Educating Our Children Together

Consortium for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education
Susanne Carter
October 1, 2003
No votes yet
Your rating: None

Acknowledgements 2
Letter of Introduction 3
Preface 6
Introduction 8
Guiding Principles 21
Getting Started 21
Family Involvement Strategies 24
Matrix of Activities 27
Strategy 1: Creating a family-friendly school environment 28
Family-friendly Schools 29
?Fortress? Schools 29
Middle School Family Involvement 30
Building Family-friendly Atmospheres 31
Strategy 2: Building a support infrastructure 34
Family centers 35
Family coordinator/liaison 38
Resource commitment 38
Strategy 3: Encouraging family involvement 40
Strategies for building an effective volunteer system: 42
Family involvement in decision making 44
Strategy 4: Developing family-friendly communication 48
Neighborhood walks 49
Family focus groups 52
Home visits 52
Informal principal meetings 53
Positive ?warm? telephone calls 53
Home-school notes/notebooks 54
Conferences 54
Newsletters 55
Technology tools 56
Processes for resolving family concerns 57
Strategy 5: Supporting family involvement on the homefront 59
Age-appropriate family involvement 61
Guidance on student learning 62
Involving families in homework activities 63
Homework helping services 63
Action research projects 63
Functional behavioral assessments 64
Strategy 6: Supporting educational opportunities for families 65
Home visits by parent educators 66
Parent workshops 66
Programs that support parents? own educational needs 67
Programs that develop parent leadership 68
Parent/child education opportunities 68
Support groups 69
Teen parenting programs 70
Strategy 7: Creating family-school-community partnerships 71
Benefits of school-family-community collaborations 73
Barriers to school-family-community collaborations 74
Community learning centers 74
Full-service/community schools 75
Wraparound services 76
Parent Training and Information Centers 76
School-business partnerships 77
Strategy 8: Preparing educators to work with families 78
Policies and practices 81
Family Involvement Framework for Teacher Training 83
Parents as faculty 84
Evaluation 85
Sample Calendar of Family Involvement Activities 87
Contacts/Resources 89
References 98
In the Fall of 2001, the Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (VESID)
at the New York State Education Department expressed an interest in technical assistance from the Office of Special
Education Programs (OSEP) at the United States Department of Education to further their efforts to encourage positive parent
involvement in schools. Based on that communication, CADRE (the OSEP-funded National Center on Dispute Resolution)
began working with VESID staff to develop a technical assistance plan. It was agreed that an important first step would be
to convene a small work group of educators and parent leaders to identify priority activities. Prior to that meeting, CADRE
was asked to summarize research on parent involvement from the past decade and present it to the work group. That
summary, The Impact of Parent/Family Involvement on Student Outcomes: An Annotated Bibliography
of Research During the Past Decade (Carter, 2002), clearly documented the value of family involvement in education
and demonstrated the relationship between parent involvement and improved student outcomes.
When the work group convened in spring 2002, it reviewed the bibliography and developed a plan for future activities.
It was agreed that an initial focus for the initiative would be to assist ?low-performing? schools in identifying and implementing
activities that would lead to higher levels of positive parent engagement. It was agreed that CADRE would put together a
?sourcebook? that would identify and describe promising practices in family-community-school involvement occurring in
pre-K-12 school environments across the country. An initial draft was reviewed by an expanded group of parents and educators
in October, 2002, who provided feedback on ways the document might be strengthened.
A New York state-focused version of the sourcebook was completed in the winter of 2004. This expanded version includes
additional descriptions of programs and resources from 16 states, providing a more national perspective. It was compiled
as a resource for educators to use to build effective school-family-community involvement. Although the focus of the
sourcebook is on building-level strategies for school personnel, the ideas should be useful to these others as well:| Family members: to gain ideas about how families can be effectively involved in schoolfamily-
community activities;| Community members: to learn how community members can build successful partnerships with
schools and families;| Teacher education faculty members and students: to research and study family involvement
practices and programs;| Policymakers, including legislators, state and national organization leaders, and state and
national education department officials: to help shape state and national policies
and legislation regarding family involvement in schools;| Funding agencies: to gain information about family-involvement practices occurring across the
country that are worthy of financial support.
This sourcebook is based on the belief that schools that make an investment in developing family-friendly policies
and environments where educators work closely with families avoid becoming ?islands separated from the families
they serve? (Dodd & Konzal, 2002, p. 232). Schools that demonstrate a commitment to open communication and
collaborative problem solving with families can go a long
way toward preventing the onset and escalation of adversarial school-family relationships that inevitably detract from the
mission of helping children learn.
Not all the strategies included will work for every school. To be most effective, school administrators and teachers, in
consultation with parents and community representatives, should select strategies based upon each individual school?s
needs, priorities, resources, student population, and community support. Many of the strategies can also be adapted to
fit local school/district needs.
The sourcebook includes guiding principles for family-school-community involvement, tips for getting started,
a self-assessment tool to determine current practices, strategies, and program descriptions that have been organized
according to the following interrelated eight ?cluster strategies?:
1. Creating a family-friendly school environment
2. Building a support infrastructure
3. Encouraging family involvement
4. Developing family-friendly communication
5. Supporting family involvement on the homefront
6. Supporting educational opportunities for families
7. Creating family-school-community partnerships
8. Preparing educators to work with families
Additionally, a comprehensive index of family
involvement practices is included for each
?cluster strategy? as well as resources for evaluating
the effectiveness of family involvement activities.
A sample school calendar of family involvement
activities, a bibliography, and a list of contacts
for additional information and references are
also included.
So much is riding on our schools. As parents and communities, we have entrusted them with our
greatest resource and tangible investment in the future: our children. The sheer magnitude of what we
ask of these institutions-to promote learning, prepare a workforce and create a citizenry ? puts them
at the heart of our communities and endows them with special status. (Melaville & Blank, 1998)
Education in the 21st century means much more than providing students with academic knowledge and skills.
?Educators alone cannot help children develop intellectually, personally, socially, and morally ? develop all the knowledge,
attitudes, and skills they need to be productive citizens and caring people as adults? (Dodd & Konzal, 2002, p. 27). Educating
children to live in our rapidly changing and increasingly complex society ?requires contributions and commitments from
everyone in the community? (Dodd & Konzal, 2002, p. 288).
Although, as this sourcebook demonstrates, many schools, communities and families are working closely together to meet
children?s educational needs, all too often schools seem to be ?islands separated from the families they serve and the
communities in which their students live? (Dodd & Konzal, 2002, p. 232). In its Final Report on Family Wise Focus
Groups, the Colorado Foundation for Families and Children (2002) reported that ?while many families cited their
children's schools as being a source of support for their family, others saw the schools as being neutral at best and a threat
at worst? (p. 9). Some of the most frequently cited concerns, which crossed ethnic and socioeconomic lines, were the
perceived lack of caring on the part of teachers, the perception of playing favorites, class size, weapons in schools, and
grade promotion without evidence of learning.
Because schools, communities, and families play interconnected roles in this crucial mission of educating children, they
must find ways to work together as educational partners (National PTA, Building Successful Partnerships, 2000).
And providing parents with information and resources to support their children?s education is a cornerstone of the
No Child Left Behind Act.
We use the term ?family involvement? in this sourcebook in an expansive way to include and recognize the value of a
broad spectrum of activities that involve family members and/or guardians helping children to learn, both at home
and at school. The single parent who works two jobs to support her three children and makes sure they are safe, loved,
and fed each morning before school is ?involved.? The significant other who attends the IEP meeting of his partner?s
child is ?involved.? The grandparents with temporary custody of their two grandchildren who clear a space at the
kitchen table for them to do homework are ?involved.? The foster parents who keep their foster children?s birth parents
informed of their children?s progress in school are ?involved.? The immigrant parents who cannot speak English and
are unfamiliar with the American school system but are passing on a strong work ethic to their children are ?involved.?
The father serving in the Air Force Reserves who is deployed on a military mission and records audiotapes of himself
reading books for his preschooler to hear while he is away is ?involved.? The stepfather who volunteers to judge a
debate tournament at his stepson?s high school is ?involved.? The Bosnian parents who volunteer to teach their
daughter?s school staff about the Bosnian language and culture are ?involved.? So too is the aunt caring for her
nephew with spina bifida who becomes a strong advocate for his needs.
Ten Truths of Parent Involvement
1. All parents have hopes and goals for their children. They differ in how they support their children?s
efforts to achieve those goals.
2. The home is one of several spheres that simultaneously influence a child. The school must work with
other spheres for the child?s benefit, not push them apart.
3. The parent is the central contributor to a child?s education. Schools can either co-opt that role or
recognize the potential of the parent.
4. Parent involvement must be a legitimate element of education. It deserves equal emphasis with elements
such as program improvement and evaluation.
5. Parent involvement is a process, not a program of activities. It requires ongoing energy and effort.
6. Parent involvement requires a vision, policy, and framework. A consensus of understanding is important.
7. Parents? interaction with the own children is the cornerstone of parent involvement. A program must
recognize the value, diversity, and difficulty of this role.
8. Most barriers to parent involvement are found within school practices. They are not found within parents.
9. Any parent can be ?hard to reach.? Parents must be identified and approached individually; they are
not defined by gender, ethnicity, family situation, education, or income.
10. Successful parent involvement nurtures relationship and partnerships. It strengthens bonds between
home and school, parent and educator, parent and school, school and community.
(RMC Research Corporation, 1999)
American families are more diverse than ever before, spanning cultures, languages, levels of education, and socioeconomic
and demographic differences. In the year 2000 one out of every three Americans was of African American, Hispanic,
Asian American, or Native American heritage (Bureau of the Census, 1997). Contemporary families can be described
as ?traditional, blended, extended, multi-generational, migrant, minority, single-parent, divorced, dual-worker, and
refugee? (Funkhouser & Gonzales, 1997). In 2001, 27% of children in the U.S. were living in single-parent homes,
and 40% of children living with their mothers had not seen their fathers during the past year (National Fatherhood
Initiative, 2001). Additionally, children being raised by grandparents are a growing population (Rothenberg, 1996),
and many children live with extended family members or with foster parents.
These rapid and continuing changes in the American family have vastly complicated the issue of how to involve
families in their children's education and pose some significant questions for educators to consider:
How can we stimulate more parent involvement if mothers work outside the home? Which parents do we try
to reach: the stepparent a child lives with, the father who lives across town, the kindergartner?s 34-year-old
grandmother, or perhaps her 19-year-old mother? What responsibility do we have to help children cope with
the stress of their parents? breaking up? How can we ask overburdened single parents to help teachers educate
their children? How can we be adequately sensitive to cultural, social and economic differences, and collaborate
with parents who cannot speak English or whose cultural background makes our way of thinking and doing
things almost incomprehensible? (Henderson, Marburger, & Ooms, 1986, p. xv)
Because of the variety of students? backgrounds, reaching out to families has become increasingly complex for schools.
Educators who define families in more narrow terms may have assumptions that make it difficult for them to
understand the families of many of their students. The San Diego City Schools (1991) identified the following
?common assumptions? held by educators that can either hinder or facilitate home-school collaboration.
Identifying these assumptions is a first step toward changing them and determining ways for educators to encourage
family involvement in school (Caplan, 2001, p. 7).
Educators? Assumptions that Hinder or Facilitate Home-School Collaboration
Assumptions that Hinder Collaboration
Parents who don?t attend school events don?t care
about their children?s success in school.
Parents who are illiterate, non-English speaking, or
unemployed can?t help their children with school.
Parents from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds
don?t understand how to help their children with school.
It?s up to parents to find out what is going on at school.
Parent involvement is not worth educators? effort.
Assumptions that Facilitate Collaboration
Not all parents can come to school or feel comfortable
about it; that doesn?t mean they don?t care.
All families have strengths and skills they can contribute to
their children?s school success.
Parents from different ethnic and racial groups may have
alternative and important ways of supporting their children.
Schools have a responsibility to reach out to all parents.
Parent involvement pays off in improved student achievement,
improved school effectiveness, and
increased parent and community satisfaction.
Recognition of Family Strengths
Parents are a child?s ?first and most influential? teachers and often their strongest
advocates. Parents ?teach, model and guide their children? (Rockwell, Andrew,
& Hawley, 1996, p. 25). They are the ?big picture? team members in their child?s
education. Many parents spend 365 days a year with their children and are the
most knowledgeable about their history, interests, and abilities (Rockwell,
Andrews & Hawley, 1996, p. 26). Providing opportunities for parents to share
information about their children can help families and educators avoid conflict
and develop collaborative relationships that encourage the best educational
opportunities for students.
This sharing of information is especially important for the families of children
with disabilities.These family members are valuablesources of information,
as they know the history and understand the nature of their children?s disabilities
Children with disabilities may need special assistance and may have specific
medical concerns, assistive technology needs, transportation needs, feeding
issues, or behavioral/social concerns that need to be conveyed by families
to educators.
Although the American family has changed dramatically over the last half century, with increasing numbers of
single-parent households, more varied family structures, increasing numbers of working mothers, less father involvement,
more children living in poverty, and a rising number of homeless families (Moore, Chalf, Scarpa, &Vandivere, 2002),
Whitaker and Fiore (2001) maintain that ?parents are parents? ? that today?s parents are not significantly different
from parents of 50 years ago. ?Parents still want what is best for their children? (Christopher, 1996, p. 5).
Regardless of the challenges that families face, all have unique strengths worthy of recognition and respect
(Moore, Chalf, Scarpa, & Vandivere, 2002).
?One thing I have learned will stay with me no matter where I go or where I teach:
Never underestimate the power of a parent.?
Carla Becker, teacher, Norwalk, Iowa
(Stone, 1999)
?I?m poor, I?m single, I?m a mom, and I deserve respect.?
Mothers living in poverty face more complex challenges to becoming involved in their children's education than do
middle-class mothers (Bloom, 2001). ?Mothers in poverty, lacking in one or more important resources such as academic
skills, emotional well-being, positive ties in schools, a sense of entitlement to be involved in schools, flexible schedules,
and money may find involvement extremely burdensome and psychologically taxing? (Bloom, 2001). When they fail to
live up to the expectations of schools for family involvement, mothers living in poverty often feel that they are viewed
by the school as part of the problem instead of being welcomed as educational partners.Additionally, mothers who live
in poverty indicate that in interactions with schools they often feel ?de-skilled? by teachers treating them as if they lack
knowledge of their children; ?disappeared? by being ignored and disregarded during conversations about their children;
?infantilized? by teachers relating to them as if they are students; intimidated by the team approach and professional
status of school staff scrutinizing their parenting; and marginalized by their roles in these interactions
(Reay, 1999; Bloom, 2001).
Aside from children?s
parents or guardians,
classroom teachers are the
?most significant adults?
in children?s lives.
?When teachers strive to
work collaboratively with
their students? families in
honoring and including
students, results are
O?Shea, O?Shea, Algozzine,
& Hammitte, 2001, p. 11).
Bloom (2001) suggests that in addressing poverty-related issues schools should shift their focus from ?poor mothers?
to the social inequalities and stereotypes perpetuated by the schools? typically middle-class approach to family involvement.
?What needs to be made visible are not the failures of poor mothers,? she contends, ?but the failure of the schools to
support poor single mothers.?
Beyond Welfare, a community-based, grassroots organization in central Iowa, has developed an advocacy program
that assists mothers living in poverty with school-related issues. Volunteer advocates accompany mothers to school
and help them ?sort out what they are hearing, interrupt the interactions when they are demeaning or humiliating,
and remind the staff of the mother?s presence and expert knowledge about her child? (Bloom, 2001).
Insights into Poverty
Bowie Elementary Principal Ruby K. Payne, who has done extensive research on families living in poverty
in Illinois, indicates that although poverty is normally thought of in terms of financial resources, these
?do not explain the differences in the success with which individuals leave poverty nor the reasons that
many stay in poverty. ?The ability to leave poverty,? she says, ?is more dependent upon other resources than
it is upon financial resources? (Payne, 2001, pp. 16-17). Each of these resources ? including financial,
emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, support systems, relationships/role models, and knowledge of hidden
rules ??plays a vital role in the success of the individual.?
Payne concludes from her years of research in studying poverty that:
1. Poverty is relative.
2. Poverty occurs in all races and in all countries.
3. Economic class is a continuous line, not a clear-cut distinction.
4. Generational poverty and situational poverty are different.
5. This work is based on patterns. All patterns have exceptions.
6. An individual brings with him/her the hidden rules of the class in which he/she was raised.
7. Schools and businesses operate from middle-class norms and use the hidden rules of the middle class.
8. For students to be successful, we must understand their hidden rules and teach them the rules that
will make them successful at school or work.
9. We can neither excuse students nor scold them for not knowing; as educators we must teach them
and provide support, insistence, and expectations.
10. To move from poverty to the middle class or from the middle class to wealth, an individual must give up
relationships for achievement (at least for some period of time). (Payne, 2001, pp. 10-11)
Additional Demands of Raising Children with Disabilities
Families who are raising children with disabilities face daily stresses that far exceed those of families with non-disabled
children. They must negotiate confusing and complicated human and educational service systems, shopping from place
to place, piecing together a blend of services that will meet their child?s needs. In the process, they may receive conflicting
information, follow mistaken leads, contend with confusing eligibility criteria, and struggle through baffling application
processes. The special education system, in which most children with disabilities are involved, is a complicated one.
While families are considered members of the special education team, they frequently arrive on this team with little
knowledge or preparation. Participating in the development of their child?s educational program can be
overwhelming and intimidating, especially in meetings, where a large group of professionals are speaking unfamiliar
educational jargon.
In addition to the stress involved in negotiating the various service systems, families of children with disabilities face
financial stresses above and beyond those faced by families of non-disabled children. The cost of raising children with
disabilities is much higher than the cost of raising children without disabilities, with more money spent on medical
care, therapies, equipment, transportation, childcare, and other needed services. Because there are fewer available
after-school, social, recreational, and community programs that meet the needs of children with disabilities, families
must spend more time locating these services. In cases where the services are not available, parents may need to take
time off work or even quit their jobs to care for their children.
Respecting Cultural Diversity
?All families are embedded in a cultural context and in economic and social realities that shape their lifestyles, attitudes,
and childrearing practices? (Smith & Smith, 2003). Reaching out to and connecting with families of different cultural
backgrounds ?requires that educators develop an understanding of cultural differences, demonstrate respect for the
differing values and behaviors of diverse families, and become aware of the unique communication styles of the various
cultural groups that are represented in their programs? (Muscott, 2002). Moreover, educators working with culturally
diverse families ?need to move beyond stereotypes that may be grounded in their own limited frame of reference?
(Kugler, 2002) while they ?move beyond cultural knowledge and develop an understanding of how each individual
family expresses its culture? (Muscott, (2002).
Ariza (2002) recommends that schools ?create aggressive plans to educate immigrant parents about their rights and
welcome them to the school.? Educators need to develop strategies that will help educate parents about their educational
rights in a language they can understand in order to: 1) ensure a free, appropriate education for their child; 2) make
informed decisions and offer consent before educational actions are taken; 3) be included in any disciplinary actions
concerning their children; 4) appeal decisions with which they do no agree; and 5) participate in informational meetings
(Young & Helvie, 1996; Ariza, 2002).
Culture encompasses everything around us; it is a part of every environment. Often we forget that children
and youth bring their very own culture from home into school, and as a result they may struggle with
trying to make it all fit. Successful learning depends greatly on everyone's ability to accept, listen,
and embrace cultural diversity so that we can celebrate our unique strengths and contributions to our
school community, one which is composed of families (parents and guardians), children and youth,
educators, and administrators. Just imagine what can happen if we give ourselves the opportunity
to learn from the contributions that our many cultures bring tothe table.
Lourdes Rivera-Putz
Program Director, United We Stand of New York
Cross-cultural research indicates that there is no universally successful way to involve families. Even definitions of
?involvement? vary in different cultures (Trumbull, Rothstein-Fisch, Greenfield, and Quiroz, 2001; Dodd & Konzal, 2002).
In some cultures, schools and home are viewed as separate entities, and parents do not view questioning what teachers
do at school as their role. In some culturally diverse families, older siblings ? not parents ? help younger ones by
tutoring and helping with homework.
Many families arriving each year from other countries may be experiencing ?cultural, social, and linguistic trauma?
(Carrasquillo &London, 1993, p. 43). These immigrants may have had little opportunity for formal education in their
homelands and may not feel prepared to help their children at home or volunteer in schools (Finders & Lewis, 1994).
Additionally, these parents may initially be unfamiliar with the American education system and may not be aware of the
social, cultural, and academic skills required for success in American schools (p. 43). In reaching out to culturally
diverse families, educators who demonstrate ?knowledge and understanding, sensitivity, and respect for cultural
differences? can help bridge differences and develop positive relationships with these families (p. 21).
My son is not an empty glass coming into your class to be filled. He is a full basket coming into a
different environment and society with something special to share. Please let him share his knowledge,
heritage, and culture with you and his peers.
Robert Lake (Medicine Grizzlybear)
Caught Between Two Worlds, 1998
Schools are in a unique position of being capable of reversing the ?present power structures in society? that often force
minority-language families to adopt the culture of the majority if they want to participate in the education of their children
or risk being ?marginalized and silenced.? By discovering and building upon the cultural and linguistic strengths of
these families, schools can empower families to decide what is best for their children and become involved in whatever ways
they feel are appropriate (Blackledge, 2000, p. 145).
If we are going to find solutions to our challenges and grow as a human race, we need to VALUE diversity.
For it will be most likely that the answers to our most stubborn questions will be found through the strength
in our diversity and our ability to thrive in it.
Dr. Candace White-Ciraco
Coordinator, Research, Planning & Grants
Eastern Suffolk BOCES, Holbrook, New York
Key Practices of Schools Engaging Culturally Diverse Families
Schools that have been successful in engaging culturally diverse families share three key practices.
These schools:| focus on building trusting collaborative relationships among teachers, families, and
community members;| recognize, respect, and address families? needs, as well as class and cultural difference;
embrace a philosophy of partnership where power and responsibility are shared.
(Henderson & Mapp, 2002, p. 7)
What the Research Says
In A New Generation of Evidence, Henderson and Berla (1994) state: ?The evidence is now beyond dispute.
When schools work together with families to support learning, children tend to succeed not just in school, but throughout
life? (p. 1). Three decades of research have demonstrated that parent-family involvement is a ?critical element of
effective schooling? (, 1996). Family involvement significantly contributes to improved student outcomes. Students,
parents, teachers, administrators, and communities all derive benefits from family involvement, as illustrated in the
following table.
In a bibliographical analysis of more than 60 research articles published during the past decade on the impact of family
involvement on student outcomes, Carter (2002) made 12 key findings:
Communities:| Greater strength through collaboration with
schools and parents| Greater impact of services through a
comprehensive, integrated approach| Increased access to services for families| Greater sense of community
Students:| More positive attitudes toward school| Higher achievement, better attendance,
and more homework completed consistently| Higher graduation rates and enrollment rates
in postsecondary education| Better schools to attend
Parents:| Greater knowledge of education programs
and how schools work| Knowledge of how to be more supportive of children| Greater confidence about ways to help
children learn| More positive views of teachers| Greater empowerment
Benefits of Better Parent/School Collaboration
Teachers and Administrators:| Greater teaching effectiveness| Higher expectations of students| Increased ability to understand family views
and cultures| Greater appreciation of parent volunteers| Improved morale| Greater sense of community
(National PTA, Building Successful Partnerships, 2000; Countryman & Eggleston, 1994; Shartrand, Weiss,
Kreider, & Lopez, 1997; National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education, 2002)
1. Effective parent/family involvement improves student outcomes throughout the school years.
2. While parent/family involvement improves student outcomes, variations in culture, ethnicity, and/or
socioeconomic background affect how families are involved.
3. Parent/family involvement at home has more impact on children than parent/family involvement
in school activities.
4. The nature of effective parent/family involvement changes as children reach adolescence.
5. Parent/family involvement in early childhood programs helps children succeed in their transition to
kindergarten and elementary school.
6. Parents/families may need guidance and assistance in how to effectively support their children with homework.
7. The many ways that families of differing cultural/ethnic backgrounds are involved in their children?s
education are valuable and should be respected when planning parent/family involvement programs.
8. Improved student outcomes have been documented in mathematics and literacy when parents/families
are involved.
9. The most promising opportunity for student achievement occurs when families, schools, and
community organizations work together.
10. To be effective, school programs must be individualized to fit the needs of the students, parents, and community.
11. Effective programs assist parents in creating a home environment that fosters learning and provides
support and encouragement for their children?s success.
12. Teachers and administrators must be trained to promote effective parent/family involvement.
Changing Perspectives
?Children and families must be at the heart of our education reform efforts, and they must be
involved in deciding what services are needed and how they are provided. As educators, we must
be committed to flexibility, to teamwork, and to making our families welcome inside our schools.
As service providers, we must make the family the center of our efforts, with new hours, new attitudes,
and new models that are family-centered and stress the needs of the customer. As policy makers we
must place the family at the center of our efforts and make the programs revolve around that center,
rather than following old models that have forced the family into the service available, instead of
designing the services around the needs of our families and our children.?
(U.S. Department of Education, School linked, 1995, p. 24)
For many years the prevailing view of many educators was that families had a very limited role to play at their
children?s schools:| parents should come to school only when invited| stay-at-home mothers served as ?room mothers?| parents visited school mainly for children?s performances and open houses| parents helped raise funds (e.g., bake sales to buy new band uniforms)
?The idea of parents coming in and out of school at any time was seen as intrusive and a challenge to teachers?
professionalism? (Johnson, 2001, p. 86). Parents, too, often viewed education professionals as adversaries.
Teachers and parents moved in ?separate spheres of influence? based upon their individual responsibilities and
respective views (parents? focus on ?my child? versus educators? responsibility for considering the needs of all
students, including individual ones) (Dodd & Konzal, 2002, p.86). Under this paradigm, educators asked:
?What can parents, community members, and organizations do for us?? (Dodd & Konzal, 2002, p. 25).
Parents? focus on ?my child? and educators? focus on ?all children? must be extended and
reconceptualized to a community concern and commitment for educating all children as ?our children.?
(Dodd & Konzal, 2002, p. 289)
Epstein (1987) challenged this separatism by creating a model of ?overlapping spheres of influence? on children?s
learning that includes family, school, and community. The more compatible these spheres are, the more effective
families, schools, and communities are in sharing the responsibility of educating children.
The way in which schools care about children is reflected in the way they care about the children?s families.
If educators view children simply as students, they are likely to see the family as separate from the school.
That is, the family is expected to do its job and leave the education of children to the schools.
If educators view students as children, they are likely to see both the family and the community as partners
with the school in children?s education and development. Partners recognize their shared interests in and
responsibilities for children, and they work together to create better programs and opportunities for students.
(Epstein, 2001, p. 403)
Schools that have been the most successful in involving families ?look beyond traditional definitions to a broader
conception of parents as full partners in the education of their children.? These schools view children?s learning as
a ?shared responsibility? among stakeholders, including parents, who play important roles in this endeavor
(U.S. Department of Education, Family, 1997). Educators at these schools ask, ?What can all of us together do to
educate all children well?? (Dodd & Konzal, 2002, p. 126).
?Schools must recognize that parent involvement activities are not just opportunities for schools to
transmit knowledge to parents, but for parents to educate teachers and administrators as well.?
(Allexsaht-Snider, 1995)
Schools as Extended Family
When children begin their educational careers, the school becomes an ?extension of the family?: ?If learning is to
occur, the trust relationship developed between a parent and child during the first years of life must be transferred to
school staff? (Bryk & Schneider, 2002, p. 27). In order to build a trusting relationship, families need to convey to
children that teachers play a ?special role? in their lives similar to that of extended family members. In turn, teachers
must earn this trust as extended family members in the relationships they build with children and their families.
Studies of resilience have underscored the importance of a ?consistently supportive person? in the life of a child
(Brodkin & Coleman, 1996). While ideally this should be a parent, if necessary, it can also be another family
member, a friend, a neighbor, or a teacher. This individual is one who ?unflaggingly communicates the conviction
that this child can and will beat the odds. Often this person also serves as a resilient role model?
(Brodkin & Coleman, 1996). In addition to offering emotional support, teachers can also nurture resilience by
helping students build networks of caring adults who will serve as a positive force in their lives, encouraging activities
that will help students develop caring relationships with peers, and teaching students social skills.
A Growing Movement
In 1994 the United States Department of Education created the (PFIE) to promote children?s learning.
The partnership is a ?broad-based coalition of thousands of schools, families, employers, government and the community
that have joined together to address intersecting concerns? (U.S. Department of Education, Employers, 1995).
The Department of Education supports PFIE partners around the country, providing resources, making connections,
sharing best practices, and keeping partners current on educational issues and trends (U.S. Department of Education,
About PFIE, 1996).| school report cards be provided to parents of migrant students in the language of the parent, where feasible;| school districts receiving Title I, Part A funding develop and distribute to parents a written parent
involvement policy that establishes expectations for parent involvement;| schools receiving Title I, Part A funding seek the assistance of parents, educators, and administrators in
valuing the contribution of parents, determining how to reach out to, communicate with, and work with
parents as equal partners, implementing and coordinating parent programs, and building ties between
parents and schools;| schools receiving Title I, Part A funding convene an annual meeting to provide parents with timely
information about programs, a description and explanation of the curriculum in use at the school, the forms
of academic assessment used to measure student progress, and the proficiency levels students are expected
to meet;| schools receiving Title I, Part A funding develop a school-parent compact that outlines how parents,
the entire school staff, and students will share the responsibility for improved student academic achievement
and the means by which the school and parents will develop a partnership to help children achieve the
state?s high standards;| schoolwide reform plans include parental involvement and partnerships with parents and communities;
and schools include parents in the planning of professional development activities and activities associated
with other federally funded programs (Boland & Foxworth, 2003; U.S. Department of Education, 2002).
The National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), in cooperation with education and parent involvement professionals,
also reaffirmed the value of family involvement in its (National PTA, 1999). Other organizations, networks, and
initiatives involving family-school-community partnerships continue to grow: the the (NCPIE), and the. In 2001,
three states ? Indiana, Michigan, and Nevada ? all passed legislation designed to increase parent involvement in
schools (ECS Information Clearinghouse, 2002). In 1990 California was the first state to pass a law requiring local
school boards to develop family involvement policies. Subsequently, the state passed the Family School Partnership
Act 1994 allowing parents, grandparents, and guardians to spend 40 hours of work time participating in school and
licensed child care center activities during the school year (California Department of Education, no date)
The federal government acknowledged the significance of family involvement in Goal 8 of the Goals 2000 legislation:
?Every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the
social, emotional, and academic growth of children? (U. S. Department of Education, Goals 2000, 1994). Reflecting
this goal, Title I regulations include mandates for family-school connections for states, districts, and schools to obtain
and keep federal funds (Epstein, 2001). The Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorized in 2002 as the
also includes provisions for family involvement, including requirements that:
The law also ?establishes school-linked or school-based parental information and resource centers that provide
training, information, and support to parents, and to individuals and organizations that work with parents, to
implement parental involvement strategies that lead to improvements in student academic achievement?
(U.S. Department of Education, 2002). Other federal, state, and local policies also mandate and/or encourage
partnership activities.
If we are serious about leaving no child behind, we must broaden our notion of accountability,
accepting that the school?s impact is more modest than we wish, the family?s more robust than
we have acknowledged.
Robert Evans, ?Family matters: The real crisis in education,?
Education Week, May 22, 2002
Parent advocacy for educational rights for their children resulted in the passage of PL 94-142 (the Education for
All Handicapped Children Act) in 1975. The percentage of students in public schools receiving special education services
has risen steadily since then (Public Agenda Online, 2002). Successive reauthorizations and amendments to this initial
legislation have involved teachers and families working together to meet the educational needs of children with disabilities.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) reauthorized in 1997 provides an even stronger mandate for
parent involvement than any preceding special education legislation (O?Shea, O?Shea, Algozzine, and Hammitte, 2001).
The law requires that parents of children receiving special education services must actively participate in the design
of individualized education programs (IEPs) for their child.
Collaboration with families is Target 4 of 7 included in the National Agenda for Children and Youth With Serious
Emotional Disturbance (U. S. Department of Education, Sixteenth annual, 1994). The target stresses the need to
collaborate with families through active decision making that respects parents as partners rather than clients
(Cheney and Osher, 1997). ?Services,? according to Target 4, ?should be open, helpful, culturally competent,
accessible to families, and school-based as well as community-based? (U. S. Department of Education,
Sixteenth annual, 1994, p. 119).
While family involvement has clearly reached a ?new level of acceptance? today as one of many factors that can help
improve the quality of schools, ?acceptance does not always translate into implementation, commitment, or creativity?
(Drake, 2000, p. 34). In the 15,000 school districts and more than 88,000 schools across the country, much
remains to be done. According to Henderson and Raimondo (2001), parent involvement is ?truly the most
untapped resource that we have.?
Barriers to Family Involvement
Most of the time it is not lack of interest that prevents parents from becoming involved in their children?s education
(State of Iowa, 1998) but challenges such as poverty, single parenting, language/literacy barriers, and cultural and
socioeconomic isolation that hinder involvement. A number of other barriers can prevent families from being
involved in their children?s education. These barriers may originate in the home environment or may be related to
school policies and practices:| School environments that do not support parent/family involvement| School practices that do not accommodate diverse family needs| Child care constraints, especially for families with children with disabilities| Families? past negative experiences with schools and/or feelings of uncertainty about
?treading on school ?territory??| Families?, particularly those who live in poverty, past interactions with schools that have marginalized
their contributions| Cultural differences (language barriers, attitudes toward professionals, lack of knowledge about the
American education system, etc.)| Parents are not aware they are expected to be involved in their child?s education| Parents are not aware that they have power concerning decision making about their child?s education| Parents believe that the teacher has special authority and they should not question that authority| Parents feel uncomfortable if there are few or no teachers representing their cultural group| Parents feel their family status is demeaned if their children are used as interpreters| Primacy of basic needs (food, clothing and shelter take precedence over educational needs)| Feelings of inadequacy associated with differences in income or education| Time constraints| Intimidating size of the school| Safety, especially in inner-city school neighborhoods| Uncertainty about how to contribute| Uncertainty about how the system works
(White-Clark & Decker, 1996; Whitaker & Fiore, 2001; Ballen & Moles, 1994; Funkhouser & Gonzales,
1997; Jesse, 1995; Henderson, Marburger, & Ooms, 1986; Wollman-Bonilla, 2000; Bloom, 2001;
Bauer & Shea, 2003; Ariza, 2002)
A 1992 National PTA survey of 27,000 local and unit presidents in the organization indicated that lack of time was
by far (89% of respondents) the greatest barrier to family involvement in schools (Funkhouser & Gonzales, 1997).
Caplan (2001) includes an instrument, ?Challenges to Family Involvement Program? (p. 27), that can be used to
assess barriers to family involvement and plan strategies to address them.
Families know their children the best and should be respected for that knowledge. Schools have
a lot of knowledge about children, but they are not in the relationship for a lifetime. When schools
understand and respect what families bring to the table then partnerships can grow.
Susie Nettleton
Finger Lakes Regional Coordinator,
Parent to Parent of New York State
Making Time for Family Involvement
While families may be more diverse than ever before, they share the common trait that they are all busy.
Families? often hectic pace of life and numerous responsibilities seem to leave little time in the day for ?one more thing.?
Families who have children with disabilities are often even busier because of the special, more time-consuming needs
of their children. In addition to these often overwhelming responsibilities, these families also need to understand the
complex laws and legal issues that impact children in special education and their families (Guernsey & Klare, 2001).
The majority of mothers and fathers now work outside of the home to support their families, and many of these
parents are raising children by themselves. Their hectic daily lives do not allow large blocks of time to be devoted to
?family involvement? activities. In addition, some mothers and fathers are caring for aging parents at the same time
that they are raising children, so their time and attention are divided.
Similarly, teachers and administrators are busy people with multiple responsibilities. Family involvement may not be a
priority among the many issues that compete for their attention each day. Scarce school resources, in terms of time,
personnel, and funds, may make the adoption of any new initiatives seem unreasonable. There may also be provisions
in union contracts and collective bargaining agreements that limit the amount of time that educators can devote to family
involvement activities. Tight budgets ? a reality in most schools ? may not support additional activities to encourage
more family involvement.
However, for families as well as educators, family
involvement need not be a supplemental activity
?one more thing they have to do each day.
Working together with strong administrative
support, families, schools, and communities can
find effective ways to integrate the most promising
strategies into their daily routines so that they
mesh with other school improvement initiatives.
In this way, family involvement can be viewed by
both parents and educators as a valuable and
necessary part of what is done each day to help
encourage all children to learn.
1. Family members are equal partners in a child?s education and know their child best.
2. Schools ?need families to help them help our children? (Huff, 1999). Efforts must be made to develop
?trusting and respectful relationships? and to share power with families (Henderson & Mapp, 2002, p.
3. The home environment is the ?primary educational environment? (Mental Health in Schools Training
and Technical Assistance Center, 1996).
4. Schools must respect the diversity of families and their varied needs.
5. All families care about their children and, ?regardless of their income, education, or cultural
background, are involved in their children?s learning and want their children to do well?
(Henderson & Mapp, 2002, p. 8).
6. Family involvement remains important through all the years of a child?s education.
7. Family involvement takes many forms and may not require a family?s physical presence at school.
8. Families, schools, and communities are closely interconnected, and the responsibility for children?s
educational development is a shared one.
9. Educators and parents each have strengths and weaknesses.
10. School leaders and staff need support/training to encourage family involvement.
11. ?One size does not fit all? when developing school-family partnerships.
12. ?Change takes time,? and building a successful partnership requires ?continued effort over time?
(Funkhouser & Gonzales, 1997).
Guiding Principles
This sourcebook is based on these 12 ?guiding principles? for family involvement in education:
Getting Started
The many practices in this sourcebook are intended to serve as jumping-off places for schools that are at different
stages in building effective family involvement programs. While some of the strategies included here require
significant resources, others may be adopted with a minimal outlay of resources. What works in one district may not
work in another; all schools, with the input of families and community members, must decide which practices to
adopt ? or adapt ? to meet their particular needs.
Building a strong, caring community takes time and commitment. Everyone must be included, valued, and
respected ? even when people disagree. Yet bound by a common purpose ? the creation of a community
home for all children ? people working together can make a difference. (Dodd & Konzal, 2002, p. 283)
The first step in getting started is to reach out to families and share the research-based outcomes that document the
benefits of family involvement in children?s education. This information should be accompanied by the message that
schools need families to help in the educating of all children, that parent voices are valued in the school, and that
families can be involved in the education of their children in many ways (Huff, 1999). This information will be most
effective if communicated at the start of the school year (see activities, for example, on pp. 93) and reinforced
throughout the school year through a variety of reminders in newsletters, family fact sheets, school calendars,
web site messages, phone messages, workshop sessions, etc., to reach families in as many ways as possible.
Schools should involve family and community members in all phases of the planning, implementation, and evaluation
of family involvement strategies. A variety of self-assessment instruments are available that can be used to evaluate a
school?s current family involvement practices and help guide the planning of strategies to build on the program.
These are listed in the Evaluation section of this document. Data generated by this assessment phase need to be
analyzed to determine the current status of family involvement in the school or district and the most appropriate next
steps to take. Educators, family members, and community representatives should also consider how any proposed family
involvement strategies relate with other ongoing school initiatives to ensure that these initiatives complement one another.
Epstein (2001) recommends a team approach to developing effective school-family-community partnerships,
including the following steps:
1. Create an action team with diverse membership
An action team with diverse membership, including school, community, and family members, ensures
that various needs and interests are represented. This team takes responsibility for planning,
implementing, coordinating, and overseeing action; monitoring progress; solving problems; presenting
reports; and designing new directions for building positive connections with families and communities.
The team works with other educators, family members, and community organizations to carry out its
2. Obtain funds and other support
The action team will need a modest budget, sufficient time, and social support to do its work.
Federal, state, and local sources can be explored to support family involvement programs and the
staff needed to coordinate selected activities.
3. Identify starting points
The action team needs to determine starting points for improving family involvement. This may be
accomplished through informal means (focus group sessions, telephone interviews, etc.) or more
formal questionnaires that solicit ideas from teachers, administrators, family members, and students.
Regardless of the methodology used, the information gathered should indicate the school?s present
strengths, needed changes, expectations, sense of community, and links to goals.
Some of the questions the action team must ask in order to develop and strengthen its partnership programs from
year to year, include:
4. Develop a three-year outline and one-year action plan
Based upon the ideas gathered from the identification of starting points, the action team can
develop a long-term, three-year plan that includes specific steps to reach the vision of where the school
wants to be in three years with its school-family-community involvement program. Additionally, a
detailed one-year action plan should outline the first year?s work, including specific activities to be
implemented, improved, or maintained; a timeline of monthly actions; identification of individuals
responsible for and assisting with activities; indicators of how the success of the activities will be
evaluated, and other important details. The three-year outline and one-year plan should be shared
with educators, families, students, and the community.
5. Continue planning and working
Each year the action team updates the three-year outline and develops a new one-year action plan.
The team also needs to keep educators, families, students, and the community ?aware of annual
progress, new plans, and how they can help.? (pp. 416-20, 577)| What are the school?s present school-family-community practices?
What do individual teachers do and what does the school do
to involve families and communities?
| What are the school?s goals for improving
student success?
| How do we envision the school?s program
of school-family-community involvement
three years from now?| What current practices should be
maintained or improved?| What new practices should be added to
increase involvement, reach more families,
and reach student and school goals?| How is the school progressing?
What indicators will be used to measure
quality of partnership and progress toward
goals? How should activities be evaluated
to determine their effectiveness?| How will assessments and evaluations be
used to help develop the next one-year
action plan?
(Epstein, 2001, p. 579)
Family Involvement Strategies
This guidebook includes more than 80 promising practices that have been implemented effectively by schools
to encourage family involvement in education. These practices have been organized into the following eight
?cluster strategies,? each of which is described more fully in corresponding sections of the sourcebook:
Strategy 1: Creating a family-friendly school environment
___ Host family-friendly social events
___ Develop a family/school/community partnership policy
___ Establish policies that recognize the variety of parenting traditions and practices within the school community
___ Create an ?open-door? policy and a responsive climate for parents
___ Provide translations of printed materials in all languages spoken in the school and/or hire minority language teachers
___ Provide interpreters for all languages spoken in the school
___ Provide flexible options for routine tasks that accommodate family needs
___ Consider varied family needs when scheduling events
___ Coordinate school tours and orientations fornew families
___ Offer child care, transportation, and refreshments to encourage family involvement
___ Foster ?total teacher commitment? to family involvement among school faculty
___ Maintain a parent-friendly office
___ Hire a family coordinator/liaison
___ Post welcome signs in all languages spoken in the school
___ Post user-friendly school maps
___ Reserve parking places for family visitors
___ Create classroom/school environments that reflect the school?s diversity
___ Maintain a welcoming bulletin board
___ Create a welcoming booklet and/or videotape for new families
___ Link new families with mentors
___ Adopt ?father-friendly? practices
Strategy 2: Building a support infrastructure
___ Create a family center
___ Hire a family coordinator/liaison
___ Provide administrative support for family involvement activities
___ Devote staff time to family involvement activities
___ Commit resources to family involvement activities
Strategy 3: Encouraging family involvement
___ Hire a family coordinator/liaison to coordinate volunteer program
___ Take an inventory of family involvement
___ Involve parents in planning, implementing, and evaluating family involvement activities
___ Survey family and community members for prospective volunteers
___ Identify barriers to family involvement in your school
___ Acknowledge the many different ways families can be involved
___ Create culturally appropriate volunteer opportunities
___ Host an orientation program to prepare volunteers
___ Help volunteers feel welcome
___ Show appreciation for volunteers
___ Invite family involvement with a family-friendly letter
___ Host a ?You Can Make a Difference? orientation to volunteer activities
___ Match volunteers with meaningful activities
___ Announce volunteer opportunities throughout the school year
___ Develop a screening process for potential volunteers
___ Provide volunteer information packets
___ Develop a volunteer database and directory
___ Encourage local businesses to support family involvement
___ Establish a process for evaluating the volunteer system
___ Involve parents in decision-making roles
Strategy 4: Developing family-friendly communication
___ Host neighborhood meetings
___ Organize neighborhood walks
___ Hold family focus groups
___ Make home visits
___ Host informal principal meetings
___ Make positive ?warm? telephone calls
___ Exchange home/school communication
___ Host conferences
___ Communicate via newsletters
___ Use a variety of technology tools
___ Make audiotapes of written materials for families with emerging literacy
___ Translate all written information into families? native languages
___ Develop a process for resolving family concerns
Strategy 5: Supporting family involvement on the homefront
___ Develop programs that involve homefront activities
___ Provide guidance on developmentally appropriate practices
___ Provide guidance on student learning
___ Involve parents in action research projects
___ Involve parents in behavioral assessments
___ Provide homework assistance
Strategy 6: Supporting educational opportunities for families
___ Conduct assessments of educational needs
of families
___ Involve diverse parent and community members
in planning
___ Make home visits
___ Offer parent workshops
___ Offer opportunities for parents and children
to learn together
___ Offer opportunities for parents to develop
leadership skills
___ Organize family support groups
___ Develop teen parenting programs
Strategy 7: Creating family-school-community
___ Bring together families, schools, and community
organizations for mutual benefit
___ Develop comprehensive, wraparound services
for families
___ Develop schools as community learning centers
___ Develop full-service schools
___ Cultivate school-business partnerships
Strategy 8: Preparing educators to work with families
___ Provide ongoing professional development in family involvement
___ Provide opportunities for staff, families, and community members to learn together
___ Imbed family involvement in preservice education programs
___ Include family involvement in educational policy
___ Make encouraging family involvement an expectation of new faculty and staff members
___ Include parents as teachers and faculty members
___ Include parental perspectives in planning and implementing professional development opportunities
Matrix of Activities
This cross-topical matrix may be used as a guide for locating information on specific topics related to family involvement within the eight ?cluster strategies.?
For instance, the matrix indicates that information on family involvement for students with disabilities is located in each of the eight cluster strategies; information on
home-based strategies may be found in Strategies 4, 5, and 6.
International Festival and ?Taste of School 45?
Buffalo Public School #45,
renamed The International School in 2002, serves
approximately 1,000 students in grades pre-K-8 who
speak 29 different languages. In April of 2003 the school
will collaborate with families and the community to host
the school?s 11th International Festival. During the festival
students take the approximately 600 families and community
members who attend the annual event on a ?colorful journey
around the world by performing cultural songs and dances?
(Salinas, Jansom, & Nolan, 2001).
Planning for the annual event begins early in the school year,
according to Principal Colleen Carota, and involves parents
volunteering in many capacities (personal communication,
August 22, 2002). Parents representative of the cultures
in the school are recruited to help students develop
performances from their native countries. Parents also help
coordinate and prepare food for the ?Taste of School 45?
held the same evening in the school?s cafeteria, where students
and families sample treats from around the world such as
Somalian sweet bread and Polish Kielbasa.
?The International School has always been a splendid example
of how to bring together people from varying cultures around
a common goal: providing the best education possible for
their children,? said Buffalo School Superintendent Marion
Canedo. ?It is always very gratifying to see the many different
costumes, food, languages, and traditions represented.
It brings children and families together to celebrate their
own culture and to learn about others. It is a unique
experience and a wonderful learning opportunity for students,
teachers, and families alike.?
Strategy 1: Creating a family-friendly school environment
Action Steps:| Establish a stakeholder group of parents and school staff to guide family-friendly
development and activities| Assess the diversity of families in your school, including diversity in race/ethnicity,
socio-economic status, home language, and disability, and create a school environment
that is friendly to all families| Create a family-friendly policy or mission for the school| Create a school environment that is welcoming to families| Plan regular events to bring families and school staff together for
positive interaction in support of learning
?Fortress? Schools
?Fortress? schools are those that do not welcome or provide outreach to families; they have inconvenient hours,
unfriendly staff members, and an unwelcoming atmosphere that inhibit home-school communication and family involvement
(Reyes, Scribner & Scribner, 1999). Additionally, if the first time parents hear from a school is when there is a problem,
this ?lends a negative association to school involvement? and may be discouraging to parents (Aronson, 1996). Creating a
family-friendly school environment means taking a close look at the building, atmosphere, policies, and activities of the
school, and, with parental feedback, making sure all of these aspects are conducive to family involvement.
Schools must become places where families feel wanted
and recognized for their strengths and potential.
(Ballen & Moles, 1994)
Planning social events that bring together school faculty and staff with families in informal gatherings is one effective way
to create a family-friendly school environment. Informal gatherings help educators to ?make connections and build
relationships? with families (Lueder, 1998). Feeling welcome at school at events such as these can help encourage families
to become more involved in activities to enhance their children?s learning.
Family-friendlySocial Events| Meet-the-teacher events(morning and evening sessionsto accommodate parent?sschedules)| Ice cream socials| Domino tournaments| Dads? Day breakfast| Kids? Turn to Teach Day| Faculty/family sports and games| Grandparents? Day
Schools can try a variety of strategies to build a bridge connecting
the faculty and staff with families. The message these strategies
convey to parents should be: ?You are welcome, you are important
to us, and we want to work with you to educate your children?
(Lueder, 1998, p. 62).
Family-friendly Schools
Henderson, Marburger, and Oom (1986) define ?family-friendly?
schools as those that ?create a climate in which every aspect of
the school is open and helpful.? Family-friendly schools strive to
forge partnerships with all families, not just those that are most
involved. Unfortunately, the opposite can also happen: school
culture can marginalize families by creating an environment that
discourages involvement (North Central Regional Educational
Laboratory, Critical issue, 1996).
Families?are the most important visitors on our premises.
They are not dependent on us, we are dependent on them.
They are not an outsider in our business, they are part of it.
We are not doing them a favor by serving them, they are doing us a favor.
Opening Doors, Florida Partnership for Family
Involvement in Education, no date
Successful middle and secondary schools recognize that ?both the expectations and means of family involvement?
at those levels are very different from what they were during the elementary school years (Patten, 2002).
Giannetti and Sagarese (1998) offer ten strategies to encourage family involvement at the middle school level:
1. Dust off and roll out the welcome mat.
2. Advertise your expertise.
3. Implement an early-warning system.
4. Show parents a familiar, positive portrait of their child.
5. Convey shared values.
6. Reassure parents that their child will be protected in your care.
7. Demonstrate your inside scoop (educators may have knowledge about middle school students
that parents don?t have).
8. Empathize with parents about the tough job they have.
9. Be an effective and fair disciplinarian.
10. Be a consistent role model. (p.40)
Middle School Family Involvement
Family involvement often begins to decline when students reach the middle school years. Families interviewed for Giannetti
and Sagarese?s The Roller-Coaster Years (1997) indicated they felt welcomed in their children?s elementary schools but
felt less welcome and even ?left out? once their children reached middle school (Giannetti & Sagarese, 1998, p. 40).
Building Middle School Connections
Urbana Middle School in Urbana, IL, with a student enrollment of 1,100, has implemented a
number of strategies for involving middle school families. Among them are:| Creating a welcoming environment, including a ?Community Center?| Facilitating a ?continuum of involvement? for family participation| Encouraging parents to talk about school-related activities with their children| Maintaining effective communication with families (phone calls, notes home, etc.)| Maintaining a homework hotline and school information hotline| Hosting three-way conferencing, including parents, teachers, and students| Encouraging parents to become classroom volunteers and organizing the volunteer effort
Community Connections coordinator Barbara Linder indicates that ten years ago there was the perception that
parents were not welcome in Urbana Middle School. But once the formal parent involvement activities began
and parents and teachers saw the positive benefits, participation gradually grew, and success began to ?breed
success.? Continuing challenges for the middle school include finding the time required for teachers to build
relationships with parents and involving families of at-risk students, who do not always feel welcome in school
settings (Patten, 2002).
Building Family-friendly Atmospheres
Practices for creating a family-friendly atmosphere in schools include:
Family-friendly policies:
1. Developing and publicly posting a family-school-community partnership policy that provides the philosophical
framework for all family-school-community activities.
2. Establishing policies and practices that ?acknowledge traditional and nontraditional families?
(Massachusetts Department of Education, 2000) and recognize the variety of parenting traditions and practices
within the school community (National PTA, Standard 2: Parenting, 2002).
3. Creating an open-door policy and climate in the school that is responsive to parents and their concerns.
4. Providing translations of printed material and making available translators for all languages spoken in the school,
including sign language for hearing-impaired families.
5. Arranging for flexibility in routine tasks such as registration and orientation (on-line options, telephone options,
day and evening hours, etc.) to accommodate different family needs.
6. Considering varied family needs and preferences when scheduling meetings and school events; and offering child care,
transportation, and refreshments for participating families.
7. Creating an atmosphere that says, ?We respect everyone. We understand and will try to accommodate your unique
needs and concerns? (Aronson, 1996, p. 60).
8. Recognizing the special time constraints on families who have children with disabilities or who are caring for
aging parents.
9. Recognizing and welcoming parents/guardians with same-gender partners.
Family-friendly faculty and staff:
1. Fostering ?total teacher commitment? among administrators and teachers who believe in the value of and are
experienced in family involvement, and who demonstrate respect for families and their primary role in raising
children (Berger, 1995; National PTA, Standard 2: Parenting, 2002).
2. Maintaining a school office that is inviting and welcoming to visitors.
3. Maintaining a staff of school employees who are friendly and responsive to families and who reflect a
?sense of family? in their ?actions, beliefs, and language? (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2002, p. 31).
2. Creating a classroom/school environment (pictures, books, resources, etc.) that reflects the diversity of families
included in the school.
3. Maintaining a welcoming bulletin board that includes visitor information, announcements, news articles, and
photographs of recent school events.
4. Creating and posting user-friendly school maps in several places throughout the school building.
5. Reserving several parking places for family visitors near the front door.
School staff who are successful in engaging family members share the
following qualities:| They know they must have the support of parents.| In every interaction, they demonstrate their concern for the child.| They always treat parents the way they would like to be treated.| They always demonstrate professionalism and confidence.
(Canter & Canter, 1991)
4. Developing the school as a ?culturally competent system? staffed by individuals ?whose behaviors, attitudes,
and policies recognize, respect, and value the uniqueness of individuals and groups whose cultures are
different from those associated with mainstream American culture? (Engiles, Fromme, LeResche, & Moses, 1999).
5. Hiring a family coordinator/liaison (voluntary or paid) responsible for connecting families and educators.
(See Strategy 2: Building a Support Infrastructure)
6. Hiring language and/or culture teachers who can help bridge various languages and cultures, and support families
of varied backgrounds.
Family-friendly environment:
1. Posting welcome signs in all the languages spoken in the school.
Visitors are Welcome at Our School!
We are proud of our school and the overall learning process at Mountainview.
We encourage parents to visit the building and to observe your child?s classroom,
browse through our media center or just talk to the principal about your ideas
for improving our school. We request only that prior notice be given and that
visitors check in at the office upon arrival.
School Policy Statement,
Mountainview Elementary School, Morgantown, WV
6. Providing disability access to buildings and parking areas.
7. Creating a family center where parent involvement activities are coordinated.
(See Strategy 2: Building a Support Infrastructure)
Ways to welcome new families:
1. Creating a welcoming booklet and/or videotape that
provide helpful information to families about
school policies, personnel, assistance, resources,
and volunteer opportunities.
2. Coordinating school tours and orientation sessions
for new families.
3. Linking new families with volunteer mentors who
have children who are similar in age, cultural
background, disabling condition, etc. to provide
information, guidance, and support.
The Rush-Henrietta Central School District
in West Henrietta, NY, provides each new
family to the district with a ?Welcome Folder.?
The folder is full of helpful brochures and
handouts describing the school district, its
programs, and various community services,
as well as educational and recreational
opportunities for both children and their
family members.
(Massachusetts Department of Education, 2000; Lueder, 1998; Hiatt-Michael, Promising Practices, 2001; Berger, 1995;
Rockwell, Andrew, & Hawley, 1996; U.S. Department of Education, 1995; National PTA, Building Successful Partnerships, 2000).
How Father-Friendly is Your School Environment?
1. Do faculty and staff welcome and value father involvement?
2. Do faculty and staff welcome the involvement of gay fathers and caregivers?
3. Do faculty and staff members greet fathers as they drop off and pick up their children?
4. Do school forms include a space where a ?significant male? can be listed?
5. Are opportunities for involvement provided that will be of interest of fathers, grandfathers, and uncles?
6. Are activities planned to show fathers that they are an important part of the program and their children?s lives?
7. Do school posters and brochures show images of fathers as well as mothers?
8. Does program literature include references to both fathers and mothers, ?he? as well as ?she??
9. Are program hours flexible so working fathers and mothers can participate?
10. Are suggestions for involvement solicited from fathers?
11. Are report cards sent to both parents to keep non-residential fathers informed?
12. Are male outreach workers a part of the school staff?
13. Are male tutors and mentors recruited in the school?
14. Are opportunities provided that will help fathers enhance their parenting skills through education and modeling?
15. Are opportunities provided to help fathers build more positive self-respect and self-esteem so that they will be
empowered and feel they have something to offer their children?
16. Are professional development opportunities offered to the faculty and staff on father involvement?
17. Does the school have policies and guidelines related to working with families that include fathers?
18. Are mothers invited to play a role in recruitment and support for male involvement?
19. Are opportunities provided for father-to-father support?
20. Do school programs promote the idea of ?cooperative parenting,? whether parents live together or separately?
(U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000; Casper and Schultz, 1999)
Howard Lewis Parent Center
The Buffalo Public Schools? Howard Lewis Parent Center
in Buffalo, NY, was the first parent center in New York and one
of the first in the country. Begun in 1989, the center now offers
services and activities for more than 44,000 students and their
families, according to Supervisor Bonnie Nelson (personal
communication, August 12, 2002). The center is housed in
downtown Buffalo in the Buffalo Urban League Building.
It has a staff of 22, including 7 specialists in adult and early
childhood education, a full-time teacher who teaches computer
skills, and teaches from the public school system who serve as
mathematics, reading and language specialists.
The center includes two computer labs with more than 50 computer
work stations and a discovery room where a number of handson
learning activities are offered. Additionally,the center has
60 portable computers that may be loaned to families to work
together at home with their children.
Strategy 2: Building a support infrastructure
Action Steps:| Commit resources to family-friendly system development| Hire a family coordinator/liaison with a clear role and responsibilities| Create a family center in your school ? a place for activities and resources that support
the family role in child development and education| Plan for and commit resources to development of a family-friendly staff
Except for adult education classes and Title 1 sessions, all learning activities at the center are planned for parents
and children to participate in together through the use of college tutors, computers, and family literacy activities.
Core academic and other classes in areas such as art, health, exercise, sewing, and music are provided.
Transportation to the center is provided for parents through the district?s school bus system. Buffalo Public
School teachers may also schedule classroom visits to the center. The Parent Center is open year-round, except
for school holidays, from 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m., and 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. during the summer. In addition to this center,
each school building in the district includes a parent room or parent area where families can meet or complete
volunteer projects.
Rita Fraiser, Principal of the BUILD Academy, says the Howard Lewis Parent Center is valuable to the district
because it ?provides a supportive environment for families.? The center also ?enables teachers to extend
the learning experience of their students to help motivate and challenge them toward higher academic
achievement? (personal communication, September 12, 2002).
Encouraging family involvement in schools requires the creation of an infrastructure to support these efforts. This infrastructure
typically includes developing a family center, hiring a family coordinator, and insuring ongoing resource commitments to
maintain and/or expand family involvement activities.
Family centers
The Family Center is both a place and a program.
Rush-Henrietta Family Center, West Henrietta, NY
Creating family centers in school buildings and school districts is one significant way in which schools can involve
families in the education of their children. Offering families a special ?place of their own? in schools recognizes the
?overlapping spheres of influence? that both teachers and parents share in children?s learning (Hiatt-Michael,
Promising Practices, 2001; Johnson, 1993). Establishing family centers sends families a very positive message that they
are valued as partners, belong in the school, and should feel welcome there (Lueder, 1998; Moles, 1996).
Family Support and Resource Center
Howard County Public Schools? Family Support and Resource Center, located in Columbia, MD, focuses
its services on helping families of students with special needs, including fostering partnerships among parents
and educators. ?We are a safe haven for parents,? said Parent Coordinator Tonya Lewis (personal communication,
Oct. 8, 2003). The center offers a variety of services for families, educators, and community members, including:| Learning materials for home use| Individual counseling for family members| Advocacy for children and families| Individualized Education Program (IEP) assistance| Special education information and resources| Lending library of parenting resources and educational games| Printed information about parenting children with special needs| Educational displays| Accessing community services for families| Networking and support through discussion groups| Training opportunities on child development, parenting skills, and understanding
the special education process (Partners for success, 2003)
Parent Sarita Bradford, a frequent center user, indicates that having a child with a disability is ?a crisis in itself,?
especially if a parent does not know where to turn for information or support. She describes the center?s services
are ?awesome.? ?It?s a comfort to know there are people I can go to who are knowledgeable, empathetic, and
encouraging when I need information and support,? she said (personal communication, October 12, 2003).
?A well-designed parent center can help a school?s learning environment in numerous ways? (Wisconsin Department of
Public Instruction, Organizing, 1996). Family centers are ?accessible, safe, and friendly? places for parents to gather to
share a cup of coffee and talk with other parents or teachers in a casual setting (Johnson, 2000). These centers also
serve as the ?hub of information? for parents and as a primary ?link? to community resources (North Central Regional
Educational Laboratory, School Strategies, 1996). Family centers are places where families can go for training, support,
resources, services and even, in some centers, food, clothing, and shelter (Lueder, 1998, p. 142). The success of family
centers ?hinges on ownership? (Wiscnsin Department of Public Instruction, Organizing, 1996). ?Parents, especially
those who have not felt comfortable in school, need to feel the center belongs to them.? Family centers that welcome all
family members, including children of all ages, grandparents, and other family members, display respect for ?the family
as a unit,? which is especially important to families with a ?collectivistic value orientation?(Trumbull, Rothstein-Fisch,
Greenfield, & Quiroz, 2001, p. 43).
Planning Family Centers
Location: Family centers ?come in all shapes and sizes? (Lueder, 1998, p. 143). They may be as small as a corner of
the school library that houses parenting resources and as large as several rooms with multiple purposes. Many centers
begin small and then expand as more resources become available (Lueder, 1998). Although most family centers serve
individual schools, some larger centers serve entire districts.
Mobile Parent Resource Centers
A familiar sight in Syracuse, NY, neighborhoods is the school district?s P.U.M.P. (Power Unit for Motivating Parents)
bus that reaches out to parents even in the evenings and weekends during non-winter months. Staffed by the Syracuse
School District?s parent advocate, Michele Abdul Sabur, and three parent liaisons, the bus ?seeks out parents where
it can find them? in the community, whether at a Native American festival, a community shopping area, or outside of
city hall (Abdul Sabur, personal communication, August 20, 2002). As if they were shopping in a bookstore, parents
make choices for their children (infants-12th grade) as well as themselves from a variety of free, new, and diverse books.
Home learning activities for various grade students and local agency information are also available. The focus of the
project is to support at-home learning and assist parents to help their children meet the New York State learning standards
in literacy and math.
Ms. Abdul Sabur indicated that in order to create greater awareness of the neighborhood resources available she and
the staff often collaborate with community agencies to provide ?one-stop shopping? for parents who visit the bus.
?It?s been wonderful what we?ve learned from the families, what they are looking for,? she said. ?It really debunks
the myth that people don?t care about their kids? education? (Nolan, 2001). Superintendent Dr. Stephen C. Jones says
the P.U.M.P. bus ?is a valuable mechanism by which we have realized two vital components of our district?s Family
and Community Involvement Policy ? home-school communication and learning at home? (personal communication,
August 28, 2002).
The P.U.M.P. bus served more than 4,000 students and parents during the 2000-2001 school year and 4,860 during
the 2001-2002 school year, according to Ms. Abdul Sabur (personal communication, August 21, 2002). The bus operates
on an annual budget of approximately $13,000, excluding donations from local bookstores.
Mobile parent centers are also operating in Virginia and California. The Greensville County Public Schools Mobile
Parent Center serves parents in the rural Emporia, VA, area. The center includes two classrooms, various kinds of
equipment, and both print and non-print parenting resources (Margaret Lee, personal communication, August 12, 2002).
The Fresno Unified School District operates a ?Family Center on Wheels? that offers childhood health services,
family support, and family education for preschool children and their families. The parent mobile visits neighborhood
parks, businesses, and churches three days a week (Fresno Unified School District, Parent Mobile, 2002).
Funding: Funding is a major challenge for family centers. Most centers are funded through some combination of donations,
often from business partners, community agencies, school funds, Title I funds, and fund-raising activities in support of the
center. A family center does not need a large budget in the beginning. ?What is more important is a firm commitment to
the idea and a willingness to explore all possible sources of support? (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction,
Organizing, 1996).
Staffing is the primary expenditure of centers, followed by resources. Business and community donations such as books,
supplies, food, and equipment (refrigerators, computers, photocopy machines, etc.), as well as volunteer time from
family and community members can all support the development and maintenance of family centers.
Staffing: ?The center staff, whether volunteer or paid, will be the heartbeat of your family center? (Wisconsin Department
of Public Instruction, Organizing, 1996). A family center can be staffed by paid employees or volunteers, or a combination,
although a full-time, paid coordinator is an asset because the position is a demanding one that requires specialized expertise,
and having consistency ?promotes stability and status in the position? (Johnson, 2001, p. 92). Title I funds may be used to
pay the salaries of center employees, including a coordinator. Ideally, parent center coordinators should be drawn from
among the families whose children attend the school.
Autonomy: Administrative support for family centers is essential, although centers need an identity of their own.
Policies regarding independence and confidentiality need to be developed with parental collaboration from the beginning.
Issues related to the respective roles of the administration and the family center, confidentiality, information sharing, and
resolution of family-related problems need to be addressed (Donald Lash, personal communication, October 22, 2002).
Activities: The programs and services provided by family centers vary considerably from school to school. Both the
scope of services to be offered and how they will be delivered need to be determined. A wide range of activities, services,
and resources may be coordinated in family centers. These include:| books, videos, and computers that parents can take home to use with their children| a lending library of print and non-print parenting resources, such as:
?educational games
?activity kits| educational toys and books for visiting preschool children| information resources, including school and community resources and services, volunteer opportunities, employment
opportunities, transportation, immigration laws, voter registration, college admissions, financial aid, etc.| child-care services| after-school and evening tutoring programs| parent classes and support groups| parent-child informal education activities| crisis intervention/family counseling,auxiliary support services such as food and clothing banks, health screenings,
housing assistance, legal aid, job counseling, and transportation assistance
(Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Organizing, 1996; Lueder, 1998; Children?s Aid Society, 2001; Massachusetts
Department of Education, 2000; Hiatt-Michael, Promising Practices, 2001; Berger, 1995; Rockwell, Andrew, & Hawley, 1996.)
Evaluation: Evaluation of family centers should be an ongoing process focused on continual development and improvement.
Types of data that may be collected and analyzed include:| number of participants using the center| number of parents enrolled in classes offered at the center| number of volunteers| number of parent contacts made through the center| number of requests for services| number of referrals to the center made by school staff members and community organizations| evaluations of center activities and programs| interviews with family and community members| oral and written comments from participants, school staff members, and the community
(Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, How Should, 1996)
The Action Center requests that parents fill out an ?exit survey,? which ensures continual feedback on center services
and issues of concern to parents (Rochester City School District, 2002).
Family coordinator/liaison
The family coordinator/liaison plays a vital role in coordinating family involvement activities for the school.
The coordinator?s salary in many schools is paid through Title I funding. The coordinator?s responsibilities may include:| planning and coordinating outreach activities to families| recruiting, screening, orienting, and matching parent volunteers with opportunities| planning and coordinating family education events| planning and coordinating orientation sessions for new families| arranging for translation services in the native language of families| serving as a ?bridge? between families and schools| making home visits to families| producing newsletters and other communications to publicize activities| coordinating the evaluation of family involvement activities
(Johnson, 2001; Moles, 1996; U.S. Department of Education, Family Involvement, 1997)
Resource commitment
For family involvement efforts to be effective, they need to be considered a priority by schools. Administrators must
provide positive leadership to develop partnerships with families and communities and be able to translate talk into
implementation, commitment, and resource allocation (Caplan, 2001). Improving family involvement may require
changes in resource allocations, time commitments, and priorities. Administrators leading these efforts ?will need to
monitor and nurture the effort continuously? (p. 9).
While family involvement is crucial, it is not easy to achieve.
The key ingredient of success is commitment.
(Caplan, 2001, p. 10)
Staff time: In addition to schools needing a full-time family involvement coordinator, the school faculty and staff need
to be given time and training to enable them to work effectively with families (Ballen & Moles, 1994). Support from
administrators is necessary to allow team members the time to meet, plan, and conduct activities associated with family
involvement (Epstein, 1995). Training is especially needed to enable faculty and staff to work effectively with the diversity
of families represented in American schools today, including how to make home visits, facilitate effective Individualized
Education Program (IEP) meetings, create a welcoming school environment, and recognize the many ways that families are
involved in their children?s education.
Resources: Most family involvement programs are supported by a blend of federal, state, and district funds. Federal funding
is available through Title I, Title II, Title VII, Goals 2000 and other federal programs offered by the. Another funding strategy
is for school districts to offer a mini-grant program to teachers who propose and implement effective family involvement
approaches in the classroom.
Epstein and Clark (2000) surveyed members of the to determine current funding sources and levels for school, family, and
community partnerships. Responses from 94 schools, 25 districts, and 7 states indicated that members were
tapping into a variety of sources to fund family involvement programs during the 1996-97 school year, including federal
funds, state and district grants, and funds from local or other organizations.
Individual school budgets to support partnership activities ranged from under $100 to $70,000, with an average of $4,065.
School district spending on partnership activities ranged from under $100 to $1.2 million, with an average of $85,013.
Funding for school partnership efforts primarily came from bilingual education, drug prevention, Even Start, Goals 2000,
special education, state compensatory education, Title I, Title VI, Title VII, principals? discretionary funds, PTA/PTO, and
general funds. Seven districts reported awarding grants to schools, ranging from $1,000 to $6,500, to support projects
for school, family, and community partnerships.
Questions for Principals
Concerning Family Involvement:| How do I view the role of parents in the operation
of the school and in their children?s education?| Do I talk about family partnerships? Where and
when? What expectations are placed on teachers
regarding partnering with parents?| Does the school?s budget include funds (preferably
a line item) supporting family involvement?| Is there a person on staff dedicated to increasing
family involvement in the school?| To what extent are parents included in school
decision making? Are parents invited to curriculum
meetings? School improvement planning teams?
Professional development workshops?
(Caplan, 2001, p.10)
First Day of School America
The goal of the First Day of School America program is to involve families
and build community support for education at the beginning of the school year. Participating schools in this nationwide initiative invite
families to a variety of activities intended to welcome students and parents and build involvement (First Day Foundation, 2002).
The Cohoes School District in Cohoes, NY, is one of 1,751 schools nationwide participating in the initiative, which is sponsored by the
First Day of School Foundation.
In Cohoes, three public elementary schools and one Catholic school collaborated to put on the city?s first First Day Celebration at the
beginning of the 2001-2002 school year. The celebration was held in a city park centrally located to the four schools, according to
Barbara Hildreth, Principal of Harmony Hill School and Chairperson of the First Day Committee (personal communication, August 26, 2002).
?We were in awe,? she said. ?The park was mobbed? as more than 1,500 of the blue collar town?s 16,000 students, parents,
and community members joined Clifford the Big Red Dog, a local radio station, George and Harry Hippopotamus, Ronald McDonald,
the high school band, and the local police department?s bike safety team to mingle informally and welcome the new school year.
After the mayor proclaimed the official opening of the school year, the students marched with their classmates back to their respective
schools. The PTA served coffee to parents at each school. Those with younger students were invited to stay for reading-with-your-child
workshops, while parents of older students were invited to workshops on how to effectively help their children with homework
(Two New First Day Firsthand Stories, 2002).
The 2002-2003 school year First Day celebration included not only the morning celebration at the park but also an evening event for
parents unable to participate in the morning at the high school. This event included a book swap, a magic show, and ?make-your-own?
ice cream sundaes (personal communication, August 26, 2002)
Planning for this event, which the district intends to make an annual celebration, begins in January and is coordinated by a committee that
includes parents and educators from each participating school. According to parent Mary Rumsey, First Day ?promotes parental
involvement and character education that last long into the school year,? and unites parents from the community?s four schools
(personal communication, January 29, 2003).
Ms. Hildreth noted that the celebration ?allows the entire community to celebrate the opening of a new school year, which reminds
everyone how important learning is? (personal communication, August 26, 2002).
Strategy 3: Encouraging family involvement
Action Steps:| Recognize and value the many ways that
families can contribute volunteer efforts,
both at home and at school| Involve parents who represent the diversity
of the school population in all aspects of
planning, implementing, and evaluating
volunteer activities| Include parents on all levels of involvement,
from bulletin board decorating to
decision making| Show appreciation for volunteers in a variety
of ways all year long
The Quilting Project
Students attending Galena Middle School in Galena, MD combine academic and
vocational skills as they collaborate in an annual Quilting Project that involves families,
community members, and teachers (National Network of Partnership Schools, 2002).
Students learn measuring, geometric concepts, sewing skills, and positive social skills as
they make 20-30 quilts per year to donate to hospital patients. Family members assist
students by donating items and assisting with sewing of the quilts, each quilt requiring
10-25 hours to complete. To enhance the project, the school has created a web page
to help students learn more about quilting, its history, and its connection with math.
The Quilting Project and Activity are examples of successful projects that encourage volunteer involvement by bringing
together families, educators, students, and community members. To be successful today, volunteer opportunities in schools
must recognize the diverse needs and preferences of family members who may be involved in the education of children
(Lian & Fontanez-Phelan, 2001).Acknowledging that family members do not have to be in the school building to volunteer,
and beginning with the assumption that families are already involved in the lives of their children are ways to broaden
the appeal of volunteering (Thorp, 1997; Edwards, Fear, & Gallego, 1995; Lewis, 1992).
Offering a variety of volunteer opportunities that have varied time commitments and can be done at different times by
mothers, fathers, guardians, and other family members ? both in school and at home ? and acknowledging varying
levels of participation as positive contributions to the school can help to build interest. Studying the cultural diversity of
the school?s population and collaborating with families to create a variety of culturally appropriate opportunities for
volunteering (such as language interpreters or parent mentors, for example) also are effective ways to build interest.
Making family members who volunteer feel welcome to join their children for lunch or providing coffee and donuts in
the family center helps family members feel valued and comfortable at school. Enthusiasm for the program can be
fostered by showing appreciation for volunteers in a variety of ways (volunteer appreciation events, newsletter articles,
thank you notes, etc.) and by valuing their diverse contributions throughout the year.
When parents become involved, children do better in school,
and they go to better schools.
Anne T. Henderson
Author of A New Wave of Evidence
Quitman Street Community School in Newark, NJ, uses family-school contracts to ensure families
contribute volunteer time. Every parent who has a child participating in the after-school program is
invited to sign a contract to volunteer in the school at least 6 hours during the year. More than 2,500
volunteer parent hours were donated in 2000; during 2001, 12 parents were employed as part-time group
leaders, youth counselors, and aides in the after-school program. Five of these parents were subsequently
hired to serve as full-time teachers? aides during the school day (Dryfoos & Maguire, 2002).
Strategies for building an effective volunteer system:
Developing an infrastructure to support family involvement
1. Create a family center where volunteer activities are coordinated by a paid or volunteer coordinator.
(See Strategy 2: Building an Infrastructure)
Planning a volunteer program
1. Take a current inventory of the ways in which families are involved in the school through an informal survey
(online, paper, or telephone), parent interviews, focus groups, or a combination or these methods.
2. Involve parent volunteers who represent the diversity of the school population in planning family-oriented
activities and events; seek their input, suggestions, and assistance. Utilize organized parent groups such
as PTAs and PTOs to recruit family members.
3. With family input, identify barriers to volunteering such as child care, transportation, work schedules,
language differences, etc., and work with family members to find creative solutions.
Recruiting volunteers
1. Survey family and community members to identify individuals who are willing to volunteer. The National PTA
(Building Successful Partnerships, 2000) has developed a parent survey that can be used or adapted.
Essentials for Principals: Strengthening the Connection between School and Home (2001) includes
both a Teacher and Staff Survey (pp. 19-20) and a Parent Survey (English version, pp. 23-24 and Spanish
version, pp. 65-66) that can be used as starting points for developing or improving volunteer programs.
2. Send out a family-friendly letter at the beginning of the school year inviting parent involvement (see the
sample from, Morgantown, WV, on page 49). Essentials for Principals: Strengthening the Connection
between School and Home (2001) also includes sample letters from principals to parents (p. 68)
and teachers to parents (p. 69).
3. Host a ?How You Can Make a Difference? orientation for potential family and community volunteers at the
beginning of each school year.
4. Match volunteers with activities that are meaningful to them and build on their interests and abilities.
5. Use school and community resources throughout the school year to announce volunteer opportunities.
Developing a volunteer program
1. Develop a process for screening potential volunteers to ensure the safety and security of the school?s population.
2. Host an orientation program to prepare volunteers for their assignments and to acquaint them with school procedures.
3. Provide each volunteer with a ?Volunteer Information Packet? of helpful information, including a welcome letter, list
of benefits of volunteering, building map, parking information, sign in/out policies, accident procedures, and
directions on where to go for supplies, etc.
4. Provide training to volunteers on important issues such as confidentiality.
Dear Parents,
Welcome to the start of a new school year at Mountainview Elementary, where a
great part of our success stems from cooperation and help from parents. Now is
your chance to become involved.
If you?ve never been a parent volunteer before, please join us. There really is
something for everyone. Whether you enjoy working with large groups of
children, tutoring individual students, or providing clerical support, we need you!
The rewards of volunteering are numerous for you and the children.
If you have volunteered in previous years, welcome back. You provided more
than 4000 hours of service to Mountainview students, faculty, and staff last year.
Every minute made a difference. The staff and faculty thank you for this effort
and dedication.
Please take a few moments of your valuable time to review the attached Parent
VolunteerForm. Indicate your area(s) of interest, and preferred day(s) and time(s)
and return the completed form to your child?s homeroom teacher by August 30.
Brief orientation meetings will be held on September 19 at 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.
At this meeting a description of the needs of the teachers will be available.
I will also discuss how the parent volunteer program works.
Remember that no matter how small a job may seem to you, it?s a big help to our
school. Please feel free to contact me at 296-8488 if you have any questions,
concerns, or suggestions regarding Mountainview?s Parent Volunteer Program.
Very truly yours,
Sandy Martin
Parent Volunteer Coordinator
Mountainview Elementary School
5. Develop a volunteer database and distribute a directory (school ?Yellow Pages?) of volunteer interests/talents/
availability to all school personnel for easy access.
Soliciting community support
1. Recruit community members as school volunteers to work with family members.
2. Encourage local businesses and employers to help by allowing employees paid release time and/or flexible
working hours to volunteer and/or participate in activities at school.
Evaluating the volunteer program
1. Establish a process for volunteers to sign in and out so that there is a record of volunteer time.
2. Conduct ongoing evaluations of the volunteer system, and with input from parents revise as needed.
(Massachusetts Department of Education, 2000; National PTA, Building Successful Partnerships, 2000; U.S. Department of
Education, Fathers Matter, 1997; Berger, 1995; Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, How Should, 1996; North Central
Regional Educational Laboratory, School Strategies, 1996; Epstein, 2001).
Family involvement in decision making
When family and community members are involved in decision-making and advocacy, they feel more deeply invested in
the school and more empowered. Schools benefit from the feedback and different points of view provided by family and
community members. Involved family and community members can help promote public understanding and support for
the school. They can also play an advocacy role for the school with the community and local government (Sullivan, 1998;
Massachusetts Department of Education, 2000).
The Comer School Development Program attributes its success in more than 640 School Development Program (SDP)
schools nationwide to the involvement of parents (Noblit, Malloy, & Malloy, 2001). The program includes three teams,
the School Planning and Management Team, the Parent Team, and the Student and Staff Support Team, that involve parents
as well as teachers and administrators as well as other stakeholders in planning, decision-making, and problem solving
issues concerning the school. Studies have indicated that the SDP had positive effects on school climate, which, in turn,
correlated with positive student outcomes, including improved achievement, attendance, behavior, attitudes and self-concept,
and school climate (Comer, 1988; Comer & Haynes, 1992).
At Monica Leary Elementary School in the Rush-Henrietta School District in Rush, NY, has ?parent representation
on every major committee? (personal communication, August 20, 2002). According to principal Sue Mills, this representation
includes the Space Study Committee, which has addressed such issues as opening and closing schools, locating space for
new programs, and redrawing boundary lines. The support of this committee was instrumental in opening a second middle
school in the district and proposing a bond issue to open a new elementary school. Another example is the Budget Advisory
Committee, which has addressed fiscal issues such as sources of revenue, state aid, and property taxes. This committee
works closely with the assistant superintendent of schools and makes recommendations to the district?s board of education
(Salinas, Jansom, & Nolan, 1998).
As a parent, I feel it is imperative that parents are given, and take advantage of, the opportunity to be
involved on major school district committees. Parents bring a unique perspective to a group that is
making decisions that will directly impact their children.
(Patricia A. St. Clair, personal communication, January 28, 2003)
The Middle School Achievement Project
In an effort to involve family and community members in middle school reform efforts
in the Minneapolis School District, the League of Women Voters coordinated the
Middle School Achievement Project (Clark & Clark, 2003).
The project had three major goals:
1. Promote higher standards by observing current instructional practices in middle
grades classrooms
2. Increase parental involvement in middle schools
3. Be a catalyst for citywide reform of middle level education
The League recruited more than 100 parents and community members as ?shadowers?
for the project. Following a training session, each shadower observed a middle-level
student or teacher for an entire day, recorded field notes, and wrote reflections that were
later analyzed. Additionally, shadowers interviewed students, teachers, and principals
using a structured interview procedure. During a confidential debriefing session,
shadowers shared experiences and concerns. Major findings of the study included:
1. Parents and community members became more involved in middle level schools.
2. Educators were given valuable information concerning issues such as the nature
of interactions, program implementation, curriculum, instructional strategies,
and student engagement in learning.
3. Community members gained insight about middle-level students and school.
With the information generated by the project, the League of Women Voters was able
to assume a leadership role in a comprehensive, citywide middle school reform effort.
Minneapolis Deputy Superintendent commented on the program:
?We value and respect
the perspectives of parent observers in our schools. Parents are greatly invested in
our success as they have committed a large portion of the lives of their children to us.
The data collected by the Middle School Achievement Project enabled the district to
move its reform agenda forward more rapidly. Thus the Project resulted in a win-win
situation for many stakeholders.?
Special Education Parent Advisory Councils
One of the most effective ways to involve parents of students with disabilities is to form a Special Education Parent
Advisory Council. ?An active and effective special education parent advisory council can be a true asset to a school
district by providing parent involvement and input on special education issues,? including disability law, understanding of
different disabilities, assistive technology, transition, and other topical areas (Alaska Parents, Inc., School Administrator?s
Guide, no date). The Howard County Public School System in Maryland has an active Special Education Citizens?
Advisory Committee that is dedicated to educating parents, teachers, and the community on special education issues.
?By identifying unmet needs of students, parents, and the many professionals who work with them, the committee advocates
for constructive change and the supports that are necessary to provide quality educational opportunities for all students?
(Howard County School District, no date).
Strategies for involving families in decision-making roles include:| Developing a team to address issues that need family-school discussion and cooperation| Conducting family focus groups to discuss critical issues| Seeking out parent perspectives by conducting mini-surveys| Including diverse family members on decision-making and advisory committees| Providing training for parents on how to access, interpret, and use data to promote school reform| Providing training for school faculty, staff, and family members on collaboration and shared decision making| Involving family and community members in the school improvement planning process| Treating family concerns with respect, and actively working to demonstrate a sincere interest in seeking
resolutions to concerns voiced by family and community members
(Christenson & Sheridan, 2001; Sullivan, 1998; Massachusetts Department of Education, 2000; Wisconsin Department
of Public Instruction, Organizing, 1996; Lopez, 2002)
Tips on Creating and Using Parent Surveys
1. Determine what it is you want to find out from parents.
2. Translate surveys into parents? native languages.
3. Keep language simple and free of jargon.
4. Minimize open-ended questions. Multiple-choice questions increase response rates.
5. Assure parents that surveys are anonymous, unless they choose to sign to sign
their names.
6. Inform parents ahead of time when to expect the survey.
7. Enlist teachers, students, and parents to disseminate and collect the surveys.
8. Allow only one response per family.
9. Involve school personnel and parents in the interpretation of data and
development of an appropriate plan.
10. Provide feedback on survey results to school staff and parents.
(Aronson, 1996, p.60)
Volunteer opportunities at school:
Constructing and maintaining playground equipment
Planting flowers, trees, shrubs, etc.
Assisting in coordination of service learning projects
in the community
Conducting parent trainings
Facilitating parent support meetings
Mentoring/tutoring students
Reading stories to students or listening to students read
Assisting with teacher appreciation activities
Decorating bulletin boards
Greeting and welcoming visitors
Staffing the family center
Assisting in coordinating a resource lending library
Offering language translation services
Accompanying students on field trips
Acting as ?Teacher for a Day? to share a special
interest or expertise with students
Working in after-school programs
Serving on decision-making and advisory committees
(Sources: U.S. Department of Education, Bringing, 1999;
Mental Health, Welcoming, 1997; Clemens-Brower, 1997;
North Central Regional Educational Laboratory,
School Strategies, 1996; Sullivan, 1998)
Volunteer opportunities at home:
Assisting with writing, design, and publication of
school notices, newsletters, and other publications
Writing letters/thank you notes
Making telephone calls to other parents
Recruiting/coordinating volunteers
Designing and/or making costumes
Constructing instructional games
Providing child care
Hosting parent meetings
Serving as peer mentors for new parents
Designing web sites
Repairing equipment
Translating school information into families?
native languages
(Sources: U.S. Department of Education, Bringing, 1999;
Mental Health, Welcoming, 1997; Clemens-Brower, 1997;
North Central Regional Educational Laboratory,
School Strategies, 1996; Sullivan, 1998)
Neighborhood Meetings
When Dr. John Metallo was superintendent of the
rural Fort Plain Central School District in eastern
New York, he realized that in order to encourage
more family involvement in school, especially among parents who were reluctant to come to the school building, ?We needed
to get the show on the road? (personal communication, August 16, 2002). He began a tradition of neighborhood meetings
to reach out to families, which continued for the five years he served there.
The neighborhood meetings, held monthly during the evenings, were inviting to parents because the settings were more
comfortable and less intimidating than the school for many parents (Dietz, School, Family, 1997). Although most of the
meetings were held in the homes of volunteer host parents, several were held in neighborhood churches and senior citizens
centers. Each meeting attracted 10-14 parents.
School personnel attended the meetings in teams, according to Dr. Metallo, and focused the theme of each meeting on the
concerns of parents who were attending and the ages of their children. Following an introductory overview by team members,
the meeting facilitator would offer everyone an opportunity to ask questions on topics that ranged from the district budget to
class size to the inclusion of students with disabilities in the general education classroom. Then the host would provide
refreshments and there would be an opportunity for informal conversations among parents and the school team members.
These opportunities allowed parents to ?see that we were real people,? said Dr. Metallo, ?and that we shared a lot of the
same values? (personal communication, August 16, 2002).
Dr. Metallo views neighborhood meetings as one effective strategy for schools to be more ?user friendly? for parents.
?The more accessible we can be, the better,? he said (personal communication, August 16, 2002).
Strategy 4: Developing family-friendly communication
Action Steps:| Communicate with families often and in a variety of ways| Use culturally appropriate ways to relate to the diversity of families represented in the school| Choose communication strategies that encourage two-way interactions| Reach out to communicate with families who rarely attend school activities
Neighborhood Walks in Wichita, KS
Colvin Elementary School in Wichita, KS, is located in a high poverty, diverse community that includes families
who speak a variety of languages but do not necessarily know how to navigate the school system (National Network
of Partnership Schools, 2002). In order to ?break down the walls between the home and school? and help these
families feel welcomed and needed their community school, Colvin staff reach out to families utilizing a variety of
communication strategies.
One of these strategies is to walk through the school neighborhood and knock on doors to meet families and distribute
informational flyers before the school year begins. ?It lets families know we care,? said principal Karen Boettcher.
Each family receives eight positive, face-to-face communications about their school during each school year.
Additionally, staff serve coffee every Friday morning in the school driveway in order to greet parents. Parent handbooks
have been made available in video format in five different languages, translators are available on site to assist parents,
and a parent room is open each day as a site for networking, parent education, and adult education.
Neighborhood meetings and walks are two of many effective strategies to communicate with families and build stronger
school-family relationships.Communication often serves as the first step to developing other types of parental involvement
(Elman, 1999). The more opportunities for personal contact through meetings such as these, ?the stronger the bonds
that link home and school? (Hiatt-Michael, 2001, Promising Practices, p. 41). In addition to administrators and teachers,
school board members can also host neighborhood meetings and meet face to face with family members in order to get
to know families in the school community they serve and address their concerns.
Good communication between teachers and parents increases trust (Adams and Christenson, 2000) and encourages realistic
expectations for children by keeping parents and teachers ?on the same page? (Drake, 2000; James, Jurich, & Estes, 2001).
To be effective, home-school communication needs to be ?consistent, two-way and meaningful? (Massachusetts Department
of Education, 2000), using a variety of forms, both formal and informal, conveying both bad news and good, on a regular
basis (Whitaker & Fiore, 2001; Power, 1999). Anne Henderson, author of A New Generation of Evidence (1994),
recommends that schools make contact with every family every month by such means as parent-teacher conferences,
telephone calls, e-mails, home visits, or ?quick chats? after school. She suggests that all teachers should have cell phones
and/or all classrooms have telephone lines (Jones, 2001).
Rich (1998) acknowledges that it is more difficult to communicate with parents as students grow older. In kindergarten,
children can ?wear? notes home. In elementary school, notes can be attached to school menus. At the secondary level it
becomes more difficult to reach parents. She recommends that teachers have parents? work phone numbers and
addresses and be ?accessible and responsive? when parents call or want to meet (pp. 38-39). Some care must be taken
in using families? work numbers, however, as in some cases calls at work may not be allowed or employees may not have
the privacy to speak freely about sensitive issues.
We began to make real headway when we stopped assuming we knew what our parents felt, wanted,
or hoped for their children. Only when we began to sincerely listen did we really hear.
Dryfoos and Maguire, 2002
Communicating with culturally diverse families. All communication should be in the native language of parents
and respectful of cultural variations. The personal approach to reaching out to parents is especially important in diverse
communities (Kelty, 1997). The Hispanic Policy Development Project found that written communication and radio
and television announcements were largely ineffective with Hispanic parents, even when they were translated into Spanish,
and that ?The only successful approach is personal: face-to-face conversations with parents in their primary language in
their homes? (Inger, 1992, p. 132). From an analysis of family involvement in 42 school/parent projects, the HPDP
concluded that ?overcoming the barriers between schools and Hispanic parents does not require large amounts of money;
it does require personal outreach, nonjudgmental communication, and respect for parents? feelings? (p. 133).
Family coordinators can serve as an effective communication bridge between culturally diverse parents and the school.
In Austin, TX, Ridgetop Elementary School parent support specialist Maria Teresa Flores meets with parents who
speak limited English either individually or in small groups before they meet with teachers or principals in order to help
them understand the system and what questions to ask (Rothstein, 2002). Ms. Flores works to empower parents by using
a variety of methods, including role playing (personal communication, September 22, 2002).
Parent Information Booth
The Arminta Elementary School Site Action Team in North Hollywood, CA, discovered a
creative way to increase parent attendance at workshops and activities. The team created a
Parent Information Booth as a way to disseminate information about opportunities (National
Network of Partnership Schools, 2002). The Site Action team selected the information to be made
available in the booth, including flyers about school workshops, community activities, and parenting
classes. The Parent Information Booth consisted of several tables decorated with welcoming signs
in English and Spanish, balloons, and poster displays of events. Team members and community
representatives rotated coverage of the booth, which was present at all major school events.
The consistency of the booth?s presence at these school functions helped family and community
members gain information in a family-friendly setting.
Communicating with parents of students with disabilities. When parents have a child with a disability, ?it is
imperative that a trusting relationship is built between family and teacher. Partnerships can be built upon an openness
to information shared with the family and a sensitivity to the changing needs and concerns within each family system?
(Rockwell, Andrew, & Hawley, 1996, p. 85). It is very important that school districts provide information to parents
about services available to their child, and their rights as parents, as soon as the child is identified as having a disability.
Otherwise, as one parent expressed it, ?You?re sort of left out there hanging,? feeling lost at a time when information,
support, and guidance are most needed (Lake, 2000). Developing good communication and building a relationship based
upon trust helps strengthen home-school support for children with disabilities and diminishes the potential for conflicts.
In a 2000 survey of parents of students with disabilities, parents indicated that discrepant views of their children or children?s
needs create the majority of home-school conflicts (Lake, 2000). Parents were frustrated when they felt the school did not
view their children as unique individuals with strengths and abilities and demonstrated a limited understanding of their
children?s overall needs. Parents were also saddened when school personnel consistently described their children from a
?deficit-model perspective,? emphasizing what their children could not do instead of what they were capable of doing.
To avoid conflicts such as these, educators and parents need to communicate, so that educators are able to see that the
disability is only part of the child. ?This sharing of parent and school perspectives and viewing of the child as a whole
person provides a firm foundation for good parent-school partnerships (Lake, 2000).
We have found that by establishing a positive relationship with our daughters? teachers or case managers
and communicating regularly, we can solve problems quickly when they occur. Effective ongoing parent
and teacher communication is the key to ensuring that our children will be successful in school.
Bob Brick, Families and Advocates Partnership for Education, Minneapolis, MN
When communicating with parents of children with disabilities, there are many ways that teachers can be supportive,
responsive, and resourceful. These include:| recognizing the family as an invaluable source of information about their children;| practicing active listening;| providing comprehensive, accurate, and up-to-date information about the child?s disability and related issues| assisting parents as they learn to navigate the education system;| providing information about services and benefits available to the family;| providing emotional support for the family;| conveying the value of the child to parents;| having the ability to ?put yourself in the shoes of the parent?;| challenging stereotypes about parents;| persevering in building partnerships;| demonstrating interest in parents? goals for their children;| talking with parents about how they want to share information;| developing effective ways for planning and problem solving that honor parent needs and preferences;| learning and supporting the family?s decision-making process, even if the teacher may disagree
with decisions made;| expanding cultural diversity awareness;| conveying assessment and evaluation information with sensitivity and empathy;| advocating for the family across school and community agencies; and| inking families who have children with similar disabilities
(Hornby, 2000; Muscott, 2002; O?Shea, O?Shea, Algozzine, & Hammitte, 2001; Davern, 1996; Smith & Smith, 2003).
When we respect parents as partners in their children?s learning, the lines of communication between
home and school are strengthened, and we as teachers are not quite so alone in our efforts to educate children.
(Power, Strengthen,1999, p.31)
In addition to neighborhood meetings and walks, communication strategies that have proven effective in building personal
connections with families include family focus groups, home visits, informal principal meetings, positive ?warm? telephone
calls, home-school notes, conferences, newsletters, technology tools, and processes for resolving family concerns.
Family focus groups
For families who are not comfortable coming to school, or cannot come because of transportation or child care barriers,
family focus group sessions can be held in neighborhood homes, community centers, churches, businesses, or even fastfood
restaurants. During these sessions educators can learn about family needs, concerns, and culture, and can help parents
feel more connected to the school. Educators planning these meetings should be sensitive to family needs concerning location
and times (Lueder, 1998). Providing child care enables more parents to attend.
Home visits
Benefits of home visits. Home visits are a ?very powerful mechanism? for teachers to connect with families (Swap, 1993,
p. 125) and a concrete demonstration of their ?concern, caring, and commitment? to families (Lueder, 1998, p. 79).
These visits allow teachers to understand their students better by seeing their families in their home environment
(Moles, 1996). In addition, two major barriers to family involvement ? child care and transportation ? are removed
by home visits. Home visits also may be more comfortable for many parents, especially if there are cultural barriers or
negative past experiences associated with going to the school building.
Home visits are most effective when made before the school year begins to establish relationships with families.
Visits may also be made during the school year to continue building relationships and to work individually with families.
If families speak different languages, outreach efforts to non-English speaking families should be made by individuals who
speak their language and know the culture (Lueder, 1998). Blank and Kershaw (1998) have developed a Parent Information
and Interest Inventory and guidelines that may be used as a starting point for planning home visits.
I believe this time (making home visits) is the best investment I can make in my students and their families.
The partnership is founded so early. We begin working together before the first bell rings, and I believe this
personal introduction helps to alleviate the anxieties of all those involved: the students, their parents,
and me. The first day of school is more like a reunion, and a very happy one at that.
Lori Woods, Teacher, Greenbrook Elementary School,
New Jersey (Dodd & Konzal, 2002, p.198)
School staff members conducting home visits may require training in order to relate effectively with families. In many
districts teachers who make home visits have their teaching schedules adjusted so that they are given the necessary time
to make visits. In some school districts home visiting is built into teacher contracts as a responsibility (Swap, 1993).
Some schools have used federal Title 1 or Chapter 1 funds to hire home-school liaisons who coordinate the home
visitation program as well as make home visits themselves.
Home visits to families of children with disabilities. Many parents with children who have disabilities have
difficulty attending school-based functions because of the intensive needs of their children. Home visits allow these
parents to connect with teachers while caring for their children and sharing information about how they can work
together to best meet their children?s educational needs. Additionally, home visits can serve as informal pre-planning
meetings for annual Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). For a child with multiple special needs, visits might
involve a team of educators who have specialized training in areas such as physical therapy, speech therapy, or
occupational therapy. Families of different cultures have varying interpretations and attitudes toward disabling conditions;
home visits allow teachers to learn more about the cultural perspective of the family toward the child?s disability
(Research Identifies, 2001).
Disadvantages of home visits. Home visits have disadvantages as well. To plan, schedule, and make home visits is very
time consuming for educators. Some families may regard home visits as an intrusion, and their privacy and boundary
needs must be honored (Singer & Powers, 1993). Other families who live in poverty may be embarrassed to have
teachers visit their homes. Home visits in high crime neighborhoods or rural areas can also be potentially dangerous.
Visiting in teams and carrying cell phones for emergencies help ensure safety (Rockwell, Andrew, & Hawley, 1996).
Informal principal meetings
Principals who make themselves available to families on a regular basis invite positive, two-way school-home communication
and build bridges with families. The climate of these informal meetings, held during either morning or evenings hours,
?can be an essential element in maintaining positive home-school relations throughout the year? (Robbins and Alvy, 1995,
p. 210). These meetings can also serve as a forum to gain parent input on hot issues and let parents know that their
opinions are valued.
At Ridgetop Elementary School in Austin, TX, Principal Julie Pryor meets parents for an informal potluck breakfast every
Friday morning. Parents are invited to talk about any issues of concern to them, which can range from adjustment for
new students to cafeteria menus. The informal meeting attracts about 35 parents weekly, according to parent support
coordinator Maria Teresa Flores (personal communication, September 22, 2002).
Positive ?warm? telephone calls
In most instances the only time parents receive a telephone call from their child?s school is when there is a problem.
The intent of a positive ?warm? telephone call, in contrast, is to ?establish or strengthen a two-way communication flow
and to build the collaborative relationship between the family and the school? (Lueder, 1998, p. 105). Positive calls ?can
go a long way in fostering a sense of commitment to the student and to ongoing communications with the family (rather
than communications that occur only when problems arise)? (Christenson & Sheridan, 2001). In addition to welcoming
parents, these calls can convey the importance of information sharing, provide contact information, invite parents to
school events, give parents an opportunity to ask questions, and enable teachers to learn more about individual students
(Gustafson, 1998).
In addition to making positive phone calls, former Missouri junior high principal Dr. Todd Whitaker also sent ?positive
postcards? home to parents. These served as an effective way to praise students for positive accomplishments and to ?enhance
positive relations with all parents in the school? (Whitaker & Fiore, 2001). Postcards were ?doubly appropriate? for students
whose families did not have telephones. Although Whitaker had doubts when the school first started sending the postcards,
these were quickly alleviated:
?I?ll never forget that years after some students went through our school I could go into their homes, and every
postcard they ever received from our staff was still prominently posted on the family refrigerator. And I do believe
that having parents think positive thoughts about you and your school every time they get out the milk is probably
very beneficial in establishing the relationship that you would like.? (p. 61)
When school staff members do need to contact family members with concerns, positive communication strategies should
be used to connect with families. These strategies include conveying the desire to work together to help the child, using
the family?s own language or a translator, not talking "above? family members, listening to the family member?s
perspective and valuing his/her input, asking the family member for help, and thanking the family member for ?listening,
caring, and helping? (Christenson & Sheridan, 2001; Moles, 1996).
Home-school notes/notebooks
Communication can be sustained by a variety of parent-friendly formats that invite two-way interaction (North Central Regional
Educational Laboratory, Critical Issue, 1996). For example, special folders can be used to send home student work and
school notices each week; the folder can include a place for parent comments to encourage two-way communication
(National PTA, Standard 1: Communicating, 2000).
Fayetteville Elementary School in Fayetteville, NY, has adopted a brightly colored, easily identified, parent-friendly,
bound notepad for the past three years to encourage two-way communication between home and school. Fayetteville
Elementary Principal Nancy Smith says her staff ?views the form as a simple practice that facilitates home-school
communication and sends a message to parents that we realize their time is valuable and that we want to assist them
with following school procedures? (personal communication, August 20, 2002).
Home-school interactive notebooks, or message journals, are an effective way for parents and teachers to maintain
communication (National PTA, 2000). These journals can be beneficial not only to communicate to families what their
children are learning at school, but also to help students ?integrate their understandings? of what they are learning while
improving their writing skills (Wollman-Bonilla, 2000; Kyle, McIntyre, Miller, & Moore, 2002).
Home-school notebooks are also an effective way to communicate with families of children with disabilities who may be
unable to communicate important information to their families. Notebooks travel back and forth between home and school
carrying messages about accomplishments, concerns, needs, and assignments. Parents and teachers communicating with
interactive notebooks should decide together how frequently to write, who will write, what kinds of information will be
shared, and who will have access to the journal (Turnbull & Turnbull, 1997).
School conferences, scheduled periodically throughout the school year, allow families to communicate face-to-face and
individually with teachers concerning their children?s academic progress at a time and location that is convenient to their
needs. If parents cannot come to school, they may be able to participate through conference calls or other technological
means. Berger (1995) offers a Conference Checklist (p. 199) which may be used to evaluate the effectiveness of parentteacher
Mobile Conferences
Giancarlo Mercado, who characterizes herself as a ?community style teacher,? teaches
several students in the Los Angeles School District who are bused across town to Venice
from East Hollywood. To make conferences more convenient for these parents,
Ms. Mercado makes arrangements to meet parents in their neighborhood schools for c
onferences three times yearly. ?Yes, it takes effort,? she said, ?but they (the parents)
are making an effort, too. And I can?t think of what our relationship would be like if
I didn?t meet them halfway.?
(Trumbull, Rothstein-Fisch, Greenfield, & Quiroz, 2001, p. 71)
Student-led Parent-Teacher Conferences. Student-led parent-teacher conferences encourage both students and
parents to actively participate in the educational process. Schools that used student-led conferences found that parent
attendance rates were higher than with traditional parent-teacher conferences (Hackmann, 1996; Little & Allan, 1989;
Borba & Olvera, 2001). The student-led conference enables students to reflect on the school curriculum and their own
learning (Kyle, McIntyre, Miller, & Moore, 2002), communicate with both teachers and parents about their learning
experiences, assume more direct ?ownership of their learning? (Borba & Olvera, 2001), and ?see themselves as capable
of participating in the assessment process as reflective learners? (Austin, 1994, p. 90).
With sufficient preparation and support, students with disabilities from age 14, or sometimes even younger, can be active
participants in planning their Individualized Education Program (IEP). With training in self-determination skills, these
students may participate in and even lead their own IEP meetings, including the development of their individualized transition
plan (McGahee, Mason, Wallace, & Jones, 2001; Warger & Burnette, 2000).
IEP Conferences. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) mandates that ?schools provide an opportunity for active
parental participation in decisions about the education of children? (Smith, 2001), including the development of
Individualized Education Plans (IEP). In fact, family involvement is considered a ?necessary ingredient for appropriate
and individualized educational programming? (Smith, 2001). One of the many benefits of family involvement in the IEP
process is improved communication between parents and the school (Smith, 2001).
Much has been written about how to conduct IEP meetings that maximize parent participation. The following are a few
suggestions for how school staff might prepare for an IEP meeting (Peter, 1992):| Tell parents why parent involvement is crucial and what will happen at the meeting| Invite parents to bring anyone they wish| Explain who will attend from the school district and why; ask parents if anyone has been left out| Schedule a convenient time and location, and ample time for the meeting| Find out if parents need help with transportation or childcare| Invite parents to review relevant documents prior to meeting and encourage classroom visits
To promote the family partnership envisioned by IDEA, teachers should meet the child?s family to obtain information at
the beginning of the year and maintain contact throughout the year to report progress and solve problems collaboratively
via communication notebooks, phone calls, e-mail messages, and/or face-to-face meetings (Beckman, 2001).
Parents who work collaboratively with schools provide educators the necessary tools to value their child
as a learner, a student, and as a human being.
Cassandra Archie, Advocates for Educational Equity,
Rochester, NY
School and classroom newsletters can provide a steady stream of information from school to home. Brief newsletters that
are informative and sent to families on a regular basis are more likely to be read than longer newsletters that are printed
occasionally (Power, Parent Power, 1999). Newsletters can include interactive features that allow for two-way communication,
including columns written by family and community members and mini-surveys inviting family responses. They may also
include suggested learning activities that involve family members. Family volunteers can work on newsletters at home or
at school assisting with the writing, design, desktop publishing, and dissemination.
Technology tools
A variety of technology tools may be utilized to effectively and efficiently communicate with families. Many schools have
developed and maintain World Wide Web sites that include a wealth of information for families. Some districts have
developed Internet-based, home-school communication programs where families can access student and school information
such as daily grade reports, attendance reports, individual class web pages, class newsletters and reports, and school
information and calendars (Imelli & Purvis, 2000; Nixon, 2002). Including a special link to information of interest to parents
(family center hours, family involvement policy, upcoming workshops, volunteer opportunities, homework hotline, etc.)
is a family-friendly way to make information readily available.
The Rush-Henrietta Central School District in New York has created a family-friendly school on its web site, which
may be accessed by month, school, or category. This resource allows parents to access information about district-wide
events for the entire school year or to narrow their search, for example, to upcoming family center events and school
parent group activities in a particular school during a given month of the year (Rush-Henrietta Central School District, 2002).
The Paideia School in Atlanta, GA, has developed a web site (http:/ that includes an extensive
listing of parent organizations and events as well as an online parent involvement interest form.
Teachers are also using e-mail messages and list servs to maintain two-way communication with families. However, since
not all families have Internet access, teachers need to communicate with families in a variety of ways. Publicizing the availability
of school computer labs for family use during non-school hours is helpful for families who do not have computers at home,
as are computer lending libraries for families (Power, Parent Power, 1999).
Many schools are now wiring classrooms for telephones at the same time that they are wiring for Internet access, giving
teachers telephones in their classrooms for the first time (Zehr, 1999). The introduction of this technology in the
classroom, which many educators feel is long overdue, represents yet another avenue for teachers to communicate with
family members, both directly and indirectly. Utilizing the ?Transparent School? model, parents can leave messages
for teachers, and an autodialing system can broadcast messages to multiple families to convey school information
(Fruchter, Galleta, & White, 1992).
Daily Family Phone Messages
Teresa Jo Clemens-Bower (1997), a teacher at Errol Hassell Elementary School in Aloha, OR,
records a one-minute voice mail message to inform family members about what is happening in her
class each day. At the end of the recorded message, family members and students calling in have the
option of leaving messages. ?Over the past seven years,? she says, ?parents have heard trumpet
performances of Three Blind Mice, responded to request for toilet paper rolls, left many messages
of thanks and praise, and have always appreciated feeling connected in a non-threatening way.
Most importantly, children who used to report they did nothing at school know that parents now
have a way to really hear what has been going on. This back-up system has increased the amount
that children share with parents and has families feeling like our school is doing great things
for children!? (personal communication, August 12, 2002).
Homework hotlines where students and parents can access homework assignments on a daily basis have also become
increasingly popular. The New York City United Federation of Teachers maintains Dial-A-Teacher, a homework
helping service for parents and students, 12 hours weekly in eight different languages. (See Strategy 5: Supporting
family involvement on the homefront). Some schools offer regular ?parent call-in? times for parents to discuss
their questions or concerns with teachers or administrators (Moles, 1996).
The Pioneer Central School District in Yorkshire, NY, uses a ParentCONNECT system maintained by the school
district to communicate with parents. Logging into the site, parents may access information about their children including:
attendance records, discipline incidents, and health and immunization records. In addition, parents of students attending
Pioneer Middle School and Pioneer High School have access to information pertaining to homework assignments, report
card grades, and current grade point averages. ParentCONNECT users may also subscribe to automated e-mail notification
of attendance reports, discipline incidents, failing grades, or missing assignments.
Local cable channels and radio stations can also be effective communication vehicles for school-family information.
For non-English speaking parents, school events may be publicized on radio stations/programs that broadcast in their
language (Rockwell, Andrew, & Hawley, 1996).
Making sure that school-home communication is conveyed in multiple ways and does not assume that all families have
access to technology will help all families in the school community stay informed.
Processes for resolving family concerns
Each school needs to have a clear process for resolving family concerns. ?Although conflict in schools is inevitable, effective
school leaders minimize, manage, and eliminate misunderstandings? by addressing concerns in a responsive manner
(Strickland & Chan, 2001, p.81). A parental complaint form may be used to document the individual making the complaint,
the nature of the complaint, and the follow-up actions taken by the school to address the concern. An electronic version
may be posted on the school?s web page.
For disagreements arising from special education issues, ?the best, fastest, and least costly way to solve a conflict is
through informal problem solving? (Smith, 2001). Family members and educators ?should keep in mind that the student?s
interest is the main objective, and, regardless of the outcome, school personnel and parents will still have to work together?
(Smith, 2001).
Family Support Teams
Peck Elementary School, a high poverty school in Houston, TX, has created a Family Support Team to assist
teachers and families when they have problems related to children?s learning or behavior. The team communicates
to the family what the school is doing to address the problem and works to involve the support of the family at
home. This promotes consistency between what is happening at home and at school. The team also helps to ?identify
and resolve? home situations that may be affecting children?s success at school. The team, which meets weekly,
includes the project manager, school principal, Title I coordinator, and school nurse, according to Tameka Qualls,
project manager.
(Council for Chief State School Officers and The Charles A. Dana Center, 2002;
personal communication December 5, 2002)
If family members and educators are unable to resolve the conflict, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
provides for mediation, ?a voluntary and confidential process that brings conflicting parties together? to resolve their
differences and avoid due process through the assistance of a trained mediator (Smith, 2001). ?Conflicts that arise out of
misunderstandings or lack of shared information can be resolved through mediators helping parents, educators, and s
ervice providers to communicate directly with one another? (Engiles, Fromme, LeResche, & Moses, 1999). When working
with culturally diverse families, it is important that mediators be skilled in ?diversity, cultural competence, flexibility, and
the design of processes that are culturally relevant and appropriate to all participants? and to put into practice ?collaborative
dispute resolution strategies that respect diverse methods of handling conflicts?
(Engiles, Fromme, LeResche, & Moses, 1999).
Following parent-teacher disagreements, it is important to be ready to ?mend fences ? (Smith & Smith, 2003).
?There may be times when you disagree with families or they disagree with you. Remember that it is in everyone?s interest
to understand and accept these differences and not let them interfere with the ongoing collaborative relationship.?
Guidelines for Written School-family Communication| Include non-custodial fathers and mothers in all correspondence, including divorced
parents as well as parents whose children are in foster care.| Include parents whose children are placed out of district in all communication.| Use current terminology that is respectful of families who have children with disabilities.| Make sure written communication is easily understood, jargon free, and available in the
native language of all families represented in the school, and that it recognizes that
family members other than parents may be raising children (?Dear Parent or Caregiver?).| For families with emerging literacy levels, record communications on cassette tapes and
make these available through the family center lending library. (See Strategy 2:
Building a Support Infrastructure p. 36.) (North Central Regional Educational
Laboratory, Critical Issue, 1996).
Strategy 5: Supporting family involvement on the homefront
Action Steps:| Begin early in children?s education to involve families in meaningful ways.| Educate parents to use effective, age-appropriate strategies to encourage learning at home| Assign homework projects that involve family interaction| Provide information/resource support for parents helping their children with
homework assignments| Actively involve parents in educational activities such as action research projects and
functional behavioral assessments
Going On To College Program
Families play a key role in supporting their children?s education in Going On To COLLEGE (G.O.T.) COLLEGE
developed by Families In Schools, a nonprofit organization in Los Angeles, CA, dedicated to strengthening
parent engagement to improve student outcomes. The program is based on the success of the Mother/Daughter
College Preparation Program, which sought to increase academic achievement by forming mother-daughter
partnerships that encouraged 5th and 6th students and their parents to plan early for a college. Beginning with
the 2002-2003 school year, the program became co-ed, including both boys and girls and their parents. The
program includes field trips (university visits, conferences, action planning for college, etc.), student meetings
that focus on college/career awareness and academic/life skills, and parent meetings that focus on topics
such as college awareness and preparation, home support, and family relationships.
Participants in the program are chosen through school staff recommendations, an application process, and
an interview. The program focuses on fifth grade and middle school students and their parents who much
meet these criteria: 1) the student would be the first member of his/her family to become a college graduate;
2) the student has the potential and ability to succeed in college; 3) both parent and student commit to
actively participate in the program.
Families In Schools developed the training materials and provide training to school and district staff. FIS staff
also meet with the teacher mentors on a regular basis to provide coaching and assistance with program
implementation. Teachers receive a stipend funded by schools and districts. The local district office also
covers transportation for field trips. District leaders and university partners provide personnel and other
resources to support the program.
During the 2002-2003 school year the program served 818 students and parents in 18 Los Angeles area
schools. Evaluation of the program indicates benefits for participants as well as schools. Participating students
and parents increase their knowledge of college and college requirements and their communication about
academics. Students demonstrate more motivation to succeed academically. The program also benefits other
family members as they learn more about college planning. The program benefits participating schools ?by
increasing staff understanding of the importance of early college awareness in elementary and middle
school and the value of working with families? (National Network of Partnership Schools, 2002, p. 163).
According to Ruth Yoon, FIS Executive Director, ?the G.O.T. COLLEGE Program fills a great need ? preparing
students and families to set a goal for college at an early age.? A former patient participant commented,
?Before joining this program, I never thought that my daughter could go to college. Now, I know that
she can and will.?
Weekend Study Buddies
Elementary classrooms often include learning centers that encourage self-directed student learning. A special education
teacher in Gwinnett County Public Schools in Duluth, GA, took this concept and designed the ?Weekend Study
Buddy? as a portable learning center for her students with mild disabilities ages 5-9 (Stephens & Jairrels, 2003).
Using cloth (more durable than paper) or paper (more cost effective and simpler to make than cloth) bags,
Harristina Stephens created individualized learning centers that her students could take home on weekends.
Materials included in a Study Buddy can be individualized according to a student?s Individualized Education Program
(Addition Facts Study Buddy, Reading Comprehension Study Buddy, etc.) and may include books, flash cards, number
lines, photos, magnetic letters, and other manipulatives that students can use while working independently or with a
parent. Ms Stephens also sent home written reports about her students? classroom performance in each Weekend
Study Buddy. She discovered after several weeks of use that the portable learning centers increased parent involvement
and improved students? reading and writing skills.
Stephens, who now serves as a learning disabilities teacher at Hull Middle School, said of the value of utilizing Weekend
Study Buddies: ?As an educator, it is important that I find ways to help my students become successful learners.
The Weekend Study Buddy helps me accomplish that through identifying where students are weak and parent
involvement. When parents are involved, students become life long learners.? A parent who participated in the
study buddies project commented: ?When my child started with the study buddy, she was not motivated, but
when we sat down together and completed the skills her attitude changed. She became excited about learning
and her grades reflected it.?
Programs that involve family members in the education of their children such as the Going on to College program and
Weekend Study Buddies recognize the important connection between ?what is taught (at school) and what is encouraged,
practiced, discussed and celebrated at home? (Epstein, 2001, p. 510). Families can effectively help by supporting, encouraging,
and motivating their children, monitoring their work, celebrating their progress, and engaging in interactions that will
help children complete homework and do well in school (Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler, 1995; Epstein, 2001).
Age-appropriate family involvement
The type of family involvement that is most beneficial in the home environment changes as children grow and mature.
Helping children with homework is most appropriate at the elementary school level when families understand homework
concepts and use developmentally appropriate practices when helping their children (Cooper, Lindsay, & Nye, 2000; Balli,
1998). To support students doing well academically during middle and high school, parents should not interfere with
self-study, but reinforce autonomy so that their children develop time-management and study skills that will enable them
to become autonomous, lifelong learners (Cooper, Lindsay, & Nye, 2000). Families can also support children as they grow
older by helping them develop positive attitudes and values, discussing school-related issues at home, helping children
to plan their educational and transition programs, maintaining high expectations for their children, and reinforcing their
children?s feelings of personal competence by expressing confidence in their ability to succeed (Hoover-Dempsey, Battaito,
Walker, Reed, DeJong, & Jones, 2001; Marchant, Sharon, & Rothlisberg, 2001; Sui-Chi & Willms, 1996; Patrikako, 1997).
Some students will benefit significantly from opportunities to partially or fully participate in home activities (cooking,
shopping, laundry, menu planning, etc.). Increasing experience and responsibility in these areas can significantly contribute
to their potential for a successful transition into community living.
Promising practices that encourage and support family involvement in the home environment include communication to
family members about student learning, programs that involve families in homework activities, homework helping services,
literacy programs, action research projects, and functional behavioral assessments.
Guidance on student learning
Most parents want to help their children learn, but some may be unsure about what assistance is most helpful or appropriate.
Working together, schools can help families develop a home environment that supports children?s learning by providing
written materials, workshops, web sites, home visits, etc., that offer guidance in the following ways:| Informing family members about curricular goals and assessments for students in each subject at each grade
level with suggested ways to complement the curriculum in the home environment.| Informing family members of homework expectations and policies, including information about how to best
assist children with homework assignments.| Providing opportunities for parents to learn about differences in how children learn (learning styles,
multiple intelligences, etc.) and prepare for school (studying, motivation, test preparation, etc.).| Involving family members in setting goals for students, making course selections, determining Individualized
Education Program (IEP) goals, and planning for transition to postsecondary education, careers,
and the workplace.| Providing opportunities for family members to learn about different types and levels of involvement and how
they can effectively support the education of their children.| Demonstrating to family members ways to reinforce behaviors at home that enhance learning, such as time
management, organizational skills, planning, and limited television viewing and computer use.
Encouraging family members to model good reading habits, participate in informal educational
activities in the home and community, and promote lifelong learning.
(Massachusetts Department of Education, 2000)
Learning Families
A learning family recognizes that parents are not only teachers but also learners. They can learn from their
children, and adults and children can learn at the same time. These learning experiences can be either
structured or more casual experiences. Louv (2002) describes these basic characteristics of a learning family:| Any family can be a learning family.| Learning families build a basic foundation for learning in the home and in their interactions with children.| Parents view themselves ?as their children?s learning partners, not their programmers.?| ?A learning family seizes the moment? to learn new things together.| Anyone in the family can be an expert.| ?A learning family uses the whole community as a classroom and laboratory.?| A learning family uses travel to learn.| A learning family has fun while learning.
Involving families in homework activities
One of the most successful programs in the country for involving families in homework activities is the Teachers Involving
Parents in Schoolwork (TIPS) elementary and middle grade program which features an interactive homework process to
involve families in math, science, and language arts activities with their children. The program?s two primary goals are:| to encourage students to complete their homework well and to improve attitudes, behaviors,
and achievements; and| to create good information and interactions at home between students and their families about schoolwork
(Epstein, Coates, Salinas, Sanders, & Simon, 1997).
All TIPS homework assignments incorporate student-family interaction. Evaluations of the program, which have been
consistently positive, indicate that a ?large number of parents, previously not involved with their children?s homework,
were actively involved in TIPS; teachers were reporting much higher rates of return for TIPS homework than for regular
homework; and the TIPS program itself helped teachers communicate with parents? (Whitaker & Fiore, 2001, p. 188).
The following features make the TIPS program unique:| The program helps all families become involved, not just those who have knowledge in subject areas.| The program makes homework the student?s responsibility and does not require parents to ?teach?
subjects or skills.| The program requires students to share their work, ideas, and progress with their families.| The program includes a home-to-school communication feature that allows families to comment or request
information from teachers. (National Network of Partnership Schools, 2000)
The TIPS program can be introduced to parents through letters home, newsletters, or meetings. Classroom or grade-level
meetings can be used to show parents examples of TIPS activities and how parents can be involved in them. Students also
need an orientation to the program, emphasizing the family involvement component of each assignment.
Homework helping services
The United Federation of Teachers in New York City offers a Dial-A-Teacher homework helping service that provides
parents and students free help via telephone when they need assistance doing daily homework assignments in all subject
areas. A staff of 45 teachers responds to more than 2,000 calls weekly; approximately 10% of these requests for assistance
come from parents. The program is available 12 hours a week on Monday-Thursday afternoons and evenings and offers help
in eight different languages (United Federation of Teachers, 2002). Many teachers now post homework assignments on
Internet web sites where parents with computers can access helpful information (Imelli & Purvis, 2000). Homework hotlines
that include recorded messages of the day?s homework assignments are also helpful to both parents and students.
Action research projects
Action research projects bring together teachers and families in new roles and responsibilities that ?ultimately strengthen
parents? involvement in their child?s education? (Kay & Fitzgerald, 1997, p. 8). Parents' involvement in action research has
much in common with the involvement of parents in the special education process:
Special educators have been trend-setters in parent involvement, using the individualized education program (IEP)
to tap into parents? knowledge about their children. Parent-teacher action research takes the next step ?
inviting parents to join teachers in a systematic exploration of a puzzling issue. When they work together as equals,
parents and teachers have more opportunities to express their respect for one another?s wisdom, learn more
about the other?s perspective, and often become allies in making improvements in the school. (Kay & Fitzgerald,
1997, p. 8)
Action research projects usually involve parents participating as partners with teachers in research on their own children
(Kay & Fitzgerald, 1997), although the projects may also entail research on broader educational issues in the school.
The action research process entails several steps:
1. Choosing a research question(s)
2. Collecting data
3. Reflecting
4. Analyzing data
5. Drawing conclusions
6. Brainstorming ideas
7. Developing a plan of action (Kay & Fitzgerald, 1997)
In action research projects focusing on an individual child, parents and teachers set mutual goals and carry out action
plans that provide for consistency between home and school. The observations and reflections that are afforded by these
projects ?yield new knowledge about the child that helps both teachers and parents improve their practices? (Achieving,
2002). This process requires ?a great deal of commitment from everyone on the team: parents, teachers, and student?
(Ryan, Kay, Fitzgerald, Paquette, & Smith, 2001).
Functional behavioral assessments
Family members can be involved in various kinds of assessments of their children?s learning. For children with
behavioral disorders, families are active participants in the assessment process and implementation of interventions to
address problem behaviors. The 1997 amendment of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that
a functional behavioral assessment be conducted ?when a child exhibits significant behavioral difficulties,? in order to
?identify why the behavior occurs within a specific context ?[and] to develop appropriate interventions? (Asmus, Vollmer,
& Borrero, 2002). Once the appropriate intervention components are identified, parents, teachers, and other care providers
are offered training and coaching so that the intervention can be carried out consistently at home and school. When a
comprehensive approach involving parents, teachers, and care providers is used, ?there is an increased likelihood for longterm
success? (Asmus, Vollmer, & Borrero, 2002).
Parents have valuable insights into their children's behavior ?the possible triggers, underlying messages,
and desired effects. Too often, their only opportunities to share those insights occur in the wake of serious
behavioral incidents, when they are perceived as making excuses or minimizing the behavior at issue.
Parent involvement in the FBA process is crucial because it represents an opportunity to use parent's
knowledge proactively rather than defensively.
Donald A. Lash, Metropolitan Parent Center and Long Island
Strategy 6: Supporting educational opportunities for families
Action Steps:| Conduct assessments of families? educational needs to determine the content and form of delivery| Involve a diverse group of parents and community members when planning parent
education programs| Provide opportunities for parents and children to learn together| Provide opportunities for parents to share challenges and offer emotional support
to one another| Reach out with educational
opportunities to families who
rarely attend school activities
Fifth Grade Transition
For the past several years the Fifth Grade Transition
Program at Monica Leary Elementary School in Rush, NY,
has provided information and eased the anxiety of both parents and students who are facing the significant
transition from elementary to middle school (Salinas, Jansom, & Nolan, 2000). During the spring of each year,
sixth grade students who have graduated from Monica Leary return to the elementary school to discuss the
culture of middle school (backpacks, lockers, lunch choices, homework assignments, etc.) and share their
experiences with fifth graders and their parents.
Following the student-parent activity, graduating fifth grade students meet with the middle school students in a
?kid-to-kid? session while parents of the fifth and sixth grade students meet separately to discuss mutual topics
of interest such a schedules and supplies. ?Talking to other parents and students who have just been through
the anxious transition you are facing can be reassuring,? said parent Patricia St. Clair (personal communication,
January 28, 2003). ?Parents and students alike realize the value of sharing the practical, day-to-day experiences
of someone who?s ?been there.??
?Parents are reassuring to one another,? says Sue Mills, elementary school principal (personal communication,
August 21, 2002). Each year attendance increases, attracting 20-30 parents and their fifth grade students.
The Monica Learyelementary School transition to middle school program exemplifies a practice that includes both
parents and children in teaching and learning roles while giving and receiving support as they face an important
milestone in their school careers.
Parent education is considered an ?essential component? of parent involvement programs (Freedman & Montgomery,
1994; DiCamillo, 2001). However, ?Parent education is not a single concept that comes in one easy-to-identify package.
Rather, it is a group of strategies that can assume a number of directions and formats? (Rockwell, Andrew, & Hawley,
1996, p. 151).
High quality parent education programs lead to increased parent volunteerism, better teacher-parent communication,
and improved child behavior and attendance (Covarrubia, 2000). The benefits of parent education programs ?can
increase many-fold when different organizations work together and provide their expertise in putting together quality
parent education programs? (DiCamillo, 2001, p. 177). Meeting the complex needs of families for social, emotional,
and educational support requires a community effort.
Characteristics of effective parent education programs include:
1. Assessments to determine parent and student needs (Conner, 2000; Freedman & Montgomery, 1994)
2. Involvement of parents, teachers, and community members in planning the programs (Conner, 2000)
3. Consistent outreach that attracts and retains parents and involves fathers in an active role (Beale, 1999;
France & Hager, 1993; Freedman & Montgomery, 1994)
4. Demonstration of ?sensitivity, respect, and affirmation of diversity? (Hurd, Lerner, & Barton, 1999;
National PTA, Building successful partnerships, 2000; Freedman & Montgomery, 1994)
5. Development of ?ongoing training programs in which parents, administrators, and staff participate as
teachers and learners? (Freedman & Montgomery, 1994)
Schools can select from an array of strategies for delivering parent education so that programs meet the needs of their
families. These include home visits by parent educators, parent workshops, programs that support parents? own
educational needs, programs that develop parent leadership, parent/child education opportunities, support groups,
and teen parenting programs.
Home visits by parent educators
Home visits are an effective strategy to reach parents who may not feel comfortable coming to school. They allow educators
to individualize teaching and modeling according to each family?s needs. Additionally, home visits allow children to observe
teachers and parents sharing the educational role. (See Strategy 4: Developing family-friendly communication).
Parent workshops
Workshops can help family members develop skills to help them with parenting. Care must be taken, however, to build on
parents? strengths and to respect cultural differences in parenting approaches, such as individualistic versus collectivistic
orientations (Trumbull, Rothstein-Fisch, Greenfield, & Quiroz, 2001). Schools that attempt to educate parents by ?telling
them what they must do? may cause resentment toward the school and the negative perception that the school is ?demanding?
and not family-friendly? (Onikama, Hammond, & Koki, 1998, p. 12).
Successful workshops require careful planning and implementation, including the following steps:| Assess family needs through surveys, home visits, or other informal methods| Identify resources needed to conduct workshops, including specialists, skilled parents, practitioners,
and educators| Recruit participants through a variety of means ? written materials, home visits, telephone networking,
and meeting announcements| Provide support services to make it easier for parents to attend, such as child care and transportation| Evaluate the success of the program through surveys and/or group discussions to determine how the
program might be improved and what activities need to be added (Moles, 1996)
A sampling of possible workshop topics includes:| Anger management| Transitions between schools and from school to the community| Advocating for your child with disabilities| Monitoring television watching| Helping children develop positive self-esteem| Creating summer learning opportunities| Prevention of child abuse| Positive parenting strategies| Single parenting| Father involvement| Step parenting| Managing multiple family responsibilities| Accessing community resources| Parenting grandchildren
Programs that support parents? own educational needs
Schools can encourage greater family involvement by offering family members opportunities for their own education
and enrichment. Many family centers offer a variety of educational opportunities, ranging from aerobics to advanced
computer classes for college credit.
Parent University. The Rochester City School District in Rochester, NY, provides education and training for parents
through its Parent University. Parent involvement/empowerment classes are offered at three different levels ? beginning
to advanced ? according to parent liaison Cynthia Minz (personal communication, August 26, 2002).
Collaborative Parent Training Classes. Stillwater Area Schools provides parent training classes for Stillwater, MN,
area parents of students who have or are at risk for behavior disorders. The content of the weekly, two-hour classes was
developed by a school psychologist who co-facilitated the six sessions with community mental health professionals. Participants
were offered dinner and reimbursement for transportation and child care costs. Program content included: teaching social
and problem-solving skills, preventing placement in more restrictive settings, reducing specific behavioral problems, teaching
conflict resolution skills, preventing increase of mild problems, crisis intervention, violence prevention, parent involvement,
generalization of program effects, and individualized goals (National Association of School Psychologists, 2002).
Programs that develop parent leadership
Many schools now offer opportunities for parents to learn effective leadership skills. As an outgrowth of the Kentucky
Education Reform Act (KERA) passed in 1990, the Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership was launched in 1997
by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence to build leadership capacity in parents (Henderson & Raimondo, 2001).
Many schools in the state realize they cannot institute major reforms without the assistance of parents, so they now have a
?powerful incentive to engage families in improving student achievement? (Henderson & Raimondo, 2001, p. 28).
Two hundred participants each year attend three, intensive two-day sessions that are held around the state. Each parent
graduate agrees to design and complete a project aimed at improving student achievement, increasing parent involvement,
and having a lasting impact. Many graduates of the Institute have become officers in parent-teacher organizations and run
for school board positions. Steve St. Clair, Principal of Conway Middle Schools, says the Institute ?unlocks the potential in
a parent leader.? For principals, he says, ?it is much easier to communicate the school?s needs and goals with parents who
have had this kind of training. Parent leaders can communicate a vision with other parents, often in a way that staff members
cannot? (Henderson & Raimondo, 2001, p. 32). Many Parent Training and Information Centers and Developmental Disabilities
Planning Councils also offer parent and consumer leadership development opportunities.
Parent/child education opportunities
Many schools offer opportunities for children and parents to learn together. Intergenerational literacy programs have
grown nationwide during recent years in order to promote parent and child literacy development and to break the cycle
of poverty in urban areas (DiCamillo, 2001).
Parent-child computer education: The Howard Lewis Parent Center in Buffalo, NY, offers parent-child computer
classes for students in grades 6 through 12. Parents and children learn skills in desktop publishing and computer programming
together. The center also allows parents to take home computers to learn with their children (U.S. Department of Education,
Family Involvement, 1997).
Community School District 10, the largest urban school district in New York City, is working to bridge the digital divide
with a cost-sharing wireless laptop leasing program for middle school students and parents (Zardoya, 2001).
The program will be in its third year with the 2002-2003 school year. Under the lease contract agreement, 36 monthly
payments are shared by the school district and families, and parents are given the option to purchase the computers
at the end of the lease period for $1. A supporting professional development program includes a ?three-pronged process
for teachers, parents and students.? Parents must participate in a 12-hour training program, conducted in English and
Spanish, before the laptops are taken home by students (Director of Information Technology Mario Fico, personal
communication, September 6, 2002). Among the positive impacts of the program, which will grow to more than 300
computers being leased in the district during the 2002-2003 school year, is an increase in student attendance and

Share this SparkAction Link: click here to shorten
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.


receive our updates

Spark Tweets