Building Family-School Partnerships

Effective Family-School Parterships | Ideas for Initiating Meaningful Interactions with Families

Transitional kindergarten is an exhilarating time full of new experiences that can cause excitement, and a little nervousness, for both children and families. When schools create an environment in which parents feel welcome and their family and cultural assets are recognized, these actions pave the way for productive communication that leads parents to support and advocate on behalf of their children and their schools. 

According to the Flamboyan Foundation, “A strong body of research shows that students do better in school and in life when their parents are engaged in their education. Teachers are only with children an average 14% of their time, so it is essential that families reinforce messages about learning outside of school.” Family engagement contributes to:

  • increased student achievement;
  • higher graduation rates, reduced absenteeism and drop-out rates;
  • better attitudes by students towards learning;
  • better social skills and fewer conduct problems;
  • better student-teacher relationships; and
  • improved cultural competence and trust in schools.

Research helps us to understand that family-school partnerships are essential to a student’s success in TK and beyond. Please see more information on the benefits of family engagement as well as strategies to support families in schools from the California Department of Education, Michigan Department of Education and the National Parent Teacher Association.

Six Types of Involvement

Below are six areas of family involvement from Dr. Joyce Epstein, a nationally recognized leader on parent involvement, with Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University.

Parenting - Assist families with parenting and child-rearing skills, understanding child and adolescent development, and setting home conditions that support children as students at each age and grade level. Assist schools in understanding families.

Communicating - Communicate with families about school programs and student progress through effective school-to-home and home-to-school communications.

Volunteering - Improve recruitment, training, work and schedules to involve families as volunteers and audiences at the school or in other locations to support students and school programs.

Learning at Home - Involve families with their children in learning activities at home, including homework and other curriculum-linked activities and decisions.

Making Decisions - Include families as participants in school decisions, governance, and advocacy through PTA/PTO, school councils, committees, and other parent organizations.

Collaborating with Community - Coordinate resources and services for families, students, and the school with businesses, agencies, and other groups, and provide services to the community.

Effective Family-School Partnerships 

Family-school partnerships support student learning in home and in your classroom, and overall play a critical role in student achievement. Your school community can lead family engagement through various strategies that send a message to families that they are welcome partners in the school. School/teacher efforts to support family engagement bridge the high expectations of families and teachers and strengthen family/school relationships and the overall communication that guides families to be strong partners in their child’s education.

Key elements of effective family-school partnerships include:

  • Develop a warm environment to help families feel welcome in the classroom, the front office, the parent center, and throughout the school community.
  • Work to better understand the assets of your students' families by engaging them in conversations, particularly at the onset of the school year.
  • Create opportunities for conversations and interactions with families throughout the year to maintain communication on how families can support schools in their child's education.

Ideas for Initiating Meaningful Interactions with Families

There are many approaches you can use to create opportunities for productive conversations and interactions with families to support student success. Below are some ideas to explore in your TK program.

Find opportunities for face-to-face meetings or conversations to maintain ongoing communication about student progress and what parents can do at home and in school to support their child’s learning:

  • Initiate conversations at the beginning of the school year to ensure the relationships with families begin with positive interactions.
  • Make phone calls if families are unable to meet.
  • Exchange ideas about shared high expectations by inquiring about the families' hopes for their children, asking about which university they would like to see their child attend, and sharing a bit about yourself and ways you hope to partner with families over the year.
  • Send home a survey to better understand the assets of your students’ families. See Family Languages and Interest Survey for an example survey.

Local Spotlight: Santa Clara County Engages Families with Children Birth through 3rd grade

Last spring, SCCOE’s Family Engagement and Leadership Institute [program PDF] convened more than 180 participants, including parents, infant/toddler and preschool providers, and early elementary agencies. Participants were grouped into eight birth through 3rd grade community teams based on school district boundaries. Breakout sessions connected families with schools, early learning community programs and partners, and facilitated collaboration on ideas to strengthen family-school partnerships.

The day-long event also featured keynote addresses from nationally recognized family engagement leaders, Dr. Karen L. Mapp and Jerry Tello.

For more information, including presentations from the institute, or to learn more about the Santa Clara County birth-3rd grade Early Learning Master Plan, click here.

Help parents identify the key questions they should ask during a parent teacher conference:

Develop homework or classroom activities that involve families and celebrate the assets of their home culture:

  • Encourage children to talk to their families about a topic discussed at school.
  • Bring materials from home that represent the family.
  • Ensure materials are available in their home language and have interpreters available when needed.
  • Use the results from a family survey to guide other ways to involve families.

Help families understand how they can be helpful in the classroom through becoming an official volunteer:

  • Offer families an overview of substantive ways they can support learning in the classroom such as reading to students, supporting learning center activities and guiding children in classroom activities.
  • Review the process of becoming an official volunteer, including the purpose of the background checks, what information is reviewed and how it will be used.
  • Provide verbal and/or written instructions so there is clarity about the activities they are supporting or leading.
  • Share key strategies they can use to support children's learning, such as effective ways to read books to children, or key prompts or questions that help children use their words.

Use a rubric to support your TK and school team's family engagement efforts. You can find examples developed by the California Department of Education and the Flamboyan Foundation, a family foundation dedicated to improving educational outcomes in pre-k-12.