Building strong home-school partnerships is an effective strategy for success in supporting children’s achievement in science. IDRA recently outlined seven umbrella research-supported strategies to help English learners achieve in the science classroom. The strategies are presented in detail with their research base in Science Instructional Strategies for English Learners – A Guide for Elementary and Secondary Grades, which is available from IDRA. This article describes one of the strategies: establish home-school partnerships for mutual success in teaching science.
Specifically, this article outlines teaching and learning premises undergirding the importance of parent and family engagement with references to research support for this approach. It also suggests essential competencies that reflect a positive approach in operationalizing this strategy and offers techniques for implementation. Additional resources are provided online to help in creating a culture of effective parent engagement in schools.
Teaching and Learning Premises
Educators are beginning to recognize the importance of effective parent engagement as a strategy and innovation in and of itself to improve student achievement. Pedro Portes explains that parent engagement is a key mediating factor that accounts for school achievement more than any other single variable because it reflects the interaction of a host of less visible factors” (2005).
Several premises undergird this concept, primarily that parents as children’s first teachers have valuable information that teachers and administrators need. In sharing common goals with parents, they can plan together for academic success. Ultimately, the future well-being of schools and families are inextricably linked. Parent engagement matters on several fronts, among them are higher student achievement, social skills and behavior, and working together to prepare for graduation and college readiness (Henderson & Mapp, 2002). When families and schools establish a true partnership using a valuing and asset-driven approach, children, schools, families and communities all benefit.
Research confirms that bridging home-school partnerships empowers families (López & Donovan, 2009), and schools with greater teacher awareness and acknowledgement of cultural diversity and community characteristics experience greater success with diverse student populations (Marschall, 2006). Promoting meaningful and positive working relationships with parents ultimately contributes to an increase in parent participation and improved student success (Ramírez, 2003).
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (2002) outlines elements for effective partnerships that help frame how schools and families can set goals together with parents for effective partnerships and gauge their success in an ongoing basis. Their elements for sound collaborations conclude that effective partnership: see their present and future well-being linked; respect the history, culture, knowledge and wisdom of the other; collaboratively plan and design mutually beneficial programs and outcomes; engage in reciprocal learning; create structures that promote communication and equity; have high expectations for their involvement with each other; and value and promote diversity.
Essential Engagement Competencies
Some basic assumptions must be embraced for schools to take the important steps necessary to create a culture of effective engagement with parents. First is the recognition that parents and community have unique contributions to teaching and learning. The strengthening of teacher competencies in parent engagement begins with understanding that effective partnerships with parents must be created around a valuing perspective that is based upon trust and built over time. Boethel (2003) and Colton (2002), offer some perceived barriers to effective parent engagement that include: logistical issues; deficit focused interactions with schools; and student’s age and the locus of power in schools (i.e., who is valued and who is not).These must be addressed and replaced with high expectations for successful partnerships.
Techniques for Implementation
Setting the expectation for meaningful parent engagement falls upon teachers, administrators, principals and support staff to: (1) create an atmosphere of high expectations for success in the parent engagement process; (2) establish rigor to regularly measure and ensure that the quality of engagement is high and focused upon the anticipated outcome of success for every student; and (3) implement specific steps for effective home-school partnerships (Rodríguez, et al., 2008).
Among these steps, administrators must set the tone for creating a welcoming and positive environment for parents, publicly acknowledging and celebrating the contributions parents bring to the teaching and learning process.
Other techniques include: (a) establishing a trusting and collaborative relationship with parents; (b) integrating families into the instructional process; and (3) defining roles that teachers, parents and families can each play in a student’s academic success.
Whenever parents are invited into the school as partners, possibilities for meaningful collaboration for student success increase. Schools must be intentional in planning for engagement and outline their intent in campus improvement plans (CIP) and in statements of vision and goals. Parents can serve on committees that promote a working relationship with school administrators and teachers in some decision-making processes. This can be a platform to build a trusting and collaborative relationship with parents by openly inviting parents to join and become a welcome voice on joint teacher-parent committees. Parents then become the representative voice of other parents while working closely with the school and collaborators in the decision-making process.
Another method of encouraging and valuing parents as partners is to integrate families into the instructional process by inviting them to share in how they utilize science concepts every day. For example, if a parent is an electrician, he or she can demonstrate how electricity flows through circuits and teach children how to safely build model series and parallel circuits. The demonstration and focus could be adjusted based on the states’ given standards for that grade level. All work and professions of parents should be equally valued, as science is an intricate part of countless occupations. Similarly, it should be common practice for parents and other community members to be active participants in science fairs and related activities, attending, working with students and judging science competitions.
Schools can purposefully create parent partnerships that promote the success of science learning at all levels and encourage interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) areas for the broader community. Schools must consistently ensure that ongoing communication is taking place and find ways to keep the momentum of engagement going, checking and adjusting strategies, and moving forward together in mutually beneficial ways that always have at their core student graduation and college readiness.
Effective home-school partnerships is the work of all of us. It is imperative that we unite parents, communities and educators alike, creating a web of support from pre-K through higher education for graduation and college readiness of all students.
Boethel, M. Diversity: School, Family and Community Connections, Annual Synthesis 2003 (Austin, Texas: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, 2003).
Colton, A.B. Helping Parent Help Children Learn: Involving Caregivers in a Child’s Education (Grand Haven, Mich.: Council of Michigan Foundations, 2002).
Henderson, A., & K. Mapp. A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Parent and Community Connections on Student Achievement (Austin, Texas: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, 2002).
López, C.O., L. & Donovan. “Involving Latino Parents with Mathematics through Family Math Nights: A Review of the Literature,” Journal of Latinos and Education (2009) 8(3), 219-230.
Marschall, M. “Parent Involvement and Educational Outcomes for Latino Students,” Review of Policy Research (2006) 23(5), pp. 1053-1076.
Portes, P.R. Dismantling Educational Inequality: A Cultural-Historical Approach to Closing the Achievement Gap ( New York, N.Y.: Peter Lang Publishing, 2005).
Ramírez, A.Y. “Dismay and Disappointment: Parental Involvement of Latino Immigrant Parents,” The Urban Review (2003) 35(2), 93-110.
Rodriguez, R., & R. Lopez, A. Villarreal. “Creating Culturally Responsive Parent Engagement – Principal Shares Strategies for Success,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, November-December 2008).
Villarreal, A., & V. Betancourt, K. Grayson, R. Rodríguez. Science Instructional Strategies for English Learners – A Guide for Elementary and Secondary Grades (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2012).
W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Engagement in Youth and Education Programming (Battle Creek, Michigan: W.K. Kellogg Foundation, 2002).
Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D., is director of development at IDRA. Veronica Betancourt, M.A., is an education associate in IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at email@example.com.
[©2012, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November-December 2012 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]