Why Family Engagement is Important

What if there was a way that you could raise test scores, help kids get better grades, improve attendance, increase levels of homework completion, raise student motivation and improve behaviors in school and at home? In fact, there is.

What’s the secret? Family engagement.

Research on family engagement in education spans 30 years. It links increased student achievement with parent engagement in their child’s learning. It has also found that students whose parents are involved in their education show improved behavior, and lower rates of suspension, alcohol use, violence, and antisocial behavior (National Education Service, 2002).

In a nutshell, family engagement is about building relationships with families, and using this partnership to help students reach academic and behavioral success.

Are You Ready for Family Engagement?

The Wisconsin RtI Center can help you get started with family engagement in a number of different ways. If you are already using the Center’s self assessments, you can learn about where family engagement comes into play by checking out RtI and PBIS Family Assessment Items.

Another way to measure family engagement is to use this Family Engagement Checklist to determine where you are in your implementation journey. Since you probably already have some of these guidelines in place, this Guiding Questions document can help you gather together what you already have, so you can determine the next steps of your Family Engagement Action Plan.

If you’d like more background on implementing family engagement practices within your school’s RtI or PBIS system, here are a few useful tools and sites:

RtI Family Engagement Webinar Series:

  • Day 1: Part 1 - Family Engagement Research with Dr. Andy Garbacz
  • Day 1: Part 2 - Family Engagement in a Culturally Responsive Multi-level System of Support

School, Family & Community Partnerships – This slide presentation is a thorough primer for schools and districts that want to strengthen their family engagement. It includes background, benefits, research, specific techniques, and ways to incorporate it into a culturally responsive multi-level system of support.

Epstein’s Six Types of Parent Engagement – Adapted from the Colorado Department of Education, this document outlines the different ways that schools and families can make crucial connections.

Tips for Involving Families – Following Epstein’s types, this document provides concrete examples of ways that schools can connect with families.

Getting Families Engaged

Starting Out

In order to engage families in the process, it is helpful to find out first how much they know about your school or district’s system of support. The Wisconsin RtI Center has created a process and a survey that introduces the concepts and gauges parent knowledge. Once you have an idea what parents know, you can tailor your engagement strategies for their current level of knowledge.

First off, parents need to know what RtI and PBIS mean in your school. These sample letters provide parents with background information about your system, and information from the Department of Public Instruction about RtI and PBIS.

Teacher and Parent Partnering Tools
In order for a multi-level system of supports to work, there needs to be clear, positive communication to families about school expectations. Following are tools that teachers can use with parents:

  • Effective Behavior Management for Parents – This manual explains ways for parents to reinforce at home the positive behavior strategies that students are learning at school.
  • Positive Phone Calls Make a Difference – This guide and tool helps teachers model positive communication and strengthen relationships with families.
  • Great Kids Milestones Videos – These videos show kids demonstrating essential reading, math, and writing skills, so parents can help teachers assess student progress and needs.
  • Parent Toolkit for Learning and Attention Issues – This website provides concrete strategies for families who need help with specific subject areas.
  • Family Matrix – This worksheet can be tailored to include a school’s behavioral agreements which families can incorporate at home. An example of how they are adapted for home use can be seen here.
  • Parents Working Together – This website offers ideas for parents to help with specific concerns including IEPs, PBIS, potty training, rewards, and behavior strategies.
  • PTA’s Parent’s Guide to Success – These resources give parents a heads up on what their students will be learning in certain grades, as well as ideas for helping them at home.
  • Cool Tool for Parents – These handouts provides parents with ideas for creating smoother processes at home while reinforcing positive behaviors learned at school. Topics include:

Morning Routine 
Homework Time 

Deeper Involvement

As relationships develop with parents, you may find that many are eager to be a part of the decision-making and leadership process. These tools will help teachers and parents match skills with tasks.

Ten Skills for Family Members – This handout outlines expectations for potential parent leaders, so they understand the nature of the tasks they are volunteering for.
Serving on Groups – This link gives parent volunteers guidance on how to be an effective member of a decision-making or leadership team.

What is Family Engagement?

Family engagement is just one component in the larger structure of a culturally responsive multi-level system of support for behavior and academics. For the Wisconsin RtI Center, family and community engagement means: Families and community are active partners in achieving the goal of success for all.

To define family engagement the center has broken family engagement into three critical features and functions:

    1. Families are intentionally and authentically included in culturally responsive decision making at the school and individual level.
    2. The school enables ongoing authentic and meaningful participation, professional learning, and two-way communication with:
      • Families
      • Community member and agencies 
    3. Family engagement connects to student’s academic/social emotional learning.