Families’ involvement in their children’s education has a significant positive impact on student achievement (Henderson & Mapp, 2002). When families engage with school personnel, students adjust more easily to the classroom environment at the secondary and elementary levels (Ferguson, Ramos, Rudo, & Wood, 2008). Further, regardless of socio-economic status, involvement of parents increases the likelihood that students attend school regularly, earn better grades, and persist to graduation (Colorado, 2008; Henderson & Mapp, 2002).
That said, student achievement is dependent upon type and level of family involvement in school (Ferguson et al., 2008). For example, students perform better when family members talk to them about school, hold high expectations for them, assist with future planning, and encourage constructive out-of-school activities. Although student learning is enhanced when schools find ways to connect and engage families with a learning-centered approach, there are a number of things that families can do to ensure student success. These include communicating effectively and regularly, building home-school relationships, providing support at home, and learning about the school.
Communication is vital to student success (Wilmshurst & Brue, 2005). Teachers, administrators, and parents work together to ensure that consistent, relevant communication occurs. All parties share the responsibility of listening openly, speaking respectfully, and remaining positive. When parents disagree with educators, all parties should seek more information and express concerns. For example, either party may state, “I’m concerned that …” or “Please help me understand why …” Such practices ensure the development of healthy, collaborative relationships.
Attending school events, volunteering when possible, and being responsive are additional ways to build relationships (Wilmshurst & Brue, 2005). Families may engage in a number of volunteer activities, such as tutoring, attending field trips, or assisting in the cafeteria, clinic, or office. Sometimes parents have difficulty finding the time to volunteer given work schedules and other demands. However, volunteer opportunities such as making phone calls and organizing school events (Hill & Mapp, 2014) can take place outside of the school environment and hours. Matching volunteer work with family members’ skills, availability, and interests yields greater family involvement.
While attending school events and volunteering are helpful for building home-school relationships and supporting students, it is also important for families to provide structure and connections at home (Callison, 2004). Families can structure time for homework, find ways to make connections between homework and daily life, and follow up to ensure homework has been completed and submitted on time. Hill and Mapp (2014) suggest that families support the development of effective study habits, monitor leisure activities, structure a consistent schedule, and ensure regular school attendance. For additional information about how to support students at home, families can download the Parents’ Guide to Student Success from the National Parent Teacher Association website.
Home support is more effective when parents or guardians meet with teachers to discuss learning content and student progress (Callison, 2004). Wilmshurst and Brue (2005) offer tips for parents when engaging in informal meetings with teachers. Specifically, they suggest that parents identify and record concerns in advance; be prepared to listen, ask questions, and brainstorm ideas; and keep an open mind and a positive approach.
Families can stay informed about what is happening in school by attending back-to-school nights, parent-teacher conferences, and other informational events (Colorado, 2008). Parents may also want to talk with teachers to find out what goals they have for student learning and outcomes. Keeping school events on a home calendar, talking with other parents, and reading material that is sent home are other ways to engage and be informed. Parent Teacher Association meetings (PTA) provide important information to families and are a great way to stay involved. Information about this organization is generally sent home with the initial school paperwork at the beginning of the school year.
Whereas all parents should be actively involved in their children’s education, there are additional considerations for parents of students with disabilities. As noted above, establishing positive relationships is vital to ensuring effective communication and collaboration between school and home (Colorado, 2008). Communication is particularly important in identifying needed supports for students with disabilities both at home and in school.
As members of the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team, parents must share the student’s strengths, interests, and needs (Colorado, 2008). They can ensure that their child is involved in the process, and they can address specific concerns. Further, to be effective team members, parents will want to learn as much as possible about their child’s disability and their rights under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
A number of resources are available to parents and family members; many of them may be found at the T/TAC William and Mary website. Some highlights are noted in the table below.
|PACER||PACER is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs. The philosophy of “parents helping parents” remains the foundation of PACER. Parents on staff share their experience and knowledge on issues relating to special education.|
|PEATC||The Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center believes that children reach their full potential when families and professionals enjoy an equal, respectful partnership. PEATC believes that:
|VDOE||The mission of Virginia Department of Education is to increase student learning and academic achievement. Family involvement is an area of focus for VDOE through the Family Involvement Network.|
Callison, W. L. (2004). Raising test scores using parent involvement. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Education.
Colorado, C. (2008). Parent participation: How to get involved in your child’s school activities. Virginia Family Special Education Connection. Retrieved from http://vafamilysped.org/Article/1906
Colorado, C. (2008). 10 steps for parents: If your child has a learning disability. Virginia Family Special Education Connection. Retrieved from http://vafamilysped.org/Article/1959
Ferguson, C., Ramos, M., Rudo, Z. & Wood, L. (2008, July). The school-family connection: Looking at the larger picture – A review of current research. Retrieved from National Center for Family and Community Connections With Schools website: http://www.sedl.org/connections/research-syntheses.html
Henderson, A. T., & Mapp, K. L. (2002). A new wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement (Annual Synthesis of 2002). Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.
Hill, N. E., & Mapp, K. L. (2014). Does family engagement matter? The truth and half-truths about parent involvement. Retrieved from National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education website: http://www.ncpie.org/docs/Does-Family-Engagement-Matter.html
Wilmshurst, L., & Brue, A. W. (2005). A parent’s guide to special education: Insider advice on how to navigate the system and help your child succeed. New York, NY: American Management Association.