• by Frances M. Guzmán, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • March 2013 •

Frances GuzmanIn the United States, schools have a long tradition of equating student success with family involvement. Just like motherhood and apple pie, family engagement in schools is the accepted mantra and expectation. Of course quality instruction and resources also have much to do with student success, but many accept the notion that family engagement is one very important aspect of student growth and ultimate success.

Research indicates positive contributions to students’ academic and social gains when active partnerships exist between home, school and community (Blank, et al., 2003; Caspe, et al., 2006/07; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Kreider, et al., 2007; Weiss, et al., 2006). Since this is the general philosophy embraced by almost all publics concerned with education, federal, state and local entities have enacted specific policies, regulations and targeted monies for family engagement.

So while in theory no one argues with the philosophy of family involvement, the type of engagement has been a loosely defined arena. The last 40 years emphasized the accepted and traditional aspects of family involvement. These centered on providing parenting information, volunteering and fundraising activities, or what was referred to in the field as “random acts of parent involvement” (Gil Kressley, 2008). These implied that something had to happen to or be done to parents or that only lower level activities would be what families could do with schools. In this paradigm, families were not seen as partners but rather as assistants to the educational process.

More recently though, involvement of families has been determined to be more about active partnerships that drive school reform (Christenson & Reschly, 2009) and promote student achievement. Along these lines, IDRA has been ahead of the curve in its research and its 40 years of field experience with the development of a change model, the Quality Schools Action Framework™ (Robledo Montecel & Goodman, 2010). This model outlines how all stakeholders (families, schools, communities) can be involved in schools. Irrespective of socioeconomic status, home language, literacy and formal education, families are valued, are given opportunities to obtain actionable knowledge and with support are able to act on that knowledge. In other words, they can and do interact with the school setting by being equal partners in the education of their children.

Active family engagement, where parents serve as catalysts for change, always has been a tenet of IDRA’s mission to assure educational opportunity for every child. It was put in practice as early as the 1980s, when IDRA and the then Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs held training institutes in Texas for parents of children in bilingual education. From the outset, these institutes were bilingual, highly participatory, and most especially honored and used the information that families brought from home. Also, these institutes had research-based data and information about bilingual/ESL education. From this work, the development of the IDRA Family Leadership in Education model began (Montemayor, 2011).

This model explored, researched and established the four dimensions or roles of family leadership: the parent as first teacher, the parent as a resource to the school, the parent as a decision-maker, and the parent as a trainer and leader to other parents. Not being lock-step or linear but circular in nature, this model identified how families could be involved in whichever dimension or dimensions they chose. (Montemayor, 2011)

What followed, using different funding sources and in collaboration with state and national associations, were conferences for parents by parents using the four dimensions of family leadership as the basis for the presentations. Parents and IDRA staff presented together. These conferences were used as labs to involve families in leadership development. In 1998, IDRA designed the Annual IDRA La Semana del Niño Early Childhood Educators’ Institute™. In conjunction with this educators’ conference, IDRA had sessions for parents on early childhood. By 2000, the Annual IDRA La Semana del Niño Parent Institute™ became known for its innovation in showcasing parents as presenters.

Today, IDRA’s parent institute attracts participants from throughout Texas and continues to grow in numbers and visibility. It is held in San Antonio in April and is bilingual (Spanish/English) in its presentations and materials, is highly participatory, and has parents serve as the premier presenters. The parent presenters are recruited from throughout the country and given support (training, examples and practice) in order to develop their one-hour presentations. The institute reinforces the fourth dimension of parents as trainer and leaders. In addition to the educational topic presentations, the institute has exhibits, interviews, advocacy and evaluation activities.

A concurrent event of the institute is a special administrator session, which deals specifically with family engagement strategies at the local level. The presentation topics range from pre-kindergarten to college at the different levels (elementary, middle, high school and college) so that participants have many choices to learn about different educational issues. The sessions are research-based, action-oriented, real-life experiences of the presenters.

Several of the parent presenters from the institute have now been invited to conduct sessions at other local and state events. Here are some comments from parents who attended last year’s institute:

  • “The cool thing about presenting here is that we are all parents, and we want the best for our children, so there is a deep understanding, and so there is no fear.”
  • “The fact that everybody was engaged, was participating; this is something I don’t see in any other conference. [In other conferences], people just go and listen. Here people come to participate to be engaged – that was impressive!”
  • “The fact is that sometimes parents feel constrained because of their limited mastery of English. We learned here that this does not have to be so. There are many ways in which parents can participate regardless of their English dominance. In this conference, we are realizing that there is no limit to what we can do.”

By design, IDRA intends that the participants who see parents presenting, will in turn go back to their respective districts and communities and replicate the learning in their own settings. In 2013, IDRA is moving toward this replication goal by working with several community-based PTA Comunitarios in South Texas to organize and implement their own version of parent institutes using the Annual IDRA La Semana del Niño Parent Institute™ as the model for dealing with local educational issues (see Page 5).

A passive, traditional role of parent involvement has morphed into an action-based, participatory, advocacy family engagement role for families. With more research indicating academic success is fostered when families are engaged in meaningful, action-based reform, then parents learning and acting on educational issues is a process to move forward. Our children certainly deserve nothing less!

The next Annual IDRA La Semana del Niño Parent Institute™ will be held in San Antonio in April. See www.idra.org for details.


Blank, J.J., & A. Melaville, B.P. Shah. Making the Difference: Research and Practice in Community Schools (Washington, D.C.: Coalition for Community Schools, 2003).

Caspe, M., & M.E. Lopez, C. Wolos. “Family Involvement in Elementary School Children’s Education,” Family Involvement Makes a Difference, Research Brief No. 2 (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard Family Research Project, Winter 2006-07).

Christensen, S.L., & A.L. Reschly (Eds.) Handbook of School-Family Partnerships. New York, N.Y.: Routledge Publishers, 2009).

Henderson, A.T., & K. Mapp. A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student Achievement (Austin, Texas: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, 2002).

Kreider, H., & M. Caspe, S. Kennedy, H.B. Weiss. “Family Involvement in Middle and High School Students’ Education,” Family Involvement Makes a Difference, Research Brief No. 3 (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard Family Research Project, Spring 2007).

Gill Kressley, K. “Breaking New Ground: Seeding Proven Practices into Proven Programs,” Paper presented at the National PIRC Conference (Baltimore, Md.: August 1, 2008).

Montemayor, A. “Family Leadership in the Field – Lasting Community Leadership in Education,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, June-July 2011).

Robledo Montecel. M., & C.L. Goodman (Eds.). Courage to Connect: A Quality Schools Action Framework™ (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).

Weiss, H. B., & M. Caspe, M.E. Lopez. “Family Involvement in Early Childhood Education,” Family Involvement Makes a Difference, Research Brief, No. 1 (Cambridge, Mass.; Harvard Family Research Project, Spring 2006).

Frances M. Guzmán, M.Ed., is an education associate in IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at comment@idra.org.

[©2013, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2013 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.]