26 SES 12 B, Engaging with the Diverse Community Within and Around School
This paper reports on research designed to strengthen relations between families, educational institutions and communities in high poverty settings where exclusion is often manifest as estrangement between the stakeholders. The methodological framework developed from the research has been generated from work in Indigenous communities in Australia, yet it is scalable to other settings internationally where increasingly minority families are silenced by the power of schools top-down parental engagement programs.
The research question: Can a community leadership approach, using a “cultural broker”, assist in building inclusive and authentic relationships between schools and vulnerable families to support children’s learning?
The objectives of the research are to:
(i) Describe the complex processes involved in the leadership work of cultural brokers from the community in building capabilities for school leaders, parents and other members of the community to collaborate to support student learning and achievement.
(ii) Measure the impact of place-based actions led by cultural brokers and school leaders to positively impact family-school collaborations in supporting children’s learning.
The theoretical framework for this research coheres around two concepts. First, the research is driven by a strength’s based assumption: that vulnerable communities and families have the resources to lead and support children’s learning and their general well-being. More familiar, however is a deficit discourse that positions such families as needing to be led rather than leaders. Traditionally schools have taken the lead in parental engagement strategies. Most policy and school developments for greater parent and family involvement refer to Epstein’s foundational typology (1995) designed to assist educators in developing school and family partnership programs.
- Learning at Home
- Decision Making
- Collaborating with the Community
Jeynes (2012) argues that Epstein’s framework is overly-simplistic as the elements of the framework are aligned with the capabilities and resources of white, middle class, educated parents. Yet many schools continue to privilege this traditional approach to parental involvement and become dispirited when they fail to form partnerships with families that have been referred to as “hard to reach” (Auerbach, 2012). Such families are often categorised as uncaring and disengaged on the grounds that they are not highly visible in classrooms and at school events (McKenna & Millen, 2013).
Are we missing something? Why are many parents, especially those from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, usually living on little income not becoming more engaged with schools? Is it correct and just to assume that these parents are uncaring about their children’s education? Why continue to focus on perceived deficits? Do schools know the strengths parents have and what they are already doing to assist children to learn. The impact of parent engagement on children’s learning when it occurs outside school and in the home, is greater than parent’s presence in schools (Carter, 2002) and Zhang et al., (2011).
Closely linked to a strengths-based approach is the second concept: that of “cultural brokerage” (Jezewski, 1990) whereby community leaders work between the parties is pivotal to the authentic enactment of both-ways leadership for children’s learning.
Emerging evidence support schools’ reconsideration of how they might work more democratically and inclusively with a diverse range of parents. Auerbach (2012) argues the need for school principals first to distinguish and support subtle but crucial differences between traditional school-centred approaches to building family-school partnership and more agentive relationship models whereby families strengths are recognised on the basis of their knowing how best their children learn.
Goodall and Montgomery (2014) argue that key reason for poor take up of home-school partnerships policies stems from the misunderstandings of power relationships. An important instrument for challenging the status quo of top-down leadership by schools of parental engagement programs is the “cultural broker” from the community: evolving from anthropology, describes “the act of bridging, linking, or mediating between groups or persons for the purpose of reducing conflict and producing change” (Jezewski, 1990). The processes through which the cultural broker mediates between the school, families and members of the community are realised in the following three stages of the research: (i) After the researchers’ initiate on-site consultations with community elders in each of the communities about their views and preferences for developing school-family relationship a Cultural Broker is identified and engaged to work alongside the school leadership team as a sustainability mechanism for engaging other parents and community members, through the project objectives. (ii) The cultural broker and the school leadership team then attend a 2-day professional learning workshop aimed at developing a shared understanding of the literature on shared, distributed and relational leadership and parental engagement and the conceptual framework that informs the research with a view to co-designing placed-based interventions (action research projects) that enable families to have a voice in how the engage with schools and allow schools to test the boundaries of shared and distributed leadership (iii) the action research project is then implemented and evaluated by schools and communities collaborating through the cultural broker to strengthen school, family and community relationships. Interviews with cultural brokers conducted during two site visits during the one-year based on their self-produced visual diary of their daily work are instrumental in producing rich descriptions of the complex processes involved in the leadership work of cultural brokers in strengthening capabilities of school leaders, parents and other members of the community to collaborate to support student learning and achievement (Objective 1). The administration of The Scale of Parental Engagement and Leadership (SPEL) (Flückiger, 2016) provides a simple quantitative summary pre- and post intervention for purposes of quantitative project evaluation. Cultural Broker Family-School engagement scale administered before and after the intervention is instrumental in measuring the impact of place-based actions led by cultural brokers on family-school collaborations in supporting children’s learning (Objective 2).
Reliable evidence is crucial to reshaping and reflecting the way vulnerable families are interacting with education systems and schools in a variety of settings. This research provides a methodology that seeks to include the excluded by developing a framework that empowers those most impacted by the problem to lead the solution. Cultural brokers build capacity for leading learning ‘both ways’ between schools and vulnerable families and communities (Johnson, Dempster, McKenzie, Klieve, Flückiger, Lovett, Riley, & Webster, 2013). They are central to demonstrating shifts in power relations as they too are members of families residing in the community: some with children at the schools in which they work. The framework makes visible the gap in the literature by provide an innovative mechanism for opening up new and scalable possibilities for enabling vulnerable families internationally to reposition themselves from the deficit position of ‘hard to reach’ to leaders who confidently reach out to share in the discourse and practice of contributing their knowledge to children’s learning. In practice, an authentic family school partnership means that families and school staff collaborate to set an agenda for mutually benefiting children’s learning and by extension family well-being. At times this may mean that families challenge the status quo and question the terms on which schools ask them to connect and engage.
Auerbach, S. (2012). School leadership for authentic school partnerships: Research perspectives for transforming practice. Routledge: New York & London. Epstein, J.L. (1995). School/family/community partnerships. Phi Delta Kappan, 76(9), 701. Goodall, J. & Montgomery, C. (2014). Parental involvement to parental engagement: A continuum. Educational Review, 66(4), 399-410. Johnson, G., Dempster, N., McKenzie, L. Klieve, H., Flückiger, B., Lovett, S., Riley, T., & Webster, A. (2013). Principals as literacy leaders with Indigenous communities: Leading reading ‘both ways’. Report to Australian Primary Principals Association. . Jeynes, W. (2012). A meta-analysis of the efficacy of different types of parental involvement for urban students. Urban Education, 47(4), 706-742. Jezewski, M.A. (1990). Culture brokering in migrant farmworker health care. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 12(4), 497-513.
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