You are seeing this message because your web browser does not support basic web standards. Find out more about why this message is appearing and what you can do to make your experience on this site better.

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.

Terms of Use ▼

Heather Weiss, M. Elena Lopez, Holly Kreider
Harvard Graduate School of Education

Increasing family involvement in children's learning and in school reform has become a focus of educational initiatives. These initiatives recognize that family and community are significant contexts of students' development and school success. The long-term viability of family involvement efforts will depend on teachers and school administrators who possess the knowledge, attitudes, and skills to develop productive family-school partnerships. Today, few of these educators are being trained to work with families and teacher surveys indicate a perception of need for training in this area.

The goal of the module is to prepare educators to engage parents and family members in children's school success. Students enrolled in the module will learn about the major theoretical approaches to family involvement (e.g., developmental, sociocultural, psychological, and political). They will understand the range of ways families and schools can work together as well as the dilemmas of practice. The module will give students an opportunity to problem solve and reflect on the issues regarding family-school partnerships and to assess the benefits of family involvement for students, families, and schools.

The module will combine reading discussion seminars with the discussion of teaching cases. The combination of readings and discussion is designed to foster problem solving, reflection, and informed decision making. Class discussions will focus on the following questions:

  • What research supports the need for family-school partnership?
  • How do major approaches to family involvement illuminate specific problems and solutions in home-school relationships?
  • What are the appropriate roles and ongoing challenges for children, school staff, families, and communities in building and sustaining family involvement?

By the end of the module students will have gained (1) an overview of the research that informs the development of various types of family involvement models, (2) an appreciation of the complexity of family-school partnerships, including the challenges and benefits, (3) experience in problem solving and reflecting on practice issues, and (4) experience in the case method approach as a tool for teaching and learning.


Active participation in class discussions:
Each week students will be called on to respond to the assigned readings and cases, posing questions and reflections for the class to discuss.

Written assignments:
Students will be asked to write: an individual analytic memo, 3–5 pages in length, for one of the teaching cases presented in class; one team-based analytic memo, also 3–5 pages; and one final paper, 7–10 pages in length. Assignment descriptions will be handed out in week two of the course.

Student grades will be determined based on the following:
Active participation in class discussions – 20%
Individual analytic memo – 25%
Team-based analytic memo – 25%
Final paper – 30%


Course readings each week will include articles from academic journals and books that present research and different theoretical lenses through which to view family-school partnerships. Students will also be expected to read an assigned teaching case in advance of the case discussion each week.

Course Outline

Week Focus
I. Introduction to Family Involvement
II. Introduction to the Case Method; Roles and Challenges for the Student
III. Roles and Challenges for School Personnel
IV. Roles and Challenges for Families
V. Conflicts in Values and Expectations Among Actors
VI. Engaging in Action Research with Families
VII. Engaging the Community in Public Education


March 19, 2003
Week I. Introduction to Family Involvement

Required Reading
Kreider, H., Lopez, M. E., & Chatman, C. (forthcoming). Introduction. In H. B. Weiss, H. Kreider, M. E. Lopez & C. Chatman (Eds.), Strengthening family involvement in middle childhood: A casebook to prepare educators to partner with families. Harvard Family Research Project, Cambridge, MA.

March 26, 2003
Spring Break

April 2, 2003
Week II: Roles and Challenges for the Student

Mayer, E. (2002). What's going on with Tomasito? Harvard Family Research Project, Cambridge, MA. 

Required Reading
Eccles, J. (1999). The development of children ages 6 to 14. Future of Children, 2, 30–44. Available online:

Reese, L. & Gallimore, R. (2000). Immigrant Latino's cultural model of literacy development: An evolving perspective on home-school discontinuities. American Journal of Education, 108, 103–134.

Optional Reading
Christensen, C. Roland, G., D., & Sweet, A. (1991). Education for judgment. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School. Chapter 1: Barriers and gateways to learning and Chapter 2: Premises and practices of discussion teaching.

April 9, 2003
Week III: Roles and Challenges for School Personnel
Due: Individual analytic memos.

McCown, C. School won't let mom talk about her casino job. Harvard Family Research Project, Cambridge, MA. 

Required Reading
Bloom. L. R. (2001). “I'm poor, I'm single, I'm a mom, and I deserve respect”: Advocating in schools as/with mothers in poverty. Educational Studies, 32(3), 300–316.

Lewis, A. E., & Forman, T. A. (2002). Contestation or collaboration: A comparative study of home-school relations. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 33, 60–89.

April 16, 2003
Week IV: Roles and Challenges for Families

Kreider, H. (1999). Tim Kelly: A school responds to a family in need. Harvard Family Research Project, Cambridge, MA. 

Required Reading
Hoover-Dempsey, K., & Sandler, H. (1997). Why do parents become involved in their children's education? Review of Educational Research, 67(1), 3–42.

Weiss, W., Mayer, E., Vaughan, P., Hencke, R., Kreider, H., & Pinto, K. (in press). Making it work: Low-income mothers' involvement in their children's education. American Educational Research Journal.

April 23, 2003
Week V: Researching Family Perspectives

This week is set aside for students to: conduct interviews with parents as part of their final projects, meet with their teams to write their team-based memos, and/or meet individually with course instructors to discuss final project ideas.

Required Reading
Mattingly, D. J., Prislin, R., McKenzie, T. L., Rodriquez, J. L., & Kayzar, B. (2003). Evaluating evaluations: The case of parent involvement programs. Review of Educational Research, 72(4), 549–576.

April 30, 2003
Week VI: Conflicts in Values and Expectations Among Actors

Due: Team-based analytic memos (for half of the class), one-page proposals for final assignments

Moss, M. K. (2000). Culture clash at Intermediate School #91. Harvard Family Research Project, Cambridge, MA. 

Required Reading
Jarrett, R. (1998). African American children, families, and neighborhoods: Qualitative contributions to understanding developmental pathways. Applied Developmental Science, 2(1), 2–16.

Derman-Sparks, L. (1998). Developing culturally responsive caregiving practices: Acknowledge, ask, and adapt. In Infant/Toddler caregiving: A guide to culturally sensitive care (section 3, pp. 40–48). California Department of Education, Child Development Division.

May 7, 2003
Week VII: Engaging the Community in Public Education

Due: Team-based analytic memos (for other half of the class).

Sensiper, S., & Caspe, M. (2002). Setting standards at Porter Road School. Harvard Family Research Project, Cambridge, MA. 

Required Reading
Barksdale-Ladd, M. A., & Thomas, K. F. (2000) What's at stake in high-stakes testing: Teachers and parents speak out. Journal of Teacher Education, 51(5), 384–397.

Fine, M. (1993). [Ap]parent involvement: Reflections on parents' power and urban public schools. Teachers College Record, 94(4), 682–710.

Gold, E., Simon, E., & Brown, C. (2002). Strong neighborhoods, strong schools: The indicators project on education organizing. Chicago: Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform. Available to order online:

Family Involvement Network of Educators. (2002). FINE Forum. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project. 

Case Assignments
Spring 2003

To help you think through the cases and prepare for class discussion, you will prepare one individual written analysis of the case in Week 3: School Won't Let Mom Talk About Her Casino Job.

You will also participate in a team-based written analysis of a case from Week 6 or 7. Each team (to be formed during the second class meeting) will meet on their own to discuss the case and write a collective analysis. Assignments to teams will be determined in class.

The written analyses (both individual and team-based) should be typed, double-spaced, and approximately 3–5 pages in length. It should contain the following information:

1. Identify the issues and facts in the case. What are the most important issues that have to be resolved and why are they important? Cite specific evidence from the case to illustrate your response. Include relevant perspectives of the actors in the case and their motivations.

Support your perspective on why you have identified the issues and their importance based on theoretical approaches to family involvement, previous class discussion, and personal experience.

2. Identify possible solutions. Think of solutions at the individual, as well as the school level. Try to be as specific as possible, citing an action plan for the actors/school to resolve the issue. The solution should be clear enough so that the actor(s) in the case can begin carrying them out immediately.

Consider the consequences of your solutions. Even the most carefully reasoned solutions may not have the desired consequences because of factors beyond the control of the actor or school. Formulate contingency plans for a variety of responses to the solution.

Support your solutions with the principles learned from the assigned readings or relevant readings from other courses and class discussions.

Note: Please include citations. Use APA style.

For team-based assignment, also be prepared to help facilitate the case discussion in class. Prepare several discussion questions in advance.

Assignment Due Date
Individual memo – April 9, 2003
Team-based memo – April 30 or May 7, 2003 depending on group assignments

Final Assignment
Spring 2003

The purpose of the final project is to apply the knowledge and skills you have gained to prepare you for future work with families, schools, and communities. Choose one of the writing assignments described below. Regardless of which option you choose, you will be required to interview one or more parents to inform the development of your final paper, and include a summary of how this informed your final paper in a one-page addendum. Please see the instructors if you need help identifying a parent to contact.

Prepare a 7–10 page, double-spaced analysis. You are encouraged to use the theoretical approaches and class-based discussions in your analysis. Final paper choices include individual or team-based options. No more than three people may collaborate on a final paper.

We will also consider a project of your own design.

All students will be asked to submit an informal, ungraded, written proposal (no more than one page, double-spaced) to the course instructors by April 30, 2003 for feedback.

Your projects are due by May 12, 2003.

Individual Options:

1. Prepare a facilitator's guide for any one of the cases. The audience for the facilitator's guide will be teacher educators and trainers.

The purpose of the guide is to enable the facilitator to construct a discussion environment that accomplishes three objectives: (1) engages the audience in problem solving, (2) guides the audience toward a set of conclusions and recommendations, and (3) develops communication skills among the audience.

The facilitator's guide includes the following components:

  • Synopsis of the case – in not more than 400 words summarize the case
  • Learning objectives for the case
  • Discussions questions and answers for each learning objective
  • Integration of theory and research into the answers
  • Overall analysis of the case, again drawing from theory and research
  • Suggested exercises to accompany the case discussion
  • Bibliographic references

We will provide you with a sample facilitator's guide.

As you prepare your guide, interview one parent to inform the development of your learning objectives, and to incorporate a parent perspective into your overall analysis. What is that parent's take on the key dilemma of the case? What priority skills and knowledge does that parent think are important for teachers to learn?

2. Write a teaching case that focuses on a critical dilemma in family-school partnerships. You can: base the case on personal experience; research a particular education issue by interviewing parents, teachers, and/or school administrators (make sure it is one that has already been resolved); or ask us to share with you a selection of newspaper articles as the basis for developing your case, with optional follow-up phone interviews with one or more informant(s). We will provide you with tips for case writing. Your case must be accompanied by learning objectives and discussion questions.

As you develop your teaching case from any of the above sources, interview one parent about the key dilemma you are hoping to address. Do they view the dilemma as a critical one? What issues, contexts, and actors do they feel are important to highlight in the case?

3. Prepare a literature review on any one of the specific area of family involvement listed below, or one of your own invention:

  • Evaluation of family involvement programs
  • Involving families in early childhood education
  • Understanding cultural diversity and family involvement
  • Using technology to involve families in education
  • The role of parent aides and liaisons in family involvement
  • Involving families in special education
  • Family and community involvement in school reform

The review should contain the major themes that arise in the literature, identify gaps in the research, and describe the research methods used. Please use APA style for bibliographic references.

As you conduct your literature review, interview one parent about your topic. How important is this topic to them? What are key issues and questions that they would like answered in relation to the topic?

4. Develop a needs/resource assessment survey for parents. Pilot it with three parents of school-age children and report your results.

5. Develop a checklist of teacher practices related to one of the topics covered in the course. Pilot it with three teachers and report your results.

Interview one parent about the teacher practices that they feel would most help their child learn and most facilitate their own family involvement.

6. Design an exercise for parents that helps them use school-level data. Include action steps for parents. Pilot it with three parents and report your results.

Group options:

7. Design a web-based workshop related to family-school partnerships for a PTA audience. Identify the learning objectives of the workshop. Pilot or get feedback on the workshop from at least one parent. (We will provide you with an example format.)

Free. Available online only.

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