the reminder. They’re still teenagers.”

Guiding Their Child’s Education 

Families said they guide their child’s education by leading conversations about their future goals and planning for how to attain those goals. In sticking to a post-secondary plan, students, families, and educators monitor course selection and completion and support students to engage in extracurricular experiences that align to their interests and aspirations and build their skills and high school resume.

Families, especially those attending DC charter schools, emphasized supporting their children to select high schools by researching school options, talking to friends and other families, paying attention to schools’ reputations, attending fairs, or meeting with school staff. Later in high school, families support students to navigate the college-going process with support from counselors.

One DC high school parent explained, “I do want [my children] to go to college. I do want them to experience what I did not experience. I do want them to have some type of degree so that they can look after their children. I would do whatever I need to do. I want to take some sort of course to get prepared, like sit down with somebody.”

Support Learning at Home & Advocating for Their Child 

While the three aforementioned roles were particularly impactful in high school, we saw an interesting shift in family roles around supporting learning at home and advocating for their child. With the transition to high school, families said they began to share the responsibility of these two roles with their child. 

Families described how they support students at home by working with them to develop plans for success. For example, families help students plan to manage their time, prioritize schoolwork and extracurriculars, create an environment where they can enrich their learning at home, and seek out resources or experiences to support their progress.

A shift to supporting a student’s ability to advocate for themselves was prevalent in our interviews. Families of high school students describe encouraging students to seek help and building their confidence to advocate for themselves at school. Families move from intervening on behalf of the student to coaching students to manage difficult situations.

As one DC high school parent explained, “I always tell [my son], ‘Don’t ever be embarrassed to raise your hand to ask a question. If you don’t want to talk to them right then and there, wait ‘til the end of class. Say, ‘Can I talk to you during lunchtime?’ Teachers do take their lunch break to sit down with a couple of students and help them out with their schoolwork.'”

Over the course of a student’s secondary school career, families coach students to play these five essential roles more and more independently. Ideally, by the time a student graduates and pursues their postsecondary path, they can confidently fulfill these roles for themselves. Read more next week about our third insight, where we’ll dig into how ownership for these roles between teachers, students and families evolves during high school.

Jacqueline Pratt-Tuke is the former Senior Director of Secondary Partnerships in our Washington, DC office.