5 Strategies to Unlock the Power of Family Engagement

Topics: Early Career Principals, Family and Stakeholder Engagement

Meaningful family engagement is critical to students’ success in school. Numerous studies show that parental involvement is positively associated with student achievement. Evidence also shows that students with involved parents are more likely to:

  • Earn higher grades and test scores;
  • Pass their classes and graduate;
  • Attend school regularly; and
  • Have better social skills and behavior.

Students aren’t the only ones who benefit when families are involved in the educational process. According to the Parent Teacher Association’s report “Why Family Engagement Matters for Student and School Success,” teachers also feel more supported, and the school atmosphere is more positive and welcoming.

Yet, many parents, caregivers, and guardians might not fully appreciate just how important their involvement is. Even if they do, they might not always know what to do—or that schools want and need their help.

Following are five ways to help get families more interested and involved.

1. Designate a Family Engagement Leader

Having a point person at the district or school level makes it easier to align family engagement initiatives and activities with strategic goals and priorities. A family engagement leader can establish systems, protocols, and expectations for staff and build their capacity to reach out to families in a positive, productive way.

2. Create a Comprehensive Communication Program

One of the top barriers that prevents many families from getting more involved is their busy schedules. This is why active, positive communication between educators and students’ families is essential. Ongoing communication makes it easier for busy parents to stay up to date on their child’s education and build strong, trusting relationships with teachers and leaders.

The use of multiple communication channels can greatly increase the chances of reaching every family. To distribute general information, for example, schools might choose to use online portals and social media or paper flyers and newsletters. More personal interactions can be conducted via email, text, telephone calls, and face-to-face meetings. Families might also prefer different modes of communication depending on the resources available to them (e.g., internet access).

When using multiple channels, it is important to coordinate the volume and timing of communications. Families might feel overwhelmed— or miss important messages—if they’re buried in a daily deluge of announcements from their children’s teachers, schools, and district.

3. Make Time for One-on-One Conversations

Having dedicated time for discussion and relationship-building is important, too. One-on-one conversations between teachers and families can be orchestrated through planned school events such as back-to-school nights and parent-teacher conferences. Or, if it’s difficult to meet face-to-face due to parents’ schedules, personal phone calls are a convenient way to keep them informed about their child’s progress. If phone calls take too much time or parents are difficult to reach, teachers can use other tools like email or an online portal to initiate conversations.

Speaking one-on-one also makes it easier to prevent or address misunderstandings. As a result, teacher-family relationships have a better chance of strengthening, which makes collaboration more likely and much easier.

4. Support a Two-Way Flow of Information

In any communication program—espeically one designed to boost family engagement—information should flow both ways. This makes it easier for schools and families to cocreate strategies that enable everyone to stay informed and involved. 

Two-way communication helps educators, too. Instead of the responsibility falling solely on the teacher’s shoulders, families can share feedback and ideas. If, for example, the quality of a student’s work or their behavior has changed, the family might be able to provide insights into the cause (e.g., a health issue, the loss of a pet or family member, or a parent’s financial worries).

During these conversations, teachers can suggest resources and techniques to help students overcome learning hurdles or improve their studies at home. Teachers can also express what they appreciate about the student and celebrate recent achievements. Parents, too, can provide valuable information about their child’s experiences, interests, needs, and aspirations, which can help teachers take a whole child approach to education.

5. Provide Opportunities to Connect Before and After School

Child care needs are also a common barrier to family engagement. Offering before and after school enrichment programs on campus not only provides a welcome solution to child care challenges, but it also can increase the capacity to connect with families and provide students with support that bolsters success.

Studies have shown that family engagement in afterschool programs can improve student learning in and out of school and lead to increased involvement in school events, assistance with homework, and encouragement for reading. However, for families to engage with a program, they first must be able to access it. While locating a program on campus removes transportation issues, many families, especially low-income families, also deal with financial constraints. Financial supports—such as state and local childcare subsidies, federal stimulus programs like ESSER, and state programs—can help.

Building strong relationships with families helps both parents and students feel more connected to the school. That sense of belonging contributes to a more positive, inclusive environment. Family engagement also creates shared responsibility for children’s growth and development. When families and schools work in tandem to support students, teachers feel more supported, too.

Dawn Bridges is a 25-year veteran in education and currently serves as vice president of educational affairs for Right At School.