II. Overcoming Barriers to Parent Involvement Module 2 of 4

Learning Objectives

  • List potential barriers to parent participation
  • Identify common misconceptions regarding parental involvement (or lack thereof)
  • Recognize the role of culture in parent/student/school interactions
  • List strategies to initiate culturally responsive parental involvement

Key Assumptions

Changing Demographics Demand That Teachers and Administrators Alter Preconceived Notions About a Child’s Family Experiences and Structure
Diverse Cultural Backgrounds of Families Demand New Strategies to Encourage Parental Involvement
Meaningful Parental Involvement Can Enhance Student Success
Parents Want To Be Involved in Their Child’s Education
Partnerships are Key to Successful Reform
Productive, mutually respectful, dialogic relationships do not simply happen. They are created and nurtured.

One of the largest barriers in parent participation is in the area of cultural differences.

Culturally responsive parental involvement is neither complicated nor mysterious, but it requires the will and the committment to serve all children equitably.

Common Misconceptions

Misconception #1: Parents Who Don’t Visit School Don’t Care About Their Child’s Education
School administrators and educators often see physical presence as “the” sign of parental concern. However, there are many reasons why parents might not visit their child’s school. Parents may feel intimidated by teachers, whom they often view as authority figures. Parents may be working several jobs or may be reluctant to visit the school just to hear—yet again—that their child is troubled or failing. Many parents demonstrate their caring by working hard to provide their children with the basic necessities; for many parents, providing an adequate home life for their child is equivalent to caring about their child’s educational success. When educators assume that a lack of caring is the reason parents are absent, they only reveal the absence of their own caring and effectively shut down all communication channels. If school faculty are unable to meet with a parent in person, there are alternative ways of getting input and having dialogue with the parent, such as e-mail, phone calls, and letters. Again, dialogue—in whatever form—between parents and teaching faculty is critical. Teachers must be willing to engage parents regardless of parents’ past behaviors. The next time a teacher reaches out to a parent may be the time a parent reaches back.
Misconception #2: Good Parental Involvement “Looks” a Certain Way
Pervasive definitions of appropriate parenting behaviors, such as reading to children every night, often have their roots in middle-class norms. Parents who do not conform to these implicit rules become easy targets for parent-bashing. Schools too quickly blame such parents for their children’s failures instead of examining their own images of good parenting in order to ensure that certain ways of rearing children are not condemned when compared to others.
Misconception #3: All Parents Respond to the Same Strategies
Like students, parents will evidence different needs, experiences, questions, learning, and styles of interacting with others. A strategy that draws one group of parents to school may completely alienate another group. Universal strategies such as parent-teacher conferences, open houses, and active involvement in the PTA cannot be expected to work for everyone and invariably will exclude some parents from becoming involved.
Misconception #4: Parents Who Are Struggling Financially Cannot Support the School
If teachers and administrators think of support from parents in monetary terms only, parents who are struggling financially will be deemed unable to contribute to their child’s school. However, inviting parents to contribute in ways that are creative, do not necessarily involve money or a great deal of time, and expand notions of assistance or expertise will help parents to feel empowered and relevant to the school’s mission.
Misconception #5: All Parents Have the Same Goals for Their Children
Teachers and administrators should not assume they know what goals and aspirations parents have for their children. Teacher-parent dialogue is critical to ensure that meaningful, relevant conversations occur about each student’s goals. This is also why incorporating diverse teaching styles and educational content into a classroom is so important.

(Adapted from "Culturally Responsive Parent Involvement" by Sabrina Hope King and A. Lin Goodwin)

Educators are not alone in making inaccurate assumptions; parents may also have misconceptions, such as these:
  • I didn’t do well in school, so I can’t help my child.
  • Teachers and administrators do not understand my reality.
  • Teachers don’t care because they don’t discipline my child properly and don’t expect enough of her/him.
  • I work full-time so I can’t be as active in my child’s education as I would like.
Final Thoughts

Benefits of Parent Partnership

  • A student-focused philosophy - collaborate for the learning progress of the student
  • A belief in shared responsibility - both in and out of school time impacts achievement
  • Quality of the relationship - parents and teachers working together in meaningful ways
  • A preventative, solution oriented focus - create conditions that encourage and support a student's engagement in the learning process

Please take a moment to complete this brief survey to provide feedback and document your participation.

This concludes Module 2: Overcoming Barriers to Parent Involvement


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