Building Relationships Starts With Trust

by California State PTA Family Engagement Commission

Relationships are at the core of high-quality family engagement. As a PTA leader, you must take the time to build trusting, authentic relationships with families on your campus before they buy into attending your events, participating in your PTA meetings, or serving on your PTA board. The PTA National Standard for Family-School Partnerships begin with “Welcoming All Families” and “Communicating Effectively” for a reason it is where our work begins. 

Eyal Bergman, a Harvard doctoral candidate who worked with Dr. Karen Mapp, created a relational trust matrix to help us as we embark on this work. He describes four key elements of relational trust: respect, competence, integrity, and personal regard. While this list was originally intended for educators, we think there are some great lessons for PTA leaders.  As your PTA embarks on its family engagement work to help ensure that everyone feels included and welcomed on your school campuses, you will do well to understand these four elements.

Respect:  “Am I seeking input and listening carefully to what ALL families have to say?”  

As PTA leaders we need to not only seek out all families but also listen to what they are telling us. We need to remember that not all communication is verbal and that not everyone speaks the same language. Offering multiple opportunities and modes for feedback and input can go a long way to helping everyone feel that their opinion is valued.

Competence:  “Am I demonstrating to families that I am competent AND that I am honoring their roles as good caretakers?” Cultural competency is something that PTA leaders constantly need to work on. In many ways, it is easier to understand people from within our own culture, but understanding other cultures takes time and practice. We all parent differently, but we all love our children and want the best for them. Our common denominator of wanting what’s best for our children should help unite us and help as we build cultural competence over time.  

Integrity:  “Do I keep my word with families?”  Our PTA leaders need to make sure that we are being honest, open, and transparent with the families on our campuses. During the past few years, we have had to pivot our activities to comply with pandemic complications, but so long as we communicate those changes in a timely manner with our families they feel our integrity. As long as we keep the mission of the California State PTA (“To positively impact the lives of all children and families”) at the heart of all we do, our families can feel confident that they can trust us. 

Personal Regard:  “Do I show families that I value and care about them as people versus objects?”  The families on our campus are not fundraising machines or a number of tickets sold for an event they are parents, caregivers, siblings, and children who want to feel connected to the school.  As PTA leaders, we need to make sure that we think of them and treat them as such.  

The work to build relationships begins as soon as you step into your PTA role, and continues every day afterward!  Make sure you extend the invitation to all families to be a part of your PTA, to attend your family engagement events, to connect with your campus, and to join your PTA in the work you do on behalf of children and families.  

It is up to each of us to establish these relationships for the benefit of all of our children.

Family Engagement is a Shared Responsibility

By Heather Ippolito, Vice President for Family Engagement , California State PTA

Whose job is it to create partnerships between families and the schools that serve them? That question has driven the work of Dr. Karen Mapp, a Harvard professor and a contributing expert to the PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships that we have been sharing over the past few months. 

At a really basic level, her answer to that question is that both school personnel and family members are crucial to making the partnership work.

Dr. Mapp has spent her career working with educators and parents to cultivate partnerships between schools, families, and the community to support the best outcomes for our students. In 2019 she updated her Dual-Capacity Framework to better reflect the challenges faced by both educators and families and to give more direction on how we can work together in our schools.  

The framework contains four sections. Addressing all four can provide crucial support for strong family, school and community partnerships. Let’s go through each section briefly:

#1 – Challenges.  Dr. Mapp notes that before we talk about all the things that need to happen for successful partnerships we need to address the barriers and challenges that schools and parents face for family engagement.  

Barriers educators face include not having received much training in this area and, with the exception of very few, not seeing family engagement done well.  Parents’ challenges include not feeling welcomed on campus or having negative experiences with their own education that color their feelings towards a school setting.  

#2 – Essential Conditions. There are two different types of essential conditions; process and organizational conditions.  

Process conditions include things like having family engagement linked to student learning and making sure it is culturally responsive. Additionally, Dr. Mapp says that in the process category family engagement should be collaborative and interactive with a focus on building relationships. The organizational conditions that need to be met include family engagement being visible across the entire educational system meaning that family engagement needs to be supported by everyone from teachers to superintendents in order to be effective.  There must also be resources devoted to the program and it should be embedded in all aspects of education. 

#3 – Policy and Program Goals. There are “4 C” areas that Dr. Mapp feels must be met in the policy and program areas- Capabilities, Connections, Confidence, and Cognition.  

Capabilities include skills and knowledge. Schools need to understand the community they are working in and they need cultural competencies to be able to work with the families at their school. Parents need to have a better understanding of the educational system and strategies they can use at home to support learning.  

Connections are the important relationships and networks built on mutual trust and respect that need to be formed between parents and teachers, parents and parents, and the school and community.  

Both families and educators need confidence in working together. They need to have time to develop self-efficacy as they navigate this work and educators and parents of diverse backgrounds need to be encouraged to participate and be included in positions of leadership.  

Finally, cognition refers to families needing to see themselves as key partners in their child’s educational success. Schools need to be committed to working with all parents and see the value of including families in all aspects of the educational experience. 

#4 – Capacity Outcomes.  If we build up the capacity in our parents and educators then the real work of coming together to make improvements for our schools and our students can begin. Parents become supporters, advocates and co-creators at the school and educators create welcoming school cultures where families are encouraged to be co-creators and acknowledged for the skills and talents they bring to the campus. 

Our role as PTA leaders is to understand that schools and families need to work together.  We can use the Dual Capacity-Building Framework in our work with families and we can offer parent education to help parents understand how to navigate the education system or see how they can support their child at home. PTA programs can help to shift parents’ perspectives about school from negative to positive as we help them create positive interactions with teachers, administrators, and school staff at our events. 

To learn more about National PTA’s Transformative Family Engagement work, visit the Center for Family Engagement

Dr. Mapp, in collaboration with the Institute for Educational Leadership, has videos, graphics and lots of resources for anyone who is wanting to dive deeper into this. They can be accessed here: