Building Trust

Building Trust - Image 1To support authentic family and community collaboration (FCC), districts must proactively build trust with families, students and community groups. Specifically, families and communities must trust that their feedback and perspectives will be heard and used to inform decisions. Research has consistently shown that mutual trust and respect is a bedrock of FCC. Strong relationships are required for families and schools to collaborate openly and comfortably, implement strategies together and sustain long-lasting initiatives.  

Barriers to building trust

One consistent barrier we encountered across research channels — from the literature to interviews with caregivers and district staff — was a lack of trust. The absence of trust exists in both directions — families often do not trust school districts, and district staff do not trust families. This lack of trust prevents the development of strong relationships between caregivers and educators, which can have negative impacts on student outcomes.  

Families and district staff confront a range of obstacles to building trust. For example, school districts may not be familiar with the cultural identities and norms of their families which could lead to misinterpreting interactions and behaviors. When missteps happen, districts and families must work toward a mutual understanding of what is best for the students.  

When districts do not effectively create a sense of inclusion and belonging, families have a hard time trusting the district. In practice, these barriers include: 

  • Families do not feel welcome at schools. 
  • Families do not believe their opinions are valued.  
  • Districts use engagement strategies that work for some families but exclude marginalized groups (such as those who do not speak English, have low incomes, and have residential instability), which convey a message that they are not important.  

Logistical obstacles can also get in the way of building trust. These barriers include:  

  • Districts struggle to accommodate families’ schedules, making it difficult for some families to participate in FCC activities.  
  • Districts use communication strategies that are not preferred by many families, making it difficult for families to learn about opportunities for collaboration.  
  • Districts only offer one-way communication channels that prevent families from co-planning and offering meaningful input. This may leave them informed but not engaged or not seen as meaningful partners. 

What strategies can districts use to build trust?

  • Create open communication channels: Make all communication multi-directional, ongoing and responsive to families’ preferred languages and methods. Be sure to follow up with families when they provide input or are awaiting an update or response. 
  • Hire and retain representative staff: Recruit and support leaders and educators from the community who share the identities and lived experiences of students and families served by the district. These hiring practices can help create a learning environment in which staff share similar perspectives, experiences and values as the families and students being served.  
  • Prioritize marginalized groups: Design specific FCC initiatives (e.g., communication channels, events, workgroups) that specifically serve marginalized families and students whose voices and perspectives are most often excluded (e.g., multilingual families). Co-design these initiatives with representatives from these groups and train all district staff on best practices.  
  • Empower liaisons: Collaborate with family advocates and leaders, as well as community-based organizations, who can build bridges and trust between the district and families.  
  • Allocate necessary time and resources: Incorporate dedicated time in the contractual work week to allow teachers to build relationships with families rather than treating FCC as a supplemental activity. Compensate families who are engaging in collaborative work with stipends, food or other incentives that show you value their time and contribution. 
  • Co-create activities: Co-lead events with parent associations and community-based groups and create ongoing opportunities for families and communities to interact with district-level staff. 
  • Address mindsets: Insist on strengths-based approaches to working with families. Facilitate trainings on self-awareness, implicit bias, diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Building trust and relationships with families and communities takes time, consistency and dedication. District staff at all levels must commit to the long-term goal of building and maintaining strong relationships with all families, especially those who face the greatest barriers to participating in school activities.  

Supporting evidence for building trust

The resources below offer a helpful starting place to districts in search of evidence-based examples and tools to support best practices. For more research and resources, check out the Resource Library. 

Helpful Resources Quick Description

CASEL. Reunite, renew, and thrive: Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) roadmap for reopening school. Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. 2020. 

This CASEL roadmap explains a series of critical practices that districts can employ when engaging with families since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Check out SEL Critical Practice 1 (p. 9) for essential questions and tools for building new and lasting relationships. 

Pineau MG, L’Hôte E, Davis C, & Volmert A. Beyond caring: Mapping the gaps between expert, public, practitioner, and policymaker: Understandings of family, school, and community engagement. FrameWorks Institute. 2019. 

This Frameworks Institute report uses interviews with families, practitioners and policymakers to recommend strategies for how district administrators can frame FCC in helpful, productive ways. Check out the Initial Recommendations section (pg. 45) for best practices on framing your district’s communication with staff, families and community members. For example, ensure that the stories you tell include a variety of perspectives and tell communities about barriers you face in engaging 

Witte A, Singleton F, Smith T, & Hershfeldt P. Enhancing family-school collaboration with diverse families. Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. 2021. 


This PBIS report provides evidence-based recommendations and guidance for how districts and families can build trust. Use the tips from the Strategies for Family-School Collaboration Equity (pg. 7) to develop positive relationships and have meaningful home-school communication, such as communicating both good and bad news and holding events where parents are