How to Engage Families to Improve Student Outcomes

Family engagement is a key factor in addressing the achievement and opportunity gaps – and ultimately achieving equity in education.

Research shows that family engagement makes a difference.

Family involvement in a child’s education is the single most important predictor of student academic success. Research over several decades has shown that when families are involved in their own child’s education, their child does better in school – regardless of family background (e.g. race, educational level, income, marital status). Students with involved families are more likely to:

  • Earn higher grades and test scores
  • Enroll in higher-level programs
  • Attend school regularly
  • Have fewer behavioral problems
  • Pass their classes, be promoted, and graduate

But not all family engagement activities have such a significant effect on student success. So how can schools engage families in ways that really move the needle on improved student outcomes?

6 Effective Practices for Family Engagement

Family engagement practices occur on a spectrum, from participation to partnership. Participation includes many traditional methods of engagement, like volunteering in the classroom, participating in school site councils, or attending events. However, focusing on authentic partnerships between teachers and families can do more to ensure academic success for students. These partnerships occur, and have full impact, when family engagement activities are connected to student learning – and when there is capacity building and support for both families and teachers.

How do schools and school districts build systems of practice that foster meaningful partnerships between teachers and families?

1. Districts and school communities adopt a strengths-based vision.
A strengths-based vision acknowledges that each family has something powerful and positive to offer their children, and respects that each family is its child’s first and most influential teacher.

2. Teams (not individual staff) are responsible for planning, design, and quality assessment.
A representative family engagement team includes a school administrator, 1-2 teachers, 2-3 parents, all staff members in coordination of services roles, and at least 2 students in high schools.

3. Family engagement activities focus on student success.
The family engagement team leverages their common interest in student success, using student data to create goals and assess the impact of its activities based on movement toward these goals (e.g. success is measured not by how many people show up, but on whether students are doing better and continue to improve).

4. Family engagement efforts are rooted in continuous improvement.
Family engagement teams develop and test an annual plan through a cycle of inquiry. Using student outcomes to assess the impact of activities, family engagement becomes a central strategy for academic success.

5. Capacity building for teachers and other school staff is a priority.
Employing a strenghts-based approach, teachers are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and tools they need to actively and effectively engage families. Family engagement is a priority in the overall plan for teacher professional development, and the district commits the necessary resources to build this capacity, including making investments in training and coaching.

6. Capacity building for families strives to address unequal power dynamics.
Capacity building for families is focused on leveraging the assets each family brings to the table. Families are provided the knowledge and tools they need to support their own child’s education at home and at school.

Whenever possible, teachers and families are trained together to promote partnering through equal access to information and to build a sense that everyone is working as a team to support students. Developing authentic partnerships between families and school staff takes a real commitment, and can feel like a daunting task. But with training, coaching, and support, teachers and families can partner in ways that have a tangible impact on student achievement.

For more information, additional resources, and citations for stats provided above, please see our short chapter: Why Family Engagement Matters, co-authored by High Expectations Parental Service and Partnership for Children & Youth.