Family Involvement

Family Involvement

A variety of research shows that one of the very best ways to increase student achievement, and improve students’ attitudes toward school and learning, is to increase family involvement. Fine. Sometimes easier said than done. While Minnesota does not currently require schools to describe how they will involve families, the CSC strongly recommends that schools develop several ways to do this prior to opening their doors. Strong family involvement will, in almost every case, be a major factor in helping a school succeed.

Overview of family involvement:
Joyce Epstein, who has studied and promoted family involvement for 3 decades, concludes that there are 6 major types of family involvement. Each of the six produces helps students in different ways. For example, showing families how to help students develop stronger reading and math skills is, according to Epstein’s research, the form of family involvement that produces the most gain in academic achievement. Another form of involvement, including family members on advisory committees is a good way to gain more people who will advocate your school in the community. Epstein describes these six types on her website: Her excellent publication, School, Family and Community Partnerships (see resource section below) offers descriptions of the six types of family involvement, and gives many examples of how to encourage and promote each type. Here are the 6 types of involvement Epstein discusses:

  1. Parenting: basic responsibilities of families
  2. Communicating – basic responsibilities of schools
  3. Volunteering: involvement at and for the school
  4. Learning at home: involvement in academic activities
  5. Decision making: participation and leadership
  6. Collaborating with the community: coordination of resources and services

Brief recommendations from CSC about promoting family involvement:
Beyond reviewing and using recommendations from CSC, we strongly urge:

  • Beginning each school year with a family/student/teacher conference. This allows the school to make the first contact between home and school a positive one. It also allows educators to learn more about each student and family, and to learn more about their priorities. Schools that do this have found it enormously beneficial. A one page article about this idea appears at the end of this section. In it, we explain that the conference need not take more than 15 minutes per student, and that key areas to be covered could include:

    • What did the student/family do during the summer?

    • What are one or two things the student really wants to learn this year, and what are priorities for the family,

    • What are the school’s overall goals? How are they assessed? What kind of reports will be provided to families?

    • What are one or two ways that the family can help out the school – a list of 50 ideas is included at the end of this section.

    • Answer important questions that students/family have about the school.

  • Recognize that families urgently need to know what is happening with their youngster and with the school, especially in the first year or two of the school. Families may well be questioned by other people about why they are sending their children to your school. Families may hear rumors or inaccurate information. As Epstein notes, it is the school’s responsibility to insure that families are getting accurate information. This means that:
    • It would be very wise, each week, for educators to spend 10-15 minutes, twice a week, calling families to tell them something positive about a student’s accomplishments or behavior. Many families are used to hearing negative things about students from the school. Unquestionably sometimes there will be problems. But if the school’s faculty ALSO calls about positive things, families will feel that the school is giving them a more balanced view of their youngsters.

    • The school should involve students in production of perhaps monthly, print and on-line newsletters. Pictures of student activities can be posted on line, with a few sentences to explain them. Families will respond much better when they are obtaining accurate information about the school.

    • Educators should schedule periodic family nights, not just conferences, where the school promotes fun and learning together.

    • Parent/family/teacher, or family/student/teacher conferences should be held periodically, at times and places convenient for the family.

  • Recognizing that educators and families will not always agree. This means that:

    • The school needs to have a clear method of trying to resolve disagreements, initially if possible between family and teacher, and if not successful, between the family and the school’s director. Once in a while, family members will need to discuss concerns with the school’s board of directors. It is FAR better to have a mediation procedure established before the school year starts, than have to create one while the school is trying to resolve a specific disagreement. So we strongly urge that this procedure be created before the school opens.

    • Neither educator nor family members are always entirely correct. Truth sometimes is elusive. And Sometimes skillful educators can turn a family’s legitimate frustration or anger into a better program for students. In one instance a mother visited a school’s principal to complain about an injury suffered on the playground. The principal agreed that the playground could be improved, agreed to do so, and asked the parent if she would help. Ultimately the parent became deeply involved in a successful effort to dramatically improve the playground. In another instance, a k-12 school had been established that allowed students of all ages to mix in classes and other activities. After 3 months, several parents of kindergarten students came to the school’s council to say that their children were getting lost and frightened in the large building. Although these parents liked the idea of a k-12 school, they urged that a “home base” for the kindergarten students be created. After extensive discussion, this was done. These students did far better because the educators wisely listened to the parents, who helped fashion a better approach for the school.

    • Sometimes disagreements are deep and profound. In one case, an innovative school was deeply split about whether students should have to demonstrate certain skills prior to graduation. After considerable discussion, the majority of people on the site council (which was broadly representative of the school’s families, students and educators) voted that the school would require demonstration of certain skills and knowledge. However, some of the parents who helped start the school strongly disagreed. In the end, a few of these families decided to leave the school. This was unfortunate. But while some disagreements can be mediated, modified and compromised, others can not be.

    • Educators need to understand some people are very angry about a number of things, only some of which have to do with the school. So educators need to develop skills in dealing with a vast array of people, including some people who not only disagree, but can become abusive. (See, for example, the book Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, by Brinkman and Kirschner, in the resource section).

  • Recognize that in some cases, despite the best efforts of educators, some families will not be involved in the school. Sometimes students do not live with either parent, but with another relative, or even on their own. Whenever possible, it is helpful to work with some adult who is significant in a students’ life. In some cases, this will be a grandparent, in other cases a probation officer. The overall point is that if the school and a significant adult are working together, it is far more likely that the student will be successful.

  • Please recognize that these are only a handful of recommendations in an area that is vital for most schools. We urge reviewing materials and resources cited below, for many more ideas and suggestions.


Epstein, Joyce. Various materials from the Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships 3003 N. Charles, Suite 200 Baltimore, Maryland 21218, This is the single best source of ideas regarding increasing family involvement that we know of. Epstein has spent several decades working on this issue. Her website is full of ideas and materials that educators can use. One of the many publications is School, Family and Community Partnerships, written by Dr. Epstein and several others, and available from Corwin Press (1997) at We strongly recommend Epstein’s website and this publication.

Henderson, Anne T. and Mapp, Karen L. (2002). A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student Achievement. Austin, Texas: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory. Order by phone at: 800-476-6861, or This is the single best summary of research we know about in this field. It is done very well, with dozens of research summaries presented, each receiving 1-2 pages. The report also includes a marvelous 2 page summary of all the research cited. This document, especially the brief introduction, would be very valuable for staff to review and consider.

Curran, Delores. (1984). Traits of a Healthy Family. San Francisco: Harper/Collins. These traits include: “communicates & listens, fosters table time and conversation, affirms and supports one another, teaches respect for others, develops a sense of trust, has a sense of play and humor, has a balance of interaction among members, shares leisure time, exhibits a sense of shared responsibility, teaches a sense of right and wrong, has a strong sense of family in which rituals and traditions abound, has a shared religious core, respects the privacy of one another, values service to others, admits to and seeks help with problems.”

Developmental Studies Center. (1995). At Home in Our Schools. Oakland: DSC. 2000 Embarcadero, Suite 305, Oakland Ca 94606, $14.95 + videotape & other resources. Good materials, in both English and Spanish

Brinkman, Rick and Kirschner, Rick. (1994). Dealing with People You Can’t Stand. New York: McGraw Hill. Very practical, sometimes humorous. This book includes strategies that sometimes work.

Faber, Adele and Mazlish, Elaine. (1980). How to Talk So Kids will Listen and Listen So Kids will Talk. New York: Avon Books. And, (1995). How to Talk So Kids can Learn: At Home and In School. New York: Simon & Schuster. Very practical, wise and helpful books that educators and parents can use – Strongly recommended for those wanting to know how to communicate more effectively with young people and families.

Rich, Dorothy. (1996). Megaskills. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Very helpful book for families that want to help youngsters develop critical life skills.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 29 August 2007)