Ever wonder how to engage parents and families so they can help the high school student succeed? Here are 15 Tips that can help!

I teach high school, and parents and families often ask me “What can we do to help our high school student succeed? Is there something we should be doing at home?”

To answer these questions, I turned to the research. I wanted to be able to give parents and families a “toolkit,” which would assist them in helping their high school-aged student achieve. Harvard researcher, Nancy E. Hill (2009) has uncovered a series of strategies – differentiated from the elementary school model of parent involvement – that can help the parents and families of high school students. The core of Hill’s strategy involves “academic socialization,” a term she uses to refer to a family’s ability to communicate academic expectations and foster education and career aspirations. Academic socialization has proven extremely effective in supporting students during their middle and high school years. It focuses not on what parents can do AT the school, but what parents and families can do AT HOME to support their child.

15 Tips for Helping the High School Student Achieve

1. Communicate your expectations for the student often. You don’t have to be overbearing, but let students know you expect them to do their best.

2. Almost all schools now have parent portals, where parents and families can check a student’s overall grade or a grade in a particular assignment. You should check that at least once a week.

3. Discuss learning strategies with the student: using flashcards, making revisions to writing drafts, how to proofread (my favorite method is reading aloud to catch mistakes), studying with a family member, reviewing notes, etc.

4. Research has shown that youth are incredibly influenced by the discussion of aspirations and goals. Foster career aspirations with the student. Those aspirations may change frequently over the student’s four years in high school, but it is important to talk about setting goals and discussing pathways to achieving those goals.

5. Specifically, encourage and promote high achievement and academic goals – both long term and short term. As stated above, discuss these goals frequently with the student, including how to overcome obstacles to success, and what work will have to be done to achieve the goals. Review weekly, monthly, and by semester. Some examples:

Long Term Goals

Graduate high school with 3.0 GPA

Get into Duke University

Short Term Goals

Get a B in English

Go up 100 points on the SATs

Earn Proficient on the state test

6. Make plans for the future. Discuss the future with the student often, asking what s/he would like to do with his/her life, where s/he envisions him/herself in five years.

7.  Brint (2006) noted that “the people who tend to move up are those who have the habits and skills that bring success in school.” These include:

  • Regularity – be prompt to school, limit absences, go to teachers for extra help
  • Diligence and Perseverance – encourage your student not to give up, to continue to work hard, be conscientious, attentive, and careful with schoolwork
  • Reasoning Ability – work with students to develop reasoning ability through games, discussions, and questioning.

8.  Work to cultivate “academic ethos” – the discipline to study when others are out with friends, socializing, and having fun. Help your student to see the “big picture.”

9. Encourage your student to join clubs, sports, and other activities at the high school and bond with fellow classmates. There are many wonderful activities at the high school level that can provide students with unique experiences; most are free. Visit museums – the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, for example, is free on Wednesdays. The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston is free to students under the age of 18. Lectures at colleges are often free to the general public.

10. Help students to understand how an education helps them economically. For example, more than 1/3 of high school dropouts live their lives in poverty. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2013, the median of the earnings for young adults with a bachelor’s degree was $48,500, while the median was $23,900 for those without a high school diploma or equivalent; $30,000 for those with a high school diploma or equivalent; and $37,500 for those with an associate’s degree. In other words, young adults with a bachelor’s degree earned more than twice as much as those without a high school diploma or its equivalent in 2013 (i.e. 103 percent more), 62 percent more than young adult high school completers, and 29 percent more than young adults with an associate’s degree.

11. Ask brothers and sisters (and cousins and aunts and uncles) to be sources of advice and support to encourage high achievement in students. That’s why this article is entitled Parent and FAMILY Engagement. Families can play a huge role in a student’s success.

12. Take advantage of free services for your student such as SAT prep programs, summer college enrichment programs, and state test ramp-up courses. Your student’s teachers and guidance counselors can provide this information.

13. Encourage students to take Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses. Talk with guidance counselors freshmen year to find out the requirements and work towards helping the student meet them. AP and IB courses are extremely important when it comes to college admissions.

14. You don’t have to help your teen with his/her homework – rather foster teen management of schoolwork by encouraging and taking a supervisory role in overseeing that work.

15. Augment or supplement instruction where needed through books, enrollment in co-curricular activities, and free on-line courses like Khan Academy, which offers a variety of few study programs in many subjects.

Most importantly, talk with your student’s teachers early and often. We are here to help, and together, we can make sure your student excels in high school and has a wonderful learning experience!


Berzin, S. C.  (April 2010) Educational Aspirations among Low Income Youths:  Examining Multiple

Conceptual Models. Children & Schools, 32(2).

Bourdieu, P. and Passeron, J. (1977) Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture. London: Sage.

Brint, Steven.  (2006) Schools and Societies (2nd ed.)Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press.

Hill, Nancy, E. and Chao, R.K.  (2009) Families, School and the Adolescent. New York: Teachers College Press.

Patterson, J. A., Hale, D. and Stressman, M. (2007) Cultural Capital and School Leaving: A Case Study

in an Urban High School. The High School Journal.

Viadero, D. (November 17, 2009) Scholars: Parent-School Ties Should Shift in Teen Years, Education

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