Traditionally, it was not uncommon for most schools to have an active Parent Teacher Association and the same group of “involved” parents attending the monthly meetings and school events. Recently, there has been a big push for schools to encourage parent engagement in all levels of the school system, including decision making at the building and district levels. There is a distinction between parent involvement, or parents serving the school’s agenda by doing what educators ask or expect parents to do and where the school is driving the outcome; and parent engagement, where parents are partners bringing their own knowledge together with schools, and share in decision making and goal setting. Even when schools have the best of intentions in terms of reaching out to parents and inviting them into the school, there are many barriers that often stand in the way. The purpose of this research brief is to outline the common barriers, then cite and discuss the recommendations and action steps of the research from national experts on parent engagement.
Almost 30 million people who live in the United States were born in other countries (Ginsberg, 2007), yet in all communities, parents, caregivers and educators are concerned and competent and want to help young people thrive (Ginsberg, 2012). A collaborative partnership between schools and parents can contribute significantly to a child’s academic success, and establishing a shared, mutual responsibility for learning is the foundation for parent engagement (Weiss et al). Although there are schools doing this well, developing a collaborative relationship with parents is something that requires the focus and attention of both teachers and administrators, and is not simple or easy to achieve.
PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships
The National Parent Teacher Association has been in existence for over 100 years and has the mission to advocate for children and families in schools. They have developed six standards for family-school partnerships which are as follows:
Welcoming all families into the school community – families are active participants in the life of the school, and feel welcomed, valued, and connected to each other, to school staff, and to what students are learning and doing in class.
Communicating effectively – Families and school staff engage in regular, two-way meaningful communication about student learning
Supporting student success – Families and school staff continuously collaborate to support students’ learning and heathy development both at home and in school, and have regular opportunities to strengthen their knowledge and skills to do so effectively.
Speaking up for every child – Families are empowered to be advocates for their own and other children, to ensure that students are treated fairly and have access to learning opportunities that will support their success.
Sharing power – Families and school staff are equal partners in decisions that affect children and families and together inform, influence, and create policies, practices and programs.
Collaborating with community – Families and school staff collaborate with community members to connect students, families and staff to expanded learning opportunities, community services and civic participation (National PTA).
Barriers to Parent Engagement
Understanding what teachers and schools are up against is the first step in taking action to overcome barriers. After a thorough review of the research on parent engagement in schools, Project Appleseed found that there are six barriers that occur most often:
Lack of teacher time
Parents’ various strengths and skills are not recognized by educators
Different communication styles are not understood
Family mobility and limited family resources like transportation and child care
Tension in the relationships between parents and teachers, which leads to parents’ lack of comfort in the school
Difficulty finding ways to be involved in the upper grades (Project Appleseed, 2008)
Do your school’s parent engagement strategies take into account each of these common barriers. If not, it may be helpful to revisit the plan and make the necessary adjustments. Of course, be sure to include as many parents as possible on the committee making the decisions. Their insights will be invaluable!
In their sincere attempts to increase parent engagement, some schools have implemented family involvement programs, only to find that they have not been effective in bringing parents into the school. According to Project Appleseed, there are four reasons why these programs are often not implemented fully and with fidelity, therefore sacrificing the effectiveness of the programs. Most commonly:
School staff has not been trained to work with families
Administrators and teachers are concerned that having more parents in the building will add to their already busy schedules
Educators worry that closer relationships with parents would mean sacrificing some of their power and decision-making
Families worry that making suggestions or asking questions will negatively impact their child if the teacher or administrator becomes annoyed or threatened by the parent (Project Appleseed, 2008)
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