Families are key contributors to student learning at all levels of a child’s schooling (Henderson, Mapp, Johnson, & Davies, 2007). Thus, student achievement increases and school improvement efforts are more effective when families and schools are true partners in the educational process. “Intentional, well-designed practices to inform and support family engagement have a positive and long-term effect on student outcomes, including grades, test scores, behavior, passing rates, enrollment in higher-level programs, high school graduation, and college attendance” (Mapp, Henderson, & Hill, 2014, “The Whole Truth,” para. 2).
Family involvement is a proactive approach to supporting student learning (Olmstead, 2013). Thoughtful, strategic methods for increasing family involvement are based on the belief that both parents and educators are valued partners in the learning process (Shiffman, 2013; Virginia Department of Education [VDOE], 2002). As educational partners, parents have a voice in their child’s education through their input related to the student’s strengths, needs, and effective supports.
The family-school partnership is a collaboration that is built upon strong connections and shared responsibility (VDOE, 2002). “Effective parent involvement requires understanding and negotiation among parents, teachers, and school leaders regarding how children should be educated, the role parents should serve, and the access to and mobilization of resources required to support these efforts” (VDOE, 2002, p. 186).
It is important to find a balance between welcoming and encouraging family involvement and not overwhelming families with high expectations for engagement (Ferguson, Ramos, Rudo, & Wood, 2008). Such a balance may be achieved by providing of a structure for involvement and a network of support.
How can educators promote effective family involvement? VDOE (2002) offers the following tips:
- Home environment: Schools inform families about how to create structures at home that foster student learning.
- Communication: Educators develop effective methods of communication and plan a structured, consistent system of information exchange. Schools may also want to establish an agreement whereby roles and responsibilities are established for the family-school partnership.
- Volunteering: Schools provide varied volunteer opportunities that may be completed on site or at home. These opportunities include training or support that families may need to participate.
- Decision-making: Educators encourage families to be active in the decision-making process both at the individual student and school level. School leaders may invite families to be members of the school improvement team, focus groups, or school councils. Teachers encourage parents to attend parent-teacher conferences and provide flexibility so that they can attend.
- Professional development: Schools provide families and teachers with training to support effective family-school partnerships. Training for parents may include information related to student development, curricular demands, strategies for supporting student learning in the home, or ways to engage as a part of a school teams. Professional development for teachers may focus on how to successfully engage families. Combined training would provide an avenue to form relationships and to establish partnerships.
Parents of students with disabilities who are eligible for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004) are members of their child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team. As a result, parents’ concerns are addressed and their input is obtained through the IEP development process. Schools must ensure that parents are able to be active, informed members of the IEP team and that communication is consistent and ongoing.
Table 1 provides helpful links for educators as they plan to increase family engagement in student learning
Resources for Increasing Family Engagement
|National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education (NCPIE)||The NCPIE mission is to advocate the involvement of parents and families in their children’s education and to foster relationships between home, school, and community to enhance the education of our entire nation’s young people. This site provides various resources and publications related to family involvement.||NCPIE|
|Virginia Department of Education||A VDOE publication that includes strategies schools have successfully used while partnering with parents and families to improve student outcomes.||Tips and Strategies|
|Virginia Department of Education||A VDOE document that provides links to resources to increase family engagement, specifically families of students with disabilities.||Fostering Family Involvement|
|Center for Family Involvement||The website provides a link to the Parent and Family Involvement Tool Kit for Virginia Schools. This tool kit includes online resources to share with parents and family members to encourage and support their involvement in their child’s education.||Parent and Family Involvement Tool Kit for Virginia Schools|
Fostering family involvement requires strategic planning and ongoing relationship-building on the part of schools. The effort is well-spent, however. As noted by Map et al. (2014), “when parents and schools work together to form a seamless system of support, children thrive” (“A State of the Art Compass,” para. 4).
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 http://www.sedl.org/connections/research-syntheses.html
Henderson, A. T., Mapp, K. L., Johnson, V. R., & Davies, D. (2007). Beyond the bake sale: The essential guide to family-school partnerships. New York, NY: The New Press.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, 20 U.S.C. §300. (2004). Retrieved from http://idea.ed.gov/download/statute.html
Mapp, K. L., Henderson, A. T., & Hill, N. E. (2014, May). Does family engagement matter? The truth and half-truths about parent involvement.. Retrieved from http://www.ncpie.org/
Olmstead, C. (2013). Using technology to increase parent involvement in schools. TechTrends, 57(6), 28-37.
Shiffman, C. D. (2013). Locating common ground: An exploration of adult educator practices that support parent involvement for school-age children. School Community Journal 23(2),185-205.
Virginia Department of Education, Office of Student Services, Office of Special Education. (2002). Collaborative family-school relationships for children’s learning: Beliefs and practices. Retrieved from http://www.doe.virginia.gov/support/student_family/family-school_relationships/collaborative_family-school_relationships.pdf