Untapped Resource? Engaging Parents in the Learning Process

From: http://www.flickr.com/photos/photon_de/3302350307/

I attended a very interesting workshop discussing successful schools and the “Four Paths” that they take in leadership.  As Ken Leithwood discusses these in “School Leaders’ Influences on Student Learning: The Four Paths”:

  1. The Rational Path – Based on the understanding of learning, teaching, and curriculum.
  2. The Emotional Path – The development of relationships and trust within our organizations.
  3. The Organizational Path – Structure, policies and procedures of our schools.
  4. The Family Path – The importance of parental engagement.
Kids in Boise
From: http://www.flickr.com/photos/theodorescott/2570991524/

What I actually found interesting, but wasn’t surprised, was that the “Organizational Path” was listed as the lowest factor on student learning and achievement, while the “Family Path” has the highest impact.  Leithwood shared that although parent engagement in the education of the child at school is important, their impact at home is much higher.  He also discusses the importance of bringing parents on side to be a part of this learning:

Although parent involvement in school has far less impact on student learning than parent influence in the home, children benefit from their parents’ engagement in their learning in both locations (Epstein, 1995). Evidence from Leithwood and Jantzi’s (2006) review indicates that parent engagement in school is nurtured when parents come to understand that such involvement is a key part of what it means to be a responsible parent, when parents believe they have the skills and know-how to make meaningful contributions to the school’s efforts and when they believe that school staffs, as well as their own children, value their participation in the school. (Leithwood, School Leaders’ Influence on Learning; The Four Paths, p.8)

This year at Forest Green, we have really tried to impact parent understanding of learning by having teachers share learning through blogs, switching to student led conferences, having a comprehensive report card that works to identify each child’s strengths and areas of growth.  As principal, I often see parents volunteering directly in their child’s classroom which would obviously further their understanding of learning in the classroom.  I have also collected several links on how we can further engage parents in the learning process within our schools.

As we know that a parent’s engagement in their child’s learning significantly impacts the achievement and growth of each child, what are some other ways that we can facilitate this?  Many parents are not able to spend significant time at school, so how can we do more to bring them in on their child’s learning?  With easy access to technology, are there better ways that we can provide opportunities for parents to be more connected with this learning at home?

I would love your thoughts on how we can further facilitate this important connection.



  1. Shira Leibowitz said:

    This is a post I wish I had read in September, but might not have understood quite so well at the time. We began the year, seeking to implement an ambitious strategic plan, with laser like focus on the rational path and organizational path. Not surprisingly in retrospect, we hit a wall; recognizing quickly the need for the emotional path and the family path. This compelling articulation helps me put our experience in context and gives a framework for continuing.

    Corrections in course have made a dramatic difference. We implemented parent principal conferences on parent teacher conference days as an opportunity to listen to parent insight and strengthen relationships. We are including parents in a range of programmatic groups with teachers – planning family math night w/ more curriculum connected programs to come, planning more active options for indoor recess, programming holiday celebrations to add spirit and meaning to the school, and participating in strengthening environmental education. We are working more closely with our Parent Teacher Organization to gain feedback from parents and speaking with that group more directly to explain educational innovations in the school developed by the educators and not yet well understood by our parents. We are reviving a liaison committee of parents and teachers to discuss particular areas of concern to home and school in greater depth. We are also listening to the type of communication and dialogue that will be valuable to parents and refining use of our school web page along with producing information parents are craving such as a short user-friendly curriculum map. All of this is happening in concert with work on the emotional path as we deliberately cultivate relationships of trust on professional teams, across professional teams, and with parents. We’ve learned the hard way that learning, teaching, curriculum, structures, policies, and procedures are necessary but insufficient. Relationships, trust, and collaborative engagement are key! Thanks for the post!

    May 1, 2011
  2. Tara Brown said:

    The Emotional and Family Path certainly get less time, focus and concentrated attention. Many educators still hold to the belief that positive relationships/connections within the classroom and with parents aren’t a truly important factor in school turn around and impacting the achievement gap. I content if doesn’t exist across the board, true reform will never take place. Research is abundant to support that especially for under-resourced, Title 1 populations, the relationship is key to student engagement, motivation and belief in their ability to transform their lives.
    Encouraging and supporting every teacher to recommit their efforts to building positive relationships with both students and parents would be a huge part of closing the achievement gap. If you know of educators that feel as tho they don’t have time to build relationships, remind them that they don’t have time NOT to. It is imperative and desperately needed in many schools.

    May 1, 2011
  3. Lynne Watts said:

    As a school counselor in an elementary school, I too feel that the emotional and the family path are often overlooked but very significant. A child’s success in the classroom is often directly related to the parental involvement in the child’s education as well as the child’s emotional well-being. To positively impact this, I designed a parenting program created to help parents understand their child’s strengths and offered it at my school. They attended in large numbers and loved it!

    May 3, 2011
  4. Kris Grabarek said:

    The parent involvement piece to student learning is something I have been interested for quite some time. I currently work as a science teacher, but am finishing up my principal licensure at the high school level. Parent involvement in student learning has been an important part of my professional practice for a number of years. Here are some ideas to further the discussion.

    As George hints at above anything by Joyce Epstein is worth a read. She is the definitive voice in parental involvement. I would also suggest the following:

    “Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family/School Partnerships” by Anne Henderson, Karen Mapp, Vivian Johnson and Don Davies. This book focuses on building relationships and partnerships with parents. Anne Henderson and Karen Mapp are also big names in the parent involvement community.

    I would also suggest the Harvard Family Research Project (http://www.hfrp.org/) which is a great place to start for on-line information on family engagement. They have a free monthly newsletter that you can subscribe to, that will update you on new research and resources.

    Finally, if I may be so bold, please take a look at an article I wrote a number of years back (almost 8 years now…how time flies) on a structure for envisioning how parents at the middle and high school levels might see a role in supporting their child’s learning. I wrote this article from the fact that most parent involvement resources focus on the elementary years. Involvement in the higher grades is still essential, but harder to facilitate. The article is titled, “Staying Involved: Approaches to Helping Our Middle School and High School Students Learn” and can be found here http://www.academicresources.org/learning.html

    The technology piece is something that I am beginning to explore myself, and I appreciate the ideas brought up above.

    May 16, 2011

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