14 SES 14 B, Parent Education and Family Involvement with Children with Autism and Disabilities
Parent engagement in education is attracting increased policy interest in the Australian and international context.Strengthening parents’ engagement can enhance children’s learning achievements, sense of wellbeing, and connectedness (Pomerantz et al 2007). The research literature base in Australia is small and emergent, and typically reflects either an institutional results/reform perspective or an individual psychological lens that considers how and why parents might engage, rather than ways that make it meaningful and purposeful. Hence, the keyresearch questions focussed on: Parent and Educators’ perspectives on learning; Role of parents in children’s education; Enablers and barriers to parent engagement in schools. The objective of the paper therefore is to discuss the enablers and constraints faced by low-SES and migrant parent communities in their children’s learning both in terms of their role in supporting their children’s learning as well as their engagement and participations in their children’s schooling. Research suggests that successful transition and participation in educational contexts of students is inextricably linked to the development of positive interpersonal relationships with parents and the school community combined with the ability to navigate the educational system.
Some researchers question the ‘policy rhetorics positioning schools as ‘partners’ in the educational equation’ (Barr & Saltmarsh, 2014), claiming that managerialist models of school leadership place demands on principals that are antithetical to the more collaborative orientations of educators and of policy prescriptions in the area of school-family partnerships. As such, it is important to recognise the different factors that affect participation in schools for parents from migrant backgrounds and in low SES communities. These include: ‘strengthening capacities to cultivate networks (mobility), shape futures (aspiration) and narrate experiences (voice)’. Such factors ‘increase people’s ability to access, benefit from and transform economic goods and social institutions’ (Sellar & Gale 2011, p. 116).
Appadurai’s notion of imagination and aspiration (2004) provides a key theoretical framework to indicate future possibilities that parents of low SES and migrant students might imagine. Appadurai’s theory becomes “an organized field of social practices, a form of work (in the sense of both labour and culturally organized practice), and a form of negotiation between sites of agency (individuals) and globally defined fields of possibility (Appadurai, 1996, p. 31). As populations move across space and borders, as they reconstruct and reimagine their histories, the relationship between the global and the local in the contemporary moment of globalization deserves interrogation. Whether or not current global processes diminish the importance of the local or the national, they certainly change the terms by which we understand them so a study of parent engagement has to include an understanding of the relationship between imagination and capital in producing migration, since individual imaginings about future lives is intertwined with economic considerations and socio-economic status.
Aspiration is not so much about disadvantaged communities conforming to a socially-accepted, majority-defined, upwardly mobile aspirational future as it is about the potential to imagine any kind of future – a potential for imagining that is not limited to the elite members of society. Parental experiences are used to inform the present and imagined futures for their children. Introducing Appadurai’s notions of the capacity to aspire allows for an understanding of the constraints that migrant and parents in low SES contexts face in being able to imagine a future. Significantly, it also opens up opportunities for analysis of the ways that constraints are being challenged. In order to re-imagine the world from different perspectives, keeping open and critical perspectives are essential (Latimer & Skeggs 2011). In this sense, the capacity to aspire and the ability to imagine are political, and essential in creating a just society.
The Parent Engagement project is a qualitative ethnographic study that explores parent engagement in contexts where little research has been previously done, focusing on low SES and migrant parents. School principals were asked to circulate information about the project to staff while community liaison centres and key personnel were asked to do the same for their local communities. Email and follow-up telephone calls were employed to recruit parent and educator participants. Questions such as what learning is, where learning happens, the relative importance of different forms of learning, and how to assist their children to be successful learners across all domains, yielded vastly different responses across the cohorts. These frameworks of learning then underpin how parents in these groups shape their engagement in their children’s learning, the mismatches between home and school learning, and the opportunity for increased understanding for all groups of parents and educators. While there has been little in-depth qualitative research in regard to the general population, preliminary research literature suggests that conventional forms of parent engagement in children’s learning is more familiar for middle class parents of English speaking origin. Fifty semi-structured focus groups and interviews were conducted in seven states and territories of Australia, involving the participation of more than 160 parents and carers of school aged children and 150 educators and education support personnel. Parents of children attending secondary and primary, public, catholic and independent schools in inner city, outer suburbs regional and remote locations participated. Education personnel from the same location were recruited and interviewed in separate groups. In three states, community based Non-Government Organisations’s working in school communities with disadvantaged families assisted with the parent recruitment and some members of these organisations also became informants to the study. In situations where only one or two participants turned up for the focus group, semi-structured interviews were conducted. The focus groups took up to 1.5 hours each and were recorded and transcribed and the resulting transcriptions shared between researchers. Ethics approval was granted by Western Sydney University Human Research Ethics Committee. A subsequent ethical approval process was required for each state of Australia for access to teachers and parents in public schools and for each diocese in relation to Catholic Schools.
The findings about parent engagement in children’s learning for the particular cohorts in this study are widely divergent and highly dependent on the nature of the group and especially on their approach to learning. In low SES schools and communities, parent engagement in children’s learning can be characterized as struggle: the struggle for parents, schools and community organisations to deal with the individual and structural impacts of poverty. A shared understanding of parents and educators focused mainly on safety, survival and vulnerability. Learning in the home was not well understood and focussed on learning that happens in school. Some parents were clear that the challenges of daily living took all of their time and energy, leaving little opportunity for them to focus on their children’s learning. Educators revealed a lack of understanding of compounding living challenges in vulnerable circumstances and expressed views dismissive of learning that takes place in the home Responses of migrant parents and educators can be described as conflictual with parents and schools having differing and incompatible expectations and understandings of their children’s performance and learning needs. With a lack of sanctioned cultural capital and knowledge of the Australian educational system, parents with limited English language skills, relied on their children for decisions about schooling. Parents were unfamiliar with the school’s expectations and unacquainted with the genres used by teachers when talking about curriculum and pedagogy. Parents wanted more homework and believed that the curriculum was not challenging. Educators felt that when migrant parents had a negative experience of schooling or subjects, they imposed such negativity upon their children The findings from this group revealed a high level of expectation from the schools for successful educational outcomes of their children in a system which they [parents] are still learning to navigate.
Appadurai, A. (2001) Deep Democracy. Environment &Urbanization, (13) 2, 23-43. Appadurai, A. (2004). ‘The Capacity to Aspire: Culture and the terms of recognition’, in Rao, V. and M. Walton (eds). Culture and Public Action. Standford CA: Stanford University Press, pp. 59-84 Appadurai, A. (2007).’Hope and Democracy’. In: Public Culture 19: 1. Baquedano-López, P., Alexander, R. A., & Hernandez, S. J. (2013). Equity issues in parental and community involvement in schools: What teacher educators need to know. Review of Research in Education 37(1), 161-194. Barr, Jenny & Saltmarsh, Sue (2014). ''It all comes down to the leadership'': The role of the school principal in fostering parent-school engagement. Educational Management Administration & Leadership. 42 (4), 491-505. Family-School & Community Partnerships Bureau (2014). Progress report: 2 Year Longitudinal Study on the impact of parental engagement on improved student learning outcomes Project Officer: Margaret Hunter http://www.familyschool.org.au/what-we-do/current-projects/ Latimer,J. & Skeggs, B. (2011) The politics of imagination: Keeping open and critical 'The Sociological Review, 59(3), 393-410. Maury, S. (2014). Uplift; An Empowerment Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools. Good Shepherd Youth and Family Services. Pomerantz, E., Moorman, E. & Litwack, S. (2007). The How, Whom, and Why of Parents' Involvement in Children's Academic Lives: More Is Not Always Better. Review of Educational Research. 77: 373. doi: 10.3102/003465430305567 Sellar, S. & Gale, T. (2011). Mobility, aspiration, voice: a new structure of feeling for student equity in higher education, Critical Studies in Education, 52:2, pp. 115-134 Woodrow, C., Somerville, M., Naidoo, L., & Power, K. (2016), Researching Parent Engagement: A Qualitative Field Study, Western Sydney University. Wrigley, T., Thomson,P., & Lingard, B. (2012) (Ed.), Changing schools: Alternative ways to make a world of difference London, England, U.K.: Routledge.
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