WORK WITH PARENTS & THE COMMUNITY
Engaging Parents in Education: Lessons From Five Parental Information And Resource Centers
June 2007
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Promoting Cross-stakeholder Communication

If parents, educators, and other education stakeholders are to become partners in raising student achievement, these groups need to be able to talk with each other. Yet parents rarely have forums where they can speak openly with educators; educators rarely have opportunities to talk with representatives of community organizations or the business community; and so on. Finding ways that all those who care about and have a stake in improving education can communicate effectively with each other can only help.

Convene Diverse Stakeholders

In 2005 and 2006, IDRA's PIRC hosted three events—which it refers to as multi-sector convenings—aimed at facilitating understanding and cooperation among various education stakeholders in Texas: a statewide summit on dropout prevention, a second summit on the current state of Latino education in the state, and a four-seminar investigation into disparities related to the success of Latino students and their access to higher education. The goal of these statewide meetings was to bring families and students together with business people, universities, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, policymakers, and community members to find ways to better educate the children of Texas, the majority of whom are Latino—a subgroup whose members are dropping out of school at disproportionate rates and scoring lower than their counterparts on state and local tests. Through these convenings, multiple stakeholders have learned about and discussed why so many students are not graduating and entering college, and the magnitude of the problem has been exposed. Participants assess the readiness for action in their respective communities and develop strategic action plans or "blueprints for action." (see fig. 7, Intercultural Development Research Association: Checklist for Effective Action to Improve Education, on p. 33.)

PIRCs Leverage Their Limited Resources to Expand Capacity

Partnering with community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, other parent involvement organizations, and schools, districts, and state education agencies is one approach that all five of the highlighted PIRCs have utilized to varying degrees. While some PIRCs, such as those operated by IDRA and ADI, effectively partner with their larger parent organization and draw resources from the larger staff and budgets, other PIRCs, such as the Indiana Partnerships Center and the Family Works in Maryland, only have staffs of five. All of the PIRCs have limited budgets. Partnerships allow PIRCs to leverage their services to reach more parents and educators and to offer a wider range of training and services than if they were relying only on their own staff.

The Utah Family Center offers a good example of what partnerships can offer: This PIRC invested in two partnerships intended to facilitate communication between students and their families. A partnership with the state parent-teacher association (PTA), which also initially served as its fiscal agent, enabled the PIRC to gain access easily to school communities: Principals with established PTAs have readily invited PIRC staff into their schools to conduct leadership and parenting training. The PTA newsletter, which is sent to schools statewide, usually has included an article by PIRC staff to update readers about NCLB and inform them about PIRC services and resources. In return, the center supplies PTA members with NCLB information for their own trainings and provides trainings for PTA members on updated NCLB policy.

A second key partner has been the Utah Parent Center, which is a state-funded program serving families of children with special needs and which, despite its very similar name, should not be confused with the PIRC itself (i.e., the Utah Family Center). The two organizations have worked hard to foster a relationship that leverages the strengths of each. Since Utah Parent Center staff have developed trusting relationships with parents of children with special needs across the state, they can easily bring new NCLB information to these parents, provided that staff stay current on the information and understand how it relates to their service population. This is where the Utah Family Center comes in: The PIRC supplies the Parent Center with NCLB materials and trains center staff in NCLB policy so that they can distribute it to their constituents.

San Antonio Secondary-Level Dialogues is a more localized parent and community engagement effort provided by IDRA's PIRC, designed and facilitated by IDRA's PIRC. The idea for the dialogues came to the PIRC director when he was facilitating professional development at a local San Antonio high school to help teachers reach English as a Second Language (ESL) students. As he taught this class he realized there was a need for greater understanding among teachers, students, and their families. The dialogues, which bring together members of each of these groups and are carried out in both Spanish and English, were conceived to help generate this understanding. Conversations are framed by three rounds of questions designed to help the different stakeholders understand more about one another and to prompt discussion of critical education issues while establishing mutual trust and respect.

Figure 7. Intercultural Development Research Association: Checklist for Effective Action to Improve Education (Excerpted from IDRA's publication, A Community Action Guide: Seven Actions to Fulfill the Promise of Brown and Mendez)

Checklist for Effective Action

  Not Evi-
dent
Some-
what Evi-
dent
Evi-
dent
Very Evi-
dent
Ex-
tremely Evi-
dent
Working Across Racial Groups          
1. We have experience working together across racial groups.  1   2   3   4   5 
2. Working across groups has been successful in our community.  1   2   3   4   5 
3. Working together across groups has had positive impact on access and inclusion for all children.  1   2   3   4   5 
4. People recognize the benefit of working across racial groups.  1   2   3   4   5 
5. People are willing to work together across racial groups to reap the benefits for all children.  1   2   3   4   5 
6. There is readiness in our community to work across racial groups for all children.  1   2   3   4   5 
Civil Rights          
7. Discrimination is still a concern in our community.  1   2   3   4   5 
8. Communities are aware of their civil rights in education.  1   2   3   4   5 
9. There have been incidents of community disruption due to violation of civil rights.  1   2   3   4   5 
10. Our school system monitors civil rights in education.  1   2   3   4   5 
Public Engagement          
11. Our schools engage parents and community at all levels of the educational system.  1   2   3   4   5 
12. Schools have a mechanism in place to make policies and practices more understandable to the community.  1   2   3   4   5 
13. Schools and community honor the knowledge, language and resources of the other.  1   2   3   4   5 
14. All segments of the community feel valued and welcomed into schools.  1   2   3   4   5 
15. The community and the school work together to resolve problems for their mutual benefit.  1   2   3   4   5 
16. Schools and colleges actively reach out to parents and community.  1   2   3   4   5 
Fair Funding          
17. Our schools are funded equitably across our communities.  1   2   3   4   5 
18. Our schools have the funding needed for excellence.  1   2   3   4   5 
19. Our schools look alike in terms of conditions and resources across our communities.  1   2   3   4   5 
20. All of our children, regardless of where they live, have access to an excellent education.  1   2   3   4   5 
21. All schools receive enough money for effective teaching and learning.  1   2   3   4   5 

A core group of 12 teachers has participated regularly since the dialogues' inception. The number of parents and students involved has fluctuated, but all those participating thus far have been English learners and have qualified for Title I services—categories of individuals that are commonly considered hard to reach for such engagement efforts. One way of trying to recruit additional families has been to offer students extra class credit if they attend with family members. At the dialogue meetings, which occur over dinner (provided with Title I funding, but which also can be handled as potlucks), participants are split into table groups and each group is given a translator and a recorder who documents key points that come up in the conversations. the use of question prompts (e.g., for parents, "As your child's first teacher, what was something you enjoyed teaching him or her to do?") are intended to spur conversations that will promote participants' greater understanding of each other and of key education issues.

Similarly, the ADI PIRC's Solid Foundation includes a Home Gatherings component designed to help parents and teachers bridge the communications gap. These one-hour gatherings, planned by the school community council and the school's parent-education facilitator, are held at a parent's house and facilitated by the host parent. The host parent and participating teachers are trained in facilitation skills by the parent-education facilitator. These gatherings bring together a group (of varying size) of parents and teachers to talk together about their respective responsibilities in educating children and how to work together to meet shared goals. Questions addressed in the gatherings might include: What is the parent's (and conversely the teacher's) role in developing a student's academic skills, study habits, and self-respect? Questions are directly linked to the schoolparent compact and NCLB's Title I requirements for parent involvement. ADI staff have found that communities respond differently to the gatherings: some are excited while others are more reticent about trying them. But ADI is continuing to require all solid Foundation schools to host at least one gathering in hopes that all schools will establish Home Gatherings as a lasting practice.

Help Parents Know What Questions to Ask And How to Ask Them

To help parents become more skilled communicators within the education system on behalf of their children, the Indiana Partnerships Center offers a question-development workshop. This training is based on the model of the nonprofit Right Question Project (RQP) in Cambridge, Mass., whose premise is that effective questioning is an essential tool for participating in a democracy. This three-hour workshop is intended to help parents learn how to identify essential issues related to their children's education, formulate effective questions, and feel comfortable discussing those questions with their children's teachers or others in the education system. The training includes activities that help parents generate (in groups of four to five) lists of questions that pertain to a topic, prioritize those questions, deepen their inquiry by taking the most important question and brainstorming additional, related queries, and, finally, prioritize the questions again so that parents can be ready to ask just a few essential questions. Parents are more likely to get thoughtful responses from educators if their own questions are well thought out and targeted to meet their goals, which is what the RQP-modeled workshop helps them do.

The Indiana Partnerships Center staff has found the RQP workshop model to be particularly helpful in preparing parents with children with special needs to communicate with teachers, principals, and districts. A part-time special education coordinator hired by the PIRC facilitates these workshops for parents of children with special needs across the state. The basic RQP model is used, but the coordinator infuses information about individualized education plans (IEPs) throughout. She stresses parents' responsibility to identify the needs of their children and then uses the RQP process to show them how to prioritize and develop related questions to ask teachers, principals, and district administrators in order to get those needs met. In addition, the coordinator has developed an "express IEP" plan that includes critical information for teachers about the needs of a child, including a short description of the disability, transportation needs, and classroom needs. This express plan, derived from a template that parents fill out, gives busy teachers a quick picture of the child's needs.

In addition to this parent training, the Indiana PIRC offers facilitation training for parents, school staff, and community organizers who wish to provide RQP-type training for other parents. Those wanting to become facilitators must first attend a parent workshop (described in Part II of this guide) and commit to facilitating at least one parent workshop in their community.

Tips for Promoting Cross-Stakeholder Communication About Education Issues

  • Convene groups of diverse stakeholders from across the state to discuss, get trained, and network about issues related to parent involvement in children's education.

  • At the school level, bring together parents, teachers, and students to discuss key education issues of importance and interest to them.

  • Facilitate workshops that help parents understand how to identify and ask the important questions regarding the education of their children that they need answered.


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Last Modified: 06/15/2009