As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am often amazed at the number of resources, research studies, reports, tips and programs available on parent involvement/engagement in education.  It is always great to have resources and research findings to help clarify one’s thinking and planning for this area, and new educators and parents to the system can certainly benefit.  I know that networking on Twitter has helped me access a tremendous amount of resources in this area – print, online, and human.  I also appreciate that research is conducted about parent involvement.  The areas and variables examined are quite extensive.

Recently, I was intrigued by a study shared on Twitter by Steve Constantino (@smconstantino) called, “The effects of parental involvement on students’ academic self-efficacy, engagement and intrinsic motivation.” (Fan, W. & Williams, C.M., Ed. Psych. vol 30, No. 1, 2010)  Another favourite topic of mine included – intrinsic motivation!  I quickly had many questions about how they defined and measured parent involvement, student engagement, intrinsic motivation and “achievement motivation”, and about the age group studied.

Larry Ferlazzo (@LarryFerlazzo) wrote a post on one aspect of the findings here, and the link to the original study can be found there as well.

The number of areas they considered in the study to obtain data about parent involvement, motivation, and student outcomes is quite admirable.  The references of the study were also extensive.  I also appreciated that the study also acknowledged and referenced the following points and limitations:

-parental involvement is generally referred to as parents’ participation in their children’s education with the purpose of promoting their academic and social success (p. 55)

-that mixed research findings might be due in part to the lack of a clear operational definition of parental involvement (p.55)

-that casuality cannot be claimed based on correlational patterns among variables (p. 71)

-That further research providing clearer theoretical definition of parent involvement is needed (p.71)

But my curiosity about parent involvement being examined in relationship to students’ intrinsic motivation kept me reading.  In this study, intrinsic motivation was referred to as being something that exists within and drives spontaneous behaviours of individuals.  Reference was made to studies that indicated that intrinsic motivation had positive outcomes associated with children’s achievement, persistence and effort, self-efficacy, and achievement motivation.  The purpose of this particular study was to examine effects of 8 aspects of parent involvement on adolescents’ academic self-efficacy, engagement, and intrinsic motivation in math and English.

The 8 aspects of parent involvement focused on were: Parental aspiration for students’ postsecondary education; parents’ participation in school functions; family rules reflecting parental supervision (TV, homework, maintaining grades, chores); parental advisory; parent participation in extracurricular activities; parent-school communication concerning school problems, school-initiated communication with parents, and parent-initiated communication with schools on benign school issues.

It is not my intent to refute the findings, but because my youngest child is in Gr. 10 as were the students in the study, it caused me a lot of reflection and I am writing this post from a more personal perspective.  Over the years of my own children’s education, their teachers often commented on their “work ethic”, conscientiousness and engagement with tasks.  I know I should have considered this as always a good thing, but, as it is easy to do as a parent, sometimes I did worry if it meant my kids were being perfectionist, or afraid to make mistakes and/or get a bad grade, or feeling pressured.  Eventually I came back to the confidence I had knowing that I seldom focused on extrinsic motivation to guide their behaviour, and as a family we allowed them a lot of time to explore activities in a self-initiated and self-directed way.  Interestingly, I have never thought about the nature of my parent involvement with the school as having the potential to impact their intrinsic motivation or their motivation to do well and apply themselves in tasks.  When I think about the school-based aspects examined in the study, there are some that I participated in minimally some years, and more in other years.  I don’t recall any significant change in their motivation and performance in school regardless.  We also don’t have hard and fast rules for many of the “rules” examined in the study of the parent involvement aspects at home.  We also make efforts to let them lead in their own post-secondary plans.  It leads me wonder if our efforts to validate and understand something can complicate and/or lead to unnecessary questioning and examining of variables and correlations of data.  As the study stated, “The findings pertaining to parents’ involvement at home and at school are mixed.” (p. 69).  It was also suggested that, “Although the analyses imply that parental involvement significantly predicts the motivational outcomes, it is also possible that students who are more motivated elicit more involvement from parents”. (p. 71)

I also wonder if increased accountability for student achievement data has caused an increase in investigations of aspects of parent involvement that may not be necessary, or even obscure what is important.  What came first:  Valuing parent involvement or pressure to improve student achievement data?  A research summary from the Flamboyan Foundation states, “Though there is widespread consensus that family engagement leads to better student achievement and preparation for life, there is less agreement about the specific practices and strategies that are most effective.” This paper also mentioned the conflicting evidence about homework help.

When I reflect on the different ways that I have been involved and interacted as a parent with schools over the years, I honestly feel that my children would have conducted themselves fairly consistently, regardless.  And because we aimed to support intrinsic motivation at home, I seldom worried that the nature of my involvement would affect their motivation or performance in school.  We were never over-focused on the grades they achieved, so I did not worry if my involvement affected their grades either way.  I suspect that some many have assumed that I was involved to get my kids good grades – but so far from it!  I wanted to support them in all aspects of their lives and help their teachers and principals support them as individuals.  A recent Wall Street Journal article by Tony Wagner about his examination of what helped students become innovators caught my attention.  He interviewed innovators and their parents, teachers and employers.  He concluded that the most important research finding was that innovators are intrinsically motivated.  He also noted that his interviews with parents of today’s innovators revealed some fascinating patterns, “They valued having their children pursue a genuine passion above their getting straight As, and they talked about the importance of “giving back.” As their children matured, they also encouraged them to take risks and learn from mistakes.”  As Wagner concluded, “There is much that all of us stand to learn from them.”

So this brings me to a different question:  Do schools accept, encourage, and allow parents to support their kids in these ways?  Are we examining and communicating what supports these kind of things? Are we looking in the right direction?  I am not sure my own children will be “innovators”, but I do hope they can always respond and follow from what is within.