Professional Development

Family Engagement

As children's first teachers, parents play important roles in supporting academic learning at home and at school. Parents and other adult caregivers are important resources and allies for educators as they help students navigate through the schooling process and reinforce classroom lessons and good study habits at home.

The National Parent Teacher Association gives five reasons to renew the push to engage parents before, during and after "Bring Your Family to School Week":

  • Higher grades, test scores, and graduation rates
  • Better attendance at school
  • Fewer suspensions and incidents of violent behavior
  • Increased motivation and self-esteem
  • Decreased drug and alcohol use

Research has identified several essential components of successful parent engagement programs: a foundation of mutual respect and trust, connection of parent engagement strategies to student learning objectives, and reaching out to engage parents beyond the school, particularly in linguistically and culturally diverse communities.


Initiating Contact

How do you welcome parents and families into your classroom? Most teachers have a back-to-school protocol that includes some type of outreach to parents and families. Inevitably, some families don't engage in the ways teachers desire. The video and reading selections here will help you discover or rediscover ways to involve children's caregivers in the learning process — and help you check assumptions about class, culture or language that might undercut well-intentioned strategies for family engagement.

High school creative writing teacher, Foster Dickson, shares his strategies for initiating contact with parents.

Look for:

  • What does Foster do that's different from your practice? The same as your practice?
  • What constraints, as Foster articulates them, do the families of his students have that may inhibit parent/teacher engagement?

Go Deeper:

In The Question of Class, Paul Gorski calls on fellow educators to examine the classist assumptions infiltrating classrooms and schools. Read what he has to say about parent engagement.

Reflect on:

  • List constraints that may interfere with the ability (not willingness) of students' families to participate in traditional parent engagement practices, such as back-to-school nights, open houses or PTA committee meetings.
  • How might I incorporate additional engagement strategies to work through some of these constraints? How might I (and my school) address access to transportation, childcare, English-language proficiency and non-traditional work hours, for example?

Ready Resources

Parent Surveys:

Home Visit Information:

Postcards, Letters and Other Ways to Say "Hey":


Inviting Engagement

U.S. classrooms are growing more diverse — ethnically, culturally and linguistically. In response, teachers and educational advocates are employing new strategies, and adapting tried-and-true strategies, to better serve diverse parent populations.

In May 2005, Hyundai Motor Company opened a $1 billion automotive assembly and manufacturing plant in Montgomery, Ala., bringing with it thousands of jobs and a new community of Korean-speaking school children and their families. Elementary school teacher Diane Holtam talks about how she welcomes such linguistically and culturally diverse parents into her classroom.

Look for:

  • What efforts does Diane make to ensure that all parents feel welcome?
  • How does she use parent resources to augment student learning?

Go Deeper:

In an interview with Learning for Justice, then Teaching Tolerance, Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Media Center for Children at the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston, explores ways teachers can overcome cultural barriers to connect with parents and increase student learning.

Reflect On:

  • How does my approach to parents and families encourage or discourage their continued participation in the classroom? Are there cross-cultural communication or language considerations?
  • How can I use my students' families and cultural backgrounds to enrich the classroom and instruction?

Ready Resources:


Overcoming Language Barriers

Many U.S. cities with large, established ethnic enclaves have long sought to welcome newly arrived immigrants and their children. Yet, small towns and cities have less experience identifying and meeting the needs and interests of new immigrants. How can you make inroads when the path to much-needed community assets and resources isn't so well worn — or when it is well worn, but not so well traveled?

Hear elementary school teacher, Diane Holtam, talk about how her school overcame cultural and linguistic barriers to engage parents in the school. In May 2005, Hyundai Motor Company, Korea's largest automotive manufacturer, opened a $1 billion automotive assembly and manufacturing plant in Montgomery, Ala., bringing with it thousands of jobs and a new community of Korean-speaking school children and their families.


Look for:

  • What external resources did Diane's school use to reach out to parents?
  • What are some of the volunteer opportunities mentioned for parents whose first language is not English? Can you think of any others?

Go Deeper:

In Opening Doors on the Border, Teaching Tolerance magazine showcases effective parental engagement strategies that center on students' homes, communities and schools.

Reflect On:  

  • What role might parent volunteers play in enhancing community connectedness and responsiveness at your school or in your classroom?
  • How might parent voice factor into decisions about instruction? Extracurricular activities? Support services — tutoring, transportation, nutrition, etc.?

Ready Resources:


Using Plain Terms

Beyond the language we speak, the words we choose can help or hinder the effectiveness of communication with parents and guardians. How do our word choices assist or prevent necessary interaction? How might our communication practices reflect power, instead of partnership?

High school creative writing teacher, Foster Dickson, talks about how the use of jargon and unidentified acronyms can impede effective teacher/parent communication.

Look For:

  • What education-specific knowledge and terminology do I take for granted when speaking with parents?
  • How might even the inadvertent use of such language hinder parent engagement strategies?

Go Deeper:

In this interview, education reformer Lisa Delpit encourages teachers to discover who their students are outside the classroom by engaging parents in authentic, meaningful ways and introduces her conceptions of culture and power.

Reflect on: 

  • What is the implicit message that the use of jargon and unidentified acronyms sends to parents?
  • Are there unwritten or unspoken cultural codes in play when I communicate with parents?
  • How does my communication strategy reinforce or reconstruct the teacher/parent power dynamic?

Ready Resources:


Recommended Resources

The following resources are recommended for personal reflection and learning and for use by teacher work groups and other professional development endeavors.

Short Briefs:

"A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student Achievement", a research synthesis by Anne T. Henderson & Karen L. Mapp, published by Southwest Educational Development Laboratory


"The Effects of Comprehensive Parent Engagement on Student Learning Outcomes" by Sam Redding, Janis Langdon, Joseph Meyer, and Pamela Shelly for Academic Development Institute at Harvard University Graduate School of Education

"Parent Engagement Information and Tools: Moving Beyond Parent Involvement to Parent Engagement" from the Michigan Department of Education

"Readiness: School, Family, and Community Connections", a research synthesis by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, 2004

"Diversity: School, Family, and Community Connections", research synthesis by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, 2003


Halmoni & the Picnic. By Sook Nyul Choi and Karen Dugan. ($10) Houghton Mifflin, 1993. In the story, a student worries that her classmates will make fun of her Korean grandmother who has agreed to chaperone the class at a picnic in Central Park in New York City. ISBN-10: 0395616263, ISBN-13: 978-0395616260

School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Your Handbook for Action, Second Edition. ($30) by Joyce L. Eptein, Mavis G. Sanders, Beth S. Simon and Karen Clark Salinas. Corwin Press; Second Edition, 2002. ISBN-10: 0761976663, ISBN-13: 978-0761976660

School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Preparing Educators and Improving Schools ($45) by Joyce L. Epstein. Westview Press, 2001. ISBN-10: 0813387558, ISBN-13: 978-0813387550

Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family/School Partnerships. ($17) By Ann T. Henderson, Vivian Johnson, Karen L. Mapp, and Don Davies. New Press. ISBN-10: 1565848888, ISBN-13: 978-1565848887

Doing Multicultural Education for Achievement and Equity. ($35) By Carl A. Grant and Christine E. Sleeter. Routledge, 2007. ISBN-10: 041595184, IBSN-13: 978-0415951845