New Principals: Spotlight on Parent Engagement

May 2014, Volume 37, Issue 9

NAESP’s newly formed National Panel of New Principals aims to explore the struggles and successes of early career principals, along with the resources and solutions they find most effective. Each month, the panel of first- and second-year principals answers a few brief questions about their experiences and what has helped them address their challenges. Recently, the panel explored family engagement. Here’s how they describe their experiences:

Most new principals have clearly defined goals for engagement.

  • 63 percent have explicit goals for parent involvement;
  • 38 percent have district-level plans that include goals for parent engagement;
  • 15 percent are working on a plan for parent engagement; and
  • Only 10 percent do not have goals for parent involvement.

Parents are most concerned with with teachers, bullying, testing, and the special needs of individual students. New principals say they rarely get complaints about instructional quality, the amount of homework, or the school’s physical facility.

Tips for Working With Parents

According to the panel of principals, here is what works:

  • Listen with empathy and respect. Let parents vent, validate their concerns, and the situation will often be diffused. “I listen intently and often ask the question, ‘What would you like to see happen,’ which often unveils an underlying concern that wasn’t originally clear,” says Patti Schlaegel, principal of Grandby Elementary in Columbus, Ohio.
  • Be honest and transparent.
  • Be proactive. Build relationships before problems arise. When they do, get the facts and then reach out to parents. “We have the child call their parent from my office,” says Tressa Decker, principal of Horizon Elementary in Granger, Indiana. “This virtually eliminates issues with parents whose children come home with a different story than what actually happened.”
  • Reinforce that you are in a partnership, working towards the same goal of their child’s success.

What helps get parents to attend school events?

  • Invite them to student performances or other events that showcase students’ talents;
  • Work with your PTA or PTO to spread the word;
  • Provide food (“Donuts for Dads” and “Muffins for Moms” are popular); and
  • Reach out specifically to fathers or hold special programs designed for them.

The National Panel of New Principals is the only initiative of its kind devoted to principals in the first or second years of their principalship. It’s free to join and participants receive valuable rewards. To join the panel, or nominate a colleague for it, visit

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