We know that getting families to take time out of their busy lives to attend school events can be a challenge. When we survey Springboard staff before a program starts, we consistently find that they don’t feel confident that they will see high family attendance at Springboard events. By the end of the program, however, their efforts get 90% of families through the door on a weekly basis. Surveys show us that staff leave Springboard with renewed confidence in their family-focused event planning skills. As you can see in the graph, planning and executing Springboard family workshops boosted staff confidence in their ability to plan events and maximize family attendance.

To help you and your fellow school staff members gain more confidence in planning family-focused school events, here are six simple strategies that Springboard uses to make sure all families can access high-quality school events. These can be used for any school event!

1) Get into a “families WILL show up” mindset

It all starts with mindsets. Research has shown time and time again that setting high expectations for students pays off with increased academic achievement. At Springboard, we have found that the same is true for families. Remind your staff (or yourself!) that families will show up if you put in the effort. You may even want to set a high attendance goal in advance (say, 80%) to show that you believe that the majority of families will attend.

2) Get creative with reminders

It’s not enough to just put the event on a calendar. Think of ways to get creative with the reminders you send home. You may want to personally invite families to attend when you see them at arrival and dismissal each day. At Springboard, we also use flyers, text messages, and phone calls to invite families to events. We even pass out fun, brightly-colored bracelets to students as they leave school the day before a workshop that say “workshop tomorrow!”

3) Show appreciation with incentives

Springboard uses raffles, refreshments, gift cards, books, and other gifts when possible to show appreciation to the families who make it through the door. Incentives and refreshments will not only increase attendance but also show respect for the effort that families made to take time out of their busy lives to attend your event.

4) Anticipate potential barriers to attendance

Think through possible barriers that might prevent an interested family member from attending including language needs, child care needs, and scheduling conflicts. If you are providing interpretation services or translated materials at the event, make sure that families know in advance that their language needs will be accommodated. Consider providing a low or no-cost child care option so that families with young children can attend. If possible, offer “office hours” or a makeup date for family members who are unavailable during the regularly scheduled event time.

5) Make the content worth the trip!

Think through the family experience of your event. What are families’ needs and interests? What will help them feel that the event was worthwhile? Family workshops are teacher-led trainings that offer practical tips for working on reading with children at home. Since families are overwhelmingly interested in improving their children’s reading, it’s our job to make sure that family members understand what they will “get out of” the workshop in advance as we advertise the event. Even more importantly, we have to make sure that families leave the workshop with a concrete takeaway that they will actually use at home. At Springboard, we have done extensive research on family engagement and adult learning. For example, we have found that building in plenty of hands-on practice time helps families feel prepared to use reading strategies at home. Because of this work, we can proudly report that in 2018 94% of Springboard families agreed on post-program surveys that they learned concrete strategies to help their children outside of school at family workshops.

And speaking of surveys…

6) Collect family input and listen to it!

Even though we’re proud of our family workshops, we know that they can always be improved. Plan a way to collect family feedback at the end of the event so that you can make your next event even better. We recommend a short, paper survey for families to complete before leaving. Select a “point person” who will read through the feedback and use families’ comments to plan improvements to your next event. Families will appreciate being heard and will enjoy seeing their suggestions turned into reality the next time they come to a school event!

We hope that these simple strategies seem both doable and useful as you plan your family-focused events this year.

What other strategies do YOU use to help welcome families into your classroom or school?

Kendall LaParo is Springboard’s Director of Analytics. She works to improve Springboard’s data collection and analysis so that Springboard can continually use data to improve student outcomes. Kendall began her career as an elementary school teacher and holds masters degrees in both Urban Education and Sociology.