Practices & Tools


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. A project is currently underway in Connecticut, funded by the CSDE, called "Enhancing Collaborative Relationships between Families and Schools." The Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center, in conjunction with four CT school districts, have been working on developing meaningful activities to increase staff knowledge and competencies to support engagement of families in their children's education.

Below are a few examples of emerging practices and ideas that these 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 Discussions

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:

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.


  • Case Manager Checklist
    This tool has been developed for use by Case Managers to track their communication with 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.
  • 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.
  • TODO: This link is broken on the existing website
    One-Year Action Plan for Partnerships (School Level, Form G-Goals). National Network of Partnership Schools. This tool has been created for use at the school-level; the action plan is organized by school improvement goal, including two academic goals, one behavioral goal, and one goal to promote a welcoming school climate.
  • TODO: This link is broken on the existing website
    One-Year Action Plan for Partnerships (School Level, Form T-Types) Areas to Consider When Preparing for Your PPT Meeting.
    National Network of Partnership Schools. This tool has been created for use at the school level; the action plan is organized by Joyce Epstein's Six Types of Family Involvement: Parenting, Communicating, Volunteering, Learning at Home, Decision Making, and Collaborating with the Community.
  • Preparing for the Planning and Placement Team
    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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.