Considering how powerful the school-family relationship can be in supporting student achievement, it is no surprise that to create consistent, sustainable partnerships, they must be embedded in the fundamental ideals that:

  • parents and caregivers are valued and celebrated
  • power is shared
  • parents are partners
  • parents' and students' races, cultures, languages, and stories are critical to a school's culture and success

So whether you are an educator, a parent-caregiver, or both–this one is for you.


In Beyond the Bake Sale (2007), the authors note, “Before we can create strong and effective partnerships with families, we have to believe not only that it's important but also that it can be done–and that we can do it. That means it’s necessary for school staff to hold a set of positive beliefs about family engagement (p.27).”

Engaging Voices, Amplifying Impact

At the heart of our educational philosophy lies the belief that parents and families are critical stakeholders in the success of our school. This approach must be lensed from a place of equity and cultural responsiveness–everyone has value, everyone belongs, and the history of education in this country must recognize the harm it has produced on communities of Color and Indigenous Peoples.  


To acknowledge and respect the diverse perspectives, experiences, and voices helps to shape and reshape the fabric of a community. Additionally, this requires the school and its staff to be trained and prepared at all levels to create a safe space where staff and families can reflect, identify biases, and collaborate without prejudice.

The communal mission and vision, lived out through intentional, equitable action, must commit to:

  • Impact: How parents/families contribute to our school's success.
  • Expressed Perceptions: What they share about our school community.
  • Representation: Ensuring their voices are represented and heard.
  • Utilization: How parents are actively engaged within a community on a consistent basis.

Embracing the Responsibility of 'In Loco Parentis'

In the absence of parents, we uphold the doctrine of 'in loco parentis,' assuming the role of stewards for the well-being and education of their children.


Our commitment extends to providing a nurturing, communicative, and supportive environment conducive to learning and holistic growth.

Building Trust Through Effective Communication

Interviews with PTA, PTO, and PTSA members have provided invaluable insights into fostering trust and meaningful relationships between teachers and parents:

  • Personalization: Do you know the child's name and understand them beyond academics?
  • Purposeful Communication: How are calls approached, prepared, and framed, especially during challenging discussions?
  • Inclusivity: Are cultural nuances respected, and accessibility ensured for all parents?
  • Timely Engagement: Ensuring proactive communication and not just during challenging times.

Responding to Parental Needs

I find it best to often do more listening than talking and to make sure when I speak, I focus on questions that are directly aligned with the parent/caregiver's needs rather than telling them anything.


IT is imperative I validate their experience and provide a platform to be heard while also framing my goals and intentions in order to support them. In over two decades of educational experience, a resounding message from parents has been the importance of being genuinely heard and responded to. 

We strive to:

  • Value Their Stories: Acknowledging and addressing their concerns and needs.
  • Inclusivity in Decision-making: Involving parents in decisions concerning their child.
  • Transparent Communication: Keeping parents informed and involved.

Redefining Parent-Teacher Meetings

We recognize the anxiety surrounding these meetings and seek to redefine them:

  • Consistent Communication: This is a reciprocal experience borne of communication that is clear and easy to understand from the start of the year–all of the good and the areas of need, so when conferences occur, incredible groundwork has already been established.
  • Effective Communication: Implementing equitable, culturally competent strategies to ensure productive and anxiety-free conferences.
  • Feedback and Collaboration: Encouraging shared insights and continuous improvement.

The Difference is You

The power of building these bridges between schools and families cannot be taken for granted; without this integral part of our educational ecosystem, we are doomed to fail.


 We deserve the benefit of engaging with our parents, caregivers, and families and aligning everything we do with everything they have to offer. 

To continue the conversations, love, and learning, follow me @MJBowerman, and join our Heartleading community on Facebook to share your experiences, strategies, and insights as we continue this journey together! 


Heartleader is a must-read for all educators!

Lastly, please check out my LIVE training on Heartleading with Trauma-Responsive Strategies for K-12 Educators.

Additional Resources:

Bowerman, M. (2023). Heartleader: a trauma-responsive approach to teaching, leading, and building community. TeacherGoals.

Bowerman, M. (2023). Trauma-Responsive Living. TeacherGoals.

Bowerman, M. (2023). Three types of crucial engagement. Edutopia.

Flora, S. R. (2000). Praise's magic reinforcement ratio: Five to one gets the job done. The Behavior Analyst Today, 1(4), 64–69.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2024). Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

Henderson, A., Mapp, K., Johnson, V., Davies, D. (2007). Beyond the bake sale. p.27

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Bridge-Building: Keys to Supporting Equitable & Authentic School-Family Engagement was authored by:
Matthew J. Bowerman

Matthew J. Bowerman is an educator with 26 years of experience, as well as a performing artist and speaker/trainer. His work focuses on building trauma responsive school supports, social-emotional strategies, and school-family engagement.

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