How to Promote Family Engagement During the First Weeks of School

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One of the best ways to set up students for lifelong success is by involving their parents in their educational journey. When parental involvement is a priority in class, student achievement, self-confidence, and motivation all improve.[4,5] And, best of all, parental involvement can help low-income and disadvantaged families most of all.[1]

Between parents’ scheduling conflicts, transportation issues, and feelings that they’re unwelcome in school, boosting parent engagement can be a challenge. But thankfully, parent engagement is most effective when it’s encouraged earlier in the year.[2] If you prioritize connecting with parents during the back to school season, you’re in the best position to create an engaged school.

From introduction letters to parent-teacher conferences, you have plenty of opportunities to boost family engagement during the first few months of school. Learn why parent engagement matters and how to encourage strong parent-teacher relationships from the first day of school onward.

Why Parental Involvement Should Be a Priority in Your School

To understand the importance of parental involvement in education, it’s important to clarify what it means. Parent involvement is defined as an ongoing, collaborative relationship between parents and school faculty with a shared goal: to help students succeed. Instead of keeping parents at a distance, teachers who value parent engagement welcome their insights and strive to work together throughout the year.[3] The more support students have available to them, the better equipped they’ll be to reach their potential.

When parent engagement is prioritized, every student is better prepared for success. Research shows that as schools improve parent-teacher communication, classes see the following benefits:

  • Improved test scores, grades, and school attendance [4]
  • Higher levels of self-confidence and motivation in students [5]
  • More positive parental opinions of their child’s teacher
  • Increased performance of all students in class, not just specific children [6]
  • Heightened teacher morale

Because family engagement in schools can lead to a significantly better class environment, educators should prioritize it as early in the year as possible. In recent years, there has been a steep drop in parents who believe school engagement matters. This means teachers may have to take initiative to build it.[4] But luckily, the earlier you start promoting parental involvement, the more effective it will be in the long run.

What to Include in a Teacher Introduction Letter to Parents

To best encourage family and community involvement in your school, build a positive relationship with parents as soon as you can. You may meet some parents on the first day of school, but others might not physically visit the classroom until back to school night. Emailing or sending home a letter of introduction as their child’s new teacher can provide a framework for connection before you even meet these families.

First, start with a little information about yourself and your background as a teacher.[7] Not only will this help parents see you as an equal, but it can also provide parents with helpful information on your teaching style. Then, briefly explain your teaching philosophy and your goals for this school year.

If possible, add a class syllabus or list of classroom rules (depending on which grade you teach).[8] Parents can refer to this information throughout the school year to stay informed. Include ways for parents to engage in their child’s education, like helping with homework, so that every student has as much support as possible.

And lastly, you don’t have to let this letter be the last one. Keep writing teacher newsletters for parents throughout the school year about upcoming class events and assignments. If your parents prefer a briefer, two-way form of communication, consider sending regular texts or emails instead.

How to Prepare for Back to School Night

In many cases, back to school night will be your first chance to connect with parents in person. By making an effort to connect with parents, you can encourage the development of strong parent-teacher relationships. Every family is different, but you can keep a few ideas in mind for a productive back to school night.

Even if you mostly focus on showcasing school curriculum, try to include a little background about yourself for parents during back to school events, too.[9] You might share, for example, how long you’ve been teaching or what drew you to the field. Try to get to know parents as well; start building connections and help them see you as friendly and approachable.

Back to school night is also a great opportunity for parents to discover ways they can get involved with school. Put out a sign-up sheet for parent volunteers so you have a list of people to contact for field trip chaperones or class helpers.[9] Let parents know that they’re always welcome in class so they know that their help is appreciated.

Finally, don’t just overload parents with information on back to school night. Encourage parents to ask you questions, too.[10] Sometimes, parents don’t know whether teachers are receptive to hearing their thoughts. When you give parents time to stop and ask questions about your class and plans for the school year, you encourage their involvement.

Getting the Most Out of Parent-Teacher Conferences

Parent-teacher conferences usually occur during the end of the first quarter of the year. While the school year is far from over at this point, parents may have more specific questions or concerns than they would at back to school night. For this reason, parent-teacher conferences that are as accessible as possible are essential for family engagement.

If possible, offer a flexible schedule for meeting times.[11] Some parents may work long hours or have limited transportation options. In these cases, getting to school at a specific time may be difficult. Work with parents to schedule a meeting time that works for them so they know you’re interested in talking with them.[4] If they can’t physically make it to school, consider offering alternatives like video or phone meetings.

Additionally, make arrangements for families who traditionally feel excluded at school events, like low-income or English language learner (ELL) families.[12] For example, if you have parents who feel more comfortable speaking another language, let them know that they can bring a translator.[12] Or if a low-income family can’t make it to a meeting during parent-teacher conference week, work with them to schedule an alternative meeting time.

A few questions you could ask at parent-teacher conferences to support families include:

  • What is the best way for me to keep you updated on school events?
  • Is there anything I need to know about your student’s background that would help me provide better instruction for them?
  • Do you have any questions about our class curriculum?
  • How can I better support your student?
  • What questions or comments do you have for me?

5 Quick Tips for Encouraging Family Engagement Early in the Year

Taking steps to improve parent involvement in school during the first few weeks can revolutionize your class environment. These five simple yet effective ideas promote family involvement to help parents invest in their child’s education:

  • One-on-one relationships with educators can be intimidating for parents. Give families an “ally” like a school counselor to connect them with resources and provide support.[13]
  • Find ways to physically bring parents into your school as much as possible through volunteering, school events, and other opportunities.
  • Try to learn as much as you can about a student’s background and personal needs. That way, you can construct your interaction with their family in a way that meets their priorities.[14]
  • Parents are more likely to get involved if they feel welcome and believe they have a voice.[6] Start a parent-teacher association or feedback box for parents to participate in school events.
  • In general, electronic engagement is one of the best ways to connect with parents. Consider using an email newsletter, Facebook group, or parent-teacher communication app to keep families updated.[2]

Sources:

1. Dearing, E., Kreider, H., Simpkins, S., & Weiss, H. B. Family involvement in school and low-income children’s literacy performance: Longitudinal associations between and within families. Journal of Educational Psychology, 2006, 98(4), pp. 653-664.

2. Minero, E. Parent Engagement in the Digital Age. Retrieved from edutopia.org: https://www.edutopia.org/article/parent-engagement-digital-age.

3. Ferlazzo, J. Involvement or Engagement? Educational Leadership, May 2011, 68(8), pp. 10-14.

4. American Psychological Association. Parent Engagement in Schools. Retrieved from apa.org: https://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/programs/safe-supportive/parental-engagement/default.aspx.

5. Wairimu, M.J., Macharia, S.M., Muiru, A. Analysis of Parental Involvement and Self-Esteem on Secondary School Students in Kieni West Sub-County, Nyeri County, Kenya. Journal of Education and Practice, November 2016, 7, pp. 82-98.

6. Henderson, A., & Berla, N. A New Generation of Evidence: The Family Is Critical to Student Achievement. Washington, DC: National Committee for Citizens in Education, 1994.

7. Cooney, M. Advice for Creating Your First Teacher Introduction Letter. Retrieved from study.com: https://study.com/blog/advice-for-creating-your-first-teacher-introduction-letter.html.

8. Wisconsin Education Association Council. Section 6: Sample Letters to Parents. Retrieved from weac.org: http://weac.org/articles/new-teacher-handbook/letters/.

9.Scholastic Teachers. Clip and Save Checklist: Back-to-School Night. Retrieved from scholastic.com: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/clip-and-save-checklist-back-school-night/.

10. Gunn, J. 15 Tips for Leading Productive Parent-Teacher Conferences. Retrieved from cu-portland.edu: https://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/classroom-resources/parent-teacher-conferences/.

11. California State PTA. Tips for Parent-Teacher Conferences. Retrieved from capta.org: http://downloads.capta.org/fe/ParentTeacherConferences.pdf.

12. Colorín Colorado. Tips for Parents: Parent-Teacher Conferences. Retrieved from colorincolorado.org: https://www.colorincolorado.org/sites/default/files/Conferences_English_FINAL.pdf.

13. Henderson, W. How to Solve the Parent-Engagement Problem. Retrieved from edweek.org: https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/01/10/how-to-solve-the-parent-engagement-problem.html.

14. State of Michigan. Strategies for Strong Parent and Family Engagement. Retrieved from michigan.gov: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/strategies_for_strong_parent_and_family_engagement_part_III_370143_7.pdf.

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