As I prepare to speak at state school board conferences in the coming weeks, I thought I might expand a bit on the role of the school board in shaping successful family engagement practice. 

School boards, boards of education, boards of trustees, or whatever you call the decision-making body, plays a critical role in shaping the engagement of families in a school district, private school, charter school or any institution of learning. (For purposes of this article, I will use “the board” as the term to describe the various types of governing bodies.)

The role of the board is to set policy and oversee the operation of the institution such that learning continuously improves and resources are used to support that mission of learning. It is within the board’s role as policy developers that they have the most impact on family engagement. The board’s will and expectations for family engagement in education must be clearly delineated in policy so that regulation, procedure and practice can follow suit. 

Boards, however, are used to setting policy within their own structure. Often, policy is dictated by changes in laws and codes, or policies are changed due to changing conditions in schools. Regardless, most boards, with the help of school leadership, design, discuss and implement policies by themselves. Family engagement policy, however, is different. 

To be effective in engaging every family, school/district policy should be jointly developed in consultation with families, rather than in isolation. Once the policy is agreed upon, developed and implemented, it should be disseminated to every family in a language they can understand. Most policies are placed in a long, confusing listing and only those with a specific interest or great tenacity can find them. In the case of family engagement, families are both the architects and recipients of policy. 

Borrowing from the Scholastic’s “District Family Engagement Policy Toolkit”: 

“Policy of any sort, because it puts forth a set of principles by which an organization operates, naturally establishes the parameters of an implementation plan and eventually, guides daily practice. Investing the time and attention needed to craft a strong parent and family engagement policy is good business. Sound district-level policies . . .yield sound school-level policies that set the expectation of welcoming, family-friendly environments that boost parent and family engagement and ultimately, student achievement.” 

Good school/district family engagement policy is co-developed with families and builds the capacity of both families and school personnel to engage in support of better learning outcomes for every student. 

Take this opportunity to research your school or district policy. What does it say? Does it cover just “Title I” schools? (As if no other school could benefit from engaged families). Is it specific? Is there evidence of its engagement of families in its development? 

I’m often asked, “where do we start?” when it comes to improving practice in family engagement. Policy is good place.