Set up summer success.
Elijah was a good kid.
Thoughtful, funny, kind to his peers. And his writing was way below grade level. He knew it and felt a little defensive but also pretty hopeless that things would change. “I’m just not a good writer,” he told me at least once a week.
We worked together during the first quarter of his ninth-grade year. Brainstorm, draft, conference, revision. Again and again. He got a little better. Not much. His grades were underwhelming and so was his confidence.
Then he stopped showing up for meetings. What was the point? he probably thought. They weren’t really helping.
I reached out to Elijah’s mom, explaining the cycle of feedback, floundering, and frustration. “I think the issue is that Elijah tells me he understands my suggestions when he doesn’t,” I told her. “And, truth be told, he isn’t really putting in the work needed to improve.”
The change was instantaneous.
Elijah started showing up for meetings again, asked for clarification when he needed it, and put genuine effort into improving. Three years later, his writing was strong enough to place third in a school essay contest. I still remember the hug Elijah’s mother gave me at his graduation and her words about how I’d changed the course of his life.
While that was nice of her to say, Elijah’s transformation was a team effort. In fact, his story exemplifies reams of research on the importance of family-school partnerships.
Family-School Partnerships Drive Student Success
As a teacher, you’ve probably taught more than one Elijah and understand that schools serve students better when families are onboard all year long and not just in the month preceding back-to-school.
Seventy research studies show that children whose parents are more involved in their education have higher attendance, graduation rates, and grades. Family involvement also strengthens children’s cognitive, social, and emotional functioning and increases self-esteem.
And this isn’t just true for young kids. Adolescents are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors when they perceive a solid connection between home and school.
Strong family-school partnerships—ones in which families and teachers work together with the best interests of students in mind, rather than contentious ones—are integral to thriving school communities. While reaching out to one parent at a time is one way to build them, there are other ways to sustain these bonds throughout the year.
Strategies to Create Strong Family-School Partnerships
Cultivating strong family-school partnerships can be especially challenging over the summer. Here are three things your school or district can do to strengthen communication networks and feelings of belonging while students are on vacation.
1. Create a family room, lending library, or resource center.
Since the pace slows for many teachers, students, and some families over the summer, it can be an ideal time to build a family room, lending library, or resource center at your school. Family spaces in schools go a long way in improving culture and building morale and engagement.
Here are some tips for getting families involved with your school’s resource center over the summer:
2. Provide professional development for educators on increasing family engagement.
Many educators engage in professional learning over the summer, so why not ask your school or district to focus some sessions on building relationships with families?
If outside professional learning opportunities for building family-school partnerships feel a little thin on the ground, consider establishing reading and discussion groups for faculty and staff. Here are three titles to consider:
1. School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Your Handbook for Action, Fourth Edition by Joyce L. Epstein
One of the definitive texts on family-school partnerships, this book by the director of the National Network of Partnership Schools at Johns Hopkins University provides tools and guidelines to develop more effective and equitable family engagement.
2. Equity Partnerships: A Culturally Proficient Guide to Family, School, and Community Engagement, First Edition by Angela R. Clark-Louque
With a focus on overcoming real-world barriers to partnering with families of underserved students, this book aims to foster culturally inclusive communication, connection, and collaboration between schools and families.
3. Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family/school Partnerships by Anne T. Henderson
Try these tips, resources, checklists, and practical advice from principals and teachers on building strong collaborative relationships with families.
3. Share summer learning resources.
One great way to earn goodwill with families while also helping your students is by providing summer learning resources.
Caregivers will feel supported when you show that you care about their children even when school is not in session, plus it's a great way to combat the "summer slide."
For easily-facilitated enrichment activities for K-12 students, download our summer learning kit and pass it on to students and their families before the end of the school year. The kit includes activities like a nature scavenger hunt, a museum bingo card, guidelines for starting a family book club, and more.
We’re in This Together
Changing the course of Elijah's life was the result of one teacher's partnership with one parent. Imagine the difference you can make in your students' lives when you use these three strategies that make widespread, institutional change—especially during the summer when your students most need a nudge toward learning.
Before joining Carnegie Learning’s marketing team in 2021, Emily Anderson spent 16 years teaching middle school, high school, and college English in classrooms throughout Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, and Minnesota. During these years, Emily developed a passion for designing exciting, relatable curricula and developing transformative teaching strategies. She holds master's degrees in English and Women’s Studies and a doctorate in American literature and lives for those classroom moments when students learn something that will forever change them. She loves helping amazing teachers achieve more of these moments in their classrooms.Explore more related to this author