Let’s be honest: the pandemic has radically impacted each and every one of us in education. In some ways, educators learned valuable insights about how district and school leaders can shift teaching and learning to better support students as well as teachers. And, in other cases, schools are still determining what their “right path forward” might look like.
It can feel daunting for many educators facing this challenge of reversing the trends in learning outcomes still rippling from the pandemic. This is why schools need strong family partnerships. If anything can help a school community heal – and build a positive, resilient school climate – it will be trusting relationships with these critical stakeholders in a child’s life.
In fact, many educators already recognize the importance of family engagement in education. Its known benefits are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential offered by a strong family-school partnership.
The question then becomes this: what does strong family engagement look like? And can educators glean takeaways for their community by studying examples of family engagement in schools?
Stronger Family Relationships Bolster Student Learning
We at ParentPowered work with hundreds of organizations and schools seeking to tap into that potential and deepen their relationships with the families they serve. Every so often, we receive that very question from our partners, or some variation of it.
“What are you seeing other organizations doing when it comes to family engagement? Do you see schools trying this strategy? What’s working for other districts?”
Schools and community organizations are eager to be inspired by fellow educators, and we are in a unique position to help. By partnering with organizations across the US, we gain valuable insight into a wide range of family engagement strategies. We also learn how these school administrators, district leaders, and community leaders bring these efforts to life in their family relationships .
The reality is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to family-school partnerships. Examples of family engagement in schools can look completely different between districts or community organizations – even if they are in the same state, serve the same age groups, or work with similar populations. The best approach to family engagement is the one that works for school leaders, school staff, and the families they serve.
Here’s the good news: the most effective examples of family engagement in schools share several common factors that educators can adapt to meet their community’s needs.
By understanding the core elements of impactful family engagement examples, schools can evaluate their own school programs and create engagement opportunities that work for everyone in their community.
Have questions about family engagement in schools?
Explore our FAQs at the end of the article.
Exploring Examples of Family Engagement in Schools
Because family engagement is important to student learning, let’s take a look at three examples from the field! Each example offers valuable lessons for educators to study as inspiration for their own family engagement work. In each story, we will highlight how the approach leverages the essential conditions from the Dual Capacity-Building Framework and the impact the strategy had on families. To learn more about this model for family-school partnerships, take a look at our FAQs below.
Example #1: Connecting Families with Essential Resources
Our first example comes from Del Norte County, a rural community in northern California near the Oregon border. Like many rural communities throughout the United States, Del Norte faced challenges with providing equitable access to high quality education and local health resources.
As part of an initiative to improve family engagement approaches in early childhood education programming, Del Norte County worked closely with their community of families, educators, and childcare providers to understand their biggest needs. The feedback was resoundingly clear – Del Norte had a big opportunity to help connect families with crucial resources and services around them. And this could bolster family engagement in service of student learning, too.
However, the team needed to go beyond in-person activities for families, which some families were not always able to join. They also needed to provide resources without requiring access to the internet, something some families struggled with in their area.
Read our recent article to understand why connecting families with community resources matters.
This realization sparked a collaboration between ParentPowered and Del Norte County to develop a customized community outreach program to connect families with local resources and service providers. Hundreds of services, ranging from educational resources to mental health services for parents, were highlighted in weekly outreach to families, with messages personalized to their community context.
The timing was fortuitous, as this program was already in full force when the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close their doors during spring 2020. Through their collaborations with the local schools, Del Norte County ensured that families continued to receive just-in-time information and support even during these challenging times.
Del Norte County’s powerful approach to family engagement incorporated multiple aspects of Dr. Mapp’s essential conditions. But two details in particular stand out.
First, by utilizing a text-based program, the team ensured that families could receive support without needing access to the internet or being in a particular location. This created equitable opportunities for families to actively cultivate learning moments at home with their children – and such family engagement activities at home can directly benefit student learning.
Second, Del Norte County’s messages connected families with specific, concrete resources that could meet their most essential needs. And when basic needs are met, this increases family capacity to participate in their student’s learning.
Learn more about the inspiring story behind Del Norte County’s family engagement program here.
Example #2: Equitable Opportunity through Digital Family Engagement
Our second example comes from West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD), also located in California but amidst the hustle and bustle of a city. WCCUSD served a huge array of diverse families, not only culturally and linguistically but also social-economically. The needs of these families could not be more different in some cases.
As a result, district leaders faced this question: how do we cultivate inclusive and equitable partnerships with our families, regardless of income level or cultural background?
Their answer: digital family engagement.
Partnering with ParentPowered, WCCUSD implemented a text-based program in which families received messages weekly straight to their phones. Each message included educational resources for families in the form of fun, easy at-home learning activities. Each tip only took parents minutes to do and fit well into existing daily routines in a family’s life.
Read our recent blog post for ways to establish trusting relationships with your families!
This positive communication with families also helped the district cultivate relationships with families by supplementing the expertise of parents with valuable insight and activities to support student learning. Taking a strengths-based approach like this helped build trust and respect between WCCUSD and their families – critical components to any successful partnership.
The benefits of this program continued to shine for WCCUSD families and educators when it came to social-emotional learning and wellbeing. Families also received messages that encouraged exercises to practice SEL skills with kids and even shared methods to cultivate parental self-care – both of which can strengthen the family-child relationship, too. In fact, when recently surveyed, 100% of this district’s families shared that their relationships with their children grew stronger after completing their Ready4K activities.
Digital family engagement was and continues to be a gamechanger for WCCUSD to build powerful partnerships with their diverse families. Learn more about the impact of digital family engagement on this district here.
Example #3: Improving Literacy through Family Engagement Activities at Home
Our third and final example takes us to the other side of the US – in Raleigh, North Carolina. Wake Up and Read, an early learning organization serving families of young learners, was on a mission to ensure that “every [one of our] children… will be inspired, equipped, and empowered to read.” While the organization offered in-person activities for families and students to build literacy skills, their team knew that not all families could join these kinds of events. This partner needed a way to bring engagement to their families – to meet them where they are.
Through partnership with ParentPowered, Wake Up and Read launched a text-based family engagement program focused on literacy. Families selected their preferred language for receiving these messages, ensuring these valuable resources were easily understood and accessible. Further, by delivering activities to spark literacy moments at home via text, the team gave families useful resources “right in their own pocket” – no extra travel, babysitting, or days taken off work necessary.
These activities were easy for families to slip right into their normal schedules with students. And the ease of use meant that barriers such as lack of time did not hinder family participation in student learning. Parents, caregivers, and guardians working with Wake Up and Read shared in a recent survey that they “appreciated how simple [the activity] is” and that they find the messages “easy or very easy to understand”.
Learn more about how Wake Up and Read used Ready4K to improve literacy at home with families here.
Family engagement: partnership for long-term success
Across these and other examples of family engagement in schools, the theme of establishing partnership between home and school is the priority. A truly reciprocal partnership takes time, consistency, and energy to nurture with families – there is no “hack” to family engagement.
But though no shortcut exists – strong family partnerships are absolutely worth the effort. By cultivating trust and collaboration with their families, schools build the best team possible to enable a student’s success. And that’s the goal of every student’s family and their schools!
FAQs about Family Engagement
Take a look at these frequently asked questions to learn more about the essentials of family engagement in schools.
What is family engagement?
The National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement (NAFSCE) defines family engagement as follows:
Family engagement is “a shared responsibility in which schools and other community agencies and organizations are committed to reaching out to engage families in meaningful ways and in which families are committed to actively supporting their children’s learning and development.”
Regardless of the types of families an organization supports, family engagement efforts are most effective when they establish trust and collaboration between home and school.
Family involvement vs. engagement – what’s the difference?
“Family involvement” is another term often cited in education as a strategy for improving student learning. As the Annie Casey Foundation describes, “An involved parent takes part in the activities already determined by the school. An engaged parent takes a step further, often becoming part of the school’s decision-making process.”
Following this definition, parent involvement centers on participation in school events driven by the school. This may look like attending parent-teacher conferences, joining a family workshop in the school setting, and even volunteering in the classroom. Each of these examples might be organized solely by the school. On the other hand, parent engagement would emphasize schools creating the opportunity for parents to actively add their voice to planning, develop their own skills, and even take ownership over ideas for improving student learning.
Download the complete infographic from our Why Family Engagement Matters page
This next-level collaboration might involve more meaningful, two-way communication between school and home. Or it could focus on incorporating direct family feedback into building a school’s vision of family engagement. Take a look at our guide to crafting communications with families for more information.
The difference here is that, unlike parental involvement, parent engagement establishes collaboration between school staff and families centered on student learning. It’s about building a partnership and cultivating relationships with families supporting a student. And this builds an entire learning team dedicated to that student’s wellbeing.
What are the primary benefits of family engagement?
Family-school partnerships positively impact schools, families, and students. Studies show that when families are actively engaged with their children’s education, students tend to perform better academically and socially.
Examples of improved student outcomes include:
- Improved graduation rates
- Boosted math and reading scores
- Increased teacher satisfaction
- Higher levels of student motivation and persistence
Ultimately meaningful family engagement is about building partnerships between families and school, supporting a student to continue their learning across both environments and beyond. Effective examples of family engagement in schools ensure that parents, caregivers, and guardians have the resources and support needed to foster participation in student learning.
Click here to learn more about the power of family engagement in schools.
How do schools build family engagement?
What families need from schools and organizations to support student learning varies from community to community. As a result, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to building strong partnerships with families of different backgrounds and needs. What’s most important is that school administrators take time to understand their school community and adapt family engagement events and resources to meet their needs.
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Read our recent article to discover the principles of great family engagement programs!
At the same time, some of the most effective family engagement practices lean on several core principles that tap into the potential offered by families. Examples of these principles include creating two-way communication flows and incorporating family input into decision-making processes. These principles create a culture of collaboration and communication with families, schools, and students. Click here for more information about these principles and how they impact family engagement programs.