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Family engagement tools

Effective communication

Kathleen A. Olson, Colleen Gengler, and Jo Musich, Extension Educators — Family Resiliency; and Madge Alberts, Program Coordinator — Children, Youth and Family Consortium

Reviewed October 2014 by Kathleen A. Olson, Program Director — Partnering for school success

Effective communication is essential for family-school partnerships. Here are some possible ways to build effective communication.


Possible Practices

Strive for a positive orientation rather than a deficit-based or crisis orientation.

  • Good news phone calls
  • Invite and incorporate parent reactions to policies and practices
  • Contact parents at the first sign of a concern
  • Communicate an “optimistic” message about the child

Consider tone as well as content of your communications.

  • Reframe language from problems to goals for student
  • Focus on a parent’s ability to help

Develop and publicize regular, reliable, varied two-way communication systems.

  • System-wide family-school communication/ assignment notebooks
  • Shared parent-educator responsibility for contacts
  • Handbooks
  • Newsletters
  • “Thursday folders” including relevant home and school information
  • Telephone tree
  • Electronic communication technology

Emphasize a “win-win” orientation, rather than placing blame.

  • Discuss and focus on mutual goals and interests
  • Use words such as “we,” “us,” and “our,” vs. “you,” “I,” “yours,” and “mine”

Keep the focus of communication on the child’s performance.

  • Bi-directional communications regarding classroom activities, progress, and suggested activities for parents
  • Home-school notebooks/notes
  • Family-school meetings with students present
  • Shared parent-educator monitoring system (e.g., educational file and contract)
Ensure that parents have needed information to support children’s educational progress.
  • Several orientation nights with follow-up contact for non-attendees
  • Parent support groups to disseminate information on school performance
  • Home visits
  • Home-school contracts with follow-up
  • Curriculum nights
  • Monthly meetings on topics of mutual interest

Create formal and informal opportunities to communicate and build trust between home and school.

  • Multicultural potlucks
  • Grade-level bagel breakfasts
  • Family fun nights
  • Committees designed to address home-school issues
  • Workshops where parents and school personnel learn together
  • Principal’s hour

Underscore all communication with a shared responsibility between families and schools.

  • Communicating the essential nature of family involvement
  • Sharing information about the curriculum of the home
  • Discussing co-roles (e.g., co-communicators) and implementing shared practices (e.g., contracts and common language about conditions for children’s success)
  • Back to school Night — establish shared goals


Christenson, S. L., &  Sheridan, S. M.  (2001). Schools and families: Creating essential connections for learning. New York: Guilford Press. [Adapted by permission.]

Related resources

Building shared responsibility for educational outcomes — Gain a better understanding for how to turn common school events and activities, like Back to school night, into a partnership building opportunity.

Nuts and bolts of communication with parents and families — Get communication tips relating to attitudes, behaviors, and more.

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