Written by Maria Paredes, Senior Engagement Manager at WestEd, this post first appeared on the REL Northwest blog and is adapted and posted here with permission. In 2009, Paredes developed Academic Parent-Teacher Teams (APTT), a strengths-based model of family engagement designed to strengthen the capacity of teachers and families and transform family participation in their children’s education. This model has been adopted by over 2,000 schools throughout the nation and is the subject of multiple studies asserting the positive outcomes for students, families, and schools.

Building positive relationships with families and teachers strengthens students’ learning, social competencies, and emotional well-being. When families feel connected and included in their children’s education, everyone benefits.

Feeling a sense of belonging is particularly important for students from historically underserved families, such as low-income families, families from communities of color, and families whose primary language is not English. Making genuine connections with underserved families opens doors to communication, problem-solving, and mutual support on behalf of students’ learning and achievement.

School-based family engagement centers on the activities, events, and communication schools share with families. Try these six strategies to improve family attendance at school events and to make event planning and family outreach more intentional and effective.

1. Focus on Families

For successful family engagement events, focus on the topics most important to families, such as:

  • Student learning priorities
  • Ways to monitor student progress
  • Information on why, when, and how students are assessed
  • Tips and strategies to support learning at home
  • Guidance on who to contact when they need help and support with learning
  • Guidance on students’ socioemotional development

2. Send Personal Invitations

Encourage teachers to reach out to families through a personal call, text, home visit, or video call when a school event is directly linked to their child’s learning. Families value a personal invitation from the teacher, and a personalized message shows that the teacher cares and appreciates their attendance.

3. Organize Differentiated Events

Organize events that address the needs of specific student groups (e.g., newcomers; students in special education or gifted programs; English Learners). These events offer families information that is applicable and practical for their situation. Intentional and targeted information helps families to be more concretely engaged and supportive.

4. Provide Yearly Calendars

Provide families with a yearly calendar of family engagement events to help them identify high-interest events they would like to attend. On the event calendar, be sure to describe the purpose of each event and what families will learn and gain by attending.

5. Integrate Events and Activities

Parents and families are busy with a lot of responsibilities. Prioritize events and activities of high interest to families and integrate the event with other activities aimed at strengthening connections and developing closer relationships. For example, if the main event is 4th- and 5th-grade family math, start the event with a team-building activity so that families get to know each other better and have a chance to network. After the family math event, invite families to participate in another activity that connects them to the school, such as a gallery art walk showcasing student artwork.

6. Create Leadership Opportunities

Invite families to volunteer to participate in a planning team that designs, plans, organizes, and markets the family engagement events. Tap into the many assets and experiences that families can bring to the table. With time and practice, families can develop valuable leadership skills to help schools improve home and school partnerships.

Maria Paredes has over 25 years of experience working with school districts, state agencies, and educational organizations to improve educational outcomes for children. Paredes has expertise in family and community engagement, professional development, coaching, content and resource development, and strategic planning. 

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