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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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FINE Newsletter, Volume V, Issue 1
Issue Topic: New Directions for the New Year


In this Commentary, Harvard Family Research Project’s Evelyn Brosi Semenza and Heidi Rosenberg examine how innovative approaches and tools—including digital media—are helping to transform family engagement.

As we begin a new year, we are taking a fresh look at how innovative approaches and tools—including digital media—are helping to transform family engagement and better enable families, schools, and community-based organizations to share responsibility for student learning.


In our May 2009 issue of the FINE Newsletter, we put forth a new, expanded definition of family engagement that stresses the importance of parents and educators sharing responsibility for children’s learning. Just as parents have a responsibility to actively support their children’s learning, we argued that educators have a responsibility to create the conditions for parents to engage with their children’s education in meaningful and effective ways. This shared responsibility for children’s learning has remained crucial as significant changes such as the Common Core Standards and other reforms have transformed K–12 education along with schools’ expectations for children’s skill and knowledge development. Parents have a responsibility to learn about these new standards and expectations so that they can better understand how to support their children’s learning and growth. And, in order to assist parents in these efforts, many schools, districts, and community organizations are creating information guides and other resources to help them navigate the changing educational landscape and understand what it means to prepare children for success in a 21st century global—and, increasingly, technology-based—society. Schools’ use of digital media has become a particularly effective means of offering families quick and, sometimes, interactive access to information about both district-specific and broader educational trends to keep them informed about issues that affect their children’s education.

Community-based organizations (CBOs), too, have a responsibility to partner with families and schools to serve the children in their communities. We have seen many examples of promising partnerships that seek to support student learning. These include initiatives to train teachers to make home visits, to promote grade-level reading, to prevent summer learning loss, and to guide students on the pathway to high school graduation and college/career readiness. CBOs are also joining with districts to create innovative programs and tools that leverage their combined resources to address the interests and needs of the children and families they serve. These efforts help families feel meaningfully connected to their children’s schools and other organizations within their communities, which promotes continuous family engagement that supports children’s growth and development across all of the settings where they live, play, and learn.


Increasingly, educators are also making greater efforts to understand families’ views on how well schools are meeting their needs, as well as their views on what schools can or should do to better connect with them to make them feel like true partners in their children’s learning. Again, digital media have enabled these efforts by allowing schools and districts to use free, web-based tools, such as online surveys, to gather and analyze information from the families they serve—tasks that, in the past, were often time-consuming and labor-intensive. Giving families a platform from which to voice their needs and concerns, and incorporating that feedback into family engagement strategies, empowers parents to help shape the ways that schools work with them. In addition, educators are able to use this information to engage in a process of continuous improvement by understanding where they have been successful in engaging with parents and identifying where they need to improve their efforts.

As you read the articles in this issue, we encourage you to:

  • Reflect on how your school or organization demonstrates a commitment to shared responsibility in its family engagement efforts. Are there additional things you could do to help create the conditions for meaningful, active family engagement?
  • Consider how you can use digital media to bolster your family engagement efforts. What would need to happen for you to make better use of tools such as Twitter, wikis, and video streaming?
  • Think about the kinds of information you could collect from families and other stakeholders to develop and assess your family engagement efforts. How might you create a culture of learning and continuous improvement to help put these data to use?

This resource is part of the February 2013 FINE Newsletter. The FINE Newsletter shares the newest and best family involvement research and resources from Harvard Family Research Project and other field leaders. To access the archive of past issues, please visit

© 2016 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project