By Brian Collins, Guest Contributor
During the Spring of 2018, I took Dr. Khaula Murtadha’s course, “Leadership for Urban School-Community Relationships (A510).” The focus of the course was to understand the tools my classmates and I needed to become community-engaged school leaders who work to best serve the academic and social interest and development of the students we serve. An article titled “The Understanding Latino Parental Involvement in Education: Perceptions, Expectations, and Recommendations,” by Maria Zarate (2007) focused on three areas pertaining to parental involvement: (1) how Latinx parents described their participation in the education of their children, (2) how Latinx students described the role of parental involvement, and (3) understanding educator’s perceptions of what constitutes parental involvement. The overall goal was to reveal different ways in which parental involvement was expressed among Latinx communities, a group which tends to be marginalized. Data was collected by the Tomas Riera Policy Institute (TRPI) which focuses on research in the areas of social policy and student activities. Regarding Latinx parents describing parental involvement, parents’ description was broken down into two main themes:
- Academic involvement (some examples included engaging in activities around homework, having high standards for academic performance, and asking about homework daily).
- Life participation (providing life education such as future planning and advice on life issues, encouraging siblings to look out for each other, monitoring school, discussing future planning).
Regarding Latinx students describing their idea of parental involvement, students described examples of valuable parental involvement as including some of the following:
- Asking questions about the student’s day.
- Monitoring attendance.
- Providing transportation to extracurricular events.
- Telling contrasting stories of example of failure and success.
Regarding educators (teachers, counselors and school administrators) of the school, expectations and perceptions of parental involvement constituted the following four themes:
- School Leadership (some examples including participation in school committees, PTA membership, student advocacy and community activism)
- Administrative Support (Fundraising, hosting luncheons for faculty, attending and staffing at school events)
- Parenting (Authoritative parenting, controlling kids/monitoring behavior, monitoring attendance)
- Academic Support (observing class, making sure student completed homework, reviewing report card)
In Dr. Murtada’s class, we read two readings, (Jimenez 2010; Lopez, 2001) similar to the Zarate article addressing how the experiences of Latinx families were underrepresented simply because they did not fit the mold of what a traditional, and let’s be honest, more Eurocentric approach of viewing parental involvement looked like (attending the PTA/PTO meetings, bake sales, parent teacher conferences). As a result, this binary view of parental involvement created a negative notion that Latinx parents were not involved in their children’s education. However, it was the exact opposite, and if anything, these parents taught life lessons, and real-world applications of working environments. In some cases, Latinx mothers went the extra distance to work with the teacher to continue learning activities at home (Jimenez, 2010). Below are some of my takeaways from Zarate’s article, many similar to classroom discussions from Dr.Murtadha’s course.
- The need to challenge and problematize a particular narrative: In particular, this is regarding the need for us as leaders to always challenge our understandings of norms, beliefs, and policies and understanding who they may negatively affect. Further, we need to take the time to understand who makes and defines the rules and beliefs. Referring back to Zarate’s article, the author discusses the larger narrative of parental involvement as the ability to put on a performance (again the actions of attending bake sales, PTO meetings and parent teacher conference). However, this one definition does not, and rather should not, define the entirety of what parent involvement should look like. When we do not challenge these norms, it leads to misconceptions, and misconceptions links to mistrust.
- The need to build welcoming environments among stakeholders:Latinx parents described communications with the school as feeling impersonal and without adequate notice. As a result, Latinx families may not feel that they received substantive information to engage in the ways they would like to. This in turn may result in families not feeling welcome, marginalized and not wanted at the school. As leaders, we need to understand the importance of building a welcoming environment that fosters relationships with students and their families, but by also building a sense of welcome by communicating interest in differences in culture and language and educational support to the home culture.
- Understanding who we serve: In the case of this study, Latinx families were from two wage earner homes. As a result, their work demands were an issue that prevented them from physically attending events. Yet I wonder if the educators (teachers and school administrators) in this study, who were describing parental involvement in such binary ways, really know and understand the lives of the families and communities they serve. I bet if these educators knew the plight of the families they were serving, other methods of engaging families may have been considered.
- Understanding the benefits of out-of-class-experiences: I believe too often education is perceived to only take place in the school, and more particular classroom environment. However, this excludes lessons learned from out-of-school experiences whether that be lessons from one’s culture, family, community, church, and other outside factors as depicted from the Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory (1992).
In conclusion, I appreciate the many lessons learned during my time in Dr.Murtadha’s course, which reminded us that as leaders, we need to be open to understanding the various cultural characteristics of not just the students, but also parents/guardians and how these differences have an impact on their behavior and achievement in the school environment. Further, we need to think systematically about the ways of fostering sensitivity to cultural differences which may make education more difficult for some students than others. As a result, we need to be weary of the binary definitions that exist as it pertains to education. Yet, and probably most importantly, at the end of the day, as leaders we must understand that we are servants for our schools and communities.
Brian Collins is an Educational Leadership Master of Arts student in the IU School of Education at IUPUI.
Amaro-Jiménez, C., & Semingson, P. (2010). ‘Sometimes I Don’t Know How to Help You, but I’ll Try’: Latina Mothers’ Participation in Their Children’s Biliteracy Learning in the Home. National Journal of Urban Education and Practice, 4(2), 33-48.
Leonard, J. (2011). Using Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory to understand community partnerships: A historical case study of one urban high school. Urban Education, 46(5), 987-1010.
Lopez, G. (2001). The value of hard work: Lessons on parent involvement from an (im) migrant household. Harvard educational review, 71(3), 416-438.
Zarate, M. E. (2007). Understanding Latino Parental Involvement in Education: Perceptions, Expectations, and Recommendations. Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.