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Parents are a child's first teacher, and play a vital role throughout their child's formal education. Healthy relationships between home and school contribute to student achievement. Regardless of socioeconomic level, ethnic/racial background, or parents' education level, students do better academically when their families are involved in learning (Antunez, 2000).
Family and parent involvement can take many forms, from volunteering in the classroom, to setting high expectations for learning and creating a supportive learning environment at home; the more ways schools and families partner to support student learning, the more family involvement takes place. Parents need not be content experts to make significant contributions to their children's learning, but given clear information about learning goals and strategies, parents can provide substantial supports to help students succeed in school.
Educators who value the culture, community, goals, and strengths of all families encourage relationships based on trust, mutual support, and a commitment to students (Goddard, Tschannen-Moran, & Hoy, 2001). Incorporating students' culture, families, and communities into the curriculum is another way to make important connections between school and family. For example, inviting family and community members to make presentations to students, building on students' stories and prior knowledge, and using culturally responsive literature are a few ways to strengthen school--family connections, while engaging students in the classroom curriculum (Edwards, Ellis, Ko, Saifer, & Stuczynski, in press). Varied use of technology offers multiple avenues to extend the learning community beyond the classroom.
Key Research Findings
- Family involvement is linked to higher student achievement, better attitudes toward learning, lower dropout rates, and increased community support for education--regardless of socioeconomic status, ethnic/racial background, or parents' education level (Antunez, 2000; Epstein, 2001).
- Family and community involvement that is linked to student learning has a greater effect on achievement than more general forms of involvement (Henderson & Mapp, 2002).
- Learning and cognitive development is enhanced when teachers develop an understanding of each student's cultural, racial, personal, family, and community background and experiences, and reflect these in the learning experiences that they provide (McCombs, 1997).
- Trust between home and school creates a context that supports student achievement, even in the face of poverty (Goddard, Tschannen-Moran, & Hoy, 2001).
- Family members' prior experiences with school shape their willingness to trust teachers and become involved in their children's education (Antunez,2000; Mapp, 2002).
- Parents' beliefs and attitudes about education influence children's own perception of their abilities (Sigel, McGillicuddy-DeLisi, & Goodnow, 1992).
- If homework has been appropriately planned, it should not require parental help on content (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001).
- Build trust and personal relationships with families. Make outreach to all families a priority: find multiple ways for families to get involved at multiple times; go into the community; help families connect to needed supports and services for their children's' learning; help families connect to other families. For families who have not had positive experiences with school in the past, it may take time to build trust and establish a positive school-family relationship. This will be time well-spent.
- Encourage two-way communications. Open avenues for parents to ask questions, make suggestions, and stay informed about their child's school day. Use the technologies available in your community--email, newsletters and other print media, a class Web page--to communicate with families.
- Share your homework policy. Let parents know how much time is appropriate to spend on homework, and help them understand how they can facilitate their child's success.
- Involve parents in recognition of learning. Create opportunities for students to share what they are learning and include families in the celebration.
- Know your students' backgrounds. Consider student attitude and interest during academic planning, paying attention to issues as educational and career aspirations, creativity, sense of responsibility for learning (Anderman & Midgley, 1998), and sense of belonging (Trumble, et. al., 2000).
- Tap community and cultural knowledge. Encourage parents, extended family members, and others in the community to share their talents. Take a survey early in the year to find out what skills and cultural knowledge your students' families have to share.
- The Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University provides a number of resources on this topic. http://www.csos.jhu.edu/p2000/center.htm
- The site includes information and samples activities from the research-based program TIPS: Teachers Involve Parents in Schoolwork. http://www.csos.jhu.edu/p2000/tips/TIPSmain.htm
- The National PTA offers a wide range of parent involvement resources. http://www.pta.org
- Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory has published a booklet, Building Trust With Schools and Diverse Families, that synthesizes research and highlights effective programs. http://www.nwrel.org/request/2003dec/textonly.html
- Diversity: School, Family, and Community Connections is published by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL), This synthesis addresses diversity as it relates to student achievement and school, family, and community connections. http://www.sedl.org/connections/resources/diversity-synthesis.pdf.
- SEDL also offers Connection Collection, an online database of research about school-family-community connections. http://www.sedl.org/connections/resources/bibsearch.html