Snapshot: Family & Social Support Professional Learning Community

Overall Goal

The Family & Social Support Professional Learning Community (PLC) will explore how best to engage families in the work of the PLCs. The group will develop the supports necessary for parents to make use of the best practices identified by all the PLCs. Specifically, the PLC will build a family-interaction framework that spans birth through 3rd grade.


The Family & Social Support PLC felt it was important to pay equal attention to the means by which support and information are delivered to families. The group wanted to delve deeply into best practices for engaging families in order to develop a framework for disseminating the other PLCs’ findings to families. The framework will help families implement each PLC’s suggested supports with confidence and create a true partnership between schools and families.


  1. School Observations
    • The PLC visited each school to observe a family-engagement activity.
    • Following the visit, PLC members shared their insights on the experience with each other.
  2. Comparing and Contrasting Each School’s Family-Engagement Strategies
    • Each school compiled a comprehensive list of the strategies it uses to engage families in the educational process (surveys, workshops, conferences, etc.).
    • Next, for each strategy, the PLC discussed:
      • Why do we do this?
      • How does this show the ways we value families and parents?
      • What do we get from this strategy? Is it successful in meeting our goals for the activity?
      • What does this say about our philosophy for working with parents?
    • The PLC then looked for trends across schools.
  3. Research Overview
    • The PLC reviewed research on family engagement to look for best practices in similar schools.


The following collective learnings were generated from the PLC discussion around Family Engagement activities at Educare, Donoghue and North Kenwood/Oakland Schools. Following each learning is one implication that members of the PLC developed as the discussion progressed.

Learning: General events are less effective than small group settings for engaging families (this runs parallel to the differentiation that teachers provide in the classroom). Families need individualized experiences.

Implication: General events should be aimed at community building or setting a tone for families and students such as a back-to-school barbeque.

Learning: It takes motivation and specialized tools to communicate with parents effectively. There is a difference between communicating with parents and partnering with parents; a partnership goes two ways. Right now, Educare, Donoghue and North Kenwood/Oakland are communicating with parents but not consistently partnering with parents.

Implication: The schools need to have professional development that addresses parent communication and school-parent partnerships.

Learning: Parents have multiple learning styles and preferred modes of communication. No single method of communicating will reach every parent. To be effective, the schools need to differentiate their methods of communication.

Implication: A variety of methods (email, text, paper, face-to-face, meetings, etc.) need to be used in communicating with parents.

Learning: Parent networks and parent relationships build capacity. They facilitate peer learning between parents and affect student learning. Brains are social—the more social interaction parents have with each other, the more they will learn from each other.

Implication: Schools need to facilitate parent networking.


The Family & Social Support PLC created a skit to illustrate that family engagement takes time and the willingness to partner with parents. The skit began with a brief overview of what PLC members learned about family engagement. The skit was designed to reveal that teachers and family support staffs’ commonly held beliefs and expectations for parents often times do not take into consideration the varied ways parents demonstrate their involvement in their children’s schooling while also experiencing challenges or hardships. It also demonstrated the need for teachers and family support staff to examine their perceptions of parents in order to see beyond racial or class-based stereotypes or cultural biases in order to form a partnership between school professionals and parents that is based on trust. PLC members dressed in costumes representing several parent “types” and were assigned one line that started with the words, “You don’t know…” such as “You don’t know how much I care. I read with my kids every night.”


  • Gillanders, C., Iruka, I., Bagwell, C., Morgan, J., & Garcia, S. C. (2014). Home and school partnerships: Raising children together. In S. Ritchie & L. Gutmann (Eds.), FirstSchool: Transforming preK-3rd grade for African American, Latino, and low-income children (pp. 125-148). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
  • Birth-to-College Newsletter
  • Family & Social Support PLC Video