Learning and Pedagogy / Jul 19, 2023

Four Steps to Make Education a Family Affair

Make Learning A Family Affair (1)

Getting parents involved in their child’s education is crucial to the success of that child, but other family members can play an important role when we reframe our thinking around Family Involvement.

Whether it’s welcoming grandparents with a special day that allows them to come in and spend time with their grandkids, or inviting aunts and uncles to come and volunteer, there are countless ways to involve the whole family and not just a part of it.


  • Family involvement increases student achievement and attendance
  • Making events family-friendly welcomes a more extensive student support system
  • Celebrating families is a great way to get everyone involved
  • Make family communication two-way
  • Ask for feedback from families
  • Give families time to plan

Why Family Involvement Matters

You might be wondering why this matters. The fact is, that families all look different. Many kids are now raised by grandparents and aunts and uncles, so making those parties feel welcome matters. It also helps students to have a more comprehensive support system. It gives them what they need to be successful, and helps you as the teacher, too.

4 Steps to Get Families Involved

While this task might seem daunting, it’s not actually as hard as you might think. There are some easy ways to get family members involved.

Step 1: Make School Events Family Friendly

When I was growing up, my parents were invited to the Muffins with Mom or Donuts with Dad celebrations, and I loved being able to see my family come to my school. However, as a teacher of kids whose mom and dad were not in the picture, I felt for them when they were left out of these events. Hosting some other events named to include those other guardians that kids might have helps them to feel included, and cared about. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with having events for moms and dads, but I always wanted all of my students to feel seen and including other family members makes that happen. It’s important to keep these events going as they invite families into your school, but it’s time for a rebrand. So what are some other options?

There are so many ways you can go with this, but these few should help you to get started.

  • Food with Families
  • Fun with Families
  • Celebrate with Caregivers
  • Goodies with Guardians
  • Breakfast with Buddies

Family Friendly Events

Step 2: Feature Family Involvement As A Celebration

Despite being a people industry, schools can be surprisingly antisocial. It is not uncommon for parents to go an entire year with only one or two visits at conference time. Schools that don’t host events or make a point to invite families are sending a message, and that message isn’t neutral. Those schools come off as disinterested in family involvement and uncomfortable with parent presence. In contrast, some schools are intentional about hosting family involvement events that welcome the community and even create community. 

Example Elementary School Events That Build Community: 

⭐  Learning-Focused events like “One School One Book” where the entire population reads the same book and then gathers to celebrate with a party or a movie have been very effective. Some popular titles include Willie Wonka, Charlotte’s Web, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The World According to Humphrey.

⭐  Family-Focused events like family-child parties, competitions or projects invite family units to attend together and connect with other families. Especially with younger students, it’s okay (even advisable) to be goofy and playful. Schools that create opportunities for lighthearted competition may attract families who wouldn’t come for a more traditional event. Carving pumpkins, cooking chili, racing matchbox cars and “family olympics” are all events that schools have used to get more family members through the doors.

⭐  Community-Focused events like a clean-up day in a local park, volunteer service at a charity, or a collection drive to support local food banks are ways to give families shared purpose while introducing philanthropy and service.

⭐  Celebration events like ice cream socials, spring picnics, and holiday parties are a simple way to use food and fellowship to bring families together.

As they age, students tend to resist parental presence and involvement. Especially through the middle years, it can be difficult to convince students to invite their parents or attend with them. Schools can overcome that obstacle by creating events that are inherently interesting, or offering irresistible incentives—pro tip: food is irresistible!

Example Middle and High School Events to Build Community: 

⭐  Career showcase events featuring parents and their professions—think of a science fair where parents are the display, and students explain their profession

⭐  Life skills competitions—where students and parents team up to change a tire, make a snack, offer first aid, apply to vote, plan a purchase, etc. Engaging parents and students with life after school is practical and relevant.

⭐  Topical events that focus on identified needs in the school community, such as financial aid applications, college selection, workforce planning, educational technology, personal wellness—whatever the community identifies as an interest is potential for a topical gathering.

⭐  All types of talent shows or competitions. Parent-student games, concerts, projects, and adventures all have proven appeal.

At all these events foster intrinsic involvement, but strategic school leaders can double the effectiveness by using the events to foster follow-up communications. Using postcard surveys, exit tickets, one-on-one conversations, and large group polling are strategies that can turn even the most lighthearted event into a source of information and further involvement.

When schools have done a great job of planning for the family life cycle, and if they are engaged in real conversations with many parents, they will be able to plan and host events that parents want to attend. The three steps work together to form a robust culture of family involvement.

Step 3: Open the Conversation and Ask for Feedback

Many school efforts to create family involvement sound more like a monologue than a conversation. Whether comic, educational, or political, monologues are a frequent mode of public communication. They are simple to design, and easy to control. But monologues are not engaging. All the work and wisdom flows from a single source, and the audience remains a passive recipient.

For schools, monologues are easy—and ineffective. Emailing a general message, sending schoolwide flyers, or web hosting standard information requires great anticipation and comes across cold and impersonal. In contrast to monologues, conversations take much more intention and attention. Before schools can create conversation, they have to commit to listen and invest time and resources in listening systems. Whether public forums, surveys, focus groups or in-person discussion, great conversations depend on two-way dialogue.

As schools gain experience with hosting meaningful conversations, they can learn which kinds of questions and settings foster meaningful family involvement. Some questions that work well for surveys, focus groups, and conversations include:

  • What is your favorite thing about our school?

  • What is one thing you wish our school would do more of?

  • If our school makes the paper, what do you hope is the headline?

  • What’s the best idea you’ve heard of that could make our school better?

  • Tell us about a parent that you respect and admire.

  • If we make one major change next year, what should it be?

Parents always want to learn how their child is doing, but they also want to share about their child’s experiences and needs. Parents can’t always initiate the conversation, but when schools invite dialogue, parents are a rich resource to help schools improve and students achieve.

A school that capitalizes on family insights gains an invaluable resource about community expectations and standards. Leaders still need to be decisive, but engaging the community in conversation can be an effective form of crowdsourcing leadership.

In conversation, classroom and school leaders demonstrate mutual respect, which is inherently engaging. They also learn about parents’ priorities. This means that they can structure responsive programs that deepen parents’ motivation to stay connected.

Another benefit of conversational involvement is that parents who know about school systems are more likely to have children who attend more regularly and learn more powerfully. There is a long tradition of research and illustrations that show how parent and family involvement supports higher academic achievement. When parents are engaged, students are more likely to thrive. When families are engaged, districts are more likely to thrive.

Two Way Communication

Step 4: Provide a Calendar of Events for Each Month

With families busier than ever, planning plays a big part in ensuring families attend events at your school. That planning means taking time off work, coordinating events, and making sure everyone is on time. Help your families out by ensuring they have ample time to plan by providing a monthly event calendar. Knowing ahead of time what’s going on ensures that if parents can’t attend, they can get another family member to come in their place.

Pro Tip: ClassTag’s activities calendar is a great place to put all your events so parents have constant access to what is coming up. They can even sign up to volunteer in the events!


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