Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Parent-Family Involvement

Dr. Joyce Epstein (Johns Hopkins University) has done landmark work in the area of parent and family involvement in children’s education. “There are many reasons for developing school, family, and community partnerships,” she writes. “The main reason to create such partnerships is to help all youngsters succeed in school and in later life.” [emphasis added]

Almost twenty years ago, when Epstein began to publish about her research, schools across the nation began to listen and re-evaluate how – or indeed, if – they interacted with parents. She provided a framework for schools to use in assessing the type and quality of interactions they had with parents. The Parent Involvement Framework defines six specific types of parent and family involvement.

  • Parenting (help parents establish home environments to support students as learners)
  • Communicating (design effective forms of school-to-home and home-to-school communications about school programs and children's progress) [And, I might add, “use them”]
  • Volunteering (recruit and organize parent help and support)
  • Learning at home (provide information and ideas to families about how to help students at home with homework and other curriculum-related activities, decisions, and planning)
  • Decision-making (include parents in school decisions, developing parent leaders and representatives)
  • Collaborating with community (Identify and integrate resources and services from the community to strengthen school programs, family practices, and student learning and development)

In addition to providing the framework for involvement, her work also acknowledges the challenges faced in each type of involvement and the impact of implementation on all parties: students, families, and teachers.

Questions to ponder:

How are parents and/or families most apt to be involved at your school?

How effective are the communication mechanisms in your school – and are they bi-directional or only from school to home?

Do you follow up when people volunteer? Do you let parents/families know specifically what types of assistance you can use?

Do you provide materials to use at home as a means of extending student learning and drawing parents closer? Does the material presuppose a certain education or background level? Is the tone condescending?

Are parents involved at key points in decision-making processes – or are they only involved at the end, after the decisions have already been made? Do you genuinely welcome input – or expect your oversight board to “rubber stamp” decisions?

Do you collaborate with your community – synagogue, movement, geographical region, issues-based interest groups? Do you encourage families to do so? Do you welcome the information that they bring to you?

In summary, I can’t help but wonder how is it that secular schools find it easier to acknowledge the importance of family involvement as an indicator of educational success than many of our supplemental schools do?

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