Provide ongoing support to promote families’ and caregivers’ engagement - Digital Promise Verizon Innovative Learning Schools
Family Engagement

Provide ongoing support to promote families’ and caregivers’ engagement

Key Takeaway
All families can support children's use of technology in many ways. Schools that support family engagement in boosting student at-home digital use can expect better outcomes.

The school alone cannot ensure the academic success of students. More than 30 years of research has shown that the involvement of families in the school life of their children contributes significantly, but in a variety of ways, to their academic performance1. This is true regardless of families’ race/ethnicity or socioeconomic status2. Schools that invite and support family involvement report better socio-emotional wellbeing of their students, greater academic aspirations, fewer behavioral difficulties, and higher rates of high school graduation and enrollment in post-secondary education3. School-family collaboration is recognized as particularly critical for children who experience a difference in norms and cultures between their school and their family, such as those from socioeconomically disadvantaged families or immigrant families4.

Family involvement can generally be reflected in a range of attitudes and practices at home (e.g., checking homework, supporting children’s school choices, providing a quiet place to study), or by participating in various school activities. Although these two levels of parental involvement are both correlated with better school performance of children5, contrary to the dominant perception, the former is proven to be a better predictor of academic achievement than the latter6.

In 2016, Blackboard revealed a considerable drop over only one year in parents who believe that face-to-face parent-teacher meetings were the most effective way to communicate information to them. Parents now prefer remote methods of communication, like online student portals, and they are less likely to attend parent-teacher conferences or school activities7. Research informs that this growing reliance on digital communication can be positive and actually help parents stay informed, become more involved, and be better able to support their children—all factors driving better student engagement and performance8. In addition, digital technology is also helping improve equity in the engagement of parents, countering socioeconomic or linguistic barriers to their relationship with school. That being said, many families struggle with supporting their children in edtech use for learning at home. For example, in 2016, Blackboard revealed that the top challenge reported by schools who implemented blended learning was educating parents on their role in supporting blended learning for their children9. Similarly, a survey of more than 700 teachers in 40 U.S. states conducted in the spring of 2020, just after schools first shifted to remote instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, shows that parents’ lack of digital literacy skills was a hurdle to the transition to online instruction10.

Families, even those who might not be tech-savvy, have something to offer their children in terms of appropriate and purposeful use of technology. They can support children’s use of technology by developing an understanding of how they can help children take care of their devices, when children need to have access to their devices, how school is already protecting children’s data, how to protect children’s privacy and security, and even when to ask children to put down the device to engage in physical activities. Schools that support family engagement in boosting student at-home digital use can expect better outcomes11.

Strategies for success:

  • Provide multiple opportunities for families and caregivers to stay informed and involved in their children’s use of technology: It is important to offer a variety of formal and informal ways that parents and caregivers can receive information and engage in dialogue with the school around use of technology. Leverage the Tech Team to deliver in-person and virtual device orientation sessions to help families understand how they can support their students’ learning and how to care for the device (e.g., making sure it is charged each night and ready for learning in the morning; viewing it as a teaching tool and not a toy; integrating technology use into family rules set by the parent—like device-free dinners or powering down at bedtime)
  • Provide needed technology support and information for families and caregivers who don’t speak English proficiently: This can be through the translation of the texts, use of translators in meetings, or creating visual, text-free documents. Some schools also conduct meetings in several languages. Teachers and school administrators can record video messages about events and that can be sent to parents and used with free online translation tools.
  • Consider recording or streaming school events, so that parents and caregivers can participate remotely: Virtual parent-teacher conferences can also provide more flexibility to parents who may have schedule restrictions during the school day.
Spotlight: Virtual Family Engagement

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Verizon Innovative Learning Schools created regular virtual opportunities for parents to learn about what was going on in the school and to learn skills for supporting their children during distance learning. For example, a middle school in Louisville, Kentucky, held biweekly virtual parent engagement nights which covered a variety of topics. Other schools, like a pair of middle schools in Compton, California, and Cleveland, Ohio, conducted virtual cooking classes with parents to promote engagement and help parents become more comfortable with the technology their children were using. A middle school in Silver Spring, Maryland hosted virtual parent town hall meetings in the evenings and held breakout rooms by language, so parents could participate and provide feedback in their primary language without needing to use translators for the entire event. As a result, parent participation increased tenfold.


  1. Epstein, J. L. (1995). School/family/community partnerships. Phi delta kappan, 76(9), 701.
    Epstein, J. L. (2018). School, family, and community partnerships: Preparing educators and improving schools. Routledge.
    Leithwood, K., Seashore Louis, K., Anderson, S. and Wahlstrom, K. (2004), “How leadership influences student learning”, Learning from Leadership Project, University of Minnesotaand University of Toronto, commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, New York, NY.
  2. Mc Andrew, M. et al. (2015). La réussite éducative des élèves issus de l’immigration: dix ans de recherche et d’intervention au Québec. Les presses de l’Université de Montréal.
  3. Lee, J. S., & Bowen, N. K. (2006). Parent involvement, cultural capital, and the achievement gap among elementary school children. American educational research journal, 43(2), 193-218.
    Fan, X., & Chen, M. (2001). Parental involvement and students’ academic achievement: A meta-analysis. Educational psychology review, 13(1), 1-22.
  4. Kanouté F. and Vatz-Laaroussi M., (2008). La relation écoles-familles immigrantes : une préoccupation récurrente et pertinente, Revue des sciences de l’éducation, Vol. XXXIV, No2, p. 259-264.
  5. Fan, X., & Chen, M. (2001). Parental involvement and students’ academic achievement: A meta-analysis. Educational psychology review, 13(1), 1-22.
    Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge.
  6. Kanouté F. and Vatz-Laaroussi M., (2008). La relation écoles-familles immigrantes: une préoccupation récurrente et pertinente, Revue des sciences de l’éducation, Vol. XXXIV, No2, p. 259-264.
  7. Evans J. (2016). Trends in Digital Learning: How K-12 leaders are empowering personalized learning in America’s schools. Project Tomorrow: Irvine, CA. Retrieved from: https://tomorrow.org/speakup/2016-digital-learning-reports-from-blackboard-and-speak-up.html.
  8. Bergman, P., & Chan, E. W. (2021). Leveraging Parents through Low-Cost Technology: The Impact of High-Frequency Information on Student Achievement. Journal of Human Resources, 56(1), 125-158.
    York, B. N., & Loeb, S. (2014). One step at a time: The effects of an early literacy text messaging program for parents of preschoolers (No. w20659). National Bureau of Economic Research.
  9. Evans J. (2016). Trends in Digital Learning: How K-12 leaders are empowering personalized learning in America’s schools. Project Tomorrow: Irvine, CA. Retrieved from: https://tomorrow.org/speakup/2016-digital-learning-reports-from-blackboard-and-speak-up.html.
  10. Pacheco-Guffrey, H., Cayson, A., Winchell, M., Ingle, J. Teaching in Crisis: Teachers’ Voices During COVID-19. ISTE 2020. https://conference.iste.org/2020/program/search/detail_session.php?id=113640011.
  11. Howard, N. R. (2020). Terms of engagement: Redefining parental involvement and STEM identity for Black girls. Understanding the intersections of race, gender, and gifted education: An anthology by and about talented Black girls and women in STEM. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
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