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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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About Family Involvement Research Digests

Harvard Family Research Project's (HFRP) Family Involvement Research Digests summarize research written and published by non-HFRP authors and/or written by HFRP authors but published by organizations other than HFRP.  For more information about the research summarized in this digest, please contact the authors at the adresses below. For help citing this article, click here.

Research Background

All elements of school improvement are more likely to succeed if parents help students focus on learning and teachers create effective partnerships with parents to ensure good schools and successful students (Epstein, 2001). Although some research is beginning to uncover key programs and practices that have an impact on parent involvement in schools, identifying the family involvement practices of the most effective teachers remains largely ignored.

Teachers today encounter a myriad of parental circumstances (e.g., single parents, high poverty), challenging parent behaviors (e.g., demands, abuse, lack of interest), and parental and school obstacles to involvement (e.g., lack of time, feelings of inadequacy, an unwelcoming school structure). Better understanding how teachers interact effectively with all parents is crucial to improving educational outcomes. This is especially significant for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) as one of their core propositions focuses on working collaboratively with parents. The board claims that strong interactions with parents are a key dimension of a well-qualified teacher. So examining how NBPTS teachers interact with parents can serve as the basis for expanding the knowledge base about parent–teacher interactions.

Research Methods

The study surveyed two groups of teachers from one western state—those holding NBPTS certification and a matched sample that did not hold NBPTS certification. The survey had 9 demographic questions and 28 common questions related to teacher interactions with parents using a 4-point scale (the NBPTS-certified teachers were asked 1 additional question). There also were 11 open-ended questions asking for specific information regarding parent–teacher interactions (the NBPTS survey had 1 additional open-ended question). For example, the forced-choice questions examined issues related to how teachers interact with parents; how they deal with divorced, abusive, demanding, and minority parents; how they work with parents of students of differing academic ability; and the focus of their parental interactions and attitudes about working with parents. The open-ended questions allowed the teachers to provide more details on many of the issues by providing specific information on strategies they employ and feelings about their interactions. The NBPTS-certified teachers also could comment on the impact of going through the certification process. (See Related Resource below for the instrument that was used.)

The two groups of teachers were independently selected. The NBPTS-certified sample of teachers was matched to the other sample based on level of teaching (e.g., elementary, middle, or high school). Two mailings were sent to the entire population of teachers. The response rate was 36% for the NBPTS teachers (n = 44) and 35.6% for the non-NBPTS-certified teachers (n = 46). The two samples were similar across most demographic variables. In terms of the achievement levels of students, the NBPTS-certified teachers more often taught high achievers; the noncertified teachers more often taught average achievers. The percentage of teachers with low-achieving students was the same for both groups (35%).

Research Findings

How do NBPTS-certified teachers compare with non-NBPTS-certified teachers in their strategies and techniques for interacting with parents?

The two groups of teachers were similar on key demographic features. The study compared the two groups of teachers on five factors: (a) positive attitudes and practices for working with parents, (b) strategies for working with “high maintenance” parents, (c) targeted contact with parents, (d) working with minority parents, and (e) appreciation of the importance of ongoing contact.¹ For the first factor (positive attitudes) there was a statistically significant difference between the NBPTS-certified and non-NBPTS-certified teachers, with the NBPTS teachers having a higher mean score.²

The effect size was moderately strong at .50.³ For the fifth factor (openness) the NBPTS teachers had higher mean scores though there was no statistically significant difference in the means; however the effect size was somewhat strong at .33. For the other three factors, while the NBPTS teachers had higher mean scores, there was no statistically significance difference in means between the two groups and effect sizes were small. Thus, there was a distinct difference on one key factor, the attitudes about teacher–parent interactions, with the accomplished NBPTS-certified teachers expressing more positive attitudes and practices for dealing with parents.

The responses to the open-ended questions underscored that the NBPTS-certified teachers were much more positive about working with parents and expressed far fewer concerns. This attitudinal difference came out in terms of the tenacity the NBPTS-certified teachers expressed about working with parents, and in the enjoyment they had in this part of their job. They considered parent interactions as valuable, rewarding, and essential and described many more detailed strategies and techniques for working parents in a variety of situations. This sense was far less obvious for the non-NBPTS-certified teachers.

What is the impact of going through the NBPTS certification process on the techniques and strategies for interactions with parents?

The mean score on the question asked of the NBPTS-certified teachers regarding the impact of going through the certification process on interactions with parents revealed only moderate support (a mean of 3.00 on scale of 1 = strongly disagree to 4 = strongly agree). Yet the open-ended responses revealed that while these teachers already had strategies for working with parents prior to the certification process, they almost unanimously felt that the process forced them to focus even more attention on this. They explained that largely through reflection on and documentation of their activities that they considered new ways to bolster their parental interactions.

Implications for Teacher Preparation and Professional Development

With home–school interactions considered a significant component of successful teaching, understanding how accomplished teachers work with parents is vital. This research shows that accomplished teachers (NBPTS certified) had more positive attitudes about working with parents, were more tenacious in their approaches, and had more strategies and techniques that they could describe in detail regarding interacting positively with families. We believe that teacher preparation programs and professional development plans need to

  • Focus more attention on effective strategies and techniques for working with parents, especially given the varying home circumstances and attitudes that parents bring to the school.
  • Emphasize the importance of parent–teacher interactions and the tenacity and work required to effectively develop strong relationships with the parents of students.
  • Foster positive attitudes among teacher candidates and practicing teachers about working with parents. Teachers need to appreciate that this is an important part of the success of their work and that a poor attitude can negatively impact teacher success with parents.
  • Emphasize the value of the NBPTS certification process for enhancing interactions with parents, especially due to the intensified self-reflection it forces about working with families as a means for improving teaching and learning.


Epstein, J. L. (2001). School, family, and community partnerships: Preparing educators and improving schools. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

¹ The study employed several statistical techniques as part of the analysis. A factor analysis of the survey questions, which groups like questions together into a single larger variable or factor, revealed five factors listed above, which explained 62% of the variance. Reliability measures for these factors (Cronbach Alpha), which judge the internal consistency of the survey, were adequate, ranging from .75 to .80.
² The study used a t-test, which allows for determinations regarding whether or not two conditions differ or not.
³ An effect size measurement calculates the difference between two or more groups.

Related Resource

Ginsberg, R., & Hermann-Ginsberg, L. (2005). Parent-Teacher Interaction Survey. Fort Collins, CO: Colorado State University. 

Rick Ginsberg, Ph.D.
School of Education
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523

Lauri Hermann-Ginsberg, Ed.D.
Assistant Professor, College of Applied Human Sciences
Gibbons Hall
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523

Free. Available online only.

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