Active Family Engagement
Family engagement supports the ongoing learning, development, and well-being of children, youth, families, schools, and communities. Schools and childcare providers partner with families to help meet the diverse needs of learners, giving input and influencing systems, policies, practices, and evaluation to support continuous improvement and ensure all children are prepared for learning and living.
It is a shared responsibility in which schools, childcare providers, and other community agencies and organizations work closely with families to meet the needs of children and improve their learning environments. Building effective relationships takes time and involves building trust through multiple positive interactions. All other focus areas in the framework are based on and support the concepts described in this section. They are all interconnected and often function more effectively when used together.
The National PTA Standards for Family-School Partnerships are a vital guide for schools engaging in this work. The 6 standards are:
- Welcome All Families
- Communicate Effectively
- Support Student Success
- Speak Up for Every Child
- Share Power
- Collaborate with Community
When building positive relationships with families, it is important to take into consideration each family’s diverse needs. The State Support Network suggests 11 ways that this can be accomplished including: planning strategically over time, ensuring that communications are accessible to all families, welcoming families in consistently appropriate and culturally competent ways, and engaging families with ongoing and recurring efforts.
Remember that not all families will engage in the same way, but that it is important to honor any and all ways that families engage.
There are many opportunities for family engagement and all are important. It is essential to understand that each family’s situation, capacity, and schedule is different. Teams should make sure to look at each approach or strategy and think through the intention behind it.
When considering these examples, remember that the most authentic family engagement is done by asking what and how the families themselves would like to engage and collaborating alongside them to make it happen.
Practice: Start by evaluating and honoring where each district, school, childcare provider, or team is with family engagement efforts. The Comprehensive Needs Assessment (CNA) is based on quality, evidence-based education practices for student success. The tool is aligned to AQuESTT and articulates the expected education practices under each of the domains. Pages 16-22 of the current CNA model evaluate family engagement and student attendance, both of which are focus areas of this Framework.
Exemplar: Completing the Comprehensive Needs Assessment is a requirement for Migrant Education Programs through Title 1, Part C in order to help state and local programs make policy and service decisions that will most benefit families.
Practice: Invite and encourage family members to attend school activities. This type of family engagement encourages family members to participate in activities as recipients. Family members may receive information from the school or childcare provider, but minimal input is received from family members. Examples include:
- Open House Nights
- Family Nights (Academic and/or Enrichment)
- Attending school or childcare provider activities (play, concert, sports events)
Exemplar: The Carnegie Corporation of New York’s 2018 challenge paper discusses the impact that sharing student data with families can have (pages 19-20 on the report). Notably, they emphasize the necessity of making the data available and understandable to families.
Practice: Gather input and ideas through meaningful conversations with family members. In addition to receiving information from a school/teacher, the perspective of the family members should be actively sought and considered. With this practice, families aren’t just recipients, but involved members of the learning community. All families care about their children, but many times don’t know how to effectively engage with the school. When a school builds trust and authentically creates space for input, families are more willing to open up. Examples include:
- Parent Teacher Committees / School Neighborhood Advisory Committees
- Connection Circles
- 1:1 Learning Conversations / Home Visits
Exemplar: Home visits are an effective way to break down barriers. Parent Teacher Home Visits had 3 independent studies examine the effectiveness of home visits. Significantly, one of the findings was that all students were less likely to be chronically absent at a school where at least 10% of the population received a home visit. It was also found that students at those same schools were 1.34 times more likely to score proficient on standardized ELA tests.
Practice: Invite families to collaborate and advocate by including them in school, childcare provider, and community systems. Family engagement can become more of a systemic practice that focuses on engaging, involving, lifting up the voice of families, and sharing power. Family members may become advocates for others and family voices are deliberately included throughout the school/and community systems. Examples include:
- Community Cafes
- Asset-Based Community Development
- Parent Leadership Opportunities
Exemplar: In Nebraska there are 2 major examples of family collaboration and advocating:
- Community Cafes have taken place in Auburn, Lincoln, & Omaha. A statewide, virtual Nebraska CAFE is also hosted quarterly with input and leadership from Nebraska parents.
- The Nebraska Statewide Family Engagement Center (SFEC) is using the National Center for Families Learning’s (NCFL) four-component Family Literacy model in 14 different districts across the state including both rural and urban, and public and private schools. The model consists of adult education, children’s education, Parent Time, and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®. Parenting adults attend programming in schools at the same time as their children, which not only helps to address a significant barrier for parents to attend adult education—child care—but also helps to bolster children’s attendance in school and sets the example that education is important and a lifelong endeavor.
The Dual Capacity-Building Framework can be used as a guide to help learning environments establish goals and conditions essential to effectively engaging families and communities in their area. It references further information and resources that can help schools and childcare providers
The Community Schools Playbook describes family engagement as essential to accomplish the following outcomes in learning environments:
- Fostering relationships of trust and respect
- Building capacity of all stakeholders & the community
- Creating empowered decision-making processes
- Leveraging local resources and expertise
- Address educational inequities
Additionally, the Community Schools Playbook discusses how meaningful partnerships can improve the school climate and student outcomes in almost every area.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children outlines 6 Principles of Effective Family Engagement that every school should consider and provides examples of these principles.
Joyce Epstein defined 6 Types of Involvement that schools, families, and communities can participate in at different levels. The types of involvement go from least involved at 1 to most involved at 6:
- Learning at Home
- Decision Making
- Collaborating with the Community
Epstein’s framework is helpful because it affirms all types of involvement while encouraging and providing guidance on how to incorporate more involvement types.
- The Nebraska Department of Education has purchased a statewide license to TransACT Parent Notices. TransAct helps schools “amplify parent engagement in your district with an unlimited, district wide subscription to translated parent notifications that meet federal parent and family engagement requirements.”
- This training from the Oakland Unified School District discusses how meaningful family engagement can advance equity efforts.
- The National Association For Family, School, and Community Engagement (NAFSCE) has many resources surrounding engagement. Specifically this page discusses high-impact family engagement and what that means.
- The Global Family Research Project (formerly The Harvard Family Research Project) – produces a variety of articles and resources that are research based and focus on school, family, and community engagement.
- The National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) works to eradicate poverty through education solutions for families. Partnering with educators, literacy advocates, and policymakers, NCFL develops and provides programming, professional development, and resources for families.
- The Child-Parent Centers (CPC) program is a federally-funded early childhood preschool model that emphasizes aligned education and services in high needs communities, for children from pre-kindergarten through the primary grades.