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Parent-Family Communication

Research suggests that many families do not receive consistent communication from their child's school, which can lead to a disconnect between parents' perceptions of their child's progress and the actual progress.

Family-School Communication

When parents are involved in their children's education, everyone benefits. Research has shown that engaged parents have better attitudes about their child's education, their children have better academic, behavioral, and social outcomes, and schools receive better ratings on measures of climate and culture. Effective communication is key to building trust and increasing family engagement.

However, many families do not receive consistent communication from their child's school. The Center for American Progress surveyed parents, teachers, and school leaders to gauge their perceptions of communication and engagement. The nationally representative survey found that only 42% of parents reported receiving a school-initiated phone call about their child and only 62% received an individualized email. Additionally, current research and advocacy efforts to improve school-parent communication mostly focus on student achievement report cards, which may not provide a clear picture of a child's progress.

Communication between schools and families is essential for building trust and fostering engagement that benefits everyone. However, research suggests that many families do not receive consistent communication from their child's school, which can lead to a disconnect between parents' perceptions of their child's progress and the actual progress. Findings from the Center for American Progress, One Size Does Not Fit All (2020):

Parents, teachers, and school leaders perceive communication to be actionable and reported that parent engagement is strong.

  • Survey results show that the majority of each group believes communication is clear, actionable, and provides the right amount of information. However, there were discrepancies in reports of parent engagement, with parents reporting higher levels of involvement than teachers and school leaders. Additionally, engagement levels varied by grade level, with elementary school parents, teachers, and leaders reporting higher levels of engagement than those in middle or high schools. The study suggests that while perceptions of engagement may be strong, there may still be room for improvement and highlights the importance of clear and consistent communication.

 

Individual student achievement was considered the most important, but not the only important, type of information.

  • The survey found that all groups of parents, teachers, and school leaders rated most types of information as "mostly" or "extremely" important. The most important type of information across all groups was individual student achievement, followed by patterns of behavior, disciplinary action, curriculum, and logistics such as early dismissal. Teacher qualifications, opportunities to volunteer, and information on how the school uses its budget received lower ratings. Teachers had different priorities than parents and school leaders, with disciplinary action and patterns of behavior being more important to them, while curriculum and resources about college and career readiness were more important to parents and school leaders. The survey shows that parents, teachers, and school leaders are interested in more than just academic information.

 

Parents and teachers think that ideal communication would be more frequent and more consistent, with differences by grade level.

  • The survey asked parents, teachers, and school leaders to rate the value of different communication systems used by schools. Most of the systems were found to be valuable, with the most commonly used being parent-teacher conferences, personalized emails and calls, websites, and paper notifications. These systems were found to be more valuable than social media which had lower value ratings. The systems found to be most valuable were those that relied on individualization, whether they use technology or not. Teachers reported both the systems they personally use and the systems that their school uses, revealing a disconnect between teacher perceptions of communication and how communication happens outside of their classroom. More coordination between school administrators and school staff can address this discrepancy.

School-level differences are more prevalent than differences at the individual level.

  • The survey asked parents, teachers, and school leaders to rate the value of different communication systems used by schools. Most of the systems were found to be valuable, with the most commonly used being parent-teacher conferences, personalized emails and calls, websites, and paper notifications. These systems were found to be more valuable than social media which had lower value ratings. The systems found to be most valuable were those that relied on individualization, whether they use technology or not. Teachers reported both the systems they personally use and the systems that their school uses, revealing a disconnect between teacher perceptions of communication and how communication happens outside of their classroom. More coordination between school administrators and school staff can address this discrepancy.

School district recommendations

  • Effectively use Title I parent engagement funds to set strong, consistent school-parent communication expectations within a district and create the infrastructure to facilitate communication within individual schools.

  • Hire technology advisers to support family engagement efforts and help schools select communication tools that fit their capacity and community.

  • Reinforce parent communication as a central responsibility of every teacher and every school, and allocate sufficient resources to ensure that teachers and other school staff have the capacity and tools to communicate with parents.

  • Prioritize the importance of parent communication and ensure that schools allocate adequate resources to support teachers and facilitate the sharing of information.

  • Set norms for all schools and create professional development opportunities to help teachers provide key information.

  • Adjust staffing to ensure that teachers and other staff have time to use effective communication methods.

Project Appleseed's Parent Engagement Pledge offers a solution to communication problems by providing a clear and consistent means of communication between schools and families. By using the Pledge, schools can ensure that they are communicating effectively with families and fostering engagement that benefits everyone. The Pledge includes a short quiz for potential volunteers about the talents, skills, and time they are willing to share using the Inventory of Volunteer Interests. This helps schools to effectively match volunteers to opportunities that best utilize their skills and talents, such as leading lunch-time walks, weekend games, and after-school exercise programs. 

Related links:

Center for American Progress, One Size Does Not Fit All (2020)

Literature Review on Family Involvement: The Home-School Partnership 2005

Learning Heroes. Parents 2021 | Going Beyond the Headlines 2021

Strategies to Virtually Engage and Support Families 2021).

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