What is Family Engagement?

By Heather Ippolito, Vice President for Family Engagement

In PTA we often talk about family engagement, but what does it really mean and why is it so very important?  

Family engagement with schools has many definitions:  

  • The US Department of Health and Human Services: Family engagement is the process used to build genuine relationships with families. Relationships with families support overall family well-being and children’s healthy development. When families are engaged, partnerships are created that have a common focus– helping children grow and thrive.
  • In 2010 the National Family, School and Community Engagement Working Group (now the NAFSCE Policy Council) defined family engagement like this: “Family engagement is a shared responsibility in which schools and other community agencies and organizations are committed to reaching out to engage families in meaningful ways and in which families are committed to actively supporting their children’s learning and development.”
  • National PTA defines transformative family engagement as a shared effort of families, schools and community leaders to advance programs, practices, and policies that empower every parent to make their child’s potential a reality.

Research shows family engagement is a major factor in student success, with an encouraging home environment serving as a bigger factor in student achievement than a parent’s income, education level or cultural background. It also tells us that family engagement:

  • Promotes healthy development and wellness in children
  • Increases graduation rates for those students whose families are involved on campus
  • Decreases dropout rates and behavior issues in students whose families participate on campus
  • Increases a child’s academic and social skills

What does this all boil down to for our  PTA unit, council and district leaders? Family engagement is something you do daily. Your programs and events help bring families to your campus and better understand educational issues that impact their children. When you help create and foster relationships between families, the school and the greater community, the students at your school thrive.  

Our goal as the California State PTA Family Engagement Commission is to give you concrete ideas to make this task easier. Every Friday on the blog we will share family engagement tips, best practices, and resources that will help you as you plan activities on your campus. We are so excited to work alongside you this term! 

Next steps:

  • This year at your first executive board meeting set three family engagement goals. Some examples of family engagement goals are:
  • Increase involvement of fathers, grandfathers, and other male family members in PTA and school events
  • Increase parent and family participation in the Local Control Accountability Plan and Local Control Funding Formula meetings
  • Take at least three actions this year to make your existing programs more accessible for families of children with special needs. For example, open up your Fall Harvest Festival 30 minutes early for these families so they can enjoy the activities with smaller crowds and less sensory stimulation.

Share with us your goals and you might be recognized in our social media (or win a prize). Email them to familyengagement@capta.org 

  • We also want to hear about your best family engagement activities. Complete this simple form and your school may be featured here on the blog, in our social media or on our website. 

To return to the blog homepage, click here.

Being an Involved Parent

We’ve been hearing a bunch lately that parental involvement matters more for educational performance of our kids than even the lessons in school.  Study after study tells us that parents matter.  But what does this really mean and how can I do that and still keep up with my house, my job and myself?  As a full-time working mom I struggle daily, like so many of us, to find that balance and fear that my kid’s future is getting worse because I can’t be in the classroom (or even want to be) 24/7.

It took me awhile to learn that I was not failing my kids if I couldn’t sign up for every in-class opportunity made available. I couldn’t sleep for days as I pondered the effects on my kids but then I thought about how much time my kids actually spend at school versus the rest of the week with me.  On average my kids surprisingly spend less than 20 percent of their time in school.  It’s not to say that school isn’t important, but it does highlight how important parents are in their kids learning since 80 percent of the time parents are their teacher.

But now comes the tougher question. How do I stay involved so they can learn more and be smarter?

For me parent involvement has become far more than just going to a PTA meeting or paying my yearly dues.  (Of course those are both important but not directly helping kids in the ways all the studies talk about.)  What I think it really means to be an involved parent is listening to my kid’s stories as soon as they open their mouths.  I strive each day to look at their homework and discuss what they did at school that day. I also always give them one unexpected question about their school day like “who had the silliest socks” or “if you could have traded lunches with anyone today who would it have been?”  These types of questions have allowed me to get my kids to talk more about their day without becoming a total interrogation.  It also shows them that I truly am interested in what they did and it’s not just about me checking in on them.

Although I don’t have the schedule that allows me to volunteer in the classroom each week, I do strongly believe being included in different parts of the education process at my kid’s schools has been critical.  I have been a member of some strong PTAs that have thankfully found ways to invite parents into the classroom setting without disrupting the school day or forcing me to choose between a paycheck and being at the school.  These PTAs have hosted various events or activities that brought parents and families into the school and encouraged parents to establish good educational routines with their kids.

This is where PTAs can really make effective change.  Some examples that I have been part of include:

  1. Educational family nights with themes like “Science Blast” or “Family Spelling Bee.”
  2. Family Reading Night” or “Family Reading Month” where parents are asked to bring a book to read to the class. It can take as little as five minutes to read a book.
  3. “Three For Me” Project where parents pledge on “Back To School Night” to volunteer three hours to help their child’s class. This can mean cutting out art projects at home, washing desks or being a “Junior Achievement” mentor. Regardless of the task, it encourages ALL parents to volunteer so each child can see their parent helping.  (This is also one of my favorites because too many times, three moms hog all the volunteer spots and although great helpers they take away from other kids in the class seeing their parents help.)
  4. “Family Performance Night” where parents and students receive roles for the school play and are part of the drama club or talent show.
  5. “Show & Tell Moments” but instead of material items students bring in a parent or guardian to show off.

Each day, I learn with my kids but honestly the more I talk with my kids and listen, the more I learn about CA curriculum and where they may need my help to fill in the voids.

Studies on Benefits of Parent Involvement: