Academic journal article School Community Journal

Boundary Dynamics: Implications for Building Parent-School Partnerships

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Boundary Dynamics: Implications for Building Parent-School Partnerships

Article excerpt


This article draws on systems theory, complexity theory, and the organizational sciences to engage boundary dynamics in the creation of parent-school partnerships. These partnerships help children succeed through an emergent process of dialogue and relationship building in the peripheral spaces where parents and schools interact on behalf of children. Historically, parental involvement and parent education programs evolved from mechanistic thinking. This review and interpretation of multidisciplinary research suggests reframing parent-school partnerships in the context of schools as learning communities that generate new knowledge and innovation as the experiences and competencies of teachers and parents interact to make tacit knowledge explicit. Knowledge society concepts including social capital, actionable knowledge, networked innovation, and communities of practice are applied to parent-school partnerships. Acknowledging vast contributions of research to current understanding of parental involvement, the article also explores the limitations of existing theoretical models and seeks to expand that understanding through the introduction of boundary dynamics and systems thinking.

Key Words: parental involvement, school reform, systems theory, communities of practice, tacit knowledge, actionable knowledge, networked innovation, social capital, families, parents, schools, learning, education, boundary dynamics, partnerships


On the surface, parental involvement in children's schools seems uncontroversial. Most agree that parents play an important role in their children's education and are indeed the first educators of children. Parental involvement is clearly linked to children's academic, social, and emotional development, and building parent-school partnerships is one strategy for improving student success worldwide (e.g., Epstein, 1995; Epstein & Sanders, 2006; Fan & Chen, 1999; Gonzalez, 2004; Henderson, 1987; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Henderson, Mapp, Johnson, & Davies, 2007; Schleicher, 1992). Yet despite extensive research, family involvement experts also agree that parent-school partnerships have not received the research attention they deserve and suggest the need for a more comprehensive theoretical framework to guide partnership development (Caspe, 2008; Ferguson, Ramos, Rudo, & Wood, 2008).

This article proposes that boundary dynamics, derived from recent scientific approaches to understanding complexity, can expand existing theory and knowledge about parental involvement and parent-school partnerships, providing a broader theoretical bridge to understanding the innovation and learning possible at the boundaries and peripheries between parents, schools, and communities. After a review of current and historical paradigms of parent-school relationships and their limitations, the article suggests a shift in thinking to reflect more closely the knowledge used to build learning communities and create innovation in today's complex global environments. Parental involvement literature is combined with research from the fields of complexity theory, systems theory, and organizational science to explore the challenges and opportunities that parents and schools face as they seek to improve achievement for all children.

Parent-school partnerships are extraordinarily complex. Considering the millions of individual parent and educator minds that continually assimilate values, develop worldviews, engage in communication, and interpret behavior, it is difficult to define parental involvement and parent-school partnership in a single policy or regulation. The U.S. No Child Left Behind Act mandated that schools increase parental involvement to help improve academic achievement (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). Yet consensus on how best to accomplish this goal amidst the even greater challenge of higher academic standards imposed on schools remains elusive. …

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