Schools and Parents: A Kabuki Dance?

CJ Westerberg, January 9, 2013 11:58 AM

A TDR Classic

by C.J. Westerberg

As parents, we know we cannot depend entirely on the school for our child's learning, motivation and overall well-being.  Educators know that parental involvement is a hugely important factor contributing to student success - study-after-study continue to prove it.

We asked then, why do some schools still do a kabuki dance when it comes to parental/family engagement?  There are those who are challenging (Chris Wejr, George Couros, Sheila Stewart, Joe Bower, to name a few notables making a difference - is there something in the Canuck water?) the roadblocks and double-speak found at certain schools, because parental involvement essentially ends up as a term defined and communicated by educators and schools, usually resulting with a parental "to-do" list with volunteering, fund-raising and insuring home-work completion as the main-stays.   No wonder why some parents run for the hills - especially those who do not have the job flexibility to participate in those in-school activities often enough to feel a part of that "involved group"of parents.  

Why is this so?  How can this change?

P.S. A few recommended reads.  Let us know about yours - we'd like to know: 

"Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships" by Anne T. Henderson, Karen L. Mapp, Vivian R. Johnson, and Don Davies

"Unequal Childhoods" Annette Lareau

"Parental Involvement and Academic Success"  William H. Jeynes

Originally published The Daily Riff September 24, 2011.

Conversations That Happen in the Middle by Lorna Constantini

  • Sheila Stewart

    I enjoyed Stephen Hurley's post reflecting on Ontario's performance and context here:

    See what you think....

  • Didn't find the original article about Canadian education (Ontario specifically) but wanted to give the link to an article we tweeted when it broke a few days ago (Canada finally gets its due - the next darling in the education press over Finland?)

    Via The Economist:

  • I've had much feedback to your recent point about parent groups. I'm not against parent groups, but just not focusing on them since they may become the default go-to in the sense that "someone else" will take care of it. Hear your point and am also do not want to short-change the impact - there is a quote that someone told me recently that addresses your POV - I'll definitely tweet you when I find and use it in an upcoming post. Thanks for comment.

    To be continued . . . .

  • Hi - Finally back as I promised you! Your response above did make sense! We are on similar wave lengths! I used the organized parent group as an example, but I do recognize the many other aspects of parent participation in education - and value all. But I did want to come back to the parent group part because of your insightful comments, and hope that it adds to our reflecting here.

    In Ontario, the organized and mandated parent committees at school and board level have a lot of legislation that outlines their function and membership. The structure and function is also clear that these committees were set up to outreach to their associated school's/area's community/parents. The whole framework was intended to be a broader, inclusive outreach, and was never intended to have something come into place where only the vocal parents, or the ones at the table, or the ones who can spend more time at the school would have the bigger say in school operation or goverance, etc.

    However, what I see has happened a fair bit, is that is what has been allowed to happen. If the groups aren't supported and empowered by staff to reach out and have more voices represented, it is hard to do. I am hearing struggles with such attempts to do so all the time -- so as volunteers trying to lead this, it is not the best position to always be in. Sometimes it is that approach that is simply not wanted.

    So if that continues to be the case, it puts into question the effectiveness and representation of the organized structure of involvement. But if we go with trying to foster what works on the individual, one-to-one level then who does that fall on to facilitate effectively? And where can trust and relationships flourish?

    I recognize all the short-comings that there may be with parent groups (believe me :)), but yet I have seen such value in them as a parent go-to kind of thing for a solution to a problem. Just like much in education, not all is perfect, but we have to find those good stories to keep us going, if not build on them. There are no easy answers for sure.

    Thanks for all the dialogue you have encouraged!

  • Sheila -

    Know there is an article somewhere that asks why Americans aren't looking at Canadian and NZed education for some cues (rather than just the Asian countries)- Have look in my bookmarks- does anyone have it? :)

    I struggle with the gist of your points all the time. Here is the the thing: If parents are not having real conversations with their kids, with teachers and administrators - of substance - they will always have less klout because they may appear to be/can be less "articulate" about a host of issues, such as assessment. These parents may also be intimidated/ led by more vocal parent(s), those with more free time, or those with special interests steering them in a certain direction.

    So I'm not totally convinced on parent groups ( who are the parents - do they really represent parents) or parent-teacher groups - the concept is great and works on a certain level.

    I've become . .. .. and more interested . . . .in one student/one family/one teacher at-a-time - - - - -that really can be the catalyst for a much more powerful change overall. This is not for big "policy" people since it flies in the face of "scalability."

    Any parent with two kids or more will admit a school or teacher may "work" better for one child vs. another, at any given time during their school experience for various reasons (no doubt, the parent who understands this will have kids who fare better, but that's another issue).

    One of my favorite answers from a (highly esteemed) teacher when I asked "What is the most difficult part of your job?" (4th grade). Her answer?

    "I love this age. I can have such an influence on their impressions. But the most difficult thing is not that they are all so different, but each child is so different EVERY DAY."

    Any parent will relate to that comment, rather than some other disconnect. For a parent, what worked with their child in 5th grade, doesn't work in 6th grade (not all the basics - like love, patience, etc. - but some of the other stuff).

    Parents and teachers are having different conversations - at some point - we like to have The Daily Riff and Parent POW merge so they are not different conversations.

    We are working on that now - we'd love to have posts grow and cross-post more often than not.

    Maybe this comment will be my next post - It's late - hope made sense tonight

    Thanks for bringing up the group-parent concept as it may relate to the one-to-one concept of parental involvement.

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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
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