One of the key focuses of effective family engagement is communication, so important that communicating effectively is the second of National PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships. The University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research has just released a research brief on the lessons learned during remote schooling about how to improve school-family communication. The lessons can be used by PTAs as well to strengthen the relationships between families, schools, and PTAs.

The research, conducted in cooperation with Chicago Public Schools and community-based organizations, draws on six focus groups held in September-December 2020—three family focus groups and three educator focus groups primarily from the south, west, and southwest sides of Chicago. The consortium identified seven lessons from schools that effectively communicated with families:

  1. Virtual meeting options provided more flexible scheduling opportunities for parents to communicate with educators.
  2. Mobile apps increased timely communication between parents and educators.
  3. Translation features in mobile apps allowed for direct communication between educators and parents who speak languages other than English.
  4. Schools enlisted all staff members, including non-instructional staff, to serve as additional resources to help cultivate additional relationships between schools and families.
  5. Schools created inclusive, family-focused co-curricular events that helped deepen their relationships with parents.
  6. Schools created virtual and in-person forums where parents connected with one another and deepened their sense of community.
  7. Understanding students’ family and community contexts helped school reach—and know how to be reached by—families during the pandemic.

From the website, you can find several resources on the research:

How PTAs Can Use This Research

There are several ways that PTAs can use the results of this research to improve their family engagement efforts.

  • Share the press release, research brief, handout, and discussion guide with your school principal, superintendent, and school board.
  • Lesson 5 demonstrates that events and programs that help families better support their student’s learning can lead to meaningful family engagement. Use PTA programs from National PTA and Illinois PTA to support such family engagement.
  • Lesson 6 indicates that PTAs could build bonds between families and the PTA by creating events that allow families to share experiences and build relationships. Such events could be stand-alone or a time set aside at a PTA meeting (e.g., icebreakers, social time with snacks before or after a meeting).
  • The first three lessons show that virtual tools and apps can help PTAs engage with families that cannot make it to PTA meetings or events at specific times.