All Articles Education Insights Unlocking the power of family engagement for equitable educational outcomes

Unlocking the power of family engagement for equitable educational outcomes

Research shows better student outcomes when teachers find that sweet spot of actionable, accessible, consistent family engagement.

6 min read


Two parents and their child across a small desk from the teacher

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Insights is a SmartBrief Education Originals column that features perspectives from noted experts and leaders in education on the hot-button issues affecting schools and districts. All contributors are selected by the SmartBrief Education editorial team.

The decades of research highlighting families’ powerful influence on positive student outcomes, coupled with the critical data revealing that families’ engagement in their child’s learning has more than twice the effect on student test scores than socioeconomic status or level of educational attainment, underscores how essential family engagement is as an educational intervention. 

Yet, despite the potential to meaningfully improve the rate at which students learn, family engagement remains a lever that is not widely or systematically prioritized. For example, data show that families from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and historically marginalized communities receive less communication from schools and teachers. 

While a number of factors contribute to inconsistent and inequitable family engagement practices, including a lack of teacher preparation, schools can use key practices and strategies now to ignite the power of all families to support positive academic outcomes for students. 

Getting the information flow going

A regular flow of learning-focused information between teachers and families is essential. Families are looking for key information about what their children are learning, whether their children are on track academically and how they can help support learning at home. Without these insights, families are left in the dark, often assuming their children are performing at or above grade-level when data suggest otherwise.

Importantly, how key learning-focused information is communicated from schools to families matters. Here are five strategies that can support schools’ efforts to successfully partner with students’ families to foster positive learning outcomes. 

Listen and learn for good family engagement

Understanding a family’s specific needs when it comes to supporting their child’s learning is an essential first step in designing and developing an effective, equitable family engagement strategy. What do families perceive is currently going well when it comes to learning-focused communication? Where are areas of improvement? What information do families feel is missing from the communication they currently receive from their child’s school? Are there certain grade levels or academic content areas that need focus and attention? 

Listening and learning from families is not a one-and-done solution but an ongoing process that enables your family engagement approaches to be most meaningful for families and, ultimately, students.  

Center accessibility

Ensuring learning-focused information is accessible for all families is an essential consideration and priority for schools seeking to equitably engage families as authentic partners. Accessibility can take many forms. Schools should reflect on the following questions: Are the tips and resources I am sharing with families available in all of the languages spoken by the families in our community? Is the information at the right reading level for families? Is the information communicated through the right channels for our families (e.g., audio, text message, email)? Can the information be easily integrated into families’ lives? 

Additionally, consider opt-in vs. opt-out approaches to family engagement programming, given that opt-out approaches are shown to be more effective in terms of family uptake and, consequently, their impact on student achievement, while opt-in programs are more likely to increase inequality and the inaccessibility of resources for the students and families who may benefit most.  

By centering accessibility, you ensure learning-focused resources meet families where they are. 

One parent receiving weekly text messages with at-home learning tips and activities reinforced the importance of solutions that are accessible and easily implemented, noting, “I liked that they were short and simple things to do, it didn’t feel like I needed to build in a new practice.” 

Make it actionable

In addition to accessible, community-informed approaches, it is critical that information communicated to families is actionable. To meaningfully reinforce classroom learning at home with their children, families need strategies they can easily and effectively integrate into their daily lives. Providing examples of math and/or ELA-focused conversation starters, games or activities that families can engage in at home with their children equips families with the tools to play a significant role in accelerating student learning.

Another parent highlighted that sharing ways to easily embed learning into existing routines was a great way to support their child: “It’s good to have simple bite-sized suggestions for ways to enhance childhood learning during daily activities and conversations.” 

Get specific

Providing specific, relevant and timely information to guide families’ at-home learning support is also important. Families are looking for personalized information about their child’s specific learning needs, plus related tips and activities to support specific areas of strength and weakness. 

Equipping families with this information activates another key adult to support a child’s learning journey — a strategy that is especially relevant given concerns over teacher turnover rates, the often overwhelming demands placed on teachers and the limited number of hours in the school day. Families and teachers can form a powerful student success team, leveraging their unique insights into students’ specific learning needs.  

Teachers also notice the difference in classroom discussions when families are talking with their children about specific topics they have learned about that day. One teacher noted how family engagement in learning “extends the lessons and assists with class discussions. Students return to school with bigger ideas than expressed before.” 

Keep it consistent

Regular two-way communication for family engagement is also a best practice when it comes to partnering with families to support student learning. Ongoing communication supports the development of trusting parent-teacher relationships, which provide the foundation through which effective collaboration in support of student learning can take place. 

Take note of parent preferences around communication channels, and be intentional about the timing and frequency of messages. Data show that there is a sweet spot in terms of frequency of learning-focused text message tips, with three text messages per week being more effective than one or five messages. 

Families are ready and eager to partner with teachers and play an active role in their child’s learning journey. They are experts on their children, and they care deeply about their success. When they are equipped with insights from schools and teachers, all families can meaningfully support learning at home and accelerate schools’ efforts to boost student achievement. 

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


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