Family Engagement Software: Start With These 5 Questions

5 Key Questions to Ask When Selecting Your Family Engagement Software

Looking for family engagement software? Read this article for five guiding questions from ParentPowered to help you choose.

By Maren Madalyn, contributing writer

When I worked in Special Education classrooms, our school staff eagerly dabbled with edtech platforms. A shiny new tool for schools could conjure palpable excitement among teachers. 

As a result, the teachers’ lounge was frequently filled with chatter about the latest apps:

“Did you see the one that replaces paper-and-pen pop quizzes?”

“That handy lesson planning tool has a free trial!”

“I just love the digital portfolios that this platform creates.”

These days, I imagine teachers and school administrators are still debating the impact of the latest software on the market — namely all those new AI tools.

But one kind of platform I don’t recall debating was family engagement software.

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At the time, our administration (like many) had invested in one of the many parent communication platforms. Most teachers used it to share high-level updates on student progress, send reminders about parent-teacher conferences, and recirculate the school calendar. If asked, our staff would have agreed back then that this communication platform “checked the box” on modernizing our family and community engagement in schools.

In reality, it was barely scratching the surface of parental engagement!

Many years after my time in the classroom, I am thrilled to see more tools available to educators to enable caregiver and parent involvement. But school and district leaders may struggle to discern the true impact on child outcomes that family engagement solutions — with all their bits and baubles — actually create for the school community. 

In this article, we’ll explore how research on effective family-school partnerships can guide educators to make informed decisions and find the right family engagement software for their unique needs.

Key questions for choosing family engagement software for your district:

1. How well does the solution link to student learning and development at all ages?
2. Does the software prompt culturally responsive and respectful family engagement?
3. Does the family engagement software foster collaborative and interactive exchanges between families and schools?
4. Does the platform emphasize strengths-based family engagement approaches?
5. Does the solution reinforce a relational, trusting relationship between educators and families?

The essential elements of family engagement

It’s worth remembering that the long-term effects of family engagement are well documented and understood by educators. With benefits ranging from improved graduation rates to higher attendance rates (at all ages, including middle and high school) to better student and adult well-being — there is so much that schools and students gain when families are partners in learning. 

Dr. Karen Mapp is a leader in examining the effects of home-school partnerships on student learning and school improvement. Her model, known as the Dual Capacity-Building Framework, outlines these five qualities of engagement that lay the foundation for positive collaboration:

  • Linked to student learning and development
  • Culturally respectful and responsive
  • Assets-based (also called “strengths-based”)
  • Collaborative and interactive
  • Relational, built on mutual trust
Learn more about Dr. Mapp's Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships.

This list also offers district and school administrators guideposts for reviewing available solutions designed to support collaboration between families and teachers. The best family engagement programs leverage a combination of digital tools, content, and systems that align with these five elements of partnership.

5 questions to ask about your family engagement software

Looking to add new family engagement software to your toolkit? Reviewing your existing suite of platforms? You can use the insights from the Dual Capacity-Building Framework to assess candidate tools on your list!

Though the right family engagement strategies are those that align to your district priorities and meet your unique community needs, these five questions will ensure you select evidence-based tools with the highest potential to meet both criteria.

1. How well does the solution link to student learning and development at all ages?

This may be an obvious requirement, yet it’s surprising how often family engagement software can miss the mark. 

Some platforms focus on robust content libraries, full of videos and other resources for families to pull from on all kinds of academic topics. While these solutions appear invaluable on the surface, they put the onus on parents and caregivers to figure out what activities to do with their kids. Further, to successfully implement these family engagement activities, families may have to invest in valuable time, tools, or resources.

For many busy families, taking an hour out of the day to host a reader’s theater or play an intricate math game may not be doable. To achieve genuine equity in education, it’s important that any offerings for student learning are designed as accessible for all families.

The other detail that family engagement software often gets wrong is a narrow focus on one aspect of learning (such as reading and math) or one age group (such as birth through age 8). Very few solutions today offer parents and caregivers guidance across the entire course of their student’s learning timeline and the many facets of development that occur at each age.

How ParentPowered stands out

ParentPowered’s activities are all designed with accessibility in mind. Any caregiver or loving adult in a child’s life can easily do these learning exercises, which are crafted to fit right into at-home family routines. We deliver these activities via text messaging to maximize reach to families — caregivers don’t need to worry about things like an engagement app or internet access for a positive experience.

Most crucially, ParentPowered is the only family engagement solution that offers age-appropriate, whole child curriculum all the way through grade 12. Yes, family engagement does exist and does matter in high school!

Learn more about ParentPowered's high school family engagement curriculum!

2. Does the software prompt culturally responsive and respectful family engagement?

Crafting home-school partnerships means welcoming the school community as it is, full of diverse experience, cultures, languages, and backgrounds. In the U.S. — where more than 20% of students speak a language other than English at home — inclusive family engagement strategies and school programs are all the more significant.

Some communication tools for families focus on breaking down the language barrier through real-time translation capabilities. This feature can certainly help facilitate communication between school and home for multilingual families. It can also help some educators break down common barriers like language to craft communications with parents or caregivers who speak languages other than English. 

But such features typically opt for quick and simple word-for-word translations. This approach alone cannot form the kinds of trusting connections that most benefit multilingual families and students. 

In fact, digital family engagement tools that only emphasize two-way communication fail to set up both families and educators alike with best practices for information exchange. 

Without guidance and clear expectations, families may not know when or how (or even if) they should contact their schools with questions, concerns, or information about their child. Educators in turn can sometimes assume that existing family communication strategies, like parent-teacher conferences or the school newsletter, are sufficient to cultivate relationships.

This gap is especially challenging for supporting effective family engagement for refugees, immigrants, and other newcomers to the U.S. public school system. These families benefit most from clear scaffolding and direction for even the most fundamental school processes, going beyond classic parent engagement strategies alone. 

How ParentPowered stands out

All activities and messages in ParentPowered’s programs are informed by feedback from child development experts, mental health experts and agencies, community health workers, families, and providers across the country. Each of our programs is crafted to be culturally responsive, period. Additionally, ParentPowered translates its content into over 10 languages, focusing on matching meaning and context rather than words alone. 

Insider's Guide to a Great Public Education Image Button

3. Does the family engagement software foster collaborative and interactive exchanges between families and schools?

I alluded earlier to this requirement, but family communication strategies really do rely on much more than just having digital tools.

Yes, a parent communication app can help educators quickly send notes to families and thus save staff time. But simply handing a caregiver or educator a new tool doesn’t set them up for success with effective use of that tool, even if it has snazzy chat features and translation tools. 

It’s like giving someone a chisel and chunk of raw wood, then expecting them to immediately create a beautiful wooden sculpture without any instructions or coaching. Some people might meet this challenge with great ease and expertise — but the vast majority of us would likely struggle!

Further, family engagement platforms that only deliver communication features quickly become one-dimensional. This creates unintended barriers for families that overlook their unique contributions and strengths in the school community.

How ParentPowered stands out

ParentPowered sets the entire learning team up for success. Through its text message-based curricula, parents and caregivers receive coaching and guidance on accessible ways to connect with their child’s schools at all ages and grade-levels. Further, they also learn about the ongoing importance and value of their outreach to schools — their voices matter so much for student learning! 

Our programs also support educators with family engagement metrics and insights in their ParentPowered dashboards. This information complements other data points, such as family feedback surveys, to help school and district teams calibrate their engagement strategies throughout the year in small, iterative ways.

A sample middle school family engagement text message focused on home-school partnership.
A screenshot of the ParentPowered dashboards displaying total family engagement and enrollment data.

By reinforcing a family’s evolving, critical role in their child’s development, ParentPowered lays the groundwork for educators to cultivate positive relationships and communication practices with their community.

4. Does the platform emphasize strengths-based family engagement approaches?

Speaking of collaborative — caregiver and parent engagement strategies that emphasize existing resources and abilities are often most effective in bringing families and educators together. This approach is also known as “assets-based” or “strengths-based” family engagement.

When educators embrace a strengths-based mindset, it empowers families to take action using the wealth of knowledge, experience, and wisdom they already have. Researchers coined the term “funds of knowledge” to collectively refer to this inherent insight families can offer. Families may not even be aware of just how much information they possess that can serve their child’s success! 

How ParentPowered stands out

ParentPowered’s activities are all written from an assets-based perspective, creating opportunities for families to engage in their student’s learning from wherever they find themselves that minute, that hour, that day, even that year. As part of our curricula, families also receive positive messages and guidance for how they can support themselves in playing this vital role, through parent self care suggestions and ways to build communities of encouragement around them. 

5. Does the solution reinforce a relational, trusting relationship between educators and families?

This last question underscores ALL other inquiries when examining family engagement software. 

Trust is especially important for schools that serve traditionally under-supported families. Many of these communities have been barred from or even harmed by educational systems over the course of public schools’ history here in the U.S. Nurturing trust between schools and families sets the stage for creating more equitable systems and communities of learning for all students.

Therefore, as perhaps the most powerful of all strategies for equitable family engagement, creating trusting relationships is a top priority for educators and the digital tools they use toward this end.

To that end, family engagement solutions that support the first four factors examined above can ultimately cultivate this foundation of trust. From tools that connect families to community resources to curricula that scaffold parent engagement — there are countless opportunities for digital solutions to support trust-building.

How ParentPowered stands out

ParentPowered weaves all five of these core elements together in service of family-school partnerships. Families receive content to coach them on engagement strategies. In turn, educators utilize dashboard tools like custom surveying features, family engagement reporting, and engagement data to continuously improve upon their partnership efforts.

Our Trauma-Informed program in particular offers educators a unique toolkit called Community Support Stream, in which schools can send families curated messages that connect them with local resources in the community. The curriculum itself underwent a thorough review process to ensure every message reflects the protective factors framework to minimize the risk of retraumatizing parents and caregivers.

Sample ParentPowered message from the Trauma-Informed program about parent self care.

Go beyond bits and baubles with ParentPowered

It bears repeating that the best family engagement software for your organization is the solution that best matches your unique community needs and district priorities. 

However, digital tools that bring families in as partners will prove most valuable to achieve your organization’s goals and improve student learning.

It’s here that ParentPowered stands apart from the world of family engagement software. Our programs offer K12 educators, early childhood programs, and community-based organizations the most comprehensive solutions to complement your existing engagement strategies.

Join an upcoming info session or request a demo with one of our family engagement experts to dive deeper into our programs, which are backed by research and beloved by thousands of families across the country!

Join our next info session - click to register!

About the author

Maren Madalyn has worked at the intersection of K12 education and technology for over a decade, serving in roles ranging from counseling to customer success to product management. She blends this expertise with fluid writing and strategic problem-solving to help education organizations create thoughtful long-form content that empowers educators.

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