Family involvement in school communities means key adults in a student’s home life take partial responsibility for their child’s success at school. They share this responsibility with teachers, who should make efforts to include families wherever possible. The research shows that this is highly beneficial for young learners. In fact, the more involved a family is in their child’s education (and the extent to which they encourage learning at home), the more likely that child is to be academically successful (National PTA, 2000).
This blog is therefore dedicated to highlighting the importance of family involvement, how it differs from family engagement, and how we recommend facilitating this involvement in the new school year.
What is the difference between involvement and engagement?
Family involvement differs from engagement in that the former depends on districts taking a more active role in communicating with families about their contributions, for example by asking them to attend school events. On the other hand, engagement is more to do with listening and responding to what the families themselves would like to say. To better differentiate between the two, here’s a quote from Larry Ferlazzo as published in the ASCD (2011):
“A school striving for family involvement often leads with its mouth—identifying projects, needs, and goals and then telling parents how they can contribute. A school striving for parent engagement, on the other hand, tends to lead with its ears—listening to what parents think, dream, and worry about. The goal of family engagement is not to serve clients but to gain partners.”
Family involvement is like a one-way street, in terms of communication and expected feedback. It should therefore be instigated by the districts themselves and they bear the responsibility of providing families with the opportunities to get involved. If however, you are looking to improve family engagement in your school community, you can get some helpful tips here.
Why family involvement is important
We know what family involvement really means, but why should we work hard to achieve it? Both school districts and families should take family involvement in school communities seriously, especially since there is a myriad of published research that supports the benefits of positive family/school relationships. For example, research from the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (2002) suggests that the higher the family involvement,
- the higher the grade point averages and test scores,
- the higher the attendance rates,
- the higher the likelihood of student enrollment in more challenging classes,
- the higher the level of social skills, and
- the better the behavior at home and school.
The evidence is clear: positive family involvement in schools is beneficial for the school community. A robust and proactive relationship between families and teachers fosters a positive learning environment, which in turn will improve the school culture and climate for all other staff.
Common barriers to family involvement
But despite the benefits of family involvement in a school community, it is not always easy for districts to achieve. Here are some common barriers that hinder family involvement in school communities:
Wrong communication methods
According to Blackboard (2016), 1 in 3 parents are dissatisfied with teacher-to-home communications, while 1 in 4 parents are dissatisfied with home communication from districts. The same study also reported the following:
Email is the best communication method.
Not only did 76% of parents choose email as the preferred method of communication between districts and families, but 74% chose email as the preferred method from teachers, too.
Phones are the least preferred method of communication.
Only 39% of parents chose texts as their preferred method of contact from teachers and only 32% chose phone calls. For district-to-home communication, only 45% chose text messages.
This data tells us that both school staff and district leaders need to adapt the ways they communicate with their students’ families. In order to attain a high level of involvement from families, districts should therefore contact families in their preferred ways. However, district staff should be strategic in how often they contact families as overloading them with emails and other communications can have the opposite effect and cause families to disengage.
Lack of consideration for personal circumstances
When schools do not have a clear picture of their current student population and needs, it is easy for there to be a growing disparity between schools and families. Limitations such as time, money, and other resources, need to be considered prior to scheduling events and asking for involvement. Pre-planning around things such as language barriers, work schedules, and child care, remove barriers for families to be more involved.
Families have negative opinions of school and/or staff
Another common reason families of school students refuse to get involved in their school community is because they have poor opinions of or have had negative experiences in the past with the school, the district, and/or its staff.
When schools do not have a clear picture of their current student population and needs, it is easy for there to be a growing disparity between schools and families.
So how can districts overcome these barriers?
Opt for a controlled, digital communication platform.
- Misalignment of communication methods and families not being contacted in their preferred ways
- Negative opinions of school districts by stopping smaller issues from escalating and allowing families to feedback when they would like
Blackboard (2016) revealed that intimate, in-person relationships between teachers and families have become less valuable and important to parents. Instead, parents showed trends of favoring digital, more remote methods of communication between school and family. This is reflected in the statistics showing that email is the preferred method of communication between community stakeholders.
Using a digital, fully site-embeddable communication platform that facilitates communication within districts allows families to get involved in their child’s education in a way that suits them best. Not only is this more convenient for them, but it also means schools can make sure feedback is sent directly to the right people who can act on it.
Furthermore, families can get in touch with schools when they see fit - the option is there for them online, 24/7 - so should any concerns be negatively affecting their opinion of the school community, they can communicate that in a controlled manner with the appropriate staff member before it escalates.
Maximize the effectiveness of in-person meetings
- Any misunderstanding of a family’s personal circumstances and any unrealistic involvement expectations by allowing them to get to know families better
- Negative opinions of school district staff by improving the quality of staff/family relationships
Although personal relationships are out of favor with families, there may still be occasions where in-person meetings occur and school staff, particularly teachers, can get to know the family member on a personal level. Back-to-school nights, school-sponsored activities, extracurricular events, student association meetings, and conferences, are all occasions where relationship building between families and staff can occur. As this change takes place, districts will see an increase in involvement and engagement as ongoing partnership takes place. With time, once involvement and engagement have been established between families and schools and the relationship strengthens, district staff will be able to get to know families better and learn their personal circumstances and ability to be involved. These opportunities to build relationships with families will lead to the improvement of district staff/family relationships.
If there is not an opportunity for in-person meetings, schedule video conferencing of meetings or events. The more you can put a face to communication, the better. Schools can also work on going out into the community. One example is doing home visits at the beginning of the school year or calling every student's home the first week of school to state how glad you are to have them in your classroom. This is a great first step in showing families that you care and that you want to work with them to best support the student.
Blackboard. (2016). How K-12 Schools Are Meeting the Expectations of Parents for Digital Communications. Read it here.
Ferlazzo, J. (2011). Involvement or Engagement? ASCD, pp. 10-14. Read it here.
National PTA. (2000). Building Successful Partnerships: A Guide for Developing Parent and Family Involvement Programs. (pp. 11-12). Bloomington, Indiana: National PTA, National Education Service
Southwest Educational Development Laboratory. (2002). A new wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement. Read it here.