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Family & Community Engagement: The Four Phases

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A Handbook for Continuous Improvement in Nebraska Schools
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“Partnerships among schools, families, and community groups are not a luxury, they are a necessity”
(Henderson, Mapp, Johnson and Davies, 2007)

Engaging Families and Communities as partners with schools is no longer a "good idea" but has become a necessity, as the evidence is clear: partnership contributes to children's academic and social success.  This Family & Community Engagement section of the Continuous Improvement Toolkit is designed and updated to help school personnel facilitate family engagement by providing resources, such as current research, websites with stories and promising practices, checklists, and tools for evaluation.  Websites, tools, and guiding questions are found under each of the Continuous Improvement Process phases (see the left-hand menu) under Creating the Profile (under Guiding Questions), Setting the Goals, Planning to Improve, and Implementing the Plan, and especially under Websites and Other Resources.

If, however, you are a parent or community member, we refer you to the best current resources we have identified, such as Harvard Family research Project, www.hfrp.org/family-involvement, or The National PTA website, www.pta.org/Documents/National_Standards.pdf.  In addition, check with your local district regarding the parent/community involvement policy and practices. Currently, this document contains tools for educators' use in partnering.

Research studies have shown a connection between school improvement and family engagement. This is not surprising when one considers that children spend 92% of their time outside of school under the influence of their families. Joyce Epstein (Johns Hopkins Univ.), who is a leading researcher on Schools & Family Partnerships, suggests we consider the spheres of influence on a child's learning: the home, the school, and the community. "Regardless of the economics of the school, caring communities can be built, intentionally to include families that might not become involved on their own, to help children succeed, according to the collected research of Sanders, Van Voorhis, Sheldon, Simon. (2004), Summarizing decades of research on the impact of family involvement, the National PTA web site reports the following student outcomes:

According to Henderson and Mapp (2002) the evidence is consistent, positive and convincing: many forms of family and community engagement positively influence student achievement at all ages from birth to 21. It has become imperative for schools to develop partnership programs of family and community support and communication to better educate all children, from all backgrounds. This section is designed to assist schools in two ways: to examine their present practices and develop strategies for family engagement, and to provide tools and resources a school may choose to share with families and community members. The information provided is intended to supplement statutory requirements for family engagement.

Throughout this toolkit, there are references to parts of Beyond the Bake Sale: the Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships by Anne T. Henderson, Karen L. Mapp, Vivian R. Johnson, and Don Davies. These are reprinted by permission of the New Press.  Here, you will find the entire collection of excerpts, which are found under Websites and Other Resources, under Tools.  The excerpts appear individually, according to topic, within sections of the toolkit.  Schools who have the Beyond the Bake Sale may find this PowerPoint Guide supports use of the book with educators and parents. 

Family and community engagement in education refers to the beliefs, attitudes and activities of community members, parents and other family members to support children’s learning. Although such involvement most often focuses on parents, it also includes guardians, grandparents, siblings and extended family members who have significant responsibility in a child’s upbringing. Community members such as civic organizations, retired citizens, businesses, clubs, and other volunteers are equally valuable partners in children’s education.

It is important to reflect on meaningful ways that families can support children in their education. In the past, parent involvement may have been limited to the school’s didactic approach: inviting parents to conferences and IEP meetings, providing them with report cards, providing parents reasonable access to staff, and occasionally requesting parent volunteers for field trips or school events. Today’s research encourages schools to redefine the concept of engaging families, schools and communities in an interactive relationship to support children’s learning and development. Authors of Whatever it Takes say, “Parents could become a powerful source to support learning for their children if they were armed with the right tools and guidelines.” Intentionally focusing on certain practices of family and community engagement will have the greatest impact on improving student learning. JoBeth Allen, in her book, Creating Welcoming Schools, A Practical Guide to Home-School Partnerships with Diverse Families, focuses on communication and engagement linked to student learning. See an exerpt from her book here.

Dr. Joyce Epstein's early work in the field, with the National Network of Partnership Schools, set the stage for later research by defining six types of parent involvement.  These types include communicating, parenting, student learning, volunteering, school decision making and advocacy, and collaborating with community.  Later, researchers analyzed which types of involvement actually impact student achievement.  Standard 2 & 3 below were identified as having the greatest impact. The findings of Henderson and Mapp provide a framework for strengthening family-school community partnerships.  The PTA has updated their National Standards for Family School Partnerships, to reflect this recent work, which changes the focus from what schools should do to what parents, schools, and communities, as partners, can do together to support student success.  Positive outcomes in student learning and achievement, occur when partnering among stakeholders becomes routine. Effective partnering opens doors to infinite and innovative opportunities. The respectful and trusting relationships that are fostered among stakeholders create strong connections which support students' education.

For local school's use, the practical, research based National Standards for Family-School Partnerships Assessment Guide (www.pta.org/National_Standards_Assessment_guide.pdf) describes in detail the following standards, with goals and indicators for measuring each standard:

Standard 1: Welcoming all families into the school community - Families are active participants in the life of the school, and feel welcomed, valued, and connected to each other, to school staff, and to what students are learning and doing in class.

Standard 2: Communicating effectively, - Families and school staff engage in regular, meaningful communication about student learning.

Standard 3: Supporting student success - Families and school staff continuously collaborate to support student's learning and healthy development both at home and at school, and have regular opportunities to strengthen their knowledge and skills to do so effectively.

Standard 4: Speaking up for every child - Families are empowered to be advocates for their own and other children, to ensure that students are treated fairly and have access to learning opportunities that will support their success.

Standard 5: Sharing power - Families and school staff are equal partners in decisions that affect children and families and together inform, influence, and create policies, practices and programs.

Standard 6: Collaborating with community - Families and school staff collaborate with community members to connect students, families, and staff to expanded learning opportunities, community services, and civic participation.

 

Nebraska Department of Education, 2010