Families & Schools Working Together

Meaningful family engagement is a key component in collaborative relationships between families and schools. Studies show that students with involved parents were more likely to:

  • Earn higher grades and test scores, and enroll in higher level programs
  • Be promoted, pass their classes and earn credits
  • Attend school regularly
  • Have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school
  • Graduate and go on to post-secondary education

This relationship holds across families of all economic, racial/ethnic, and educational backgrounds and for students of all ages. (A NewWave of Evidence, Henderson and Mapp 2002).

Connecticut has its own definition and framework for family engagement called: Full, Equal and Equitable Partnerships with Families.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON COLLABORATIVE PRACTICES

Dual Capacity Framework
The Dual Capacity-Building Framework should be seen as a compass, laying out the goals and conditions necessary to chart a path toward effective family engagement efforts that are linked to student achievement and school improvement.
Learn More

CT Evidence Based Practice Guide - Student/Community/Family Engagement
Since the summer of 2017, the CSDE has collaborated on our "first, best effort" under ESSA to identify the leading practices that research suggests will increase the likelihood of improved student outcomes. The practices found in the CSDE Evidence-Based Practice Guides are aligned to local, state, and federal long-term education goals.
Learn More

Activities and Publications

The following articles and publications offer valuable information about increasing family engagement in schools and enhancing collaborative relationships between schools and families.

  • It Takes a Parent: Transforming Education in the Wake of the No Child Left Behind Act
  • Parent Involvement in Schools: Best Practices Brief
  • School/Family/Community Partnerships: Caring for the Children We Share
  • Supporting Parent, Family and Community Involvement in Your School
  • Parental Involvement: A Key to Student Achievement
  • Family Involvement Is as Easy as Pie!
  • Strong Families, Strong Schools

Websites

Books

  • 101 Ways to Create Real Family Engagement
    Steven M. Constantino
  • A New Wave of Evidence
    Anne T. Henderson & Karen L. Mapp
  • Schools and Families: Creating Essential Connections for Learning
    Sandra Christenson & Susan M. Sheridan
  • Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family School Partnerships
    Anne T. Henderson, Vivian Johnson, Karen L. Mapp, and Don Davies
  • The Evidence Continues to Grow: Parent Involvement Improves Student Achievement
    Anne T. Henderson
  • Preparing Educators to Involve Families: From Theory to Practice
    Harvard Family Research Project

Practices and Tools for Schools

The value of parent engagement has been documented for many years through research by professionals such as Joyce Epstein, Karen Mapp, Anne Henderson and others. Turning that research into practice has been a challenge for many educators who have multiple responsibilities. Below are a few examples of practices and ideas that district-wide teams have developed as well as some nationally developed materials:

FAST Team Leadership
The Fast Team-Families and Schools Together, is a group comprised of parents, teachers, administrators, and related service providers. The overarching goal of this team is to enhance communication between families of children with special needs and school personnel who provide service.
The team works towards meeting 4 main needs:

  • A need for all staff members to value and include parents as partners in their children's education.
  • A need for parents new to the district or parents of newly identified students to get information regarding special education rights, district practices and resources.
  • A need for effective communication between all team members related to curriculum and specific interventions used.
  • A need for effective communication between district administration and parents related to general information about special education.

Staff Meeting Discussion
One district has found a way to improve relationships between families of children with disabilities and school staff by facilitating staff discussions to increase their awareness of the barriers for families and share positive ways to effectively work with families. This can be done at regularly planned staff meetings and can be co-facilitated by the school's social worker and a staff person who has a child with special needs. If there are no staff that meet that criteria a family member from the district may serve in this role. The discussion can be based on topics related to issues facing the families within that school or tailored to specific grade levels. A feedback postcard is helpful in assessing staff benefit from this effort. This can be done in approximately 15-20 minutes and can touch on the following issues:

  1. The four core beliefs* that serve as the foundation for engaging families.
  • All Parents Have Dreams for Their Children and Want the Best for Them
  • All Parents Have the Capacity to Support Their Children's Learning
  • Parents and School Staff Should be Equal Partners
  • The Responsibility for Building Partnerships Between School and Home Rests Primarily with School Staff, Especially School Leaders
  1. The emotional experience for a parent during a PPT meeting.
  • It seems as though the child is being "pulled apart" when discussion focuses exclusively on their deficit areas, be sure to mention strengths.
  • Avoid repetition of similar issues (i.e. each professional does not need to mention a student is distractible - it can be summarized and stated once)
  • Recognize that although parents look to the professional for help, they also come to the table with a great deal of knowledge about their child. Appreciate and include that knowledge in the student's programming.
  • If trust appears to be an issue it must be overcome before a strong relationship can be forged. Even if the trust issue came from a time before you were involved, it may be reflected on to you, do not ignore it. Take the opportunity to resolve it.
  1. The need for effective communication, before, during and after the PPT.
  • Watch your use of special education jargon, speak simply. Check in for understanding.
  • Find out how the parent prefers to communicate- in person, phone or email, find out how often they need updating - parents feel out of the loop, bringing them in - at their own speed/level - will help to reduce the feeling of not being included in their child's educational decisions.
  • Progress reporting is essential, low performance issues should be reported immediately.
  • Brainstorm ways to reach less engaged families
  1. Share effective ways to support all students and their families
  • Identify local community resources available to help families and how to share that information respectfully.
  • Let families know what is happening in school, and discuss how these programs can best be shared with home, i.e. PBS, RTI, and other Professional Development topics.
  • Develop an environment of transparency, trust and a positive climate for all; student, staff and family.

* Four Core Beliefs are from Beyond the Bake Sale, The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships 2007 Henderson, Mapp, Johnson and Davies

Training Opportunities for Families and Staff

  • Developing Positive Relationships between Families and Schools Workshop
    The importance of positive home-school relationships and the effect of these relationships on students' success will be discussed. Participants will also learn strategies that families and schools can use to create meaningful relationships as well as the barriers to successful relationships.
  • Families as Partners Training
    Families as Partners is designed to develop partnerships and promote collaboration between schools and families in the implementation of the IEP. Three training modules, available in both English and Spanish, are presented jointly to parents and district personnel on Preparing for the PPT, Developing the IEP and What to Do When You Disagree. Providing joint training allows parents and professionals to hear the same information and it gives them a chance to sit down together in a comfortable setting to talk about their concerns, both parents concerns for their children and the school's concerns when education the children.
  • From Conflict to Collaboration Workshop
    CPAC has developed this training for administrators and other professionals related to reducing conflict with families. Research from CADRE is shared about the main reasons for these conflicts and ideas about preventing them from occurring. Focus is on understanding positions vs. interests and how to reframe the situation from the other parties' perspective. Preventing escalations of disagreements can help preserve relationships and hopefully result in positive student outcomes.

Soliciting Family Feedback
There are multiple ways for school districts to gather data from families to help guide their improvement efforts. Below are several simple tools to help determine how families perceive the relationship they have with school staff. Some districts have feedback forms on their website, some gather the data immediately following each PPT meeting and others hold focus groups or do a family survey.

Administrative Council Sharing
One district holds regular meetings of their administration including all building Principals, Assistant Principals, Curriculum Coordinators, Department Heads and other administrative level staff. At these meetings there is dedicated time to share family engagement strategies.

For example, each Administrative Council Meeting agenda has time set aside, based on a rotating schedule, for building principals to share their family engagement ideas and efforts. They explain what they do, share the materials used, and review the outcomes of their efforts. This allows other district staff to replicate successful events while decreasing staff time on development. It also keeps the topic current, relevant and evolving.

Parent Leadership Committee
The Parent Leadership Committee is voluntary and is run by parents from all grade levels. Each grade level has one or two official parent representatives, but all parents are welcome to attend and provide their opinions and input. This committee meets about every-other month but they keep in contact more frequently than that.

Supporting a Smooth Transition
For each building level transition, students with disabilities and their families are invited to an orientation at school. Teachers, administrators, paras and social work/psych share a short presentation on the expectations of students now that they have "moved up". They learn how programs change, expectations change, and service delivery models may change. Discussions of supplies, a tour of the building and a question and answer session takes place. Including other students from programs such as Best Buddies, Peer Natural Helpers, Unified Sports, Unified Arts, Friendly Faces or other inclusive programs would be a positive addition to the event.

Tools

Communication Tools
Case Manager Checklist
This tool has been developed for use by Case Managers to proactively plan and track their communication with families.
View Checklist

Monthly Family Contact Log
These tools have been created for teachers to use to help document contacts they have with students' families. The individual family contact record provides more detailed information about the contact. The monthly family contact log is in spreadsheet format in order to provide an organized list of contacts with each students' family.
View Contact Log

Family Engagement Self Assessments
How Well is Your School Bridging Racial, Class and Cultural Differences?
As a team, review and rate the items, then complete the reflection questions at the end of the survey to help you design a plan for bridging racial, class and cultural differences at your school.

How Well Does Your School Support Families as Advocates?
As a leadership team, review and rate the items, then complete the reflection questions at the end of the survey to help you design a plan for improving ways to support families as advocates.

Information Dissemination to Families
Parent Packet
The Parent Packet was developed to welcome parents with children new to special education or to the district and offer them information about special education and their specific school system.
View Parent Packet

Preparing for the Planning and Placement Team (PPT)
This is sent to the family with the PPT invitation and lets them know their input is important and is designed to help them prepare to share their thoughts on their child's program.
View PPT Invitation

Use of District and School Websites
Most school systems have a website, which can be a great resource for families. Remember to promote the web site and its value to families in different ways, for example: school and district newsletters, flyers in backpacks, or make announcements at events. Since not all families have access to the internet, consider sharing locations where families can access the website, like the local public library or school computer labs.

Helpful information to put on school or district websites may include:

  • School and District Information
  • Central office contact information, phone numbers for staff and emails as available
  • List of upcoming school activities and athletic events
  • Student Handbooks and district policies
  • RTI Practices
  • District and school specific data and improvement plans
  • Feedback forms

Grade Level Expectations

  • District specific curricular resources
  • National Common core standards
  • What to do when a student is struggling
  • Where to find homework help and homework expectations
  • Tips on ways parent can support student learning (this week we're working on...)

Special Education Resources

  • Link to "A Parent's Guide to Special Education in CT"
  • Link to Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center's website
  • Link to "Helpful Resources for Families in CT" by CT State Department of Education

Community Based Resources

  • Child guidance clinics
  • Local parenting programs
  • Recreational/physical fitness opportunities

Automated Phone Messenger Services
Some districts use an automated messenger service to communicate with families, often they are underutilized. A good practice is to include a call back number and name for questions. Consider using this system as a means to stay connected to families in all areas that would be of concern to many families. Ongoing and open communication can help increase transparency and trust between schools and families.

Urgent Notifications

  • emergency cancellations or early release
  • report issues of interest: H1N1 info, explain police presence, lockdown, etc.

Reminders

  • planned school days off, early releases and late openings
  • events to which parents are invited AND ENCOURAGED to attend
  • no uniform days
  • report cards coming home
  • special days requiring students to do something different or bring something special to school ie. field days, pajama parties, district-wide assessments.
  • parent teacher conferences - reminder to both sign up and to attend conferences

News Announcements

  • important changes to the website such as: next year's calendar was just posted, our fall athletic schedule is now available, parent teacher conference sign up is now online, etc
  • accomplishments of the school (Chorus award, student art prize, etc.)
  • district CMT and CAPT results are out, and when student information will be mailed home
  • opportunities for parent engagement in school wide or district wide decision making. (School improvement teams, Hiring committees, PTO, subcommittees of the BOE, Event planning etc.)
  • larger community events - public hearing on the budget, elections, etc.
  • at the end of the school year, information regarding expectations for summer

Online Homework and Grade Tracking Programs
Some districts are now using programs that allow parents online access to their children's grades or upcoming assignments. This is a great way to increase communication with families. Providing timely information to families about student attendance, homework completion and grades on tests, quizzes and class work can reduce some of the conflict that arises over these issues. Since not all families are comfortable with computers, or the internet, it would also be helpful to offer tutorials on using these programs and some may need to know about available public access computers.

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTION AND TRYING TO LEARN THE JARGON

Asking questions is a great way to learn more about your child's progress. When jargon is used it can sometimes create misunderstanding if everyone does not have the same understanding of the language, our Guide to Terms (link to document on our Newsletter and Publications page) can help. Some examples of questions on specific topics, contact CPAC for help if needed.

Questions Parents Can Ask About Reading Improvement
Response to Intervention (RtI) 10 Questions Parents Should Ask

Checklists

Checklists can provide a quick way to review the steps to accomplishing something. A checklist helps keep you organized and on task. Some ways of using checklists are for meeting preparation, prioritizing your concerns, or ensuring you have hit all of your talking points. These are some checklists to help you get started:

CT State Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education's PPT Checklist

HIGH QUALITY RESOURCES

Using high quality resources, from trusted sources, as the basis of your discussion with the team will result in a clearer conversation and joint understanding of the best way to move forward. Contact CPAC for help in determining which resources might be of help to you. Some examples:

Frequently Asked Questions about SLD/Dyslexia
State Guidelines on identification and services for various disabilities

SAMPLE LETTERS

Using the language from our sample letters ensures that your intention is clear and the school staff know exactly what you are asking for or communicating to them. This leaves less room for unnecessary misunderstandings. CPAC Parent Consultants are available to help you write your letters or emails if you need assistance.

Sample letter to make a referral:
English  |  Spanish

Sample letter to request an interim PPT because you have concerns:
English  |  Spanish

SHARING WHAT YOU KNOW ABOUT YOUR CHILD

Sharing information regarding your child's strengths and needs helps the educators have a better understanding about how to help your child. Your child's teacher will know more about him/her sooner and have information to make connections right away. Learning to describe your child's needs, rather than use labels or diagnosis is a large part of how CPAC Parent Consultants help families, please call if needed.

Getting to Know My Child: A Guide for My Child's Kindergarten Teacher
This is a booklet for parents to fill out and either give to their child's pre-kindergarten teacher as part of an Early Learning Passport or it can be a separate packet of information parents can give directly to their child's kindergarten teacher at the beginning of the school year. Go to Getting to Know My Child: A Guide for My Child's Kindergarten Teacher.

Seven things to tell the teacher about your child
This article from the Child Mind Institute describes the areas to share with your child's teacher that will help them make a stronger connection to your child's needs.
Read Article

Understanding Expectations

Part of knowing your rights is also knowing the expectations for your family, such as attendance, behavior and annual progress in learning. By knowing what the expectations are you can ensure you are meeting the legal expectations for sending your child(ren) to school and what the school or program is expected to do as well. These are some examples of ways to learn about expectations, for specific questions contact a Parent Consultant at CPAC.

School Handbooks
See your school or district website

CT Core Standards
Standards identify what ALL students should "know and be able to do" at each grade.
View CT Core Standard Information

Guidelines for Excused and Unexcused Absences in CT
State laws are clear on what districts must do to report chronic absences to the family and to the state.
View Guidelines

What Birth to Three Looks Like
Understand the purpose of the program and how it works to know if it is the right match for your family.