Effective Practice in Family Engagement

This section will discuss the Effective Practice in Family Engagement by analyzing two Versions of the Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships and the support it provides to both educators and families to help students. We will learn about the approaches to initiating and maintaining effective family engagement strategies by building partnerships among families, schools, and communities.

The Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships

Version 1 of the Dual Capacity-Building Framework

Now that you’ve heard about the effect of family engagement on kids, let’s take a step back and unpack what effective family engagement practice actually looks like.

The idea behind the dual capacity framework was that it would be used as a compass to guide our practices in family engagement and to prevent those random acts.

The framework was formulated using research from those of us in the family and community engagement field and research on adult learning and leadership development.

The first block of the framework identifies the challenge of effective family-school partnerships. In most cases, the parties involved, neither the staff nor the families have built the necessary capacity to engage in and cultivate effective partnerships.

My experience has been that it’s not usually that staff and families don’t want to partner with each other. It is that they don’t often know the best way to go about developing these partnerships.

This is especially the case when there are differences between the staff and families in terms of race, ethnicity, educational, and socioeconomic background.

The second block is what I consider the most important part of the framework because it identifies what we know from the research as the essential conditions for effective family-school partnerships.

These opportunity conditions, both process and organizational, are what you need to have in place to make your partnerships thrive. In the process conditions, we’ve already talked about how your initiatives have to be goal-oriented, in other words, linked to learning.

Your initiatives also have to be focused on building trusting relationships, developing everyone’s skills and knowledge, collaborating in ways that both families’ and staffs’ contributions are valued, and interactive where the adults actually get a chance to practice whatever learning is being shared.

We also know that your organization has to provide conditions such that family engagement is taken seriously. It is seen as a vital and systemic piece of any improvement effort. There is an infrastructure in place and resources dedicated to family engagement.

If you put these conditions in place, we predict you will see growth in both your staff and your families in the following four areas– their capabilities, what they know and can do, their connections, who they know, their networks, their cognition, their beliefs about one another, and their confidence, the belief that they can cultivate and sustain these partnerships.

The result is that staff understand and employ the strategies to cultivate partnerships with families and that families understand the various roles that they can take on when engaging in their children’s learning and development.

As you move through this section and listen to my interviews with researchers, look and listen for examples of the conditions and goals described in the framework.

It should come as no surprise that the work of Joyce Epstein, Kathy Hoover-Dempsey, Mark Warren, and Soo Hong very much shaped the development of the dual capacity framework.

Version 2 of the Dual Capacity-Building Framework

Now that you’ve learned about the first framework, let’s talk about Version 2. Soon after the first tool capacity building framework was launched, I began to ask how and if it was useful? And what, if any, changes could be made to a future version of the framework to make it even more effective?

Version 2 of the framework incorporates themes that emerge from the data collected and what we’ve learned from recent research on effective home-school partnerships.

The most fundamental change from the first version to the second is the flow of the graphic. The new graphic takes its cues from logic model design and illustrates the growth in outcomes achieved as we put the essential conditions of effective practice in place.

At the beginning of the new framework, The Challenge section now more clearly articulates the most common realities that stand in the way of effective partnerships.

The educators, in many cases, have not been exposed to examples of effective family engagement practice. Without training on the value of family-school partnerships, educators don’t see family engagement as an essential component of their instructional practice.

And without the benefit of working closely with families, it’s far more likely that educators will have no opportunity to explore and undo any deficit mindsets about families that they may have developed over time.

For the most part, families haven’t been exposed to excellent practice either. Unfortunately, many families had had negative experiences with schools, both when they were students and as adults.

We all avoid places that remind us of bad experiences in life, especially if we don’t feel welcomed or invited. All of this can lead to families feeling disrespected, unheard, and unvalued.

The way forward is defined in the next section of the framework, now called the Essential Conditions. We’ve learned that effective practice has to start with building strong relationships.

They are built on what Tony Bryk and Barbara Schneider referred to as relational trust. Without this foundation of relational trust being established between home and school, the initiatives we plan that focus on families just doesn’t work.

We’ve already talked about how your initiatives have to be goal-oriented. In other words, linked to student learning and development. Seeing families through an asset-based lens is a must, as is making sure that your initiatives take into account and respect the cultural richness of families and the community.

Finally, your practice should always include an interactive component. The adults actually get a chance to practice and maybe even have a little fun with whatever learning is being shared.

The organizational conditions set the table and provide an infrastructure for the effective execution of the process conditions.

Leaders across the organization embrace family engagement as indispensable to achieving their goals. Family engagement is sewn into the fabric of everyone’s day-to-day work.

And resources are provided and sustain to support this work. Suppose you put these essential conditions in place. In that case, we predict you will build staff and family capacity in the four areas that we refer to as the 4 C’s: our capabilities, connections, cognition, and confidence.

The next section highlights the reciprocal relationship that speaks to the power of both families and educators working together in partnership. This coming together of families and educators, now working together as co-creators of equitable outcomes for all children, forms a dynamic collaboration that supports our ultimate goal: that of student and school improvement and success.

Goal-Linked Partnerships

Goal-Linked Partnerships & the National Network of Partnership Schools

So could you talk to us about the work of the center? The Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins have two agendas.

One is to keep doing the research that we say needs to press forward, better studies, better research, and contribute to this knowledge base.

But we also, over many years, have a commitment to bring research to bear in practice, to allow the practice to improve using research-based results.

We invite schools, districts, states, and organizations that want to build partnership programs that engage all families, not just a few, in their children’s education at every grade level– preschool, elementary, middle, high– in ways that support children’s learning academic subjects, behavior like improving attendance, outcomes that all schools are working on like improving graduation rates, reducing dropout rates.

We invite them to come in, and we will help them through this center; we will help them use the tools that are based on our studies that will help them establish the structures that will allow them to reach all families in what we call goal-linked ways. That means that if a school is working to improve reading or literacy skills, they really want to help families become engaged in reading and literacy skill development or attitudes toward reading that will help the children do better in that subject.

A goal-linked partnership uses parents’ time and teachers’ time in the best possible way. Rather than any old family engagement, goal-linked partnerships say, are you working on improving math skills?

Let’s help families engage with their youngsters in math or in science or in technology or in other goals that are in most schools improvement plans.

Just about every school now has some good school improvement plans. Teachers work very hard, but families are often omitted from the picture. And so a good program of partnerships will engage families and community partners on those same goals, the learning aims, and goals that our schools are held accountable for.

So I say we have really two ways to go. Either we say we have all these goals for children’s learning and behavior, and teachers are supposed to do all that work alone. Or we say, we have all these learning goals and more students will reach those goals if teachers, families, and community partners work together.

Either teachers work alone or we work in partnership. Where would we have the best outcomes for the most students? And we know data shows that that’s supposed to be a rhetorical question.

I don’t know if you know this, but when we talked many years ago about what you thought was the message that we had to push was that it couldn’t just be that family engagement was a part of a nice to-do strategy, but that we really see effective results when we link the partnerships to the goals, the learning goals of the school.

And we would just extend to say over the years we’ve learned a great deal from our partners, the schools, districts, states, and others we work with. They really inspire us to stretch how we think and what we think about.

We know that from our work over these 20 years with sites out there across the country, and now in other countries, we can have good partnership programs that really do reach out to all families. And they help students do better on these varied academic and behavioral


Additional Resources

  1. Henderson, Anne T., Karen L. Mapp, Vivian R. Johnson, and Don Davies. Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships. New York: New Press, 2007.
  2. Hong, Soo. “A Cord of Three Strands: A New Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools.” The Harvard Educational Review. 2011.

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