Trust is defined as “an individual’s or group’s willingness to be vulnerable to another party based on the confidence that the latter party is benevolent, reliable, competent, honest, and open”. If families are to trust teachers and other staff members, then they must believe that school personnel are qualified, fair, and dependable, and have their child’s best interest at heart. In most cases trust is built over time, based on interactions that occur on a daily basis and with consistent behavior from both sides. If the families and school staff do not have experience interacting with one another, then they may rely on the other’s reputation and on something they have in common, such as race, gender, age, religion, or upbringing.
When there are few things in common between families and school staff, it will take time for trust to develop. The willingness to trust each other will be based on actions and perceptions of each other’s reliability, competence, honesty, and openness. Family partnerships, cross-systems, are sustained most successfully when developed in one system/setting, while supported and reinforced by another system. Particularly effective collaborative alliances are developed between groups with shared or similar goals.
When children transition into middle school, parental involvement decreases greatly. Children may make smooth transitions into their new learning environment, but that is usually not true for parents. If parents were formerly active partners with their child’s elementary school, and change sharply once transitioning to middle school, something has changed. But what? Parents don’t cease having strong interests in their child’s school performance. Children change due to physiological factors, which impact social skills, too. But, a child’s new demands for privacy, peer acceptance and more independent movement, cannot be separated from their ongoing need for parental guidance and support. In fact, though they protest, it gives them comfort in the knowledge that their parent is still concerned. Then why the drastic change in school involvement?
Educators are presumed knowledgeable about child development, and thus are able to navigate students’ many developmental changes. Therefore, drops in parental engagement must be attributed to other factors. These factors need to be identified and then addressed. There is no reason that parents should no longer have an involvement in their child’s education in middle or high school. Theoretical learning frameworks and principles should not shut parents out, and partnerships shouldn’t be neglected. As children age, parents need continued school involvement, and schools need parental involvement. How do schools demonstrate this to them in ways that support, reinforce and maintain connections already established? Same principles, same goals and methodology has to responsively align with the new setting……
Families who get involved in schools are typically those whose home culture most closely matches the values reflected in schools. Minority, lower-income, and families who speak limited English are often underrepresented in school-level decision-making and in family engagement activities. This is often the result of differing needs, values, and levels of trust rather than families’ lack of interest or willingness to get involved. Conducting outreach activities that bring school staff into homes, community centers, and villages shows respect in working with different cultures. When there are a number of school sites within the system, outreach activities should be consistently practiced and adhered to across the system. This builds families’ trust in the system as a whole; they can be confident that they will be treated the same at each school site. The engagement strategies must be appropriately adapted, but must definitely continue with the same enthusiasm as in the previous environment, and so forth-across systems/settings/school districts.
Part 2-The Solutions, in a post to follow, will provide some suggestions and strategies that may help schools to maintain parental engagement from pre-k through 12, uninterrupted. Keep a watchful eye, won’t you? And, in the interim, if you have some strategies that have proven successful, please share them with us. Even if you think they may be successful. Schools need all the help they can get to ensure student achievement and parent engagement for the long term.