Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Understand and Advocate for Communities First: Efforts at Education Reform and Other Measures Aiming to Raise Achievement Levels Will Be More Successful If Schools First Establish Trust-Based Relationships with Parents and Their Communities

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Understand and Advocate for Communities First: Efforts at Education Reform and Other Measures Aiming to Raise Achievement Levels Will Be More Successful If Schools First Establish Trust-Based Relationships with Parents and Their Communities

Article excerpt

I (Khalifa) was preparing for my first parent-teacher conference at a middle school on Detroit's east side when I heard this warning from my closest colleague: "Don't expect many of them to come in tonight; you'd be lucky to even get 10 parents. Some of them are working now, but most of them just don't care about the education of their kids."

An impressionable young teacher, I listened and didn't question the scenario that my senior colleague and mentor presented. Because parent-school relationships are often some of the most contested, negotiated, and dynamically changing relationships, they're also often the most difficult to sustain.

My colleague's view was troubling because he assumed that parent-school relationships had to occur in very traditional ways and according to the school's rules. This suggests that educators can set the program agendas, locations, times, formats, and content according to what they prefer. Did we ever ask parents what they wanted to discuss or what they felt was important to their children's lives? Most of our parent-teacher conferences focused on their child's academic performance and behavior. The conferences almost always happened at school and mostly at night. Parent-teacher conferences were very structured and had an array of "evidences" or artifacts that supported the narratives that teachers hoped to convey about our student--their child. In retrospect, why parents seem disinterested or perhaps even hostile toward such exchanges is easy to understand. This traditional and static manner in which parent-school relationships occur is a very school-centric approach to parent engagement and not culturally responsive to parental needs.

One of the oft-cited points about teaching is that students won't care about learning until they know that teachers care about them. The same idea translates into relationships between schools and parents. Parents won't care about what schools want them to do until they know that educators care about them and the concerns of their communities.

Indigenous, immigrant, low-income, and language-minority communities have unique, historically linked understandings of how they interact with schools. However, there are some common threads:

* Most need trust to precede educational reform;

* Most involve increased community presence from educators and administrators; and

* Most require that educators understand, incorporate, and celebrate identities found in the local communities.

Advocating for community-based interests and causes that may have nothing at all to do with schools or education can be deeply advantageous for educators.

Alternatives

A school-centric approach to relationships with parents is historically incongruent with the unique communities present in school (Castango & Brayboy, 2008; Khalifa, 2012; Walker, 2009). For example, during the 1950s and 1960s, instead of giving parents a specific time to visit a school, African-American parents had a more fluid and dynamic relationship with schools. Relationships between parents and schools were mutually supportive in black communities, and each group mobilized and supported the other when requested or needed (Walker, 2009). Principals would rally black parents to advocate for school causes, and, likewise, principals and teachers would venture into communities to advocate for community-based causes. Examples of this could be job training or employment fairs, collective action against neighborhood violence, or seminars on preventing foreclosure and homelessness. This synchronistic balance created a reciprocity of leadership and participation. Instead of fixed discourses and conversations only about education, educators maintained trust and seamless rapport with the community. During this historical period, educators knew parents would support them in any way requested; they had the trust and support of black parents. …

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