To be completely honest this historically scripted role has been perpetuated by both educators and parents. By accepting their positions both parties have reinforced it and are constrained and shaped by the self-imposed constraints that accompany it. It is time for both parties to realize that both the complexities and challenges of student outcomes are too large for one party to claim. Things are changing as educators seek to find ways to bring parents into the picture and parents, who have been marginalized by the historical boundaries of the school landscape, seek to establish their voice and establish themselves.
This brings me to the difference between parental involvement and parental engagement. There is a distinct difference in both meaning and implications for both educator and parents. Often the terms of involvement and engagement are used interchangeably and at times are used in general terms to describe all activities that involve parents in some way. This only serves to muddy the process of parental engagement.
Parental involvement is a means of rolling into an existing system. So the question remains; Does this move parents from the "protected" role? Typically parents who are involved serve the school's agenda by doing things that are either asked or expected from them. They serve mostly in roles of audience, spectator, fund-raiser or organizer, while leaving the knowledge and decision-making with the educators. The role of protectorate does not change as the school decides the role that the parent will play leaving the hierarchical structure firmly in place. Parental involvement is can the parent do for the school, rather than what can we do do together to help students and parents realize their full potential and family dreams.
Parental engagement by comparison means to mush together and make a moral pledge to work together. When a person is engaged they are an integral part of the process brought there because of both care and commitment. That the structure has been flattened out and parents can take their place along side educators by sharing their knowledge of children. By engaging parents you bring with this the relationships from the community, the knowledge that they have in children, the skills and expertise from the companies the either run or employed with and the intelligence that they possess.This is a world where parent knowledge is respected with mutual determination to have the best outcomes for children, families, community and school thereby benefiting all.
The body of literature has been growing at a rapid pace. There are more links , books, journal articles and initiatives that one person can possibly cover. All point to the positive links made between parent engagement and standardized student achievement, higher grades, higher enrollment, higher successful completion rates and credits earned, lower drop-out rates and the greater likelihood of movement into post-secondary education. (Epstein & Van Voorhis, 2001; Fan & Chen, 1999; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Hoover-Dempsey etall, 2005; Jeynes, 2005; Redding et al, 2004; Sui-Chu & Willms, 1996). In a land as diverse as Canada this is a telling note. It says that engaging families in schools has the potential to serve as one means of reducing achievement gap in student population. We need to move beyond mere lip-service and understand that authentic partnership has its centre trust and communication.
While Jeynes(2005) found that particular parent actions such as attending school functions, establishing household rules, and checking on the student's homework yields significant effects in relation to student achievement, it was things which create an attitude or atmosphere which is formed for a sense of standards and support that yield the strongest results. This is done by engaging parents in the core work of teaching and learning rather than involvement activities of fundraising and bulletin board decorating. What children achieve academically is the result of more than they learn in school, but a wide variety of factors including home, community and economic conditions both within and outside the boundaries of the school grounds. the provision of opportunities for parental voice in personal practical knowledge and strengthening students and parents sense of personal power and autonomy has a much greater promise for educational achievement..
To create this counter-story of hospitality and welcoming environment one may indeed reverse the general assumption. Instead of teachers and administration needing to invite people over to their place, that they are guests in the community. That as good hosts they receive their community guests with everything that that entails....relationships, culture and history that were there long before they arrived and will continue when their guests leave the school. Hospitality and invitation will remain empty gestures until they are made with genuine intention. Trust is made through consistent and intentional efforts to build quality relationships over time and context. It cannot be legislated into existence.
So what might this look like?
- parents invited to professional development days
- review of the district and school budget with parents
- sharing and discussions around standardized test and the results of said tests
- parental input on the annual education results
- asking parents how they would like to be engaged in their child's education
- providing opportunities to share knowledge
- involving parents in the creation of policy
- creation of both school councils and district school councils( e.g. COSC) as outlined in the school act.
- inviting businesses into the schools to engage students, parents and staff
There are challenges as well.
- Very little in the way of preservice teacher education in regards to the development of knowledge, skills or attitudes around engaging parents.
- Allocation of time and money. Parent engagement will not happen in a school, district or province unless it becomes the focus of a concerted effort.
- Literature is predominantly American. More Canadian, provincial and local research is needed to bridge the gap and reflect the community of those jurisdictions more closely.
- Research continues to be through the eyes of the educators, rather than through the eyes of parents. It gives the educators point of view on how parents are to fit into the school landscape. Basically, it is research "on" parents, rather than research "with" parents.
- While there is an extensive body of work on teacher knowledge, there is no corresponding body of literature on parent knowledge. When we understand and create research around parent knowledge, how parents use that knowledge and what it is then new possibilities will emerge.