Wit & Wisdom

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What is the "right" kind of parent?

CJ Westerberg, February 26, 2012 8:00 PM


"It is sad to me when I hear parents feeling bad that they aren't doing "x",
or feeling bad or embarrassed that they are doing "y"or doing too much of "x",
or reluctant to ask questions and convey their concerns.

What is the "right" kind of parent?

by Sheila Stewart

There seems to be so much debate about what the parent role in education should look like.  There are many organizations attempting to define it, analyze it, and/or provide resources to support it.

Children go to schools.  Children have parents/guardians/family.  The connection is clear. 
Or, is it? 

I often hear and read a lot of referencing in regards to parents as "school council parents" and "parents" and "hard to engage" parents, etc., as if they are very separate and distinct, or need to be considered differently.  And the discussions continue about the difference between parent involvement and engagement (within education circles, at least).  I also wonder why we can't use the word advocacy more - without it being a negative term.

"I also wonder why we can't use the word advocacy more -
without it being a negative term.

Sometimes parents advocate for their child; sometimes they advocate for their child's peers; sometimes it will be for their school or their community or district.  Sometimes they will need someone else to advocate for their child or family.  Sometimes advocacy will bring about good broader outcomes in education because it started with one child/one parent.  Sometimes advocacy will involve a number of education partners working together on common goals.
There is also the concern that parents vary in their ability to advocate and access resources, information, and to have a voice in education.

In Ontario, school councils were not established to have only the voices of just the members/attendees at the meeting to be heard.  It was clearly structured and outlined in regulation that parent membership was to be elected by the parent community, and it was
the intention that each parent, staff, and student member, as well as the council as a whole, would have and take the responsibility to communicate, consult and bring forward the
"general" views of who they represented. Their role has always been advisory in nature to
the administration or school board.

"Sometimes advocacy will bring about good broader outcomes in education
because it started with one child/one parent." 

"A school council shall consult with parents of pupils enrolled in the school about matters under consideration by the council."  Here is an example of the objectives stated in board policy for school councils in my district:

  • To focus on successful learning
  • To plan for school growth
  • To establish effective communication within the school community
  • To establish effective approaches to consultative and
  • collaborative strategies between home, school and community
  • To increase participation of parents/guardians in the education of their children.
(Editor's Note:  For those involved in parent involvement policy, Click HERE to find out more about this specific regulation and the questions raised by Ms. Stewart.)

But I think many questions remain.  Why has such extensive legislation and policy development been necessary in order to increase parent participation and bring voices "to the table"?  
I often wonder if building trust and positive relationships are what can move mountains more than mandates and policies for parent participation?  Can we in the current model of education?

Can all parents be supported and be the "right" parents in the various roles they choose and manage to take on?  It is sad to me when I hear parents feeling bad that they aren't doing "x", or feeling bad or embarrassed that they are doing "y"or doing too much of "x", or reluctant to ask questions and convey their concerns.

  • And if it is determined or decided that working and connecting through organized parent structures is not effective enough, what other avenues for inclusive outreach and invitation can and will be taken that are considerate of all parents? 
  • How can we partner with all different parents to bring about positive and progressive changes in education? 
  • We may have struggled with this for many years, but to what extent can technology offer some solutions in this area to help overcome some barriers to parent participation, as well as change in education to support students?

Many questions - but I hope they will be the catalyst for you to share what is working and what is not.  Thank you for reading and your feedback!

Canadian Sheila Stewart is "committed to connecting with all partners in education in support of students and authentic learning environments."  She is a parent of teens, and has taught/tutored all ages 4-adult, and is most recently focused on adult English Language Learners. 

This post was modified for The Daily Riff with approval by Ms. Stewart.  Original version appeared in her blog, Sheila Speaking.

Related posts The Daily Riff:

Conversations that happen in the middle - by Lorna Constantini, "We (parents and teachers) just carry on and hope our polite conversations won't get in the way.  But, in fact, they do."

Schools and Parents:  A Kabuki Dance?

The Parent Trapped by Cathy Buyrn

Teachers, Don't Leave Out the Parents, by Pernille Ripp

"My screwed, codded, self-absorbed, mocked, surprisingly resilient generation" (Millennials)

Dear Millennials:  Your Parents Lied to You

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