|Increasing the parent involvement in local
school governance is about re-establishing roles and developing trust relationships
with new partners. Local school governance will give parents input
at the local level and create a greater sense of involvement by the public.
The shifting of power in education must find balance within new structures.
This thesis addresses the question of how parents and teachers view increased parent involvement in local school governance and what support they require for this transition. Qualitative research facilitated a deep understanding of the experiences of seven teachers and eight parents in two elementary, urban schools in Saskatchewan. Through data collection, in the form of narratives and anecdotes, feelings, understandings, and attitudes of both parent and teachers regarding parent involvement were uncovered.
Part I of this report provides a review of the current
literature. Part II addresses the recent happenings in Saskatchewan
and the findings from my research. Part III discusses building new
relationships and recommendations for those involved in education in Saskatchewan
and recommendations for future study.
Not Another Level of Bureaucracy
Implementation of Increased Parent Involvement in Local School Governance
School Administaion Plays a Key Role
Improved Communicatiom and Interpersonal Relationships
Involving Parents is a Component of Teacher Professionalism
The Parents’ Role
Support for Parents and Teachers
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Increased Parent Involvement In Public Education
Our newspapers, magazines and governments describe
and demand increased parent participation in schools. There exists much
interest in recognizing the rights of parents to make educational decisions
concerning their children, along with a trend that emphasizes the importance
of home and school collaboration to meet the needs of children (Gareau
and Sawatsky, 1995).
Our current hierarchical, bureaucratic structure is becoming ineffective in meeting needs in education today. “The top-down model reflects the hierarchical world of the past, where parents were denied access to educational decision making, and where respect for authority sheltered the system from criticism by parent groups” (House, 1995, p.35). The move from centralization to decentralization, site-based management, or local school governance are results of the shift from top-down governance. As emphasized by House (1995), “The process of schooling is moving from a top-down model delivering professionalized and bureaucratized educational services to passive and apathetic students to a collaborative or bottom-up model, with parent and community involvement in governance, decision making and advocacy at the local school level” (p. 29). A bottom-up structure includes all participants who share in the decision making and form the programs and goals of the system. Transition from a top-down hierarchy to one of decentralized must take into consideration the rights and tradition of the prior system. The shift of authority and responsibility from the school system to parent and community is a change from those distant to those closest to the school.
Riley (1995) also describes the relationship between schools and parents as one of unequal power. He suggests that parents were expected to follow the instructions of professionals who continued to separate themselves even further from the community “by adopting arcane professional dialogue” (p. 11). This language barrier tended to further distance parents from school activities. Other interested parents felt alienated from school life. Gareau and Sawatsky (1995) went as far as to claim that “schools discouraged parental intrusion, and the education function of parents was downplayed” (p. 464). Many parents had unpleasant experiences as students and are still reluctant to enter schools today.
Butler (1992) discovered that some parents are extremely interested in being involved, not only as classroom volunteers, but as decision makers and advocates in education. These parents continue to spark the current developing educational philosophy of parent involvement in local school governance. Unfortunately, teachers and administrators have not ranked parent involvement as important as have these parents. Dewey (1968) uses strong language to decry this preferred educator-control. He refers to it as a subtle form of suppression that “ becomes habitual and tradition and becomes the normal way of doing things” (p. 58) and challenges parents to become active in education.
Today, parents are being organized into structures often called school councils. These councils are designed to be proactive and a part of the decision-making process, rather than reactive and having things being done to them (Dukacz and McCarthy, 1995). It is the process of inclusion in decision making, rather than the resulting decision, that is important. School-based decision-making models have been implemented and studied extensively in North America. Observations reveal that parents are frequently being included as members of these school based teams. Gareau and Sawatsky (1995) believe that educational reform calls for local school governance or school-based management which includes parents as part of the decision-making team.
Legislative changes regarding the governance structure in education have been made in all provinces, some to a greater degree than others. Ontario and Alberta have put into place formal direction regarding the involvement of parents in decision making in schools.
In Alberta, parents were assigned considerable power under Premier Ralph Klein in the early 1990's. “The Alberta government is banking on parents to create a school system that can accommodate the new realities . . . ” (Barlow, 1994, p. 228). Klein’s government believes that necessary restructuring of education will come through parent control. Councils are expected to establish their decision-making procedures and appeal process. These parent councils have an advisory role, but if the administration does not support the direction from the council, there must be justification made to them.
Barriers to Parent Involvement in Local School
The literature describes numerous obstacles to parent involvement in local school governance. Schaeffer and Betz (1992) have created three categories of barriers to parent involvement: human nature factors, communication factors, and external factors.
Human Nature Factors
Human nature factors may be defined as threats to one’s self esteem, such as fear of failure, fear of criticism, or of each other’s differences (Schaeffer and Betz, 1992). Examples of human nature factors include attitudes, insecurity, intimidation, distrust through power struggles between school and home, and protection of professional territory.
The skepticism of school staff is seen as a major
barrier to parent involvement in schools (Canada-Newfoundland Agreement,
1995). As one participant in Taylor’s research (1992) stated, “There
is a strong rooted traditional system and this is what must be overcome”
(p. 24). Although parent involvement in instruction has been
clearly linked to student success (Epstein, 1992), many teachers and administrators
are negligent at establishing meaningful connections between home and school.
Parents and teachers in Taylor’s research (1992) concur that in order for
the home and school partnership to succeed, new attitudes must be learned.
Parents often feel powerless when they communicate
with educators (Gareau & Sawatsky, 1995). Educators, for a multitude
of reasons, are reluctant to share their power with parents. A study
of the power struggle of parents in the Chicago school system found that
“many parents were chided by teachers and administrators for their arrogance
in thinking they could run the schools” (Marchesani, 1993, p. 11).
Dixon’s research (1992) outlined that the barrier to more parent involvement
is “not parent apathy but lack of support from educators” (p. 15).
“In some cases, parents actually felt that their children might be singled
out or treated unfairly in grading by teachers who deemed parents to be
interfering” (Marchesani, 1993, p. 58). Carlson’s (1991) research
further supports this finding. She states, “Despite the strong
confirmation by statistics and research reports of the benefits of parent
involvement, programs are still rare and resistance from teachers is often
strong” (p.12). Teacher control creates walls between home and school
and limits parent involvement.
Teachers and administrators fear the self-interest
and confidential issues that parents may bring to meetings with them.
One example of a parent’s hidden agenda was the lowering of academic standards
in Kentucky to allow otherwise excluded students to participate in interscholastic
sports (Mayhan, 1993).
Communication barriers arise when the intent of the message and the content as perceived by the receiver differ, when the honesty of the message is questionable, when the language and cultural gap is large, when there is lack of understanding between parties, or the idea is not accurately communicated to the community (Schaeffer and Betz, 1992). Implementation of plans for increased parent involvement often encounters difficulty due to ineffective communication. After extensive study, McCollum (1996) stated that governance reform needs several years for planning, gradual implementation, and flexible assessment mechanisms; however, clear goals for student outcomes should be documented at the beginning to help keep focus. The gap between written and reality may lead to frustration and failure.
Language barriers further add to the obstacles of successfully involving
parents. Often, due to a difference in social class or cultural background,
values and language skills, day to day language usage causes difficulties
and discomfort between educators and parents. There are five registers
of language (frozen, formal, consultative, casual and intimate) and a jump
between two levels leads to extreme discomfort (Payne, 1997).
Schaeffer and Betz (1992) outline external factors as those including lack of time, busy lifestyles, personal problems, administrative policies, unclear roles, and inadequate training or support. These factors are external to the personal characteristics of individuals, yet have a significant influence over what happens.
Malaspina (1993), Butler (1992), and Conley (1993)
found that lack of time appears to be an issue for teachers and parents:
teachers have little time available for meetings due to the rigid structure
of school days and parents may have jobs and other commitments to schedule
around. An additional obstacle may be that teachers have families
and do not have the flexibility to meet at the parent’s convenience, particularly
when so many women are teachers. This is in support of Butler’s study
(1992) where lack of time and conflict in work schedules were identified
as significant barriers for increased involvement in children’s education
by 90 per cent of the 4,800 Parent Teacher Association (PTA) chapter presidents
in the United States. Conley (1993) also identifies time as an obstacle
and states the importance for parents in finding time to be involved in
their children’s education and accepting education as a shared responsibility.
The issue of parent involvement often comes as a middle-class issue. As Payne states, the poor either consider themselves unworthy, or they are too oppressed or too disinterested; whereas the rich can afford private education, if they are at odds with public system (1997).
Inadequate parent training in the various aspects of education is yet another barrier. David (1994) states that the lack of expertise is clearly a reason why curriculum and instruction issues are not addressed by parent councils. Parents are more comfortable addressing issues such as discipline and extracurricular activities.
Gaffuri (1992) addresses the issue that teachers are often not adequately trained to work with parents. The school system in her study assumed that all teachers had mastered information distribution to parents; however in reality, very few were prepared. Malaspina (1993) also found that barriers to parent involvement include an absence of preservice education for teachers concerning working with parents, and little provision during the school year for much staff development of any kind.
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Support Identified for Successful
Parent Involvement in Local School Governance
Support from all parties involved in the change process is essential for success. Fullan (1991) states that change in schools occurs vigorously when parents play key roles in the change process. Using the term ‘decentralization’ does not, in itself, create change. It will happen only if parent involvement in decision making is supported in schools. School staffs and parent communities must accept and actively participate in order for change to occur. Administrative support and specialized training for parents and teachers are identified in current literature.
Principals are viewed as a key factor in the success
or failure of school-based decision making and parent involvement.
Davies et al. (1992) observed that principal support appears to be essential
in reaching acceptable decisions for two reasons: input from school staffs
is required and the process is quite different from the usual operating
procedures in traditional schools. Administration must coordinate,
manage, support, fund, and recognize parent involvement in order for teachers
to successfully involve parents (Butler, 1992).
Parents in Butler’s study suggest that teachers and school administrators need to acquire new attitudes toward parents, new skills in communication, team building, decision making, group processes, background and details to pertinent issues, and sharing in order to welcome and work with parents in the school. Principals must encourage and facilitate the building of trust and mutual respect between teachers and parents. Brown (1994) concludes that administrators must be sensitive to teacher perceptions and take time to build relationships necessary for change to occur. Resistance from teachers must be addressed by educational leaders.
A need exists for specialized training for teachers
in both undergraduate education and staff development to provide parent
skills. Gaffuri (1992), Warm (1990), and Malaspina (1993) found that
teachers are not trained to work with parents. Christopher (1996)
states, “We are prepared in undergraduate classes to work with students,
but an area overlooked is working with parents” (p. xiii). Dixon
(1992) points out that there is no preparation at university for teachers
in working with parents. University training of teachers needs to
prepare educators in working with all partners in education. Dixon (1992)
states, “Colleges of education must give strong consideration to promoting
full partnerships. They may do this by including instruction in effective
parent involvement techniques in preservice and recertification training
programs for all teachers and administrators” (p. 18). Teachers are
taught how to work with children, not adults, consequently, many teachers
are uncomfortable working with adults.
Teachers in Gaffuri’s study (1992) identified how
little training was received in school or professionally relating to dealing
with parents. Teachers claim they want to learn how to get to know
parents, how to authentically and comfortably involve them in classrooms
and in other aspects of education. Moles (1987) also identified a
need for parent involvement skills through training in teacher’s college
and through staff development. In a study looking at teacher agreement
and attitudes on parent involvement, Kopacsi and Koopmans (1991) found
that 82 per cent of the teachers felt a need for inservice training to
understand and implement effective parent involvement. Ninety-one
per cent felt they would try to involve parents in very useful ways in
their classrooms. Teachers are expected to talk, relate to and work with
parents; Sarason (1995) contends, why not train them for this? Results
of an American wide survey were shared at a Parent Involvement Summit.
Four thousand eight hundred Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) chapter presidents
had been surveyed and only 30 per cent indicated that their school offered
parental involvement training for the staff (Butler, 1992).
Moles (1987) indicates that the most effective training
for parents or councils is shared, where teachers and parents share the
same information, participate in discussions and develop working relationships.
In Gaffuri’s (1992) research it was found that having both parents and
teachers at the same training sessions is effective and that separate training
furthers the distance between them. It was suggested by participants
that inservice include: communication skills, collaborative decision making,
confidentiality, conflict resolution, and training specific to their role.
Such a training program should be comprised of a series of joint workshops
or forums. The use of videos and reading material should be considered
to alleviate the pressure on busy schedules. A high turnover rate
of parents could be an issue for ongoing training, continuity and informed
decision making. Upon conclusion of the inservice, parents and teachers
should be comfortable with each other and the implementation and strategic
Jewell and Rosen (1993) studied educational reform in New York and discovered that parents needed to know more about a variety of areas: budgets, decision making, and curriculum, in order to participate meaningfully in discussions about the school. Dunning (1995) concurs that members of school councils require training in the basics of governance, management, educational policy and finance, and community consultation. The training should also include local policies, family background, effective communication skills, effective parent/teacher conferences, educational content issues, and ideas for increased school-home cooperation. Conley (1993) states that expanded parent roles can occur when parents become knowledgeable about learner outcomes, setting learning goals with teacher and students, communicating with teachers about the child’s interests and learning styles, becoming involved in local school governance, and advocating and supporting change in the school. He contends that it is through information exchange and shared knowledge that parent roles will continue to expand.
Once parents received training, they were able to
participate in decision making, and had input in areas such as budget,
scheduling, personnel, discipline and curriculum (Kannapel, 1995).
This training should be input from parents already involved in the governance
of schools, along with other required or suggested parties. Parents
were generally pleased with programs offered to them.
Background to Parent Involvement in Saskatchewan
Increased parent involvement in public education is certain in Saskatchewan. Other provinces have implemented policies and strategies for increased parent involvement in local school governance and the Saskatchewan government appears to be following suit in its discussions of restructuring education. A public discussion paper produced by Saskatchewan Education, Structuring Public Education for the New Century (1996), addresses the issue of parents being involved in increased decision making in education by proposing that school councils be established. The report suggests,
The SSTA had undertaken a research project regarding
a new direction for school-level governance. The final report of
the School-Level Governance Working Group is entitled School Councils:
The Saskatchewan Vision (1996). Upon conclusion of the investigation,
Dr. Michael Tymchuk, chair of the research group, stated, “School councils
have the potential to increase parent and community involvement and also
to make local-level educational governance consistent and fair across Saskatchewan”
(Saskatchewan Bulletin, Dec. 6, 1996). School trustees voted 68 percent
in favour of using the report of the SSTA school-level governance working
group as a guideline for discussing new directions in Saskatchewan.
The Education Act, 1995, describes authority for urban Local School Advisory Committees (LSAC) and rural Boards of Trustees. In reality, LSAC’s usually function when needed according to parent initiative and school needs. Many of Saskatchewan schools are rural and it appears there is difficulty attracting sufficient public interest for both boards (trustees) and councils (non-trustees).
Current involvement is categorized into two categories: school-controlled involvement, meaning that school personnel has power to guide, direct or instruct parents as to what they should do in the school; and parent input in decision making, whether that be in classrooms, schools, or with a formal parent organization.
Epstein (1995) outlines six types of parent involvement
in schools. Both teacher and parent respondents discuss the involvement
parents have in their schools and list numerous examples of Epstein’s first
three types: parenting (Type 1), communicating (Type 2), and volunteering
(Type 3). This includes activities such as: driving for various outings,
running book fairs, supervising in the computer room, volunteering in the
library and fund-raising for the Home and School Association.
Far fewer parents are involved in learning activities at home, such as helping with homework (Type 4) and decision making (Type 5) as outlined by Epstein (1995). Neither parent nor teacher participants mention any involvement in collaboration with community agencies (Type 6).
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In both communities in this study, most teacher and parent participants initially seem satisfied with the existing school-controlled involvement where educators request assistance and parents oblige or parents offer and teachers direct. However, as parents continue with their narratives, they express concern about being controlled by schools. Several parents claim they offered their help to classroom teachers but were refused or redirected to the Resource Centre. The directing and controlling of parents creates tension in schools. With control, there is less communication, more rules and a narrower scope of active involvement for parents.
Teacher interviewees see themselves as experts and
believe that parents trust what they are doing. This school or teacher-controlled
involvement indicates who manages the classroom. A parent acknowledges
this teacher domination, “Teacher control exists in the classroom; for
example, the ‘room mom’ role is defined by the teacher” (P:3, p.1).
Many parents want to have increased involvement in school. In addition
to willingly providing enrichment opportunities, supervision and transportation
for classrooms, parents desire additional responsibilities and communication
with schools. Parent respondents claim to feel good about being involved
in their children’s education and appreciate the training they receive
from teachers while helping in the classroom.
Parent Input into Decision Making
Parent participants from the two schools describe the input they have into decision making through surveys and through formal and informal discussions with school staff. Those who do crafts, drive for excursions, and help with other necessary activities make up the informal decision making through casual conversation and feedback. Others are “members” of the formalized Home and School Association or Local School Advisory Committee and have formal involvement. Formal parent organizations seem to create another cast of parental involvement through their organizational politics by being intimidating, controlling, and judging of other parents. Two parents described their intimidating experiences with the Home and School Association. Perhaps this is another reason why only a limited number of parents are interested, motivated or are available to sit on the Home and School Association, Local School Advisory Committee or other Ad Hoc committees.
Several parents in this study believe they have some voice in what happens at the school through the Home and School Association and Local School Advisory Committee. A mother states, “Parents have input in school discipline, the mission statement, and the curriculum” (P:3, p. 5). Other areas mentioned during interviews where parents have input include: discipline policies, goal setting, physical changes to the school, and the modified school year. Another parent interviewee sums up what other parents express, “The Home and School Association does pretty much everything now” (P:5, p. 3).
Many parents in my research admit that their primary
interest in decision making is focused on their own children. Parent
interviewees wish to be involved more directly in their child’s schooling,
not involved in the common good for the entire school. It is teachers
who must assume a majority of the responsibility because of the limited
perspective of parents. This may create tension between families
and their schools in decision making.
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Tensionality Along the Journey to Increase
The process of increasing parent involvement in local school governance comes with the restructuring of public education by government. My research indicates that parents and teachers are at different places on this continuum of change. These differences often create tension between school staffs and community members. Challenges from traditional parent involvement must be addressed as teachers and parents begin building the new relationships necessary for increased parent involvement in local school governance.
Traditional parent involvement where parents follow
the instructions of teachers no longer satisfies the parent interviewees
who have identified fears and tension between families and schools.
This surfaces as insecurity and intimidation, distrust, and protection
of territory. Tensions identified in this research include insider/outsider
of the teaching profession, trust/mistrust of each other, formal/informal
decision-making structures, and self-interests of the individual child/group.
Insecurity and Intimidation
Research participants identified insecurity and intimidation between teacher and parent, and parent and parent. Parents in this study describe their insecurity at meetings with other adults at Home and School Association meetings, teachers talk defensively about being verbally attacked by angry parents, and parents share discomfort entering schools due to their own level of education or past experiences in schools. For example, a mother felt extremely intimidated by other adults at her first Home and School Association meeting:
Research participants describe their suspicions,
and lack of trust or confidence in each other in various situations.
Teachers and parents in my study believe that some parents have self-serving
reasons for becoming involved in schools. A teacher interviewee sums
up what many other colleagues also express about the self-interests of
parents in regard to decision making, “Parents can’t remove themselves
from their biases” (T:2, p. 12). Parents agree, as one mother warns,
“Be aware of personal agendas” (P:1, p. 20).
Many teachers express concern about rumors leaving the school as parents are increasingly exposed to students. They state that parents need to understand the importance of confidentiality. Parents also express their concern over what community members may hear in the staff room and share with other people in the neighbourhood.
Protection of Territory
There is an insider/outsider tension that exists between school staff and community members. Schools attempt to maintain control while involving parents in more roles. Research participants discuss the fine line between teacher and parent. A teacher respondent claims, “You have to draw the line between staff and parents” (T:4, p. 11). Parents sense this. One parent expresses her concern, “There’s a boundary existing between the two groups” (P:8, p. 19). Parents are outsiders in schools no matter how much they are given to do nor how much they are invited to enter the school’s “inner” circle. They know that better than teachers do, and they respect it. Many adults are very cautious about doing much beyond the instruction from the teacher because they know their place. Parents are never quite insiders because the minute they go too far they are subtly reminded that they are stepping into professional territory. According to research, this attitude comes in varying degrees.
At times, teachers consider parents troublesome because they question, challenge, and take time. Educators feel threatened about intrusions into their territory and parents are not sure if they trust teachers or other parents.
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Support Requested by Parents and
Parents and teachers in this study indicate they are not prepared for a significant change in parent roles in decision making. Research participants identified support groups, administrative support, and formal training necessary for successful implementation and maintenance of increased parent involvement in local school governance. An educator in this study mentions, “We learn from our mistakes. I gained my comfort in dealing with parents through experience” (T:4, p. 27).
Both parents and teachers identify the need for support
groups from which to learn and share. Discussing our successes with
our colleagues would benefit the profession,” shares an educator (T:5,
p.18). Another says, “I need to talk to other teachers who have success
with parent involvement” (T:1, p. 25). A parent also sees value in
a support group where she could discuss concerns and share ideas, “You
know this is a problem I am having. How can I deal with it?” (P:8,
Administrators are said to be role models for teachers. “Watching the principal and vice principal deal with a situation, and just listening to them has helped me,” says one teacher (T:7, p.7). Those with experience are being the example for those without experience. Significant numbers of both teachers and parents claim that the success of parent involvement in schools depends upon the school administration. Research participants express trust in their current administration.
One mother recognizes her need for formal training, “Principals and teachers are trained to do their job, and I would appreciate training on how to better help my child with school and my involvement at school” (P:3, p. 29). An educator describes his co-coaching experience with a mother:
Building New Relationships
In Saskatchewan, some degree of increased parent involvement is inevitable. To facilitate this change and to minimize tensions, teachers and parents need to work on building relationships through meaningful communication, more clearly defined teacher and parent roles, increasing the number of involved parents, the time and the various support mechanisms.
The insecurity, intimidation, distrust and protectionism
described by research participants would be greatly reduced with trust
between them. Covey (1989) describes six major considerations to
building trusting relationships: understanding the individual, attending
to the little things, keeping commitments, clarifying expectations, showing
personal integrity, and apologizing sincerely when you make an error.
One teacher notes this, “Teachers can build trusting relationships by informing
parents of decisions being considered” (T:1, p. 25). Relations between
parent - parent, teacher - parent, administrator - teacher, administrator
- parent improve with shared vision and mutual respect.
As Covey (1989) talks about the emotional bank account, in reference to relationships. It takes effort and time to build the emotional bank account necessary to trusting relationships. Positive interactions must occur and then when an uncomfortable incident arises, the relationship remains positive. Educators and parents have various feelings about being with each other: some suggest playing volleyball and having social evenings together to help build parent/teacher relationship while others wish to keep a professional distance.
Research participants indicate concern over teacher and parent communication, role definition, and number of parents involved. These issues can be addressed through efforts to build new relationships.
Meaningful communication is essential to building
and maintaining healthy relationships. Parent respondents talk about
open, two-way communication between themselves and teachers rather than
the kind of teacher-controlled communication they experience at present.
This sense of powerlessness confirms Gareau and Sawatsky’s research (1995)
where parents described similar feelings while communicating with school
staff. Parent interviewees have identified a need for additional
communication and express concern with one-way teacher-directed communication.
A parent respondent states her difficulty with today’s parent/teacher communication
patterns, “A parent/teacher partnership is not where parents are told what
to do.” She adds, “And if parent input is solicited, then it should
be considered seriously” (P:8, p. 13).
Parent respondents express a need for increased communication between home and school, particularly pertaining to the children’s education in the classroom. They want their children to reach their academic potential and are willing to work with their child at home. Parent interviewees want to understand the curriculum and teacher expectations and plead for additional opportunities to discuss children’s progress; whether it be on the telephone or at parent/teacher conferences. They are frustrated with the lack of communication they receive about their child, the curriculum, and expectations at their child’s grade level. Parent respondents believe the benefits of understanding the curriculum and expectations are invaluable and would appreciate additional information.
Teacher participants point out that parents are not
fully aware of all that happens in the classroom. Parents are most
familiar with their child and their child’s stories of school, rather than
understanding the larger school scene. Teachers are expected to carry
a broad interest whereas parents tend to have a narrower focus on their
child. One parent respondent provides an example of the limited viewpoint
of some parents, “Parents should have power to decide which classroom the
student will be in” (P:3, p. 13). Another describes herself as being
more aggressive and vocal and wanting power in decision making. She
had to fight for equality for her special needs child. These parents
are not considering what is best for the child’s education from the educator’s
perspective, nor for other children in the building. Teachers base
their decisions on the needs of, and for the good of, the individuals and
the class. It is difficult for anyone to remove themselves from their
biases, although common goals and self-awareness can reduce them.
Educators, through improved communication with families, can increase awareness
of the common goals.
Some teachers and parents do experience positive, healthy relationships through open communication. Annual orientation or information evenings where teachers share long range plans, curriculum and behavior expectations are extremely well received by parents. Educators search creatively for alternatives to the time consuming one-on-one communication. Creating numerous hand-outs, regular newsletters, signing agenda books, talk mail, and developing videos and sending them home are successful methods of communicating with parents, shares an experienced teacher (T:5, p. 17).
Parents come from diverse backgrounds with distinct needs and wants. Through proper training, teachers can learn how to communicate with parents of various socio-economic and cultural backgrounds and personalities. Teachers and parents must realize their ‘circle of influence’ (Covey, 1989) and attempt to manage circumstances within this realm. Teachers and parents can learn how to deal or act with each other.
Parent and Teacher Roles Clearly Defined
Dunning (1995) states that schools, parents, and
community members should agree upon clearly articulated roles for each
constituency within the school community. Through discussions, teachers
and parents develop their parameters of control over content, methodologies,
techniques and classroom norms. Finding this balance between parent
involvement through school councils and the authority of school boards
promises to be a major challenge for those involved.
Some parents and teachers are apprehensive about
working together. Questions arise from both groups regarding their
authority and role. Through discussions with parents, community members
and staffs, parent and teacher roles within each school can be clearly
defined. Once goals and responsibilities have been developed, they
must also be clearly articulated and documented. Careful formation
of goals will prevent too much control going to special interest groups.
The fine line of power between home and school in decision making should
be understood by all, thus minimizing negative interactions.
Parent and teacher interviewees agree there is great value in having parents involved in schooling and that there would be reduced tension if they more clearly understood their mutual roles. In the Carleton Elementary Magnet School in New York, parents, teachers and students sign contracts outlining expectations for the year. Smrekar (1996) speaks highly of the parent involvement at this school compared to the other two schools in her case study. Gaffuri (1992) states that groups of teachers and parents working together to clarify roles is most effective. In Taylor’s study (1992), parents felt that instruction was best left to teachers, but they did want greater participation for parents in school governance, setting budget priorities, and in the education of each and every child at the school.
Parents and teachers in this study feel strongly
that parent volunteers must be qualified for whatever roles they assume.
Educators worry whether parents have enough information to make sound decisions
about schools. SSTA research (1997) further suggests that parents
do not have sufficient experience to deal with all aspects of an educational
system. Research participants feel there are certain aspects of education
that are more appropriate to be involved with than others.
Several educators express concern about parents being involved in curriculum decisions. Teachers feel that they have more background to make competent curriculum-based decisions. Parent interviewees expressed little desire to become involved in curriculum, other than to understand what their child is doing, and to suggest modifications if there are problems. They agree that teachers are more qualified to deal with curricular matters, but want them to share information on how parents can help their children and provide enrichment. Parent respondents provided positive comments about educators and what they are accomplishing with curriculum. This is consistent with other research where it has been observed that parents tend to avoid working with curriculum.
All research participants are excited about parents providing extracurricular
activities for students. It is mentioned by most interviewees that
volunteers must possess adequate qualifications and be screened before
working with children. “Schools need to screen for trustworthy parent
volunteers to avoid ‘creepozoids’ working with kids,” stresses a mother
(P:1, p. 25). Another parent cited her rationale for helping with
extracurricular activities, “Teachers are burning out and need to be relieved
by parents” (P:5, p. 20).
Both groups agree that hiring school personnel is not a role for parents. Parents feel unprepared to become involved in interviewing and hiring and prefer to only be involved with marginal teachers they encounter in the school. Teacher interviewees agree that individual parents should not become involved in staffing because parents are not always fully aware of teacher competencies and may make inappropriate decisions. Parents are willing, as a group, to make suggestions to the principal in terms of staffing needs. “Parents, through the Home and School Association, could recommend criteria for the administration to consider,” suggests one parent (P:4, p.19).
Increased Numbers of Involved Parents
With increased numbers of double income families
and single parent families, there is a reduced number of adults available
as school volunteers. “More parents are desperately needed in schools,”
sums up one parent (P:5, p.12). All interviewees mention the
need to increase the number of parents involved in schools. They
feel it is always the same parents attending Home and School Association
meetings, driving for field trips, and volunteering in the library.
Parents and teachers brainstorm ideas about how to draw other adults into
schools. Barriers of intimidation, insecurity and lack of time must
Other parents who wish to contribute at the school could complete surveys outlining their areas of interest, hobbies, talents, and times available for involvement at school. A parent volunteer coordinator could then coordinate parents, classroom needs and activities. It has been suggested by several teachers and parents that socializing together will improve communication, comfort, trust, and in turn increase the number of actively involved parents.
Time has been mentioned over and over as an obstacle
to parent involvement in local school governance. Teacher schedules
are restrictive and parents have work and family commitments. Several
parent interviewees claim that they “cannot put anything else on their
plate” (P:1, p. 31). Henderson and Berra’s research (1994) revealed
that 66 per cent of working parents indicated that they do not have enough
time for their children.
It will take time to build home/school relationships. It is essential in making parent involvement in local school governance succeed. Time is available if there is an increased level of commitment placed upon it (Covey, 1989). According to Covey (1989), time is not the real issue, it is the level of commitment that determines where time is spent. If we are as committed to children as we claim, we would cease to worry about time as a commodity. It is worth spending time, as parents and teachers, to see childrens’ needs met. If lack of time continues to restrict parent involvement it may be an indicator of a deeper problem: lack of commitment to the education of children. The issue may be lack of awareness of the benefits of parent involvement in their child’s education.
Not Another Level of Bureaucracy
Although changes in parent involvement have been legislated in neighboring provinces, only one interviewee had heard of these changes. Respondents were unaware of the Saskatchewan Association of School Councils and the Saskatchewan Education discussions for new direction. Saskatchewan Education could initiate a publicity campaign to create an awareness of the benefits of increased parent involvement.
Several parents agree that parents could have a stronger voice in the
governance of their schools, but expressed concerned about the structure,
the time, and the commitment for this to occur. The people of Saskatchewan,
as reported in the SSTA School councils: The Saskatchewan vision
(1996), do not want another level of bureaucracy that hinders decision
making and the timeliness of decision making. Parents indicate that
they shy away from bureaucracy and educators have stated that they fear
another level of bureaucracy that school councils may become after implementation.
Only one of the eight parents expressed a desire to communicate to government
officials or elected boards outside of the school.
Saskatchewan Education should establish a mechanism
for parents who want to contribute at a provincial level: for example,
create a list of parent volunteers who can be recruited when needed.
The doors need to be kept open to these interested volunteers and a structure
for their input must be developed.
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Implementation of Increased Parent Involvement
in Local School Governance
Future amendments to the Education Act should outline school council rights and responsibilities, yet allowing enough flexibility for schools to meet their specific community needs. Specific roles must be clarified with input from parents, community members and school staffs. Policies need to be developed to protect teachers against abuse and hidden agendas and to prevent gossip from leaving schools.
The process to increase parent involvement in local school governance should progress slowly, allowing time for people to prepare for their new roles. McCollum (1996) stated that government reforms need several years for planning gradual implementation and flexible assessment. Prior to implementation, the grassroots must support the movement, and make adjustments in their current way of doing things. Implementation plans must allow for flexibility in meeting school and community needs. Funding to support the implementation and the training of parents, educators and administrators will be needed. The change process does not have an endpoint; parent involvement in local school governance will evolve as parents and teachers learn how to work together and develop new attitudes.
For schools seriously considering implementing parent involvement in governance, I suggest studying initiatives in other school divisions and in current research. Comer suggests implementation only if parents and staff are honestly committed to increased parent involvement (Drake, 1995). Administrators are obliged to provide materials and inservicing for teachers and parents for professional development in the area of parent involvement in local school governance.
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School Administration Plays a Key Role
Administrator approachability appears to be the key to successful parent involvement in schools. Are all administrators aware of the influence they have? Are principals concerned about the welcoming atmosphere in their schools? Insider/outsider tension may be reduced with a welcoming school environment: parent bulletin boards, special coffee room, computer accessibility, resource materials, and invitations to participate in educational activities. The administrator’s role is to create a welcoming climate and become more open to the community.
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Improved Communication and Interpersonal
Improved communication and interpersonal relationships between the home and school through an open door policy, surveys, dialogues and meetings should become a priority. Authentic parent involvement is based on mutual trust and respect. New teachers learn how to involve and manage from experienced teachers and administration. Principals are considered strong role models for their staffs and they must be aware of the messages they send out. School administration must creatively find time to allow teachers to meet and telephone parents. There may also be financial implications in school budgets to supplement the limited telephone access presently in schools.
Both parents and teachers require time together to build trust, effective communication patterns, and mutual respect. New power structures need to be carefully outlined and communicated to all. Individual schools need to look at their community needs to develop their plan for success. Epstein (1995) has outlined six types of parent involvement and administrators should encourage parents to be as involved as they can and accept whatever that may be. Increased involvement will not occur because of legislation. It will be the way individual schools communicate and perform that will determine involvement in local school governance.
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Involving Parents is a Component of Teacher
Teacher professionalism may be defined as ‘the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize the teaching profession which requires specialized knowledge and long and intensive academic preparation.’ Parent involvement is a component of the profession and the profession needs to take a stance and educate its members. Some teachers feel threatened or endangered while others feel enhanced by parent involvement. This creates tension within the profession. Professionalism is not threatened with increased parent involvement in local school governance, it means adjusting to new partnerships.
Educators, working independently, are professionals who now must learn to work interdependently with parents. Educators need to consider parents as assets, not as deficits in schools (Sarason, 1995).
Parent interviewees desire increased information
and involvement in their children’s education. They would like a
synopsis of curriculum and expectations, and more frequent contact with
teachers by phone or in person. Teacher respondents discussed communication
tools they use to communicate with parents: student agenda books, weekly
letter written by students, tests to be signed by parents, monthly letter
and calender of classroom activities, and voice mail. On the basis
of this study, it could be inferred that most parents do not wish to govern
schools, they simply want more information about the educational programs
their children are receiving. Educators need to determine how much
time and energy they can take away from the children in the classroom to
communicate with parents.
One teacher described a risk-taking experience with parents who make it possible to do activities she could not do by herself in the classroom. She expresses her feelings as she had to give up a certain amount of control when having parents in for the first time to help with computers. She explains her episode,”And I suppose that expanded my horizon a little bit in that I was willing to give up some control and it was really positive” (T:1, p. 24). This teacher took great risk but the results were positive for all.
Often school staffs creatively find time to meet or phone parents. Through synergy, and thinking win/win healthy relationships develop (Covey, 1989). This philosophy encourages teachers to interact with parents about the daily positive happenings in classrooms.
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The Parents’ Role
Parents have a responsibility to keep informed, ask questions, attend workshops, and borrow resources in order to make sound decisions about their child and the school. With the right to be involved in school governance comes a responsibility to the school and children. Everyone wants to uphold the privilege but few want the consequent responsibilities. One parent stated, “I don’t want to know more and be more responsible for more” (P:2, p. 15). Governance is only a small part of what parents want for their involvement in their child’s’ education. Parents need to be as involved as they can and others must accept that. Taylor’s study (1992) found that parents were aware that their participation in school-based decision making could be misinterpreted or misused by other parents. Parents often mistrust community members who are active on councils or other formalized structures. Formalized parent organizations need to work at reducing tension with those in informal roles in schools.
Several parent interviewees felt that support groups should be developed to share parenting and schooling successes and difficulties with children. It should be the parents’ responsibility to establish and maintain these groups. Two teacher respondents spoke highly of the volunteer coordinator, who matched parents’ talents with needs in the school. Parent organizations are encouraged to maintain this volunteer position.
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Formal Training for Parents and Teacher
Teacher respondents identified a need for formal training where parents and teachers can dialogue, define roles, establish a Code of Ethics or standards of behavior, and discuss other relevant issues at school. Inexperienced teachers would appreciate an experienced mentor to guide them through parent involvement dynamics. Other respondents spoke of support groups where they could share successes and receive feedback for perceived failures.
The university needs to prepare Education students to work with parents in decision making in classrooms. A component of a university class dealing with community relations, parent involvement, working with parents and school councils should be designed and implemented. New teachers need to boost their confidence in communicating and working with parents.
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Recommendations for Future Study
There will be an ongoing need to assess the progress of parent involvement in local school governance, to access the effectiveness of the training of parents, teachers and administrators, and the commitment of the community. I have compiled recommendations for future investigation in this area of study.
Although my intent was not to focus on administration, both teachers and parents stressed the importance of administrative support for parent involvement to be successful. Due to the significant influence of school administrators on parent involvement, the training they receive must be carefully designed. A study about administrators and their thoughts on parent involvement in local school governance will help design effective training workshops.
Parent involvement in local school governance in
schools differs from rural, urban, and community-designated schools.
It would be of interest to investigate how diverse backgrounds affect the
quality of school councils. “Experience suggests that the most vocal
and best-organized school councils will be found in the middle- and upper-income
schools and neighborhoods, where the parents have the time to take an active
part in school affairs and the resources to supplement school budgets”
(Dunning, 1995, p. 19). What is the reality within the diversity
I recommend a study of successful councils to learn how they define their roles, determine their goals, and decision-making processes, and what real authority they possess. This would provide a model for other schools who are in the process of implementing increased parent involvement in local school governance.
After increased parent involvement in local school
governance, it would be worthwhile to study its effects in regard to public
accountability, student achievement, and community satisfaction several
years from now. One might expect future SSTA survey results to indicate
contentment with education. The benefits in schools, in communities, and
in society should be documented to further justify parent involvement in
My final observation is that all of the parent interviewees suggested by administrators were women. A study investigating why significant numbers of men choose not to be involved in schools would help design strategies to include them in their children’s education. Fathers too have talents and skills to share in schools and local school governance.
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Research participants describe current parent involvement
in education, tensionality along the journey to increase parent involvement
in local school governance and support required for parent involvement
in local school governance. Teachers and parents are challenged to
change from traditional roles to interdependency in new partnerships. The
majority of parents in this study do not wish to run schools; they desire
meaningful involvement with their children’s education at school.
The research findings suggest that few parents presently desire involvement
in local school governance. Most prefer to interact at the classroom
level with their children and teachers. With increased parent involvement
in local school governance, schools may become more responsive to the needs
Tensionalities between home and school will be addressed through the building of trusting relationships. New relationships develop through meaningful two way communication between home and school, clearly defined parent and teacher roles, and support.
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