Countless studies have indicated that parent involvement positively impacts student achievement. It is imperative that school leaders have systems in place that facilitate a partnership between parents, students, the community, and the school. However, the quality or type of relationship does make a difference. In his article “Involvement or Engagement?” Larry Ferlazzo (2011) says that “involvement implies doing to; in contrast, engagement implies doing with” (p.10). School leaders and staff who want parents to be involved might dominate the conversation during conferences, avoid time for questions at the end of Curriculum Night, or only ask for parents’ support when they need something. Parents who receive newsletters from their child’s classroom, but don’t have any two-way communication could say they are involved. Contrarily, parent and community engagement denotes a true partnership, in which school leaders and community members work together to support student learning. Teachers and school leaders who seek parent engagement listen and welcome feedback and ideas from the community. Parents who are engaged have regular two-way communication with school personnel and join in decision-making. Any and all involvement and engagement is beneficial to the student, however, higher levels of engagement do tend to yield higher impacts on students.
Charlotte Danielson (2007) describes community engagement as teachers who provide regular information about the instruction students are receiving and the student’s progress. Distinguished teachers provide opportunities for students to give input on project ideas, help prepare materials, or are involved in designing an effective two-way communication system to use with the student’s family. Robbins and Searby (2013) remind educators that “support systems may vary depending upon cultural backgrounds, parental experiences, skills, and knowledge.” It is wise for teachers to know their student’s families cultural backgrounds, value systems, and how they support their child’s education at home. Here, it is critical to be aware of potential biases, or judgements, that may come up, and to be open to family cultures that are different from our own.
Communicating and collaborating with a variety of stakeholders includes more than students and parents. Schools who engage the greater community in which they reside are better able to meet the needs of their students. In EDAD6589, I developed a school plan for improving and sustaining school-community engagement in a Community Engagement Product. In my CEP, I discuss the role of teachers, administrators, parents, and community organizations in engaging all families.
Programs run by parents enhance community engagement. My school has an active PTA that supports after school enrichment activities, art classes during the school day, and puts on school-wide events, such as Cultural Night, Bingo Night, fundraisers, and barbecues. These events facilitate relationship building between teachers and parents. I took a closer look at a specific incident at a previous school I worked where there was a major conflict between the PTA President and the staff in a Case Study. I examined how this negative relationship permeated the entire morale among other PTA members, our staff, and ultimately our school culture. The case study assignment made it clear just how fragile relationships can be and how it can be challenging to rebuild trust in a community once it is lost.
Trust is built slowly and intentionally. Every interaction between parents, teachers, principals, and students can be an opportunity to communicate, “We are on the same team,” “You are welcome here,” “I value and respect you and your child.” It is key that parents feel their child’s student and principal are on the same team to support their child’s learning. Parents, students, teachers, and school leaders each play an important role in working together to discuss and maximize student achievement.
As a leader, I will ensure that I develop and maintain a positive, collaborative relationship with the PTA in order to offer academic support programs before and after school. I might ask the PTA to fund stipends for staff to teach these programs. I would expect my staff to help make the school a welcoming place for parents in order to encourage parents to volunteer in the classroom regularly. I would attend all guidance team meetings, IEP meetings, and in these meetings demonstrate whole listening. I would be transparent about student growth, what areas students are excelling in as a whole and which areas we need to focus in on by openly communicating with parents about achievement results in newsletters and at PTA meetings. Also, each student would be given a take home folder on the first day of school designated for home-school communication.
Completing the CEP assignment has brought to awareness just how wide the scope of the role of a principal is. While I knew of many programs being run by school staff and volunteers, I did not realize the extent of our community outreach and how the majority of those relationships had been initiated and maintained by our principal. I now understand that an effective principal must build strong connections with the broader community in order to sufficiently support his or her students and families. I have learned that just as a school relies on community members and partnerships with other organizations, “schools are an integral part of a larger community,” according to the dispositions for Leadership Standard Four. In other words, the community relies on the school to collaborate and communicate with families. Schools and families should view each other as “partners in the education of their children” and consider resources that each stakeholder has to offer.
My understanding of involvement versus engagement is that they both exist on a continuum. Individuals’ definitions of involvement and engagement can widely vary, but it is the responsibility of the school to provide multiple ways for families to be engaged. When school staff have “attitudes of openness, empathy, trust, and respect for different types of families,” families are more likely to engage in positive relationships with staff, which in turn benefits students (WCEAP, 2011). In my view, because community and family engagement significantly impacts student success, school leaders, school staff, and parents should all strive to contribute to supporting the student and be open to working together.
Through participating in this program, I have learned that school leadership is a multifaceted role. It is imperative that a school leader works with all stakeholders to support student learning and provide equal access to learning. School leaders need to be aware of and respond accordingly to the diversity in their community. Moving forward, I created a Template Evaluation Criteria Assignment that outlines two goals, planned activities to meet each goal, and possible evidence to show I would have met the goal. This assignment highlighted ways in which the Principal Criterion match Teacher Criterion that are used to evaluate us.
Danielson, C. (2007). Enhancing professional practice: A framework for teaching (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Ferlazzo, L. (2011). Involvment or Engagement? Educational Leadership, 68(8), 10-14.
Robbins, C., & Searby, L. (2013). Exploring Parental Involvement Strategies Utilized by Middle School Interdisciplinary Teams. School Community Journal, 23(2), 113-136.
Washington Council of Educational Administration Programs (WCEAP). (2011).
Common performance assessment guide for principal and program administrator certification in washington state. Retrieved from http://program.pesb.wa.gov/archive/common-performance-tasks/standard4.