Academic journal article School Community Journal

Identifying Barriers: Creating Solutions to Improve Family Engagement

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Identifying Barriers: Creating Solutions to Improve Family Engagement

Article excerpt


The evidence is now beyond dispute. When schools work together with families to support learning, children tend to succeed not just in school, but throughout life.

Henderson & Berla, 1994, p. 1

A common complaint of educators is that parents are not involved enough in their children's schooling (Mapp, 2003; McKenna & Millen, 2013). Research has shown that the benefits of parent involvement include creating better school-community relationships (Lawson & Alameda-Lawson, 2012), contributing to greater gains in academic achievement (Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Lawson & Alameda-Lawson, 2012), and enhancing emotional development and behavior (Cai, Moyer, & Wang, 1997; Greenwood & Hickman, 1991). Parent involvement has been characterized as including "demonstrable attendance at school events and reading to one's child" (Jeynes, 2013, para. 1) as well as participating in prescribed activities that the school organizes (Jeynes, 2013). Parent involvement and parent engagement have been characterized differently by some authors, with each having specific parent behaviors associated with the construct. Parent engagement, according to Ferlazzo (2011), is about engaging families to become partners with the school and listening to "what parents think, dream, and worry about" (p. 12). Additionally, Redding, Langdon, Meyer, and Sheley (2004) discuss qualities of parent engagement, including "building a foundation of trust and respect, reaching out to parents beyond the school" (p. 1). While there are distinct differences in characterization, there are similar benefits of increasing either. Parent involvement activities such as volunteering have been associated with a reduction in the number of students disciplined in school, fewer detentions, and a reduction in the number of students receiving multiple disciplinary consequences from one year to the next (Sheldon & Epstein, 2002). Furthermore, increases in frequent and high quality interactions amongst teachers and parents yielded greater trust and respect, increased social capital for students, and provided more support for student success (Redding et al., 2004). The purpose of this article is to discuss the findings from focus groups with parents and school staff during which participants were asked about involvement at the school. It was found that questions about involvement developed into discussions about engagement. Thus, removing barriers to involvement may become a course of action to parent engagement.

Family and staff focus groups were held in six schools in one Midwestern state involved in a discipline reform effort. As part of that reform and based on research and a framework developed by PBIS Indiana (2010), the participating schools were to address five areas of culturally responsive family engagement:

* feedback systems to determine family preferences for ongoing communication (Fantuzzo & Tighe, 2000);

* specific efforts to involve families who generally have low participation rates (Harry, 2008; LaRocque, Kleiman, & Darling, 2011);

* family and community involvement in making decisions about programs and services that meet the needs of all students (Hornby & Lafaele, 2011);

* staff involvement in finding ways to include the use of community resources (such as libraries or cultural and community centers; Sheldon & Epstein, 2002); and

* family events that are held off-site in the community (Landsman & Lewis, 2006).

This paper uses the results of this reform effort to address how schools can move from parent involvement (merely being present) to parent engagement (intentional efforts by the school to recognize and respond to parents' voices and to help school staff to better understand how to address barriers that parents have identified). This paper concludes with a discussion and recommendations about moving from involvement to engagement.

Parents and Schools

The term parent involvement has been used by teachers, school administrators, and parents to include several characteristics of parent and school relationships (Hornby & Lafaele, 2011). …

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