From Our Subscribers: Using a Family Engagement Tool
Educators, families, researchers and others are finding multiple uses for a new GFRP-PTA tool highlighting five powerful ways schools and families can work together to support students' success.
At Global Family Research Project, one of our primary goals is to stimulate the use of research to support innovation and action that builds strong family, school, and community engagement pathways—from birth through high school and beyond. Decades of research show that family engagement is key in children’s learning and for success in school and life. It is also essential for policy efforts to focus on increasing educational equity.
We recently examined current research and evaluations to identify major comprehensive findings and promising high-leverage areas that can make a difference in school success and that can be combined to build family engagement pathways across children’s learning. We reported our results in the paper Joining Together to Create a Bold Vision for Next-Generation Family Engagement: Engaging Families to Transform Education.
We then collaborated with the National PTA’s Center for Family Engagement to create and widely disseminate a handy resource titled, Why Family Engagement Matters for Student and School Success. This tool summarizes the results of our research and then suggests five high-leverage areas for consideration and use by families, schools, and others as they improve their practices and build their family engagement plans and strategies.
The five high-leverage areas are: (1) ensuring attendance, (2) sharing information about student progress, (3) reinforcing family support for learning, (4) using digital media in positive and safe ways, and (5) providing support during transitions to new classrooms and schools. While this resource was made available for the PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week, we, along with the PTA, have encouraged its broader use.
By conducting a web-based survey seeking feedback from those who downloaded the tool from our site, we have found that many educators, researchers, administrators, community members, and others are using it in a variety of inspiring ways. Here, we share some of the various approaches that people and organizations are taking to incorporate the resource in their work with families to encourage its adoption and creative adaptations, and to generate more new ideas for putting this research-based resource to work every day.
We hope you will continue to tell us how you are using the tool so that we can share what you are doing with others. Your feedback also helps us to improve our own efforts to present research to support innovation and learn what is most useful for the different groups key in building strong family, school, and community engagement.
We are especially interested in the ways that the levers can be braided together. For example:,
- Using digital communication with families to support their children’s attendance and learning at home
- Communicating children’s strengths and areas for improvement in different formats and using that information as part of transitions to new classrooms and schools
- Reinforcing family-oriented learning as a way to build in-person trust and enhance relationships between parents and teachers.
So far, the feedback we have received from some 70 users shows that they are accessing our tool along the entire family engagement pathway—from early-childhood through the high school years—and that they are finding the guidance and reflective questions around the five high-leverage areas provocative and relevant in their work. The family engagement resource is being used to engage, communicate with, and build the capacity of a variety of individuals, including graduate students, parents, and teachers, as well as in diverse communities and settings, such as schools, universities, and research organizations.
Here are some specific examples of how our resource for family engagement is being used and adapted in communities around the country.
For Capacity Building and Professional Learning
Providing training and coaching in the area of family engagement is one of the primary ways that leaders are using Why Family Engagement Matters for Student and School Success. In Maryland’s Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), for example, Sheila Jackson, the district’s director for family and school partnerships, is integrating the tool into the training that she provides for the district’s 86 school-based parent engagement assistants. These assistants lead workshops for families in schools across the district. Jackson is also incorporating the resource into sessions that she develops for school-based teams, which include school leaders.
A number of administrators report that they plan to share our family engagement tool with their teachers. In Georgia’s DeKalb County Public Schools, for instance, it is being used “to build parent and staff capacity in supporting student achievement,” a parent resource center facilitator told us.
And in the Seattle Public Schools, it is available to a network of 24 middle and high schools participating in Engaging Families in High School Success, a research project that the district is conducting in partnership with Johns Hopkins University. As part of the initiative, schools are organizing “transition-related family events” for families with eighth and ninth graders. Transitions are one of the high-leverage areas for family engagement addressed in the GFRP-PTA tool.
To Start a Discussion
In California, WestEd’s Center for Child and Family Studies, which coordinates the MAP to Inclusion and Belonging Project, is making the tool available as a family engagement resource. MAP, which stands for Making Access Possible, provides support and resources to child care programs and other early care and education providers on how to include children with disabilities in their educational plans.
In Florida, 30 early learning coalitions, which work under the auspices of the state’s Office of Early Learning to coordinate early childhood programs, will have access to the tool to develop their family engagement plans.
And again in Prince George’s County, the school district’s parent engagement assistants are developing separate community-based workshops around the themes covered in the tool, such as regular attendance, sharing information about children’s progress, and providing support during key transition periods for children and youth.
To Develop New Family Engagement Strategies
Positive relationships between educators and families can also help to create more welcoming schools. A representative of a community organization told us that “working to reduce the disproportionality of suspensions and expulsions among black students in Southern states” was inspired by our resource and said the organization is emphasizing “the role of families in building an environment that makes learning a priority.”
Another group of educators is using it as part of a schoolwide implementation of Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), a high school program focusing on providing extra support to students on their pathway to college. Schoolwide programs emphasize high academic expectations, supporting “inquiry-based” instruction in the classroom, and creating a culture of college readiness.
We also heard about its role in mentoring programs, as part of educators’ professional learning communities, and with members of parent advisory councils.
As noted at the outset, we encourage users to think about finding ways to combine the power of multiple levers to build strong pathways and increase family engagement. in areas known to contribute to student success and educational equity.
Some organizations now report, for example, that they are sharing data around attendance issues or using digital media to connect families to both formal and informal learning opportunities—especially after school and during the summer. These efforts represent future directions for educators and families as they develop programs as well as overarching family, school, and community engagement strategies.
At GFRP we will continue to work with others to develop and advance research-based resources and show the ways their applications can support learning and capacity building across the field.