How do we strengthen and leverage family-school relationships?


Connection between family and school is one of the most important factors to a young person’s success. In fact, students with engaged parents earn higher grades, are more likely to graduate high school, attend college more frequently, are more self-confident, are more motivated, and have better social skills and classroom behavior. Empowering families to work as partners with the school and the community can be a critical part of ensuring students’ success.


Creating a community that works together takes time and trust. Use the following strategies to rethink how to create deeper relationships, increase engagement, and empower parents to be a part of the school culture and their child’s learning.



To help you maintain and increase family engagement, we recommend reconceptualizing family engagement, building lasting relationships with families, and supporting parents in teaching their children. This NEA Priority Schools Campaign guide to building partnerships between families and schools is a good starting place.

Reimagining Family Engagement


  • Understand your own preconceived notions and ideas about family empowerment. What do you think family empowerment looks like? What does it look like in your school district? Traditionally, families attend school events and are expected to show up for important conferences about their learners’ progress. There are many other activities to use and ways to engage and empower families.
  • Seek input from your families. Each family has a different set of needs and desires. In addition, every family has a unique culture and background that you should spend time understanding and learning.
    • Schedule conversations with parents and guardians. Ask parents how to best communicate with them, what they want for their children, and how they might want to be engaged. How do they want to be involved and how can they contribute? What are their beliefs and experiences about school? Consider starting by asking parents what they think a learning plan for their learner and empowerment for them might look like. Repurpose these phone talking points or email questions to learn more.  Use available tips and tools for how to communicate with parents to understand what engagement opportunities might exist. 
    • Survey your families. Understand their needs, their goals, and the challenges they face. This is a good opportunity to infuse some equity thinking into the planning, including through the use of tools such as this Cultural Affirming Climate Survey.
  • Spend time in the community. Spend time getting to know the surrounding community and where the families that attend your schools live, work, and play. Build relationships with families and with community members. The Equity Project’s list of cultural synchronization questions may help.
  • Develop a draft of a family empowerment plan. Here’s a sample plan.
    • Create a new plan that thinks outside of the box and provides alternative ways to engage. Rethinking parent empowerment and leadership requires thinking about their role differently. Instead of bringing parents in only to provide them information, innovative schools are encouraging more dynamic ways of empowering families.  
    • Lead with a strengths-based approach, one that lets families know they have something valuable to contribute and you are there to help support them.
    • Be sure to include relevant contact information for you or other core leadership team members. 
    • Articulate how and when you plan to connect with families and be available to address common challenges and concerns. 
    • Describe how you will use emails, texts, or apps to keep parents up-to-date on upcoming class events.
  • Seek feedback on your proposed plan. Communicate your plan for engagement and ask for feedback. 

Maintain Ongoing Connection  

Family empowerment isn’t a one-step process. The connection that enables the creation of the empowerment plan must be maintained.

  • Create an advisory council so you have a diverse team of parents to learn from. Parents are often only involved in conferences and informational events, resulting in one-way engagement and involvement. In order for this paradigm to shift and for parents to truly be empowered, we need to see them as allies and valuable contributors. An advisory council can serve as a sounding board to new ideas and bring a wealth of information, skills, and strengths to the school. 
  • Host small conversations to understand family needs and how they want to be involved. Small conversations are better suited to diving deeper into needs and desires. Additionally, you may consider leveraging parent and teacher teams to increase connection and engagement between families and teachers. 
  • Encourage principals to find ongoing ways to engage families and continually learn from them throughout the year. This resource may help. 
  • Educate teachers about how to think differently about the skills, assets and strengths of parents. Once you have learned more about the families you are working with, be sure teachers see the strengths and ways they can work with families as assets. Educators can create a learning plan with parents that helps provide ample opportunities for engagement. 
  • Be ready to iterate and include new ideas as they come along. Your community will always be changing, so your strategies need to as well.

Supporting Parents as Teachers  

Parents are their kids’ first teachers. During the pandemic-related campus closures they stepped up in unimaginable ways that we should continue to honor and build upon. Below are some suggestions on how to leverage this new level of participation and build on it. 

  • Celebrate your parents and their work to date. Many parents and guardians have been working to support learning at home for months and deserve recognition for their efforts and partnership. Be sure to publicly acknowledge their efforts, acknowledge that this is not easy and remind them that you appreciate them. 
  • Survey your parents to understand their needs as parent teachers. Leaders also play an important role in understanding what parents need to best educate young people while they are at home. This support includes a range of needs, including academic, social, emotional, and physical needs. Survey your families to understand their needs, then create plans to meet those needs.
  • Provide meaningful resources with your parents. Share resources for at-home learning with parents. 
    • Today’s Parenting Guides offer information about milestones and learning by grade level.
    • Specific reading support and guides will help continue learning at home with parents and provide parents a way to feel they are providing meaningful instruction. 
    • Specific math tools and resources that align with your district’s math scope and sequence will be helpful to parents who are seeking to support their students’ development and mathematical understandings.
  • Be available and check in with parents. Make yourself available to connect, even if you need to connect virtually. Parents will have questions about how to best support their learner at home. 
  • Host events specifically to support parents. Encourage educators to find ways to host events that build community and social interaction with students and families, here are tips if these events are hosted online. Parents may want to meet with other parents experiencing similar successes or challenges. 


  • What is your vision for family empowerment? How do you ensure families, staff, and students have a voice in establishing a common vision?
  • What do you expect from families? How do families know what is expected of them? What do families expect from you?
  • What are you doing to build trusting relationships with families? What resources are you devoting to this? What resources do you need?
  • What do you know about the families in your community of learners, including newer families? Which families need support in advocating for their child and why? How can we identify the type of support families need? How can you learn more about your families and their needs? 
  • Is your staff equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to support parent advocacy and empowerment? If not, how can you support your staff?
  • What resources are available in your school and/or community that can help families learn the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the education system?