Outside the Classroom

Culturally Responsive Family Engagement in the Time of Remote Learning

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Over the past few years, statistics have shown that the majority of public-school students are non-white, while the majority of public-school teachers are white. Many teachers work to engage students in conversations about racial and cultural identities. Going further to incorporate culturally responsive family engagement and curriculum that is free from bias and showcases diverse perspectives enhances the learning experience for students and teachers.

A culturally responsive teacher uses the student’s “cultural orientations, background experiences, [and] ethnic identities as conduits to facilitate their learning.” This is done by creating caring relationships with students, providing language support, and using a variety of teaching strategies. And according to the research by Drs. Kathy B. Grant and Julie A. Ray, students are more successful when “teachers are supportive of families and communicate in ways that are appropriate for each family’s culture.” Drs. Grant and Ray go on to state that the goal of the culturally responsive educator is to establish a relationship with the student’s family as they are “more likely to be involved in their child’s education if they trust their child’s teacher.” Ultimately, parents and guardians know the student better than the teacher and are a valuable resource for educators.

To better engage families, a culturally responsive teacher will do the following:

  • Acknowledge the family’s role as the student’s first teacher.
  • Recognize the potential of the home as a learning environment.
  • Understand how cultural differences and beliefs affect the family’s attitudes about education.
  • Maintain an openness to communicate through a variety of methods, including technology.
  • Recognize the risk factors of poverty and communicate the appropriate resources.
  • Respect the decisions made by families concerning the student’s academic future.
  • Empathize with the daily economic, personal, and psychological stresses in today’s families.
  • Understand how cultural differences matter.

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Teachers must allocate extra time throughout the school year to nurture these relationships. However, many educators feel overworked and short of time, especially lately. Indeed, finding the time to communicate with families is a “major barrier for teachers,” according to Drs. Grant and Ray, so they suggest these methods to cultivate culturally responsive family engagement:

  1. Conduct a multilingual survey of families’ concerns, needs, resources, and ideas. Surveys can be conducted through phone calls to families as well as by text, email, social media, and other methods.
  2. Use at least three different methods of communication, such as:
    • One-way communication (emails and website updates)
    • Reciprocal interaction (texts, video calls)
    • Personal phone calls
  3. Invite parents or guardians to share knowledge about their students’ lives, interests, hopes, and struggles.
  4. View linguistic, cultural, and family diversity as strengths.

Family engagement is critical to student success, and the most significant involvement happens at home. Students with involved parents or other caregivers earn higher grades and test scores, have better social skills, and show improved behavior. The good news is that parents and guardians can be engaged in many ways to ensure the student has every opportunity for success.

For more ideas for culturally responsive family engagement, read the book Home, School, and Community Collaboration: Culturally Responsive Family Engagement


Garcia, L. E., & Thornton, O. (2014, November 18). The enduring importance of parental involvement. neaToday. https://www.region10.org/r10website/assets/File/The%20Enduring%20Importance%20of%20ParentalInvolvemen1.pdf

Geiger, A. W. (2018, August 27). America’s public school teachers are far less racially and ethnically diverse than their students. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/27/americas-public-school-teachers-are-far-less-racially-and-ethnically-diverse-than-their-students/

Grant, K. B., & Ray, J. A. (Eds.). Home, school, and community collaboration: Culturally responsive family engagement (4th ed.). SAGE Publishing.

Izard, E. (2016). Teaching our children from poverty and trauma. National Education Association. https://www.nea.org/sites/default/files/2020-07/NEAPovertyTraumaHandbook.pdf

Toker, D. (2019, August 4). Culturally responsive teaching for the new school year. TESOL Connections. http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolc/issues/2019-08-01/4.html

About the Author


Holly White

Holly White is an English teacher with a not-so-secret desire to write. She has an MFA from Lindenwood University, and has taught both English and social studies, but mainly English, for 10 years. She spent most of her adult life in the San Francisco Bay area but recently moved because it became too expensive on a teacher’s salary. Currently, she is teaching for Edgenuity and loves it.