Your job as an educator has grown more complex, more challenging.
It used to be that knowing about curriculum, student learning or
assessments met the grade. But increasingly educators are encouraged
to become experts in parent and community engagement, especially
as schools come under more public scrutiny than ever before.
Parent involvement has always been an important issue to educators,
but the way schools have responded varies widely. Some treat community
engagement as an afterthought, others take it more seriously and
develop comprehensive outreach plans. Now engaging parents and community
members has grown just as critical to a schools success as
lesson planning, classroom instruction and testing.
Why Is Community Involvement Important Now?
Schools across the country are growing more racially and ethnically
diverse. For years, minority populations were concentrated in border
states like California, New Mexico and Texas and in urban areas
like New York, Chicago and Boston. Changing demographics require
educators to not just think more critically about how to engage
culturally and linguistically diverse communities in the decisions
affecting public schools, but act on it.
Engaging these important communities is critical to improving public
education. School improvement efforts have more staying power when
parents and community members understand them. Failing to involve
all community members in decisions affecting public education often
results in apathy, distrust or confrontation.
Parent Involvement = Student Success
Teachers, principals and superintendents know that parents
interest and involvement in their childs learning can have
a profound affect on a childs success in school. Studies show
when parents and community members are engaged in schools, students
perform better, attendance increases and dropout rates are lower.
Schools involve parents and community members in many ways. Parents
help with homework, community members assist with school events
or make decisions with teachers and principals about how to improve
student achievement. Some volunteer as a teachers aide or
chaperone a field trip or collaborate with community groups to build
support for a neighborhood school.
Even though there are many positive outcomes associated with parent
and community engagement, educators still struggle with how to involve
parents in the issues affecting public schoolsespecially parents
from culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Less parent
involvement is also likely in lower income neighborhoods and in
areas where parents have little formal education or speak a language
other than English. For teachers and principals in these communities,
parent and community engagement becomes a source of frustration,
Why is something that makes good sense so challenging to implement
in these communities? After all, its not that parents dont
care about their childrens future. Far from it. Parents want
to play a role in their childs learning. They want to work
closely with teachers and principals. They want whats best
for their childs future. So, why do educators have little
success engaging these
Re-think Your Approach
The answer, in part, may lie in how schools think about parent
and community engagement. Too often, schools expect families and
community members to get involved on their own. Many schools are
finding out the hard way that its not enough to post an occasional
flier promoting meetings or events. Too often, these fliers end
up in a crumpled ball at the bottom of a students backpack.
Or, school staff rely on parents to see the fliers when they visit
the schoolwhen few parents rarely visit school in the first
place. If a school uses the same old approach to involve families
and community, it will get the same old lackluster results.
How Successful Schools Do It
Successfully involving parents in the decisions affecting your
school requires hard work, but the long-term results are well worth
it. Involving hard-to-reach parents and community members requires
strengthening ties to community leaders, following through on commitments,
developing trust and building relationships. It requires a firmer
grasp of the cultural and language barriers that may sidetrack educators
good efforts, and building this cultural awareness into your efforts
to engage parents and community members.
Does this mean educators now have to be cultural experts? Well,
to some degreeyes. Schools that successfully engage parents
and community members are knowledgeable about cultural differences
and how those differences affect a communitys perspective
on education issues. Sometimes, its simply a matter of knowing
who to turn to for help. Educators might enlist the help of cultural
experta local minister or social services counselor,
for example, who knows the community or communities in the neighborhood.
Is This Guide for You?
This handbook is designed for teachers, principals, superintendents
and other educators who want to begin to develop meaningful parent
and community involvement in public education in culturally and
linguistically diverse communities. This guide is not meant to be
the definitive book on community engagement. Instead, the strategies
weve outlined in this guide will help get you started.
SEDL has extensive experience working with public schools to foster
meaningful parent and community engagement. What weve learned
from this work and from interviewing organizers, parents and community
members is that obstacles to parent and community involvement can
be overcome. Building greater participation requires an understanding
of how culture, socioeconomic status and other factors influence
parent and community participation. You must earn the trust of minority
communities that have traditionally felt shut out of the decisions
affecting their children and their neighborhood schools.
Weve talked with leaders from Hispanic, African-American,
Native American and Asian communities to understand what keeps parents
and others from participating in school activities. Their best advice
is highlighted throughout this publication. Together, weve
developed engagement strategies to increase participation among
family and community members from low socioeconomic and diverse
The Diversity in Dialogue Project
Family and Community Involvement is the third in a series of publications
produced by SEDLs Diversity in Dialogue project. This project
focuses on how to engage culturally and linguistically diverse members
of the community in the decisions affecting public education.