Family engagement (referring to a parent, guardian, family member or other significant adult in a student’s life) has implications for student health, school climate, and academic success. Family engagement in school has been shown to reduce student’s health risk behaviors, improve attitudes between learning and school and better attendance.[1]  Research has found that appropriate family involvement, in which families are involved in school activities without encroaching on their child’s independence, may be a protective factor against depression for high school students.[2] School personnel should seek to engage families in varied, meaningful ways to foster relationships with family members. It is also critical to prioritize sustainable family engagement efforts—meaning that these efforts will be maintained regardless of changes in staffing or administration.[3]

Effective Practices

  • Examine current school policies and practices around family engagement. Ensure family engagement is a stated priority and that the ways in which family outreach is conducted are clearly outlined. Ensure that school governing bodies like: School Health Advisory Committee’s, Site Council, Climate Teams and other school improvement teams have family representation. Provide training and support for families to participate fully.

  • Find out from families how they want to be involved and what supports are needed to do so. While many families want to be involved, there are many barriers such as scheduling, transportation, negative experiences with the education system, or being unaware of how the school system operates. Ensure communication to families is varied, consistent, and sustained.

  • Partner with community-based and culturally specific organizations to work with teachers and school staff on effective engagement strategies.

  • Community partners can also help outreach and engage families as well as provide information on mental health issues and services available in the community.



Bringing Parents and Administrators Together to Support Transgender Students

Transgender and non-binary youth experience higher levels of mental health challenges than their cisgendered peers. A recent study[4] of national survey data found that more than half of transgender male teens attempted suicide in their lifetime, along with 30% of transgender females. Among non-binary youth, 41% reported having attempted suicide in their lifetime. Many transgender and non-binary young people face rejection, bullying and harassment or feel unsafe simply by being who they are, all of which can be added risk factors for suicide. That is way it is critical for schools to build welcoming and safe environments for LGBTQ+ students.

Michigan Department of Education has been working to create safe and supportive schools for LGBTQ+ youth since the early 90’s. However, in the last four years, there has been an increase in need for supports for trans and gender expansive youth and their families.

“What I have noticed is that there are students who identify as trans in elementary and early elementary and have really strong parent advocates that are working to support their kids. At the same time, we have building administrators that don’t want to make a wrong step and are trying to make accommodations for students when there are not processes in place for it.”

At times, this can create a contentious relationship between parents and administrators. To address the need, the Department of Education introduced a new training that was specifically targeted to administrators and parents of trans students. The day-long workshop called “Forging Alliances” was specifically designed to bridge the gap between school administrators and parents so they can engage in open and honest conversations about how to ensure this often marginalized and stigmatized population of students can thrive in school. During the workshop, parents and administrators  establish common values, share challenges and successes, review best practice approaches, and identify concrete steps parents and school administrators can take to support transgender/gender expansive students succeed in school. In the afternoon, participants engage in a powerful fishbowl activity where administrators answer a series of prompts including: “the hardest part of my job is…” and  “the thing I worry about most with trans kids is…” Then, the process is repeated with parent participants.  The experience was powerful for both parents and administrators, and the Department of Education received feedback that it helped parents see administrators as human, and that they are working to balance a million expectations and constantly putting out fires.

This was BY FAR the best, most honest seminar that I have ever attended. I felt so much better about myself, my family, and my child after meeting other parents. It was amazing to see how many administrators came to learn about how to support our kiddos. The structure of the activities allowed for open and honest dialogue. I felt like I had a voice and I was heard. [Parent]

I have been a principal for over ten years and this was the first training that I attended with such a large group of parents. This training hopefully opened the eyes of both admin and parents. [Administrator]

The Department of Education did a lot of work on the front end of the training to ensure parents and administrators from the same building were in attendance, encouraging them to come as teams. The Department of Education is continuing to develop supports for parents to engage effectively in their schools and serve as change makers. They are currently working on a webinar series for school staff and parents to provide the tools necessary to educate and lead change in their own building.

For more information, contact Laurie Bechhofer and Michael Leathead

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[1] Epstein J, Sheldon S. Present and accounted for: improving student attendance through family and community involvement. The Journal of Educational Research 2002;95(5):308–318.

[2] Wang, M., & Sheikh-Khalil, S. (2014). Does parental involvement matter for student achievement and mental health in high school? Child Development, 85, 610-625.

[3] ASCD & Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2014). Whole school, whole child, whole community: A collaborative approach to learning and health. Retrieved from ions/wholechild/wscc-a-collaborativeapproach.pdf

[4] Toomey RB, Syvertsen AK, Shramko M. (2018). Transgender adolescent suicide behavior. Pediatrics, 142, (4). Available