Families and educators are both instrumental in a child’s academic development, and yet both often struggle to communicate with one another as a means of improving student outcomes. It is unfortunate when this occurs, as research has shown that meaningful family and community engagement improves school readiness, academic achievement, and graduation rates.
So what affects engagement and improves student outcomes? A review of available evidence finds four key factors that encourage engagement and improve student outcomes:
- School climate
- Logistics of parent involvement
- Quality of communication between parents and students
- Parent perceptions of the roles they play in their child’s education
The sections below take a look at each factor, the barriers associated with each of these factors, and strategies for overcoming each of these barriers.
- School Climate
A welcoming school climate is almost universally considered to be a requisite for family and community engagement, as researchers commonly consider a welcoming environment to family and community partnerships. In other words, school climate is the glue that holds all other manners of family and community engagement together.
In general, schools that successfully promote parent involvement also promote a broad sense of community and build relationships of mutual trust between families and school staff. According to a report from the National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools:
When programs and initiatives focus on building respectful and trusting relationships among school staff, families, and community members, they are effective in creating and sustaining family and community connections with schools.
- Build a welcoming environment for students and families
- Build trust with the parent community
- Hold meetings in comfortable, positive settings
- Invite involved parents to examine ways to engage other parents
- Logistics of Parental Involvement
Logistical obstacles, such as inflexible parent work schedules or lack of transportation, are among the most common barriers to parental involvement. In 2008, Civic Enterprises, with funding from the Gates Foundation, conducted focus groups that included more than 1,000 parents nationwide to determine the factors that impede parent involvement. Of parents who responded that they were not involved enough in their children’s education, two-thirds indicated that work or other time commitments were significant obstacles to their involvement.
Although schools may not have the resources to directly address some of these logistical barriers, they can still implement strategies to make things easier on parents. Providing easier access to teachers and counselors (i.e. being available to parents outside of normal school hours), offering transportation for parents as necessary to attend certain school events, and considering more convenient alternative locations for events and meetings are all ways in which schools can help parents overcome logistical obstacles.
- Improve access to teachers and counselors at different times during the week
- Examine ways to offer transportation to school events
- Consider more convenient locations for school events and meetings
- Conduct a parent involvement survey to determine logistical barriers
- Communication Between Parents and Schools
12 percent of parents (from the aforementioned Civic Enterprises study) attributed their low levels of involvement to a general lack of information or communication. In particular, as schools serve increasingly diverse populations and move toward electronic forms of communication, even schools that make their best efforts to provide parents with information may not be communicating adequately. In many cases, communication between schools and families suffers due to language barriers and limited parent access to the technology that schools often use to communicate about student needs.
- Communicate in multiple ways that minimize technical obstacles and language barriers
- Accept responsibility for initiating positive interaction with parents
- Make opportunities for parents to ask questions and share their opinions
- Parent Roles
Although a large body of research supports parental involvement in general, the specific roles that parents should play aren’t always as well‐defined. Often, parents require guidance from their child’s school to better understand how best to become involved. As one organization that advocates for better parent involvement states, “sometimes parents aren’t sure what their role should be,” and it falls to schools to help parents navigate that question.
- Inform families of the role they play in their child’s career development and train them to fulfill that role
- Engage families in age-appropriate ways
- Determine the different ways that all families can become involved