How New Principals Can Increase Parent Engagement

June 25, 2014 Margo Ensz

In the most recent issue of NAESP’s Communicator, a report from the National Panel of New Principals disclosed statistics from new principals regarding parent involvement and engagement. They found that “most new principals have clearly defined goals for engagement.”

describe the image
  • 63 percent have explicit goals for parent involvement;
  • 38 percent have district-level plans that include goals for parent engagement;
  • 15 percent are working on a plan for parent engagement; and
  • Only 10 percent do not have goals for parent involvement.

The same panel offered the following suggestions to increase parent involvement:

  • Listen with empathy and respect
  • Be honest and transparent
  • Be proactive
  • Reinforce that you are in a partnership

But do these strategies always work? While we know parents have their child’s best interest in mind, sometimes parents can feel intimidated or unwelcome by participating in programs designed for parent involvement, especially when barriers of race, class, language, and culture exist.

An easy way to begin to create a comfortable, inviting space for parents is to assess your current school environment.

  • describe the imageAre posters with pertinent information posted in two languages, if applicable?
  • Are your hallways and entryways clearly marked with directions and information to make it easy for parents to navigate?
  • Are schedules of upcoming events and PTA meetings displayed well in advance to increase awareness? 
You can effeciently create posters like these completely customized for your needs using VariQuest visual learning tools. Click below for a free sample kit--maybe our tools will fit your needs!
Request a Free Sample Kit!

One school in Washington D.C. implemented a program called Tellin’ Stories in an effort to eliminate barriers and increase family involvement.

The program “fosters a greater understanding and awareness of cultural and ethnic differences” in order to create a community between parents and within their children’s schools. Tellin’ Stories seeks to build community between families across race, class, language, and cultural boundaries. 

The district that implemented Tellin' Stories created this table of traditional assumptions regarding parental involvement and engagement, then articulated how the Tellin’ Stories program adapts those traditional assumptions in an effective, engaging way that empowers parents.  



Schools determine how parents are involved. Parents’ roles are limited to fundraising, chaperoning and attending PTA meetings.

Families and school staff together decide meaningful ways for parents to be involved in multiple roles: as teachers, supporters, advocates, decision makers, ambassadors and monitors.


Parents need to have specific skills to be resources.  Many lack the capacity or willingness to be involved.  (deficit-model)

All parents are resources to their children’s schools.  Schools must recognize and cultivate the knowledge and strength of each family.


Starting point: Hold a PTA meeting and have parents sign up for committees.

Starting point: building trust through sharing our stories.


Diversity is a challenge.  School culture  must be imposed on the educational community.

Diversity is a strength.  School culture and leadership must reflect the diversity of the school community, and racism must be addressed.


School knows best, is solely responsible for decision-making, and passes knowledge on to families.

Everyone has knowledge and has children’s best interest at heart. Collaborative decision-making.


A system-chosen standardized test determines accountability.

Families, schools and communities hold each other accountable.


Parents who are not visible at the school are not contributing to their children’s education

Parents who help their children at home to be ready for school each day are contributing to their education.


Underlying message: parent involvement is not important for school success.

Parent involvement/family-school collaboration is required for school improvement


Models and expectations of parent involvement differ from school to school. Research shows that most parents want to be involved in their child’s classroom, but feel that the expectations in place exclude them or simply are not aligned with their family schedule, structure, or culture. Reaching out to parents and reevaluating how your school welcomes, involves, and engages student’s families is in your best interest, as parental involvement and engagement can be considered as important to student success as their time in the classroom. 

How do you increase parent involvement and engagement at your school? What challenges have you faced? 
Previous Article
Back to Basics: Manipulatives in the Classroom
Back to Basics: Manipulatives in the Classroom

We just got back from ISTE 2014—what an experience! After a tech-ridden...

Next Article
"Netiquette" Rules Roundup
"Netiquette" Rules Roundup

    Last Wednesday, June 11, Educational Technology published a brief...