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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

December 7, 2013 at 4:15 PM

Roundtable: How schools can work with parents

Change school culture to embrace parents

Joel Domingo writes about why many schools struggle to actively involve high numbers of parents in their kids’ schooling.

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Why it's hard to get involved as an African American parent

Even though I'm involved in education it's hard to talk to teachers about how to support my son, writes Emijah Smith.

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The cycle that keeps parents disconnected

Many parents don't know how to help their students with school, writes Trise Moore of Federal Way Public Schools.

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Change school culture to embrace parents
Joel Domingo

Joel Domingo

By Joel Domingo

We know from decades of research that involving parents and families in the education of their children is strongly linked to positive academic outcomes — ranging from increased school readiness and higher reading and math scores to higher graduation rates.

Even so, many schools struggle to actively involve high numbers of parents in their kids’ schooling, and barriers to involvement still exist.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle is the general culture of parent involvement. Of those who do get involved, the majority are white and middle income. It reflects parents whose home culture closely matches the norms, values and cultural assumptions at school.

Families of color, who are low-income or who speak limited English, on the other hand, are often underrepresented in family involvement activities, let alone any serious school-level decision making. This barrier speaks far more often to differing needs, values and levels of trust than it does to lack of interest or unwillingness to participate in their child’s education.

In my previous work with hundreds of families across the state, I never came across a parent who said he or she didn’t want to be involved in his or her children’s education.

Many times, the problem was that parents were too busy, didn’t understand how the school system worked, didn’t feel welcome, didn’t speak the language or never understood how important it was for them to actively partner with schools.

For this partnership to be successful, there must be a simultaneous effort by both parents and educators to learn from and support each other.

This mutual outreach would shift parent involvement, which many see as a passive one-way relationship, to the more effective idea of parent engagement, which describes an active, two-way relationship that benefits the student.

It would also put the responsibility on the schools to extend a hand to families and initiate the process of engagement. Schools could work toward creating a robust partnership infrastructure by having dedicated central office and school building staff, have budget allocations, policies and district-wide plans that include annual goals on engagement, and educators would receive professional training on reaching out to diverse families.

When working in unison, schools and families can make a tremendous impact on the optimal academic learning and even the social-emotional well being of students.

It’s worth overcoming any barrier that prevents that from occurring.

Joel Domingo is an education consultant and recently served in the Washington State Governor’s Office of the Education Ombuds, where he developed programs to facilitate strong school and family partnerships.

Why it’s hard to get involved as an African American parent
Emijah Smith

Emijah Smith

By Emijah Smith

As a parent of a black school-age boy, it is vital that I am well engaged with my son’s school community. I greatly appreciate having input in the best practices for educating my child. Being from a culture where relationships are highly valued, I greatly appreciate school opportunities where community building is part of the school event. As much I appreciate such opportunities, they are hard to find at the typical school event.

Although I am a very involved parent at the school and district level, I find it very challenging to be part of a school where there is little to no conversation about successfully educating black boys.

Please communicate with me about best practices for educating black boys. Please talk with me about what the school is doing to ensure my son’s academic success. Engage with me about how the school and I can partner to protect the brilliance of my child.

Please do not shut me down or close the door when I try to communicate with the school and partner in the academic success of my child. I am invested in educating my child. I want a genuine partnership with the school community that allows for meaningful engagement, respect, and value for my family. Until then, the school-family partnership is a facade.

In my experience, the school power system seems very domineering. Most families will be invited to the typical school open house, school celebration and PTA fundraising event. Although the planning and decision-making was done by the school, if the event happens to be unsuccessful, the blame falls on the families. I believe successful school communities share power between schools and families, as well as accountability.

The school community can improve family involvement by providing meaningful opportunities for families to partner with the school. I recommend the school leadership actively listen to the needs and concerns of parents and families, as well as inquire about what is working or not working for families. School leadership should invite vulnerable populations to an event to discuss academic outcomes and tap into the expertise of family and community to generate viable and innovative solutions.

Providing an opportunity to share in the decision-making for academic outcomes and other school planning activities strengthen the school-family partnership, and improves family involvement.

Emijah Smith is a member of Seattle Public Schools’ School Family Partnership Advisory Committee to the Superintendent.

The cycle that keeps parents disconnected
Trise Moore

Trise Moore

By Trise Moore

When people talk about parent involvement, they’re usually referring to parents attending events at school or helping with homework.

Although these may be common ways for families to participate in education, there are more effective ways parents can support student success.

According to a research study done by the Flamboyan Foundation, one of the best ways for a parent or family member to help is to have frequent conversations with their child or teenager focused on encouraging high aspirations and effort linked to high expectations.

Unfortunately parents, teachers and even principals rarely know what works based on research.

Most teachers and parents underestimate the impact family involvement could have on a academic success from cradle to career. Outside of student-led conferences, most districts rarely designate any significant time for teachers and parents to work together to build connections and talk about student aspirations, strengths and interests.

Many teachers have limited understanding of their students’ communities and cultures. They’re often overwhelmed at the thought of engaging a diverse group of students in their daily class lessons. Consequently they are even more overwhelmed when asked to extend that vulnerability into a partnership with parents.

Some teachers have felt trapped between holding students of color accountable and being called racist. Others assume that because of a language barrier, parents may be uninterested or incapable of supporting their students.

Typically, teachers only have their peer community to confer with when it comes to tips on engaging students and families of diverse backgrounds. This can reinforce assumptions and disconnects because their peers and colleagues may also have limited knowledge.

How can school communities work together to overcome these barriers?

Schools will need to consider providing teachers and parents time and opportunities to plan meaningful ways to partner with each other to discuss student strengths, needs and interests.

Teachers will need to start with positive and proactive efforts early in the school year and ask parents to share information about their student’s strengths and culture.

Parents will need to plan in time to connect with their child’s teacher before they have concerns about their child’s performance.

Community organizations and leaders need to be a part of discussions and activities designed to help school staff engage a culturally diverse student population. This may mean volunteering and or helping the school recruit mentors, staff and parent leaders that look like the student population they serve.

If the barriers to parent involvement are going to be addressed, it’s imperative that all stakeholders become more aware of the research, become a part of the solution and share the responsibility for engaging with each other so we can all do a better job of successfully engaging our students.

Trise Moore has been the Family & Community Partnership Director for Federal Way Public Schools for 10 years. She was recently selected by the Harvard Family Research Project as one of six emerging leaders in the nation in the field of family engagement.

Comments | More in Guest opinion, Roundtable | Topics: parent engagement


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