Impact of Family Engagement on Parents & Educators

This section will discuss impact of family engagement on parents and educators and its positive effects. We will explore different researches how the partnership between families and educator yield positive results.

Impact on Parents

Impact of Family Engagement on Parents

Every morning I’m here. I volunteer every morning. I do whatever. I’m one of those grandparents that do everything. The teachers are wonderful here. They’ll talk to you. You can come in the morning and take a child to class. And the teacher will have a whole conversation with you, letting you know what they want– what they expect from you and what we expect from the teachers.

It’s actually about what we want these parents to be able to do once they leave us. Right? I think institutional practice is, how can I step away from it, and it still lives and breathes.

And we want our families to be able to advocate for their kids outside of us. It’s like a relationship with the teacher, the principal, or even a staff member you can sometimes talk to.

Everybody’s in this way. Providing parents with space– a safe space– where they can come and be like, I don’t know this or how can– or how can I be more involved?

Just giving them a space to voice– voice how they feel and then– just educational. This is how you effectively support your child throughout their education. I’ve changed a lot because I was normally just the parent that dropped my babies off and leave.

So now I drop them off and come to the school and talk to everybody. And if they need help, I’ll stay. Families have said that they have felt a difference in the building, in terms of feeling like we’re providing needs for them that are outside of their child’s needs.

So that makes them feel that we care about their needs and welcome them in the building. I love just doing stuff for school. I love being here, and it’s fun. Most of the time it’s fun. I love it. I love to help.

That’s what I’m trying to teach my son to always be out there to help. The staff is great. They’re wonderful. I keep saying; they’re a family. Any time that you spend with us– and if you’re in with us means my teaching staff, my custodians, my business team– we’re going to be implanting those skills of advocacy so that you can do this on your own.

Cultivating Parent Leaders

Let me talk first about one-on-one meetings and storytelling because I think that’s at the foundation of this. And I’ve been talking a lot– we’ve been talking a lot about relationships.

But many organizing groups actually have a kind of a model or strategy for how that’s done. And it centers on the basis of that as the one-on-one meeting and one-on-one conversation.

So it’s really about organizers, and this can also apply to teachers and parents with each other meeting one-on-one to talk about what your story is in a sense.

  • Why are you here?
  • Why are you even meeting with me to talk about what’s going on in the school?
  • What are your hopes and dreams for your children?
  • What are your own experiences with education?

And the deep sharing of stories that occurs allows people to create a relationship, at the base, that’s beyond this kind of superficial notion– well, I’m here because I care about my child.

Well, of course, you care about your– but, why? What’s going on in your life that brings you here? And we share that with each other. And that provides a sense of foundation for us to have some trust with each other, which is so lacking often in our schools and in our communities.

Particularly, I think about this also between teachers and parents. A lot of parents whose children attend our urban schools were not particularly successful in school themselves. Let’s face it.

And they might have faced racial discrimination or other issues in their schools. So it’s not like we have this ready basis of trust between it. We have to build that trust.

And how do you start to build trust? Well, you start that through honesty, frankness, and storytelling. You start with that one-on-one. And then you create a wider web of relationships across that, so people start to be able to tell a story, not just of ourselves, but a story of all of us in terms of why are we here to create some kind of support for the school and change for the betterment of our children.

And the second thing I think we found is real attention to building parents’ capacity to be actors in the school. We’re talking about the assets that people bring.

But if you really want to be a participant in the life of your school and in the transformation of our public education system, folks have a lot to learn.

And some of those skills are about public speaking or letter writing. But some of that has to do with understanding school curriculum, understanding questions around pedagogy, understanding questions about school discipline.

So we’re really talking about the really deep and serious engagement of parents in the life of the schools.

So I think those are a couple of the things that we talked about– relationships, one-on-one meetings, training, and workshops that build parents’ capacity.

And again, those training and workshops are not about just providing people with information. It’s about building people’s capacity to find out information, to take charge of what’s going on in their schools.

It’s kind of what we want to have happened in school. We don’t want children just to regurgitate things for exams, learn things.

We want them to develop the ability to go out and learn how to learn things. And that’s what’s going on, I think, in a lot of parents’ organizing approaches.

And I was always struck by the notion that we all have strengths, but sometimes we need a little encouragement and a nudge to really take advantage of some of those strengths. And I think that that’s what we really saw in the case of many of these organizing groups– that a lot of these families already have the capacity.

But they really didn’t know how to use it, or they weren’t that confident. And so consequently, through the organizing work with someone saying to them, no, you can’t do it, a lot of the families practice.

And then, they then became leaders and coaches for other families. And that’s a lot of what we found there that, in those working relationships, parents were really– there was a lot of scaffolding going, a lot of support going on, and a lot of encouragement going on. And then, also, some challenge.

Yes, you can step up to speak at this public meeting. You’ve never done it before. We’re going to work with you on your speech. We’re going to give you the encouragement so that you can get up and do it.

But also, you’ve got to take that step to become that kind of a public leader. And that’s very powerful.

Parent Leaders & Community Impact

And I want to go back a minute to talk a little bit more about the idea of the community’s transformation when we build parent leaders.

For someone who would say, well, how is cultivating parent leadership in this way going to impact the community? What kinds of things would you say to that question?

So this gets to the question of, can schools be a site for social capital building, for democratic participation in our society?

And historically, they have been places– John Dewey’s vision of schools as community institutions that support not just themselves but the larger community around them. So in some sense, I think we’re time talking about trying to reclaim that vision in a modern way.

We studied and worked with a group in Chicago, called the Logan Square Neighborhood Association. And I think they are just a really good example of what can happen. So they started out 20 years ago talking about schools as fortresses, was how they called them like parents never entered these places.

They were just these huge, personal kinds of things. And when they first started their organizing, they developed this very innovative parent mentor program, where they have parents come in two hours a day and work with teachers right in the classroom. So they had to do the real work of schools, but then every Friday, they get together across the school and then sometimes across the whole neighborhood for this kind of leadership development and training opportunities.

So it’s infused with the organizing approaches, not just parents in classrooms. And then, over the years, they’ve had hundreds and hundreds of parents go through the parent mentor program. So it’s not just one or two. It’s hundreds.

And then many of these parents start to take initiatives. So they started a little literacy ambassador program at the school, where a parent and a teacher partner together. They go out, visit the homes of the families in the school, and do literacy activities. But it’s not just a teacher going.

A teacher going would be great enough in many of our situations, but it’s that collaboration again. It’s the I’m a parent like you. So we’re working together to do this, is the idea.

So they have all these programs in schools, but then it starts to go out into the community because they’re a community organizing group. They’re not just in schools.

And so, a lot of these parent mentors now start to develop campaigns in the community. So they have a whole Healthy Logan Square Program, where former parent mentors are out doing health education and organizing around health issues in the neighborhood. They’ve done a lot of work on affordable housing. Logan Square is under pressure for gentrification.

So I want to give the sense that now what’s happened in the school really has built the capacity for addressing a whole range of issues in the community. And I think that’s what’s really exciting, also, about the possibilities.

We’re talking about transferring schools, but we’re talking about that as part of a larger community transformation process.

Additional Resources

Optional Reading

  1. Diamond, John B., and Kimberley Gomez. “African American Parents’ Educational Orientations: The Importance of Social Class and Parents’ Perceptions of Schools.” Education and Urban Society 36, no. 4 (August 2004): 383-427.
  2. Auerbach, Susan. “From Moral Supporters to Struggling Advocates: Reconceptualizing Parent Roles in Education Through the Experience of Working-Class Families of Color.” Urban Education 42, no. 3 (May 2007): 250-83.

Impact on Educators

Impact of Family Engagement on Educators 

With the teachers that I’ve interacted with, I’ve seen them grow a lot since I first came to the school. I don’t even think I even knew what family engagement until that PD session that changed my whole life and changed the whole school changed the way that we see things, where we spend our money, what we choose to do.

What really warms my heart is when the parents feel like they trust you enough that they can bring things to you and ask for help. I think that’s one of the most awesome things about this partnership.

It is work, but it’s worth it. It is absolutely worth it, and it’s life-changing. I mean, it will invest you as a teacher in a way that you weren’t before.

All teachers were invested in our kids, of course, but I think when you are really become like a part of that family, you’re not going to fail that kid. Like, you will fight that much harder to get them what they need and keep that promise to that mother or to that father or grandmother that I’m here for you. I’m here for your family. I’m going to do what it takes so that your child is successful.

Even when I have to have tough conversations with parents, and I don’t get the response that I want, it’s never, ugh, I’m judging you right now. Now I don’t have a love for you. Now I don’t like you. Now I’m not going to work as hard for you. It’s, man, I wonder what’s going on.

Like, hey, there’s something going on, and you need some help. Let me know. Because I actually know you care about your kid. I now always come from a place of care and love, and I’m not selfish with my love anymore.

In the beginning, I was very selfish about it. I decided who I was going to do what with, but now it’s just made me just a better human being. Because I just think in general, I always think not to judge, but first to ask questions and try to figure out what to do. And I was never like that before.

Everybody says, well, if you’re going to be a principal somewhere else, where are you going to go? And I’m like, I don’t want to go anywhere else because this is family. When you engage families in the way we have, you feel like you’re leaving your brothers, sisters, and cousins.

I feel a responsibility to these kids and to these parents. After teaching sibling after sibling, I can’t imagine the day I say I’m not coming back to Stanton next year because I would never hear the end of it. That’s a huge reason why I think a lot of us stay because we love these kids, and we love these families.

Teacher Well-Being & Family Engagement

It sounds like you haven’t received any prior training in your pre-service teaching program or anything like that to help you. No, that was the thing. I think that now if I look back on that experience, my success and relationship with my students’ families was probably one of the most impactful parts of my teaching experience.

Yet there was really no discussion about it in my training. And I went through a teacher certification program, got my master’s in teaching. But I had not had a single conversation about working with families.

Even as I figured out what I wanted to do better as a teacher, there were no professional development sessions, no training by my district. I really learned and understood that I really count my students’ parents as my early teachers in this work.

Because they were the ones who taught me why this is important, what this could potentially look like. So, for example, I remember my first year as a teacher.

I had done so much of my own preparation to plan this really great family night. I did my homework. I tried to be creative. I had all of these packets ready that had student work. And my walls looked really bright and cheerful.

And so I really felt like I was doing everything to make that happen well. And I had even sent home slips of paper asking parents to sign up for times. So I expected about a little more than half of my students’ families to be there.

And I think I can count on one hand the number of families who actually came. And I was really disappointed. And my first reaction was to feel like there was something wrong with me like they didn’t want to meet me or were just not interested. And that was a real defining moment for me.

Because I really didn’t want to go there. And I was young. I was 22 or 23 years old. So I had a lot of ambition and hopefulness, but not a lot of practical experience. And what I realized during those first couple of years, I started to understand the reasons why parents weren’t wholeheartedly embracing communication with me as their child’s teacher. If I’m a teacher in a fifth-grade classroom, and let’s say I have 27 students, 27 families have entrusted their child in my care.

And just because they have entrusted their child in my care for that year doesn’t necessarily mean that they trust me as a person, right? So they don’t know anything about me. They don’t know my motivations or intentions.

And once I understood that I knew that my approach to talking with them and meeting with them had to be different. So in our school, parents would drop their kids either in the gym or outside out in the blacktop area.

And teachers were always inside working on their rooms, prepping. So over time, I realized that if that’s the only time that parents have to be at the school when they’re dropping off their kids or picking them up, I need to be there.

It began to occur to me that small things like that would make a big difference so that when I called a child’s parent in October for the first time, there would be a point of familiarity between us.

And so I understood that I had to be patient. I had to expect that they might have their own reservations about me or talking to me. There had to be a personal dimension to it.

There had to be a one on one component to it. And there had to be a part of that conversation where they could get to know me as a person too. So it sounds like the relationships with families actually impacted your feelings of well-being as a teacher. 

In particular, as a young or new teacher, you can feel as if the pressure is to get everything right in your classroom. After you figure that out, you can then invite parents to see what you’re doing.

But I don’t think parents expect you to be perfect. I think parents want to know that you care about their children. I think parents can really understand and relate to the kinds of struggles that teachers experience.

And they’re probably similar to the kinds of struggles they experience at home with their own kids too. And once they begin to see each other as partners, I think there’s a real, just tremendous value in that.

An Ethnography on Teachers & Family Engagement

So right now, I’m working on a research project that is a multi-year study of five teachers. So the first year, I spent just getting to know them as individuals, the teachers, and then the second year, I spent a lot of time in the school in the classrooms meeting parents.

I went to a lot of back to school nights and conferences but really got to have a lot of good conversations with parents and teachers about why they’re working together.

And the five teachers that I’ve gotten to know over the past few years I think, are just real inspirational models for us in terms of what this work looks like and how it’s important to their well-being as teachers. But also to their students and the families involved, as well.

So this work with families is integral to what these teachers do. And so I think we often obsess about how much teachers have to do these days and how we can’t just give them one more thing to do.

All five of these teachers profess to the profound effect that it’s had on them as individuals and say that it’s the best investment of their time and resources. But the irony is that they have received little to no training on this.

So I think all five of them would say that there isn’t any reason why this can’t be incorporated into teacher training. So, for example, everyone who goes through a teacher certification program works as a student-teacher.

And I think that it’s important not only to focus during this teacher training on do you know the material and can you create a lesson plan or how do you manage behavior in a classroom, but I think that it’s important for us too also, from the very beginning,

talk to teachers about, how do you connect with families? Let’s try this.

We should really give future teachers, aspiring teachers concrete strategies in different ways that go outside of the norms. We can’t rely on just professors like me or clinical instructors like teachers who mentor our students. But there’s no reason that we shouldn’t have parents and community members involved in our future teachers’ education.

Fear & Family Engagement

I think what shocked me is how much fear there is and how much fear parents have about teachers and how much fear teachers have about parents. And the reason I think this is really significant because those things stand firmly in the way of creating the kinds of relationships we need to break these barriers and obstacles between families and schools.

It’s so surprising how consistent that finding is, that there are so many common instances of parents who feel that teachers don’t have their kids’ best interests in mind.

They’re nervous when they come to talk to them in the school. They’re nervous when they get a phone call home. And at the same time, teachers are anxious to make that phone call home. They’re very nervous when they meet a parent for the first time in the conference. They feel as if they have to get everything right and seem very experienced and expert in what they do.

I think one of the real problems that we face in building these relationships between families and schools is that we really have to break down some of the fears and the assumptions and the feelings of mistrust or misunderstanding that people carry with them and that define what they do or how they act around or around each other.

I think the fears are more pronounced in the beginning before you’ve had an opportunity or an experience to connect with families, right?

So I think it’s really important to work with teachers in those early years. Because you usually have fear until there is a reason for it to go away. And so until teachers find opportunities to build these relationships and have these one on one conversations with families, the fear has to be replaced by a sense of knowing and caring and respect for each other.

I don’t think that you can get to that point unless you encourage teachers and administrators to build these one-on-one relationships with parents. I’m not sure we can achieve this without that.

And so I think there has to be a way for teachers– there has to be a space and support and training and an environment for those kinds of one on one conversations to happen.

Why East Boston High School Teachers Engage with Families

I send a personal postcard to each parent at the beginning of the year telling them how to reach me, but also that I’m excited to work with their student. And I send home paperwork with contact information and make it a grade for kids to get back to me so that they are motivated.

I tell kids, you’re the link between your parent and me. And we all have to work together to facilitate this conversation. There’s no doubt about it. Studies have shown it. If a parent is involved in their kid’s education, the student is going to be a better student. Plain and simple.

The student is going to have a better chance to succeed in life. When I have contact with the parents and get involved so closely in school, I can have more of each student’s background. And knowing the background of them from their countries, their situation–it’s much more satisfying. I give more of myself. I give more as a teacher. I give more as a person.

When a teacher tells me that they have too many kids and they can’t find the time to communicate with a parent, I always ask them, so is that your expectation from your child’s teacher?

You’re a teacher. You expect the best for your own children. So why wouldn’t you give that to somebody else’s child? It’s a core activity of teaching. It’s not optional. If you care about your students’ success– and if you’re a teacher, you do– then you have to make time.

I do admit that when teachers have a large caseload on their hands– obviously, it complicates things. It makes things a little bit tougher. But at the end of the day, if our goal is to come in here and make sure that each child receives their education and walks out of here ready to take on the world, it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that we’re doing our job the right way.

Teaching is a hard job. There’s no way around that. And there are days where even someone like me that wakes up excited to go to work every day feels a little deflated and demoralized at the end of the day if it hasn’t gone well or you’re worried about particular kids.

And knowing that you have the parent as a partner is so encouraging. You don’t feel like you’re going it alone with the students and trying to meet all these needs on your own. And you’ve got each other’s backs.

And that’s always a good feeling to feel supported and partnered as you work on something really difficult, which is growing kids up to be successful and happy. I just got off the phone with a parent. And the parents told me, “I want to thank you very much for all the hard work you’ve done with my daughter. Without you,” I’m quoting here, “without you, I don’t know where my daughter would be.”

When you get comments like that, it does something to you inside that I can’t even describe. It’s like you know what? I’m doing the right thing. I’m here for a purpose. I’m making a difference in somebody’s life– in a whole family’s lives, because, again, this is something that’s affecting not only the student, it’s affecting the parents. It’s affecting the younger siblings who are looking up to their older siblings.

So it’s one of those things where it really makes a difference. It motivates me to continue to work harder and to continue to involve and engage families in their kids’ education.

Teacher Training in Family Engagement

So, one of the things that happen is when I go out, and probably when you and your staff go out and talk to schools, we are hearing from current practitioners, particularly teachers, that they’ve received little to no training on how to engage with families in effective partnerships.

What have you seen? And is your center actually trying to do something to improve that? So one of our agendas is to help college coursework include attention to school, family, and community partnerships from the sociological perspective that this is a component of a good school and part of a good teacher’s work.

So we did a survey of deans a while back. And we asked them, is this an important topic? This was a national sample of deans and chairs of colleges across the country.

They all said this is very important. And then we asked them how well prepared are your graduates? And we thought they would be socially desirable answers, but they were rather truthful answers.

And very few said that their graduates were prepared, something between 8% and 19%. Whereas 99% said it’s important, only a few said their graduates were prepared. As a gap, we took that gap between knowing this is important and preparing future teachers and administrators to understand the new directions of organizing good partnership programs to engage all students’ families.

So we did develop a textbook for this so that college professors of education or sociology, psychology would be able to address the topic. We also say and recognize that, even though a great course would be really helpful for every future teacher and every future administrator, we still will always need the in-service education for the practicing educators who are in the schools today who really need the help for organizing good partnership programs with their own students’ families.

Additional Resources

  1. Addi-Raccah, Audrey, and Ronit Ainhoren. “School Governance and Teachers’ Attitudes to Parents’ Involvement in Schools.” Teaching and Teacher Education 25, no. 6 (August 2009): 805-13.
  2. “MetLife Survey of the American Teacher.” MetLife Foundation.
  3. Epstein, Joyce L. School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Preparing Educators and Improving Schools. 2nd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2010.

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