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What Does Meaningful Engagement and Communication With Families Look Like in YOUR School?

I cannot help but to feel that equity and equitable practices in schools starts with re-learning how to truly engage, communicate with, listen to, learn from and follow through with knowledge gained from our families.

Dr. Karen Mapp from Harvard University describes Family Engagement as “ a full, equal, and equitable partnership among families, educators, and community partners to promote children’s learning and development from birth through college and career.”


What is concerning about Family Engagement in schools currently?

  • Many educators have not experienced robust examples of what family engagement could look like.

  • Traditionally in schools, engagement often looks like compliance, like homework checks. Also, having parents volunteer is not always accessible for some families. This maintains a system that tends to marginalize some people.

  • Many educators do not receive training in family engagement, which makes it harder to think out of the box and come up with equitable strategies.

  • How schools traditionally practice family engagement can cause families to feel disrespected, undervalued, and excluded from participating and contributing in the school. This fortifies the harm that was created from past negative experiences within the education system.

  • Oftentimes, when strategies don't work out, the blame is placed on families. This generates an adverse, false narratives that families do not care about or value education and that they are not committed to their child's education.


"Why" is Family Engagement Important in Schools?

Youth and Family outcomes according to research at youth.GOV:

  • Family engagement in schools contributes to positive student outcomes, including improved child and student achievement, decreased disciplinary issues, improved parent-teacher and teacher-student relationships, and improved school environment.1

  • A comprehensive review of the literature on family engagement in early childhood found that all families from diverse socioeconomic, educational and racial/ethnic backgrounds were interested in their child’s educational success and could effectively support their child’s learning at home and school when provided with the information and guidance that they needed.5

  • Parent involvement leads to positive benefits for students, parents, and schools, including improved academic performance and improved parent-teacher relationships. Students whose parents were involved in school during their elementary years experienced lower rates of high school dropout, were more likely to complete high school on time, and had higher grades.6

  • Recent experimental research has documented how two-way teacher-parent communication can lead to greater parental involvement, improved student engagement and academic achievement.7

  • Youth engage in fewer health risk behaviors when their parents are actively involved in their lives. These health risk behaviors include cigarette smoking,8 drinking alcohol,9 becoming pregnant,10 becoming sexually active,11 and carrying weapons.12

  • In addition to avoiding health risk behaviors, family engagement can increase participation in positive health behaviors such as school-related physical activity13 and improved educational achievement, including increased attendance14 and higher grades and test scores.15,16,17

  • Involving families in strength-based decision-making processes and modeling appropriate problem-solving approaches increases families’ comfort with communicating their own problem-solving strategies and exploring new strategies that may benefit themselves and their children.22

  • Working collaboratively increases the likelihood of identifying a family’s unique needs and developing relevant and culturally-appropriate service plans that address needs, build on family strengths, draw from community supports, and use resources more effectively.23

  • Research shows that a lack of trust is often what keeps historically marginalized families (which includes families of language learners) from spending time at school.

References for above research:

1 Henderson & Mapp, 2002

5 Van Voorhis, Maier, Epstein, & Lloyd, 2013

6 Barnard, 2004

7 Bergman, 2014

8 Wang, Storr, Green, Zhu, Stuart, Landsman, & Ialongo, 2012

9 Komro, Perry, Veblen-Mortenson, Bosma, Dudovitz, Williams, Jones-Webb, & Toomey, 2004

10 Klein, 1997

11 Guilamo-Ramos, Bouris, Jaccard, Gonzalez, McCoy, & Aranda, 2011

12 Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2010

13 Haerens, De Bourdeaudhuij, & Maes, 2007

14 Epstein & Sheldon, 2002

15 Fan & Chen, 2001

16 Jeynes, 2003

17 Jeynes, 2007

22 Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2010

23 Doolan, 2005


Moving from Parent Involvement TO Family Engagement could look like this...


"How" do we make Family Engagement more meaningful?

The Dual Capacity-Building Framework was created by Dr. Karen Mapp and is based on existing research and best practices.

Dr. Karen Mapp shares, “Relational trust is the glue that holds everything else together.”

How can we build Relational Trust?

  1. Build your capacity

  2. Elevate Learning Gains: Value students and educator growth attained from the experience of learning at home with students, families, and embed practices rooted in family culture.

  3. Maintain and Strengthen Relationships: Even after children return to school, educators should continue to reach out to caregivers through relational phone calls and visits (virtual or otherwise). Through these calls, educators can show families that they respect and value their perspectives and insights.

5 Strategies for building meaningful Family Engagement:

  1. Focus on fostering relationships built on trust and authenticity

  2. Clarity: What you should expect from us and what we should expect from you.

  3. Consistency: Are we going to follow through on what we committed to do

  4. Communication: The method by which we resolve conflicts if the first two Cs are not effective. We use communication to bridge the gaps.

  5. Recognize that past experiences influence caregiver's current perceptions

  6. Invite feedback from caregivers and respond to what families tell you

  7. Use your district's social-emotional learning work as a way to engage families

  8. Leverage technology to involve caregivers as joint decision-makers

Michele Brooks expressed, “Family engagement is not a program, it’s a practice.”

We have learned a lot about the need to engage families as the Covid pandemic moved through schools. It is no longer acceptable to have one-time events like donut day and cultural night. They are not enough to form relational trust or to involve families as school-family partners. Family engagement as a practice means devoting time, energy and resources towards those partnerships, creating reciprocal relationships that are genuine and respectful of the knowledge and cultural values that our families bring and creating a safe space for the community and schools to come together in support of our children.

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