Influence of a Parent Leadership Program on Participants' Leadership Capacity and Actions

By Cunningham, Shayna D.; Kreider, Holly et al. | School Community Journal, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview
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Influence of a Parent Leadership Program on Participants' Leadership Capacity and Actions

Cunningham, Shayna D., Kreider, Holly, Ocón, Jenny, School Community Journal


This article investigates the influence of Parent Services Project's Vision and Voice Family Leadership Institute (VVFLI; formerly known as Parent Leadership Institute) on parent leadership capacity and action. Pre- and post-test data were collected from new VVFLI attendees during their first (N = 83) and last (N = 85) session, respectively. T-tests were used to test for significant differences between the pre- and post-test survey responses. Survey data were also collected from a subset of alumni (N = 100) who had completed at least one VVFLI between 2005 and 2008. Results indicate that VVFLI may positively influence parents' identities as leaders, general leadership and communication skills, and skills specific to school- and community-based settings, as well as promote increased parental involvement in a variety of school-based, advocacy, and wider constituency leadership activities. Schools and community-based organizations interested in strengthening the leadership capacity of parents should consider implementing parent leadership programs, such as VVFLI, with their constituents.

Key Words: parents, vision and voice family leadership institute, programs, capacity, parental involvement in education, engagement, schools, community-based organizations, communication skills, advocacy, training workshops


Decades of research point to the many benefits of family engagement in children's learning on student academic achievement (Henderson & Mapp, 2002). Greater family engagement is also associated with improved social skills and behavior (e.g., decreased alcohol use, violence, and antisocial behavior; National PTA, 1998). The benefits of family engagement are true regardless of students' socioeconomic status or ethnic/racial background or the parents' education level (Mapp, 2004). The more extensive the family engagement, the greater the student benefits (National PTA, 1998).

Parent leadership in education represents one important subtype of family engagement. It can take the form of either individual or collective action (HFRP, 2002; Levine & Trickett, 2000), including: communication and advocacy on behalf of one's own child (HFRP, 2000); authentic input, participation and leadership in parent associations or local school councils (Lopez & Kreider, 2003); and participation in community organizing for education reform (Warren, 2005). Research on parent leadership suggests that parent leaders become role models of school and community involvement not only for their own children, but for other families as well. Higher participation in school leadership councils by immigrant parents, in particular, is associated with greater teacher awareness of students' cultural and community issues and higher family engagement at the school (Marschall, 2008).

Today's educational context and policies present many structural opportunities for parent leadership in education through site-based management councils, English language advisory councils, community-organizing groups, and parent-teacher organizations. Oftentimes, however, parents may need training to acquire the leadership knowledge, self-efficacy, and skills to take on and be truly effective in such roles (Corbett & Wilson, 2000, 2001; Gertler, Rubio-Codina, & Patrinos, 2006). Studies on community leadership programs demonstrate the potential positive influence of parent leadership programs. Specifically, a review of community leadership programs concluded that such programs increase participants' leadership skills, including their ability to interact with others and their level of confidence (Earnest, 1996). Although few evaluations of parent leadership programs have been published in the scientific literature or elsewhere, the available evidence from those that have suggest that they may sustain and increase parents' involvement in their children's education; develop parents' skills in communicating with other parents and with school personnel about educational issues and school improvement efforts; create a community of parents committed to better schools; and even shiftinvolvement from school-based to community- and systems-based reform efforts (Corbett & Wilson, 2008; Kroll, Sexton, Raimondo, Corbett, & Wilson, 2001; Lopez & Kreider, 2003).

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