A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Reaching All Families: Creating Family-Friendly Schools - August 1996

Introducing School Policies and Programs

This first set of strategies focuses on the beginning of the school year. Early school contacts will alert parents to important school policies and programs. They also send the message that right from the start the school welcomes and expects all families to be partners in the education of their children. Open house is one such strategy. Before it will come early fall mailings. These might include a home-school handbook and an invitation to join in a school-parent compact. Valuable tips on how to develop each of these are provided below.

Early Fall Mailings

The beginning of the school year is a key time to communicate with parents. Some will be new to the school. All will want to know what to expect from schools and new teachers, and how they can help their children learn. Some of this information can easily be mailed to parents or other responsible family members.

Welcome Letters

Welcome letters are generally sent home by teachers at the beginning of the school year or when a new student enrolls. Some items for these letters might include Remember to use clear, simple language and short sentences that avoid education jargon so all can understand. (See information under Newsletters for more on how to make written material engaging.)

Information Packets

These materials can be distributed at open houses in the fall. Schools often mail these items to all parents who do not pick them up at the open house.


Monthly or annual calendars highlight upcoming school events and meetings. Here are some tips for calendar preparation:

Home-School Handbooks

The home-school handbook provides families with a handy information packet about the school. Handbooks help parents understand school policies and programs and become aware of the ways they and their children can be involved in the school.


A home-school handbook serves as the school's calling card, establishing a tone for its relations with its families. It also serves as a parents' yellow pages, providing all the basic information they need. But make sure all phone numbers, dates, and locations are up to date. Handbooks can contain the following: The handbook could be distributed at schoolwide gatherings such as open house and parent-teacher meetings, or through the mail to those who do not attend. The main idea is to get the handbook to everyone early in the school year and discuss it briefly if possible when it is presented. While it is tempting to include as much information as possible, avoid making a handbook too long; otherwise many parents will put it aside.

Handbook Preparation

Handbooks that are prepared collaboratively by administrators, teachers, and parents are able to reflect the interests of each group. If administrators develop the book, they may want to ask teachers, parent groups, student associations, and others to review it in draft form.

Other tips for successful handbook preparation:

Open House

Schools need to share information about their programs with all parents. One widespread approach is the open house. It is a great way to welcome all families to the school. The open house works best if schools:


A carefully thought-out publicity campaign is essential to success. The open house should be scheduled about a month after classes start so that teachers are somewhat familiar with their students, and there is time to contact all parents. Districts need to hold their schools' open houses on different evenings so parents with children in more than one school and teachers who have school-age children can attend each open house.

The most important element in success is to set an expectation among all students that their parents will attend. The following strategies may be helpful in a publicity campaign:


Open houses are successful when they meet the real needs of parents. The best way to insure success is to involve parents in the planning process. Open house programs could include:


The school will want to convey a warm and inviting atmosphere to parents and insure that teacher and staff presentations are informative and enjoyable. The administrative team can contribute to the success of the open house by Teachers can help by

School-Parent Compacts

Many schools are developing voluntary agreements between the home and school to define goals, expectations, and shared responsibilities of schools and parents as partners in student learning. In fact the federal Title I program requires all participating schools to develop with their Title I parents a compact that outlines how parents, school staff, and students will work to improve student achievement and build partnerships to help children achieve to high standards.

Compacts incorporate the unique ideas and activities of different school communities. They usually have sections for schools, parents, and their children to sign if they choose. As an example, the Title I requirements are paraphrased below.

School responsibilities (1) describe how the school will provide high quality curriculum and instruction in a supportive and effective learning environment that enables students to meet high performance standards, and (2) note the importance of communication between teachers and parents on an ongoing basis by such means as

Parent responsibilities indicate some ways that parents can support their children's learning by Students might also sign the parent's section or a more student-focused statement of home learning responsibilities.

Compacts need to be used in combination with other family involvement activities, not as the only way schools communicate with parents. They are more likely to be effective when well planned, appropriate to the situation, sensitive to individual needs, flexible, and accompanied by supports of money, time, and teacher and parent training.

The U.S. Department of Education is producing a booklet on compacts with examples from schools around the country. Title I of the Improving America's Schools Act, which provides resources to schools needing extra help to strengthen programs in the basics and core academics, encourages the creation of school-parent compacts in half of the nation's schools. For more information on school-parent compacts, call 202-260-0965.


[An Introduction to Reaching All Families] [Table of Contents] [Personal Contacts]

This page was last updated January 8, 2002 (jca)