Home     Blog     About Us     ParentNet®     Get Involved     Resources
We urge you to help make family engagement a priority in education reform. Everyone — parents, schools, and communities —have a responsibility to help kids succeed in school and life! – The Leadership Team
Home of ParentNet�
We are home to ParentNet, a face-to-face family engagement program for parents of children in grades Pre-K to 12. Get quick facts about the program at ParentNet� At-a-Glance.

Meet Our Bloggers
ParentNet® Unplugged offers an online opportunity for frank conversations about family engagement. Please meet our bloggers and engage them in dialogue! Want to keep up with the conversation? Subscribe to new articles by email below.

Subscribe to ParentNet� Unplugged
Sign up to get blog posts by email


» Privacy Policy

Essential Reads

 Woman reading Essential Reads

» A Culture that Engages Every Family, Steven M. Constantino, Ed.D.

» How to Revitalize Your School-Parent Compact, Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D.

» How Do You Know if You're Really Open to Partnership, Anne Henderson & Karen Mapp

»PTA--Gateway to Engagement, Advocacy, and Access, Meryl Ain, Ed.D.

» The Power of Asking-Instead of Telling, Jody McVittie, M.D.

» Empathy in Action, Rick Ackerly, Ed.M.

Featured Books
We have the only bookstore on the web that highlights the field of family engagement! Check out our current Editor’s Picks and browse books on 1) Engaging Parents, 2) Building Partnerships, and 3) Leading Culture Change in Schools. Order from our site to support our mission!

Consultant Directory
Looking for consultants, parent educators, trainers, organization development specialists, parent coaches, or speakers who work in the field of family engagement? Check out our Consultant Directory or submit a free listing!

Engaging Every Secondary School Family

By Dr. Steven M. Constantino

familyRecently, I attended a meeting of our district PTA Council. The meeting was the first of the new school year and the representatives from the various schools were very active in preparing for another excellent school year. Toward the end of the meeting, the discussion turned to creating a marketing campaign that would encourage every family to join their local PTA.

 “We can’t seem to get many people engaged at the high school,” said one representative. “I think by the time kids get to high school, they don’t want their parents there and parents are just burned out.”  There were a number of head nods in agreement to this statement.

For as many years as I have been dedicated to engaging every family in the academic lives of their children, a persistent and perennial challenge has focused on secondary schools. The truth is that there are very successful ways to help families engage with their older children. Regardless of their age, just about every child wants their family engaged. The presence of significant adults in the life of a teenager is essential to their continued growth, development and success. However, it is true that engaging with secondary school students is a tad more daunting, but not impossible!

Reading the Signals

The great comedian Bill Cosby may have taught us the most valuable lesson about engaging families at the secondary level. Most of Mr. Cosby’s comedy was born out of his experiences as a parent. In one particular routine, he discussed how the read the “signals” of this teenaged children. He remarked that when they said “go away” they would motion for him to “come here.” Cosby lamented about not understanding his teenaged children. The lesson, of course, is that regardless of the external signals adolescent children send us, we need to find ways to stay engaged with them.   

Research tells us some very important facts: 1) Teenagers resist discussing school and families often take this as a sign of rejection. In fact, we know that teenagers do want to interact with their parents and have them engaged in their lives…just differently than they did when in elementary school. 2) Educators often believe that parents become somewhat disinterested or uninvolved as their children age. Nothing could be further from the truth. Parents of families of teenagers are extremely interested in engaging with their children’s school life. It seems if we stop making these assumptions, we can improve secondary school family engagement.

What Works in Secondary Family Engagement?

Note authors and researchers, Anne Henderson and Karen Mapp (2002) indicate that there are “family-based” processes that help engagement and achievement:

  • Talk often with their teenagers about school.
  • Help them make plans for postsecondary education.
  • Keep them focused on learning and homework during the school year.

Secondary schools need to consider family engagement very differently than their elementary counterparts. The key issue for secondary schools is to assist families by providing support for student learning both at school and in the home. Helping families understand the complexities of secondary curriculum can greatly increase the likelihood of family engagement with academics.

Secondary schools wishing to increase family engagement often convene a meeting of teachers and staff to determine the steps necessary. At the secondary school level, the plan to engage families should emanate from the families themselves. Understanding their perspectives and needs and then crafting a plan based on that information helps to make engagement efforts more meaningful and relevant to individual parents. It is important to respect families as equal partners in the education of their children and to recognize the potential in their contributions to the process of learning. Most importantly, welcoming them to the school goes a long way to creating a culture where every family feels accepted and is engaged.

Henderson and Mapp (2002) suggest that engaging families in workshops and professional learning activities is important and the topics of the learning should be ones that families themselves suggest. Further, connecting to families on a regular basis, through conversation and use of technology is more beneficial than simply sending quarterly achievement updates or contacting families when there is a negative issue to discuss. Lastly, opening the building to families during school hours, conducting tours, creating opportunities for special visits will all help in growing the engagement of families at secondary schools.  Creating interactive homework that requires family participation and inviting families to observe teaching strategies so they can help their children are just two of many strategies that can be successfully employed.

My Biggest Fear

Several years ago, I was seated next to a teenager on a flight from Washington DC to Orange County, California. As I engaged him in his story, he told me his parents were divorced and he was regularly shipped from one parent to the other due to his problematic behavior. Throughout this conversation, the young man emphasized that he didn’t care where he lived or where he went to school. He used the ubiquitous teenage phrase “whatever” numerous times.

Upon landing, the young man went on his way and I never saw him again. But I never stopped considering his story. That evening, I wrote the following poem as a result of my chance meeting with this teenager.

My Biggest Fear

I am the child who tries each day,

to learn and grow and find my way.

And I know the message I send is clear,

“I’m okay, I can take it from here.”


But that bravado I share is all an act.

A clever ruse to hide the fact,

that what I need is you right here,

to help me face my biggest fear.


Lean in close and listen well.

Because my friends don’t think that I should tell.

My worry of worries my biggest fear,

is what would happen if you weren’t here.


So stay with me at home and school,

and ignore the fact that it’s not cool.

Try as I might to hold you at bay,

It’s at that very moment, I need you to stay.




Ferguson, C., & Rodriguez, V. (2005). Engaging families at the secondary level: What schools can do to support family involvement. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.

Henderson, A., & Mapp, K. (2002). A new wave of evidence: Family and community connections with schools. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory. 

Image by FreeDigitalPhotos.Net

(c) Steven M. Constantino 2012

Posted on September 26, 2012 by Dr. Steven M. Constantino

Dr. Steve Constantino is an internationally-known author, speaker, and thought leader in the field of family engagement as well as the superintendent of the Williamsburg-James City County School District in Williamsburg, Virginia. Look for his latest book featuring "The New Standards for Global Family Engagement" due out this fall. Follow Dr. Constantino on Twitter. You can read more about Dr. Constantino's work on his website.

Additional Information about our Bloggers
(www.ParentInvolvementMatters.org does not handle reprint requests. For permission to reprint articles, please contact the author directly.)

Permalink   Comments (0)   Send to a Friend

Tags: *Parent Engagement at Home , *School-Family Partnership, Communicating, Theory-Research


Post New Comment
Show Contact Info:


*Parent Engagement at Home (86)
Learning environment (41)
Communicating (35)
Empathy (13)
Cooperation (10)
Critical Thinking (15)
Study Skills (10)
Social Skills (10)
Character Development (32)
Bullying Prevention (11)
Positive Discipline (14)
Parents as teachers (46)
*School-Family Partnership (64)
Theory-Research (17)
Building trust & respect (37)
2-way communication (35)
Parents in classroom (5)
*Diverse Families (13)
LGBT (1)
Multiracial (10)
Non college-bound (1)
Low-income/ At risk (7)
Gifted (7)
Special Needs/LD (4)
*Technology & Partnership (11)
EdTech Resources (3)
#PTChat (32)
Social Media (25)
Facebook (9)
Twitter (30)
*Out-of-School Time (7)
Volunteering (1)
Sports (1)
Arts (1)
*Educational Policy (14)
PTA - PTO (9)
Ed Reform (20)
Mom Congress (1)
NCLB (5)

Latest Post
Kindergarten � Successfully Launching Your Child Into the K-12 System
Alfie Kohn on Parent Involvement in Education
I Don't Think There's an App for That
Social Anxiety Disorder v Ashley
Five Education Topics for Parents to Follow in 2013


write my essay Copyright © 2000-2011 National ParentNet Association All rights reserved   |   Sitemap   |   Contact Us   |   Privacy Policy
web design   |   visualscope llc