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Family engagement tools

teacher speaking with parent

The eight 'P' philosophy for effective school-family partnerships

Madge Alberts, Program Coordinator — Children, Youth and Family Consortium

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

While establishing effective school-family partnerships isn't always easy, these eight strategies can help lead your school in the right direction. The following comprehensive to building school-family partnerships considers the roles both school administrators and students' parents play.

1.  Priority

For the best possible educational outcomes for children, partnerships between schools and families, between teachers and parents, must be a top priority for both schools and families. If either party views partnerships as not essential, they aren’t likely to work as well to serve the educational needs of children. In this age of greater accountability on all levels, putting partnerships as a top priority is more important than ever. A school-wide guiding philosophy about the importance of parent involvement partnerships helps maintain them as a top priority.

2.  Planning

Building effective partnerships between schools and families doesn’t just happen — it needs a planned effort. A school can assess itself in terms of its strengths and weaknesses in planning for school-family partnerships at all grade levels. Looking at the makeup of parents in the school can help guide ways in which plans are developed to involve them. Likewise, parents need to plan how they will be involved at all levels of their children’s education.

3.  Proactive and persistent communication

Effective partnerships require that communication occur between parents and schools before “issues” are present. When teachers use a variety of methods to communicate with parents on an ongoing basis, it helps assure that all parents know that they are an important part of their children’s educational experience. Consideration of culturally appropriate communication as well as translation and interpretation is critically important. It is also important for parents to communicate with teachers right from the start, so relationships are established and provide a foundation if difficulties occur later on.

4.  Positive communication style

Both parents and teachers respond best when the communication between them is positive, and focuses on strengths. Negativity is often perceived by the other as an attack, and doesn’t result in effective solutions. Making sure positive messages are given regularly helps make communication easier when problems occur. Sharing good news or offering sincere compliments helps build positive relationships. Asking each other for advice on how to address the specific educational needs of the child makes each party feel their opinions are valued and puts the child at the center of the communication. When negative issues need to be communicated, a focus on the facts helps avoid blaming and judging.

5.  Personalization

Parents are much more likely to be responsive when schools communicate with them specifically about their child and his or her successes, challenges, and needs. Likewise, parents need to inform teachers about any unique characteristics or needs of their specific child. Teachers value specific information on children’s unique personalities, health, and “non-school” environment that will help them better understand the context from which the child comes to school.

6.  Practical ideas

Both parents and teachers need and value practical and specific suggestions about how children can best learn. Parents need to hear from teachers that they make important contributions to their children’ school success. Parents value practical ideas for how they can support children’s learning at home, and resources to help them.

7.  Program monitoring

It takes a sustained effort over time — several years — to establish effective parent involvement partnerships. Benchmarks are a key part of the parent involvement action plan to continually monitor what is working, what needs to be changed, and what barriers have been found. Input from parents should be a part of program monitoring.

8.  Process

Building relationships between schools and families is an ongoing process that requires continual attention and shared responsibility to be most effective. In addition to the program monitoring highlighted above, the attitudes and atmosphere in the school should be continually evaluated to determine if it’s welcoming and supportive of partnerships between families and schools.


Christenson, S. L.  (2004). Working with families for student success module. Part of the 2004 College of Education and Human Development Summer Institute. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota. Not published. [Adapted by permission.]

Related resources

Four models of parent involvement: Which one represents your school? — Review four models of parent involvement and identify where your own school is at on the spectrum.

Creating school-family connections — Use this inventory to look at the conditions that enhance productive school-family relationships: approach, attitude, atmosphere, and actions.

Relationships — Review what the research says about how adults in the home, in the school, and in the community help youth to be learners. Part of the Research on the factors for school success series.

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