Recently, Andrew Campbell (@acampbell99) wrote a post about five overhyped trends in education.  It was a great conversation starter and I encourage you to read it, as well as the comments it generated.  One of the “trends” he listed was parent engagement.

Here is Andrew’s section specific to parent engagement on his post:

Parent Engagement:

“Study after study has shown us that student achievement improves when parents play an active role in their children’s education, and that good schools become even better schools when parents are involved. It is recognized that parent engagement is a key factor in the enhancement of student achievement and well-being.” (The Ministry of Education)

What’s the Problem?

It’s important, in a general sense, that parents be as involved in education as possible, but things have swung too far. If you want to get money for something in education simply justify it as something that will increase parent engagement and the world will beat a path to your door. As a result parent engagement has become very poorly defined. What is “Parent Engagement”? In some cases it’s just helping your child to do their homework. Do we really need workshops and parent groups for that? Not all parents have the resources or opportunity to become fully ‘engaged’ in their child’s education and lots of students excel in spite of low or no parent engagement. We must be careful that in pushing the doctrine of engagement we don’t end up excluding large groups of parents.

I appreciated his thoughts and questions and he was agreeable to extending the dialogue on this to my blog.

I am often not sure what has been gained or who has gained in the conversations about defining parent engagement.  Has there been some value in pinpointing how it is different from parent involvement or advocacy?  It seems to me that different stakeholders will engage with parents differently or for different purposes.  Teachers often refer to parent engagement as teacher-parent communication.  Principals engage parents in a variety of ways and initiatives at the school level.  Boards, districts, parent committees, and trustees will also engage parents in various initiatives.  The common theme is often communication.  As I have referred to before in a guest post I wrote about principals involving parents, “Opportunity for 2-way communication often IS the parent engagement”.  Maybe that really is all it is about.  If information and communication are provided openly and transparently through various methods and avenues, parents can take what they need/want to engage further with their children and in the education system – they define their own engagement.  Maybe we don’t really have to know what it is supposed to look like, nor measure it.  As I referred to in my comment on Andrew’s post, what if the “vehicles” created to increase parent engagement have actually distanced parents?  Andrew also expressed a valid concern about the possible exclusion of large groups of parents.

Has parent engagement been poorly defined, or have we just been trying too hard to push an ideal of it and/or define it?

Your comments are welcome on Andrew’s blog post or mine.