-by Tanya Stogre, Grade 5 Humanities
I have been encouraged to write a series on parent engagement and the implications for the Calgary Science School. As a grade 5 Humanities teacher in my 5th year at CSS, I have had the great pleasure of working with many parents, as well as Lakeview Community residents.
In this four-part series in intend to: 1) Outline what the research says about why school, parent and community connections are important; 2) Describe the difference between ‘involvement’ and ‘engagement’; 3) Illustrate what is currently happening at CSS as it relates to both parental and community involvement and engagement, and finally; 4) Next steps to develop and increase CSS’ parental and community involvement and engagement.
What does the research say about why parental and community connections are important?
Research around the world, over the past twenty years in particular, emphasizes the overwhelmingly positive benefits of families, schools and communities working together with a shared understanding and focus on the needs of young people (Macgregor, 2006).
In 2004, Professor Geoff Masters reviewed the research to distill the factors, which underpin a “good school”. He sought to identify the “characteristics of outstanding schools”. This suggested that highly effective schools – schools that achieve high standards regardless of gender, family background or socioeconomic status, have a number of features in common.
One of these is a high level of parent, family and community involvement. In these schools, parents and families are encouraged “to take an active role in discussing, monitoring and supporting their children’s learning. Parents are involved in setting goals for the school and in developing school policies.”
Professor Andy Hargreaves in his 1999 paper Professionals and Parents: A Social Movement for Educational Change describes the need for families and educators to work in effective partnerships. However, Hargreaves notes that teachers experience more anxiety about their relationships with parents than about almost any other aspects of their work. This can be a significant actual or perceived barrier for teachers in creating parental partnerships.
Problems in establishing strong partnerships between teachers and parents are often a result of interpreting and coming at the issues from very different perspectives and motivations. However, there is a clear, shared premise that all parents and families want the best possible outcomes for their children. If we, as parents and teachers start from this foundational and shared understanding, it is more likely that strong and successful partnerships will flourish.
This is a process that must be interactive and one, which encourages participative access and ownership among the parties themselves, in terms that are directly relevant to them and their community. In other words, engagement and the partnership process cannot be imposed from outside the community or with external authority figures.