Family Engagement in Schools: How Parent Involvement Can Support Student Success

A mother and her daughter read a picture book together in a library.

Reading with a child at home. Strategizing with teachers about a student’s learning style. Taking trips to museums and events that reinforce what’s taught in class. Consider the difference actions like these can make in a child’s academic achievement.

The importance of collaboration between schools and parents speaks to a basic truth about education: Teaching the nation’s youth is a shared responsibility and family engagement in education can make all the difference.

What Is Family Engagement?

Family engagement in education refers to the actions parents take to help their children learn and develop, as well as the commitment and enthusiasm they have for their child’s school and educational goals. Parents and schools share responsibility for building family engagement:

  • Engaged parents are willing to volunteer time, share information with teachers about their children, and monitor academic activities at home to ensure educational goals are being met.
  • Engaged schools demonstrate their commitment with personalized attention to individual student needs, clear communication of academic standards and goals, and welcoming environments that encourage parent involvement.

Strong schools depend on engaged parents. To what extent do parents feel committed to and enthusiastic about their children’s school and education? It turns out only 20% of parents are fully engaged with their children’s school, according to Gallup research. This statistic concerns educators.

Creating Collaborative Environments

Families and schools have responsibilities when it comes to supporting children’s education. Consider the following roles families and schools play in creating collaborative learning environments.

The Role of Families

Parents have tremendous influence over their children’s academic success. Parents start as their children’s first teachers. Once children enter formal school environments, families can collaborate with schools to advocate for and support their children’s education.

Families know their children best. Typically, before educators discover a child’s talent for music or struggles to concentrate, parents already know. Parents may have also found effective methods for addressing these issues. Sharing such information can give educators and children a distinct advantage. Other important roles parents play involve reinforcing and extending classroom learning. What’s taught in the classroom can make a greater impact if families reinforce it at home. Reading with children or helping them with their math homework strengthens skills learned from teachers.

Classroom instruction that’s brought to life in the real world develops deeper understanding. For instance, families that go on hikes to collect autumn leaves can enrich children’s understanding of a classroom unit on seasons.

The Role of Schools

To help parents support their children’s education and engage in the school community, school leaders must develop the right school culture, one that treats families as critical partners. Treating families as partners requires building clear, open communication that keeps families informed and engenders trust.

In addition to building communication, schools need to include families in planning, developing, and evaluating students’ learning programs. This involves creating opportunities for parents to cultivate meaningful relationships with their children’s educators. Families should have platforms to share their concerns, priorities, and goals.

Schools should also provide resources that help parents nurture their children’s learning. For example, they may offer sessions that teach parents strategies for helping students with special needs or inform them about accelerated learning opportunities.

Schools committed to encouraging parent engagement also take steps to reach families who may feel marginalized and are therefore at higher risk for low engagement. Developing cultural competence among teachers and administrators can create a more welcoming environment for families of color, low-income families, and families with limited fluency in the primary local language.

The Benefits of Collaborative Learning

Students benefit when schools and families collaborate to support their learning and growth. They gain self-confidence and motivation, and they require less redirection in the classroom. With increased parent feedback and communication, family engagement also allows schools to develop practices better tailored to individual student needs. In fact, partnerships between families and schools raise academic achievement, improve attendance, and deepen understanding between families and educators.

Raise Academic Achievement

According to Hanover Research, family engagement in education is strongly linked to children acquiring reading and writing skills quickly. Partnerships between schools and families also decrease the likelihood students will drop out. Family engagement can also encourage greater student engagement. With collaborative learning, students challenge themselves with more rigorous courses, complete more homework, and earn higher grades.

Improve Attendance

Economic Policy Institute research shows that absenteeism harms student performance. Family engagement, however, helps address some underlying causes of absenteeism, such as perceptions by some students that schools are uncaring places removed from their needs.

Deepen Understanding Between Families and Educators

With increased communication and cooperation with families, educators better understand the obstacles parents face in supporting their children through their school years. With this knowledge, educators can find solutions and address the needs of families and students. This improved understanding empowers families to advocate for their children.

Methods for Building Engagement

Educators use many strategies to build successful partnerships with families. By embracing the following actions, school communities can improve family engagement in education.

Make Families Feel Integral to the School Community

Families that feel like a welcome part of the school are more likely to participate. Following are ways of encouraging parents to get engaged.

  • Encouraging collaborative parent-teacher meetings. Schools can implement strategies such as academic parent-teacher teams (APPT). Forming these teams gives teachers and families the opportunity to collaborate on monitoring a student’s development. Specifically, APPT involves conducting three classroom meetings with parents or guardians to explain academic goals, review student performance data, and suggest home activities. Families also participate in yearly collaborative conferences with the teacher and student.
  • Promoting positive communication. School leaders can carve out time in faculty meetings for teachers to write postcards to families with positive news about their children.
  • Hosting family engagement nights. Schools can host a “family engagement night” at the beginning of the school year where families are invited to commit to three hours of volunteering in committees, classrooms, or events over the school year.
  • Conducting parent Surveys. School leaders can conduct parent surveys after events and programs to get feedback about their needs and improvements they’d like to see.

Communicate Effectively

Families need regular, meaningful communication about what’s going on in a school and their children’s education. Following are methods that foster effective communication.

  • Making home visits. Teachers can make home visits before a school year begins to put parents at ease, establish rapport, and open up a line of communication.
  • Keeping families informed. Schools can create a schoolwide method that informs families about tests, homework, and class activities.
  • Providing regular updates. Schools can use email and other media to provide regular updates and newsletters about school happenings. Information should be made available in languages and formats that are accessible to all families.

Support Student Success

Families and educators need to work together to support student learning and development both in and out of the classroom. Educators can assist parents in supporting their children’s academic success by:

  • Assessing what parents need to know and have to support student learning at home
  • Sending support materials home that parents can use to help their children with schoolwork
  • Keeping parents informed of their children’s progress and academic needs
  • Offering workshops for families that teach study skills or college planning and offer tips for parent involvement

Share Power

Schools need to treat families as equal partners, including them in decisions that affect their children’s education. School leaders can facilitate this by:

  • Creating a governance structure in the school that allows families to discuss equity issues, such as children’s eligibility for gifted programs
  • Supporting and participating in parent organizations that bring families and school staff together to network and address issues of concern
  • Conducting surveys and organizing focus groups to gather input from parents about school programs and policies
  • Organizing accountability meetings to describe school programs, test scores, and services to parents
  • Ensuring that school improvement teams consist of parents who represent the school’s diverse population

Collaborate with the Community

When schools connect families to community resources, the result is expanded learning opportunities. Families are likely to get needed services, as well. Schools can collaborate with the community by:

  • Sponsoring parenting classes at the local library where families also learn about library events and get library cards
  • Partnering with community organizations that assist families with food donor programs, housing assistance, and other basic services
  • Keeping a message board that posts cultural and educational events in the community that families can enjoy

Learn About Education Leadership Roles

Creating learning environments that foster parent involvement and family engagement requires a commitment to inclusiveness, collaboration, and information sharing––core tenets of the leadership model advanced by Mills College’s online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program. Learn more about how the program prepares school leaders to find solutions to the greatest challenges in education, including family engagement.

How to Promote Change and Equality in Education

Teaching the Whole Child: Strategies for Holistic Education

What Can I Do with a Master’s in Educational Leadership?

Sources

Center for American Progress, “One Size Does Not Fit All”

Economic Policy Institute, “Student Absenteeism”

Gallup, “School Engagement Is More Than Just Talk”

GettingSmart.com, “Creating a Culture of Collaborative Family Engagement”

Hanover Research, Top Benefits of Family and Community Engagement

Kickboard, “Strategies & Activities for Family Engagement in Schools”

National PTA, National Standards for Family-School Partnerships

PBS, The Role of Parents

The Hechinger Report, “What the Research Says About the Best Way to Engage Parents”

U.S. Department of Education, Family and Community Engagement

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Definitions of Family Engagement

WestEd, What Is APTT?