Pushor and Ruitenberg (2005) suggested that engagement implies a close and working relationship between teacher and parent; a sharing of parent and teacher knowledge of each child to promote long-term academic and personal success....and this is often where the confusion lies.
Just prior to running a professional development session recently on this exact topic, one teacher commented, "I nearly didn't come because we have enough parent engagement .... we can't get rid of them! They're always there!" She had a whole different perspective ninety minutes later.
For many teachers, particularly those in the 'baby boomer' category, parent engagement is synonymous with parent interference. Many believe that their professional judgement will be taken to task; that parents will tell them how to teach and what to teach; that parents will be constantly challenging school decisions on everything from what is being taught in the classroom and how it is being taught, to what is sold in the canteen and why.
Research indicates that we need to move away from the 'ivory tower' perception of schools and the 'locked gate' mentality to embracing family engagement as policy, as education reform. Weiss, Lopez and Rosenberg (2010) assert that 'family engagement must be a systemic, integrated and sustained approach, not an add-on or a random act.'
So, how do schools engage families in their children's learning, and why is it so important to children's education, the long-term love of learning and developing life skills?
A good place to start is to open up the conversation with your parent community. There is no 'one size fits all' but, in most cases, these basic strategies work:
- Form a parent task-force - they help to forge a connection between school and home
- Conduct surveys (but make sure you follow through on the results!)
- Establish a parent 'hub' within the school grounds where parents can meet, have coffee, access resources to community services, build relationships
- Invite parents to be part of an advisory board to assist with strategic planning, not just fund-raising
- Encourage parents to share their skills and knowledge with students....even at high school. Parents helping to 'chef' for a class, or demonstrate how to use a lathe etc goes over really well with the kids.
"When parents are involved in their children’s education at home, they do better in school. And when parents are involved in school, children go farther in school and the schools they go to are better" (Henderson & Berla, 1994)
Parent engagement is not about teachers relinquishing their role as educator; it is about sharing the responsibility of educating, nurturing and guiding young people towards a positive future. There are certainly vast numbers of 'invisible parents' who, no matter how hard the school tries, cannot get them through the front gate. There is no simple solution to how to engage ALL families, but the offer must be there at least!
photo credit: Enokson via photopin cc