Lessons from AQP Learning Community Workshop: Family Engagement

It is well documented that there is a positive relationship between family engagement and improved academic outcomes for students.  This wide body of research has given way countless initiatives aimed at encouraging and empowering parents to serve as true, active partners in their children’s education. Here in Boston, this important factor for educational success is captured in the newly adopted School Quality Domain rubric. As seen below, Family, Community, and Culture is not only a philosophical area of focus for the district, but a key practical one — accounting for 10% of how BPS schools are now evaluated.


But for practitioners and program coordinators in the field, many questions remain: How do we strengthen channels of communication among parents, teachers, and administrators? What are some effective strategies to not only build, but sustain trust with the communities that we serve? And how can we leverage existing partnerships with local organizations to improve these practices?

This morning, Sharon Shakur from Dance with Books and Karla Jenkins from the BPS Office of Family & Student Engagement spoke to these very issues for the crowd of school leaders, out-of-school time program directors, and supporting organizations that make up the Advancing Quality Partnerships learning community. The major theme from this panel discussion was that family and community engagement is a lever that educators and educational institutions can use to help students achieve their fullest learning potential. Perhaps Karla Jenkins summarizes it best: “At the end of the day, engagement comes down to building relationships. This needs to be the core of our work.”

Dance with Books is a program located at the Mather and Trotter Schools to get students ages 4-12 involved in dance, fitness, and literacy. Through activities like dance games and improvisations, students participate in movement and reading, while building vital social-emotional skills like leadership, teamwork, and self-esteem. Parental support and participation is built into all aspects of the program, allowing entire families to become engaged with reading and the arts. Using a multipronged approach to engagement, which includes participation awards and weekly parent newsletters, Dance with Books serves as an excellent model of how to translate theories of community engagement into practice.


After hearing about these experts’ experiences engaging with the families of their students, we broke into small groups to brainstorm family engagement actions and strategies that will help us achieve specific social-emotional learning goals that we as school communities have for our students.

The three social-emotional learning goals that we addressed were Engagement in Learning, Initiative, and Relationships with Peers. Below is a list of the actions and strategies that each group recommended in order to support the learning of these skills.

1) ENGAGEMENT IN LEARNING When a young person is engaged, he or she is actively involved cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally. Research has found powerful links between youth’s level of engagement and their achievement and persistence in school. Youth’s beliefs about their competence and confidence in their ability to succeed are key factors influencing their level of engagement. High levels of engagement have been found to be particularly important to the success of at-risk youth.

       Family Engagement Activities and Strategies:

  • Improve partner/teacher communication, about family outreach specifically and in general. The more educators know about a student, the more there is to talk about with that student’s family.
  • Increase positive communication with parents
  • Attend student events, such as performances and competitions
  • Use all forms of communication—email, phone, flyers, and face to face
  • Leverage partners to conduct parent outreach—for example, Generations and City Year are the engine behind the Trotter School’s attendance initiative
  • Have partner programs host workshops for parents about their area of expertise


When a young person has initiative, he or she is internally motivated to achieve a goal and is able to direct effort and attention over time toward accomplishing it. Researcher Richard Larson (2000) explains that, “initiative is not just starting things but sticking to them.” Larson believes that the complex demands of the 21st century workplace require that youth develop initiative in order to experience success as adults.

       Family Engagement Activities and Strategies:

  • Identify opportunities for competition (i.e. parents vs. students or families vs. other families)
  • Enable parents to experience what their children are passionate about
  • Self-narrative project for middle school students in which they evaluate their successes and failures (student-led progress reports)
  • Allow students to choose important adults in their lives
  • Plan activities in which families can participate together on the same team
  • Show parents and students how education will lead to what they want to do in life
  • Provide students with role models and examples (e.g. career panels, guest speakers, job shadowing)
  • Show students what success looks like outside the academic arena
  • Provide opportunities for students to portray their families in a positive light (e.g. show and tell)
  • Assign student projects that highlight family strengths
  • Help students identify how they are already using initiative in other areas of their life
  • Increase communication with other OST programs that serve the same students to share information about their strengths
  • Build a trusting relationship with each child
  • Identify the other important people in each student’s life and leverage them
  • Connect parent teams around specific areas—know what the barometer reading is for the community
  • Create and share resources for use outside the classroom or school setting


Positive relationships with peers are believed to contribute to a range of positive youth outcomes such as healthy development, greater resiliency to stress and adversity, higher aspirations, and academic achievement.

       Family Engagement Activities and Strategies:

       This group classified their activities and strategies into 3 categories, which are listed below.

       Category 1: Teach, Train, and Check In

  • Share tips with parents about building a rapport with others
  • Call parents for check-ins
  • Train educators in engagement strategies
  • Demonstrate to parents how we are teaching relationship building skills to their children

       Category 2: Role Play

  • Build relationships with parents and help them remember what it was like to build relationships when they were younger
  • Role play as a way to teach parents to be role models for relationship building

       Category 3: Listen to Feedback

  • Identify resources available or channels to connect with parents
  • Collect feedback by administering surveys to parents
  • Listen to parents’ needs. Ask them, what are their goals for their children? What do they see as their children’s strengths and challenges? What can we as educators do to support parents