Family Engagement Strategies for Middle School

By: Heather Ippolito, Vice President for Family Engagement

During elementary school connecting with your child’s school and teacher can be relatively straightforward and our kids generally welcome our involvement. However, the hands-on approach of family engagement can change when our kids’ reach middle school and seek more autonomy. 

The National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement (NAFSCE) and Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium (MAEC) held a webinar entitled Reframing Adolescence & Middle School Family Engagement, focused on helping to reframe what family engagement looks like in the middle school years. Here are nine strategies that can be used by your PTA and school community to help connect middle school parents to the campus at this pivotal time for children:

Strategy 1 – Promote awareness of the developmental needs of early adolescents.
Parents need to be reminded that they are their child’s first (and most consistent) teacher. Train families in family decision-making strategies that give their children both autonomy and support.

Strategy 2 – Provide families with information about how to navigate middle school.
Middle school is quite different from elementary school in rigor and organization. Students need to learn study skills and self-regulation skills as well as where they can go for help and support when it’s needed. The learning happening in the classroom should also be communicated to families along with how that knowledge can connect to future careers. 

Strategy 3 – Emphasize growth mindset.
Mistakes are opportunities for growth and learning. Families need to understand the concept of growth mindset and use it at home particularly during homework time. This article by Carol Dweck provides more information about why this is important.

Strategy 4 – Provide actionable and specific improvement messages.
Families should be contacted on a regular basis about their children. Communication should contain concrete, actionable things that parents can share with their students to increase their chances of success. 

Strategy 5 – Encourage families to approach homework with positivity.
Homework should be enjoyable and doable. Teachers should clearly communicate their homework expectations with families, they should invite feedback from families about the homework process, and they should be available if questions arise. 

Strategy 6 – Partner to provide age-appropriate and supportive routines and structures.
Families should receive information on topics pertinent to adolescents including social media platforms, collaborative rule setting, and risky behaviors that adolescents display. Armed with this information families can create routines and structures to help their children thrive.

Strategy 7 – Collaborate to create a sense of belonging.
Participating in clubs and social groups in or outside of school helps students feel connected and gives them a sense of belonging. Families should understand the importance of developing healthy friendships and the benefits these provide to their children now and in years to come.

Strategy 8 – Communicate and model confidence.
Students should be given opportunities to experience leadership at school and at home. Families can also help their children understand that choices have outcomes, still keeping in mind the value of growth mindset when mistakes happen.

Strategy 9 – Value home-based involvement.
At this age, family engagement will more likely take place in the home than on-campus. Parents still need the school to share strategies to support learning at home and they want to celebrate their students’ successes, but they need to understand the value of all that they are doing at home to support their child’s education. 

For more information on this topic as well as a one-page flier with tips for middle school families available in six languages visit the Middle Ground Project out of Ohio State University.