14 SES 04 A, Parent Engagement in Schools and Communities
Parent engagement continues to be a “random act” within schools (Weiss, Lopez & Rosenberg, 2010) regardless of the decades of research that demonstrates the links between parent engagement and improved academic, social and behavioral outcomes for students (Mapp, 2013; Jeynes, 2007) and improved academic and social outcomes for parents (Brown, 2007, Hong, 2011). A new approach is required to systematically engage parents as an integral component of both teaching and learning. When parents are engaged in schools in ways that address their learning needs, employment levels, health, and knowledge as parents, as well as their children’s learning and wellbeing needs, both school and home contexts are strengthened (Brown, 2007; Hong, 2011). In this view, potential is created to have a much greater and long-lasting impact on students’ educational outcomes as well as to achieve positive effects for parents and families. Through participatory action research (Bennet, 2004, Bergold & Thomas, 2012; Heyman, 2011), narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000) and quantitative data analysis, our objective was to develop a systematic approach to parent engagement that would serve as a prototype that is replicable, both locally, in Canadian schools, and internationally. Our research questions included: How does the authentic and meaningful engagement of parents and family members in their children’s education and schooling enhance academic achievement and other educational outcomes for students, while simultaneously addressing learning and social outcomes for parents and families? What partnerships, school staff and community development strategies, and schooling policy and practice changes are needed to develop a successful prototype to systematically engage parents in teaching and learning?
Our theoretical approach reflected an integrated theory of family and school relations (Epstein, 2001) in which it is understood that the shared interests and influences of families and schools can be lived out by schools and the belief that it is critical for the education sector to attend to the broader ecological system in which a child grows (Bronfenbrenner, 1993). Our six research outcomes included: 1) supporting/promoting parents as holders of knowledge of children, teaching, and learning; 2) understanding the impact of systematic parent engagement for children and parents; 3) advancing theory on systematic parent engagement; 5) influencing needed policy/practice changes across/within sectors to enable place and voice for parents in schools; 5) training of future researchers; and 6) promoting knowledge interchange between academics, professionals, and parents. Through this comprehensive program of research, we developed, implemented, analyzed, and interpreted the impact of our systematic approach. Within a three-pillar framework we:
- engaged parents in their children’s teaching and learning on the school landscape of a Prekindergarten to Grade 8 school (Pillar 1), through a Parent Mentor program, Parent University, and relational home visits involving educators and families.
- engaged parents in their children’s teaching and learning in out of school times and places (Pillar 2), through evening and weekend library programming, summer learning opportunities, and Cooking for Cohesion experiences which built relationships through conversation and cultural exchanges facilitated by parents.
- engaged parents in their own educational opportunities (Pillar 3), through adult language courses, conversation circles, certificate programs such as food safety, early childhood education, and first aid/CPR, and employment enhancement coaching and support.
As we analyzed and interpreted our data, we sought to identify the key elements and process conditions that seemed essential to establishing this new approach and the impact such systematic parent engagement had on academic and social outcomes for children and for parents. In this paper presentation, we will focus our discussion on students, family, community and how they were impacted by the programs and supports implemented within this 3 pillar approach.
Participatory Action Research. The primary research methodology for this study was Participatory Action Research (PAR). PAR is a process characterized by collaboration between community, staff, and academic participants at each stage of the research, mutual learning and education, and resulting educational, social, and policy action. While it has characteristics that define it methodologically and principles that guide its use, it is tailored to the needs of the community, by the community (Bennett, 2004; Bergold & Thomas, 2012; Heyman, 2011). Using PAR, participating parents and staff in the school research site were engaged in all aspects of the research, with the intention of enabling boundaries within the school community to be re-shaped. Our aim was to give the school and parent community voice, designing and implementing the research with and for them. Narrative Inquiry. Our complementary research methodology was narrative inquiry, the focus of which is “lived experience” (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). The intention in this inquiry was to have participants give accounts of their experience with parent engagement that provided fine-grained insights to add to our learning. We recorded conversations with parents who participated in a diverse range of programs and services; with professional and paraprofessional staff, school and school division leaders, and staff who held positions specifically created for this research; and with community partners who worked to provide programming or support services to children, parents, and family members in the school community. Quantitative Data Analysis. To gain a holistic understanding of the impact of systematic parent engagement on parents’ and students’ outcomes, we included the analysis of quantitative data: 1) School data reflecting the 2015- 2016 school year through to the end of the 2018-2019 school year (i.e. patterns of attendance, achievement, transiency, enrolment, suspensions and expulsions, and general student demographics over the time of the study); 2) Masked family data for the same time period for the corresponding parents/families of students enrolled at the school (i.e. patterns over time related to number of families in school boundaries receiving income assistance, with children in care, receiving support from a Family Support Worker). As the research unfolded in this site, we used our findings from both qualitative and quantitative data analysis to develop a prototype for the systematic engagement of parents in schools, in Canada and internationally, which is attentive to the contextual and situated nature of each school and community.
What were the impacts for students, parents, and families? Results showed a positive impact on student enrollment, test scores, parent language and employability levels, and the “educationally oriented ambience” (Jeynes, 2005) of the school. The school became a safe and welcoming space for families, during the school day and in out of school times. Enrollment increased, student attendance became more consistent, parents spent more time on the school landscape, and students demonstrated excitement in having their parents nearby. Parents came to see that the school was for everyone. Further, the increased time and contact between educators and parents built trust and relationships and a supportive community. What did we learn about structural and systematic changes that need to be made? The systematic engagement of parents in teaching and learning provided a hopeful, potentially transformative approach to enhancing academic and social outcomes for children and their parents. However, changes to teacher education and development and to teacher transfer policies are required to realize this potential. The staff who embraced and enacted a philosophy and pedagogy of parent engagement were those who attended the voluntary graduate courses and professional development opportunities. Those who did not, participated superficially in parent engagement initiatives or even acted with resistance. Further, transfers of teachers on temporary contracts occurred because of school division staffing policies, regardless of individuals’ commitment to the systematic parent engagement efforts underway. New teachers assigned to the staff typically had no background in parent engagement nor a commitment to it. Teacher education efforts then had to begin again. As Sir Ken Robinson (2013) stated, “Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools” (np). In this paper presentation, we will focus our discussion on students, family, community and how they were impacted by the programs and supports implemented within this 3 pillar approach.
Bennet, M. (2004). A review of the literature on the benefits and drawbacks of participatory action research. First Peoples Child & Family Review, 1(1), 19-32. Bergold, J. & Thomas, S. (2012). Forum: Qualitative research. Participatory Research Methods: A Methodological Approach in Motion, 13(1), 1-23. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1993). Ecological models of human development. In M. Gauvain & M. Cole (Eds.), Readings on the development of children, 2nd ed. (pp. 37-43). New York, NY: Freeman. Brown, J. (2007). Parents building communities in schools. Voices in Urban Education, 26, 45- 53. Clandinin, D.J. & Connelly, F.M. (2000). Narrative inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers. Epstein, J.L. (2001). School, family, and community partnerships: Preparing educators and improving schools. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Goodall, J. & Vorhaus, J. (2010). Review of best practice in parental engagement. UK: Department of Education. Heyman, A. (2011). An exploration of factors which may influence how teachers perceive participatory action research tools being employed in schools. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 14(5), 369-378. Hong, S. (2011). A chord of three strands: A new approach to parent engagement in schools. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press. Jeynes, W.H. (2005). A meta-analysis of the relation of parental involvement to urban elementary school student academic achievement. Urban Education, (40)3, 237-269. Jeynes, W.H. (2007). The relationship between parental involvement and urban secondary school student academic achievement: A meta-analysis. Urban Education, 42(1), 82-110. Mapp, K. (2013). Partners in education: A dual capacity-building framework for family-school partnerships. Washington, DC: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory. Robinson, Sir K. (2013). How to escape education’s death valley. TED Talks Education. Retrieved from www.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wX78iKhlnsc Weiss, H.B., Lopez, E.L. & Rosenberg, H. (2010). Beyond random acts: Family, school, and community engagement as an integral part of education reform. Boston, MA: Harvard Family Research Project.
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