Learning doesn’t just happen within a school building. To increase student achievement, it’s important to not just focus on what happens at school. Research shows that parents’ involvement in their kid’s learning is the strongest predictor of academic success. An analysis of 100 Chicago public schools showed that students were four times more likely to improve in reading if they had strong parental involvement. 

To truly partner with families, schools need to actively listen to families and prioritize meaningful engagement. When schools, teachers, and parents come together to form a team, kids benefit. But how can we get started? Use these three ideas to engage families as partners in teaching and learning.


Empower families to embrace their expertise 

Families can be their children’s first and most important teachers. They tend to know their kids best and can have valuable insight to share. Help families realize this by disrupting the idea that educators are the only “experts” that need to be listened to. Families come with their own expertise about their children and how they best learn. 

Frame collaboration as a way to best support individual students together. Begin by empowering families to embrace their “teacher” role by celebrating the successes they may be having at home. Ask families to share how their children are doing at home, then build off of any strategies or approaches that may be working. Make connections to what you’re seeing in school and validate the critical role that families play in supporting their kids’ academic success. 


Listen to families 

Encourage families to keep sharing what is working— and not working— at home. When you invite families to share how learning is going, truly listen to them. Come to conversations with a series of open-ended questions that you can ask. If you’d like to engage families as partners in their children’s reading development, ask questions such as: Is your family able to make time for at-home reading time?; What is working? What would make it easier for you?; Where could you use more support or guidance?

Cultivate patience, curiosity, and compassion. Do not try to direct the conversation or answer parents’ requests immediately. Instead, allow yourself time to truly listen. Dedicate time to reflect— ideally with colleagues— on what you heard families say, then make a plan for moving forward. 

For example, suppose you hear families asking for clarity on how to support phonics instruction at home. In response, you might consider hosting a parent night where all families create flashcards together with words that begin with the same sound. Families can bring them home and share back with the group at subsequent workshops about how their children responded.

Create regular avenues for soliciting feedback and fostering a culture of responding to feedback. Just because you’re hearing feedback, doesn’t mean that you always have to agree with or implement what families are asking for.  If you decide not to act on the feedback you receive, explain why and use this as another opportunity for keeping lines of communication open. 


Foster collaboration 

To truly support students, we need to create a culture that invites parents’ voices and incorporates structured approaches that bring families and schools together. Work together with families to get clear on where their child is at academically and set goals for improvement. Create a plan together to support these goals both inside and outside of school. By keeping the lines of communication open, you can create consistency with the language and approaches being used at home and school. Working towards common goals creates a seamless support system for students. 

Graphic on a blue background with text that reads "To truly support students, we need to create a culture that invites parents’ voices and incorporates structured approaches that bring families and schools together." and is attributed to Lily Jones, Founder, Education Forever. The graphic also has a photo of a Black mother with her two Black children smiling and reading.

For example, if a child has a specific reading goal, share concrete strategies that families can use to support that goal at home. Ensure that students have access to appropriate books and materials to support their work outside of the classroom. If children are participating in summer reading programs, be sure to communicate with families about how they can support their children’s learning at home.

Inviting families to be true partners can feel like a big undertaking, but it’s worth it. When you invite families to be true collaborators, you can leverage an entire team working together to support students’ progress. Kids spend most of their waking hours at home, so to truly support them, it’s imperative that we work together with families. 


Holding an M.A. in Education from UC Berkeley, Lily Jones began her career as an elementary school teacher committed to interdisciplinary, project-based learning. She has worked as an instructional coach both virtually and in-person. After working as a coach, Lily then moved into the world of ed tech, working as a curriculum developer, writer, and education consultant. Lily is the founder of Educator Forever, where she empowers teachers to expand their impact beyond the classroom, and Educator Forever Agency, where she works with a team of educators to create inspiring curricula.