What is the Parent’s Role?

What is the Parent’s Role? by Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.

Trusted school leaders demonstrate Compassion[1] as “an advocate and spokesperson for the school to all stakeholders.”[2] They value and model healthy, open relationships fostering positive and supportive interactions between parents, teachers, and students. Trusted school leaders know that advocating for all stakeholders results in a higher quality educational experience for students.

For example, they know that, “Through effective communication with parents, teachers can have the greatest impact on their day-to-day success with students.”[3] Research provides large amounts of evidence that when parents and teachers communicate frequently, and in a positive manner, the benefits to the child’s educational experience are tremendous.[4] However, research also shows positive parent-teacher communication is lacking for many.

According to a poll in Instructor Magazine, asking “educators to name the one thing they would like to tell national policymakers about the most effective way to raise student achievement. The answer given most frequently was ‘more parental involvement.’”[5] Those same teachers elaborated by prioritizing and valuing parent involvement above: smaller class sizes, increased teacher control and power in the school, and even more important than promoting student responsibility.

Other research has suggested there must be a multifaceted approach to building positive parent-teacher-student relationships. The following practices are identified as being essential:

  • Assisting families with parenting skills
  • Recruiting and training parent volunteers in the schools
  • Involving families in their children’s academic activities
  • Including families on committees and in other school organizations
  • Working with community agencies and businesses to provide resources to parents and strengthen school programs
  • Communicating with families about school programs and student success[6]

In order for these essentials to be effective, schools must first close the many gaps that divide faculty and staff demographics from those of the families they serve. This is especially true in urban public schools and international school settings. Cultural, socioeconomic, educational, and ethnic barriers must be identified, understood, and intentionally addressed for authentic outreach to take place.

Much of the literature acknowledges the imbalance in power, which structures relationships between parents, especially working class parents, and education professionals. This inequality is seen as stemming from the discrepancy between the professional knowledge of teachers and local [school leaders], and anyone who does not work in, and has limited access to those spheres. For specific groups of parents, such as working class and/or ethnic minority parents, that discrepancy is compounded by the dislocation between the cultural framework of their own lives and that of the school.[7]

Unfortunately, in many communities there is both a perceived, and very real, struggle to empower parents role in their child’s education. Schools sometimes post signs such as No Parents Allowed Beyond This Point to reduce the involvement and challenges of operating an open campus, which invites parental presence. The signs may, in fact, be necessary to keep disruptive parents from endangering the campus’ emotional and physical security, but they also clearly communicate a power structure: the school is the authority in the child’s educational experience, not the parent.

In education, the social democratic definition of empowerment embodies a simplistic view of social justice, whereby the involvement of parents can be achieved by teachers and other education professionals, ‘giving’ some of their power to parents, and thereby creating conditions in which an equal partnership between teacher and parent can flourish. However…‘empowerment’ used in this sense, is too simplistic and imprecise a notion to be able to address the complexities of power relations in late twentieth century societies.[8]

The concept of the school giving power to parents is also at odds with a biblical understanding of the chief authority and role of parents. A Christian worldview sees the parent as the one who empowers the teacher and school, rather than vice-versa. School leaders who embrace and clearly communicate this worldview develop a greater level of trust – parents view these school leaders as compassionate through their understanding of the parent’s role.

When school leaders define the appropriate level of parental involvement within the school, they must determine their school’s philosophy regarding the parents’ role. Some schools view parents only as supporters of the learning process. Others view them solely as consumers of the school’s educational products and services. Still others see parents as completely independent of the school. However, the philosophy which trusted school leaders embrace, and which the research supports as most helpful to students, views parents as responsible for their child’s educational career, and fellow participants with the school.[9] Leaders, who demonstrate this belief and advocate for the parent’s role, develop greater levels of trust with those parents.

©2017 Toby A. Travis

[1] Compassion is identified as one of the essential pillars of trust by David Horsager in his best-selling book, The Trust Edge.

[2] Marzano et. al., School Leadership That Works, 730, Kindle.

[3] Lee Canter, Parents On Your Side: A Teacher’s Guide to Creating Positive Relationships With Parents Second Edition (Bloomington: Solution Tree Press, 2001), 68-69, Kindle.

[4] Kimberly S. Adams and Sandra L. Christenson, “Trust and the Family–School Relationship Examination of Parent–Teacher Differences in Elementary and Secondary Grades,” Journal of School Psychology 38, no. 5 (2000): 477-497.

[5] Canter, Parents On Your Side, 129-131, Kindle.

[6] Ibid., 62-66, Kindle.

[7] Carol Vincent, Parents And Teachers: Power And Participation (New York: Taylor and Francis, 1996), 180-185, Kindle.

[8] Ibid., 252-254, Kindle.

[9] Graham Daniel, “Family-school partnerships: towards sustainable pedagogical practice,” Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education 39, no. 2 (2011): 165-176.

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2 Comments

  1. This article is an excellent presentation of one of the many facets of successful school leadership in the area of School and Community Relations. Parents are one of our most important “external publics” in the overall school community and by empowering them in a positive and responsible way, their contributions and support can aid the school in providing a successful educational experience for its students.

    Liked by 1 person

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