Understanding motivations of parents is key to getting them involved in school

iStock_000007173732XSmallParental involvement in children’s education repeatedly has been shown to influence students’ academic achievement and success, but many administrators and teachers are frustrated that they cannot connect with the parents of students who need help the most.

Two researchers at Vanderbilt University argue that if schools are to be more effective in reaching these parents they need to understand what motivates them to get involved.

The model developed by Kathleen V. Hoover-Dempsey and Howard M. Sandler focuses on three drivers for involvement:

  • Do parents believe they should be involved and do they believe they can have an impact (do they have a positive role construction for involvement and a positive sense of efficacy)?
  • Do parents believe the school, teacher and student invite their involvement?
  • Do parents’ life contexts allow or encourage involvement (e.g. do their jobs allow enough time and flexibility in their schedules for involvement)?

Researchers did a review of recent literature addressing these factors and found many studies to support the importance of these drivers. A study of Latino parents of elementary and secondary students found that parental role construction was the strongest predictor of involvement prior to parent education. Another study found that parents of high-performing secondary Latino students from migrant families believe they should be involved in their children’s education.

Recent research also supports the importance of self-efficacy in motivating parental involvement. A sense of self-efficacy can be described as the belief in one’s abilities to produce desired outcomes.

Some investigators have suggested that parental efficacy is related to other important parent attributes that influence student learning such as having aspirations for the child, confidence in the child’s ability to succeed, and a sense of empowerment in supporting the child’s educational interests in the school system.

Invitations from schools
Invitations from schools, teachers and students for them to be involved are key motivators for parents as well, the researchers say. Many recent studies have emphasized the importance of school climate or environment in getting parents involved in education. This is especially important in schools serving lowincome or socially marginalized families.

The school principal has a particularly important role in creating a climate that supports parental and community involvement. Invitations from teachers to participate in the students’ education are not only empowering, but they also frequently give parents information about how they can get involved. when parents were prompted to help by students and teachers than when parents were prompted by students only. (90% vs. 51%).

Parents less involved in higher grades
Children may make implicit or explicit requests for parents’ help. For example, if a parent knows that a child is having difficulty, that may motivate the parent to get involved. Students who act on teacher requests to seek parents’ involvement have reported positive responses to the experience of sharing learning with parents.

Parents’ perceived skills and knowledge play an important part in the decision to get involved, which is one reason parents get less involved as schoolwork becomes more complex in higher grades.

Finally, parents’ life contexts also affect their motivation to be involved.Schools that want to invite parents to get involved in learning need to be attuned to family socioeconomic status (SES) and family culture.

Training teachers to get parents more involved

“Many (parents) seen by schools as uninvolved are in fact involved, but in ways that schools do not notice or recognize,” says the article. While many teachers try to be sensitive to family socioeconomic status, the researchers state that it is more productive to focus on family resources because it is difficult to make generalizations based on socioeconomic status. For example, schools may incorrectly assume that lower-SES families lack requisite ability, interest, skill, time or knowledge.

The Elementary School Journal article includes a long list of suggested strategies to get parents involved. One major recommendation is to train teachers in how to involve parents in learning so that they, too, will have a greater sense of efficacy in obtaining participation by parents. “Schools may also empower teachers for involvement by making parental involvement a routine part of staff thinking and planning,” the article states.

“Why Do Parents Become Involved? Research Findings and Implications” The Elementary School Journal Volume 106 Number 2 November 2005

Published in ERN January 2006 Volume 19 Number 1

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