Dr. Dawn C. Wallin

August 20, 2014 7:58 PM



















































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































CHAPTER EIGHT: Parents and Families, Communities and Schools (5th Edition)


Jan and Gordon left the staff meeting together and walked down the corridor to the general office. Picking up a cup of stale coffee, they went into Jan’s crowded office, cleared off a couple of chairs, and sat down. At the staff meeting, Gordon, the principal of Fernwood Elementary School, had presented the board’s budget projections for the next year; they were going to require some cutbacks in staff positions. On top of these general cutbacks, the board had informed him that the funding for Jan’s position of community liaison worker would no longer be provided separately by the board, but instead would have to come out of the school’s general staffing budget.

Gordon had told everyone at the meeting that he would be initiating a series of discussions over the next few days with all of the staff before any decisions were made about the plans for next year. However, from the discussions that followed his announcement there emerged many different opinions among the group over staffing priorities. Furthermore, while Jan was a well-respected staff member at the school, it was clear that her position was, once again, in jeopardy. While Rina and Wayne, the early childhood teachers, had stated that they simply couldn’t run their program without her, other teachers had made their own claims for support positions, including instructional assistants for their classes, guidance teachers, and librarians.

“Well,” said Gordon, “this is going to be a tough few weeks. So what else is new! One of these years maybe we’ll get a budget that actually lets us do our job. You know, it’s ironic, we have built a program of parent and community involvement here that really works, and yet every year we’ve had to fight to keep the funding for your position. And without you, or at least without your position, it would be really difficult to do half of what we’re doing now. Even our own teachers, who know how important you are, still seem to see what you do as different from the heart of our job as educators. It says something about what we think schools are, and how children learn.”

“Yeah, we really do need the position,” replied Jan now. “You know, there are days when I really don’t think that I’ve achieved anything, but when you look back over what we’ve been able to put in place over the last five years, we do have something to be proud of here. The early childhood centre, the volunteer program, the preschool and before-and-after-school day cares, the job training programs, the parents’ association, and all the other stuff. You know we had over 100 parent volunteers in our school last year—that’s nearly a quarter of all students’ families. And it makes a big difference: the teachers appreciate the help, and they notice the positive effects it has on the kids when they see mums and dads working together with the teachers. But if individual teachers have to do all the recruiting, organizing, and coordinating on their own, it won’t work as well; they just don’t have the time to do it all, especially when there are problems to be resolved. And if the parents don’t feel that they are both welcomed and put to good use, they’re not going to keep volunteering. By the way, I need your signature on the funding application to the Phillips Foundation for our summer school program. That’s looking quite promising.”

At that moment, Rina and Wayne knocked on the open door and walked into the office. “ok,” Rina said abruptly, “we’ve got to get organized here. We can’t lose Jan, period. Our early childhood centre is absolutely essential to everything else that happens in this school, and we need Jan’s help to make it work.”

The centre, a large multipurpose room in the school, was funded by a special grant from the province and specialized in providing learning activities for children from birth to age 8. Its two full-time staff were also responsible for maintaining a drop-in centre for parents with infants, organizing play groups for preschool children and their parents, and co-ordinating the “book mates” home-reading program at the school. They also organized parent workshops and worked collaboratively with the primary-grade teachers to provide supplementary learning activities.

“And,” Rina continued, “if the Grades 5 and 6 teachers don’t see how vital these activities are, then we’ve got some consciousness-raising to do in the next little while.”

Gordon got up to leave. “OK, look, we’ll get back to this and keep talking. You know where I stand on the importance of parent and community involvement. You know, I think we really need to rethink the way in which most teachers and parents view each other. It’s so out of touch with the needs of schooling today. Perhaps it all has to begin with the faculties of education and the ways we train and socialize our new teachers.” 


In this chapter our use of the term ‘parent’/’parents’ is generally used as an umbrella term that needs to include other people who constitute the primary caregivers for children in schools such as grandparents, guardians, and sometimes elder siblings. This appreciation is central to the discussion of effective home-school relationships. Martin (2013) extends this in his summary of research by noting the importance of an emphasis on family-school partnerships (recognizing diverse family roles and structures) more than parent-school partnerships (which tend to have a more narrow focus).


It is largely taken for granted that families and schools are both primary institutions involved in the socialization and education of society’s youth; it is also well documented that home influences have a substantial impact on school success. But in spite of this intertwining of objectives, and the interactive effects of each institution on the other, the relationships between parents and teachers are most often characterized by distance and suspicion rather than close collaboration. Beginning teachers at all grade levels have ranked relations with parents as one of the most difficult aspects of their work, along with classroom management, student motivation, and responding to individual differences
For many years now in Canada, and internationally, there have been calls for a much greater degree of school-initiated co-operation and collaboration between parents and teachers. A growing body of research is being cited to support the assumption that teachers and parents are “co-producers” of student learning - that they share common objectives for children that are best achieved when they can work together. The first part of this chapter examines those issues with respect to the following questions:


1.         How do families affect school experiences and school success?
2.         How do families and schools normally interact?
3.         What models exist for restructuring parent–teacher relationships, and what claims are made to support them?


While parent/family and teacher linkages are important aspects of school life, and critical to the role of the teacher, there is a broader context to be considered. Families do not exist in isolation; they live with other families in groups that might loosely be referred to as communities. Several authors (e.g., Coleman, 1987, Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993; Robson, 2013) have drawn attention to the significance of community expectations and community “social capital” in the production of effective schools. Accordingly, in the second part of this chapter, we examine the relationship between schools and families in their capacity as communities.



We have suggested throughout this book that schools and classrooms/teachers are inextricably linked to the wider social settings within which they are embedded, and that the influences of these external realities invade the classroom in both obvious and subtle ways. The relationship between families and schools represents a critical element of that linkage, only a small part of which constitutes the formal and concrete interactions between parents and teachers.

Regardless of whether teachers commute considerable distances to school, arriving just before the start of the school day and leaving immediately after it is finished, or whether parents ever physically set foot in their children’s school, teachers and parents meet vicariously every day in the lives of students. The consequences of these invisible meetings have been shown to have profound influences on the type and range of experiences provided to students in school, and ultimately to contribute to their success in school. Peter Coleman, in an important Canadian book entitled Parent, Student and Teacher Collaboration: The Power of Three summarized well this pervasive but often invisible presence noting:

Within the classroom setting there are in fact three actors ever present—the teacher, the student and the parent(s), who are “present” in the sense that the beliefs, attitudes, and habits of mind of the family are thoroughly embedded in the mind of the child. The interactions amongst these three actors largely determine the student’s willingness and readiness to learn; predict student satisfaction and commitment to school and schooling; and hence largely shape both the attitudes towards school and learning, and the level of achievement of the child.…

Furthermore, these interactions are all alterable, largely but not exclusively through the initiatives of teachers. In general, educators hold decisive power in interactions with parents and students. Thus anyone who wishes to understand how and why children learn more or less in school needs to understand the range of possibilities within … [these] interactions. (Coleman, 1988, pp. 1–2)

Parents do many things that influence their children’s experiences of schooling: they feed and clothe them and deliver them to school (or to the school bus); they teach them many things before they enter school, and continue teaching them over the course of their school life. Parents also provide their children with educational resources, toys, books, computers, work space and educational experiences that complement school experiences. They monitor and support students’ work in school by reinforcing the importance of school success, by taking an interest in their children’s work, and by helping them understand the relationship between effort and outcomes. Parents also advocate on their children’s behalf in their dealings with the school asking for help, requesting particular placements and teachers, or even transferring their child from one school to another.

But “families” and “parents” cannot be treated as a monolithic mass with a common set of characteristics. In fact, the only characteristic they share is that they are responsible for children. Families vary markedly in terms of material circumstances, structure, and culture. As shown in Chapter Five, family income in Canada is distributed quite unequally; single-parent families headed by a female are particularly likely to have low incomes (more is said about these issues in Chapter Ten). These family circumstances do not define “good families” and “bad families.” Nor do they make children more or less intelligent or more or less educable. Nevertheless, they have been consistently shown to have powerful effects on students’ treatment and experience in school and on school outcomes.

A great deal has been written on how families affect educational outcomes. Much of this literature has attempted to link school success with particular family characteristics, and to explain school failure in terms of families that lack these desired qualities. This approach of defining students, and their families, by their perceived weaknesses rather than their strengths has become known as a deficit perspective (Gorski, 2008) or more broadly as deficit theory. It is prevalent and it is inadequate because, among other things, it leaves unquestioned the organization of schools, their curriculum and teaching practices; and it is particularly dangerous because it offers teachers a stereotype of students that encourages them to expect success from certain children and failure from others based on factors that have nothing to do with the abilities of the child.  In other words, it can result in ‘blaming the victim’ and lowering expectations for what children can do (Gaskell & Levin, 2012).

A more useful strand of the literature on school success emphasizes the relationship between families and schools. Reproduction theorists suggest that school success is closely related to the degree to which the culture of the home corresponds with the culture of the school. Each child brings to school knowledge, values, skills, and dispositions that are acquired outside of school, primarily through her or his family interactions. This cultural capital, they suggest, is differentially valued and rewarded by the school system, with schools possessing a systemic preference for dominant white, middle-class male values, language, and views of the world. The consequence of this world view is that children’s school experiences vary greatly. Children are labelled differently, exposed to different learning experiences and subject to different relationships with their teachers. In Canada this analysis has perhaps its sharpest illustration in the history of Residential Schools for Aboriginal students (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada http://www.trc.ca/) and is also central to much of the literature and reform initiatives of multicultural/anti-racist education (Dei & Calliste, 2000; Ghosh & Abdi, 2013; St. Denis, 2007) and gender inclusive schooling.

In their earliest expressions, these theories have been criticized for their overly mechanistic interpretation of the processes of schooling, and for failing to show in detail how this reproduction of the status quo could occur even when parents and teachers were committed to the success and well-being of all students. More recent work has given increasing attention to the details of life in schools, and to the recognition of schools as contested sites of cultural production. These analyses continue to illuminate the processes by which schools reproduce inequalities within the wider society. However, they go further in recognizing the very complex and often contradictory nature of students’ relationships, both with their teachers and their families; these analyses also argue that schools need to be recognized as potential sites of social transformation as well as sites of social reproduction Wotherspoon (2009).

A kindergarten art class, for example, might illustrate the ways in which educators may make very explicit assumptions about the work that the family (usually the mother at home) has already done. When children initially learn to paint they tend to mix paints indiscriminately. Red paint brushes are dabbed into a variety of other colours and the result of this cross mixing is that the paint is soon a uniform grey that is undesirable to both student and teacher. If a parent has done some prior work at home, such as instructing the child to “place paint brushes only in similarly coloured paint jars,” then one can proceed to other, more complex levels. If no one has given such instructions at home, the teacher must help develop the child’s skills until they reach this level. This, then become a point at which the trouble starts for children whose socio-economic circumstances make it difficult for them to meet the teacher’s expectations. Generally, the practices of middle-class parents tend to complement the work expectations of teachers, while the demands of child care, employment, and meeting basic needs with which less affluent families must struggle often conflict with the demands of teachers (see also Griffith, 1995). When observing differences in “who can draw” the teacher is really seeing differences in experience with drawing and not innate talent or ability. What is insidious about such a judgment, is that it can lead to formal and informal forms of tracking and stratification based on explicit and tacit labelling procedures. (This illustration is one originally provided by Anne Manicom and is cited in Olsen (1991)).

The research on schools and families concludes that families have a powerful influence over all aspects of children’s lives, including their experiences of schooling. This impact occurs irrespective of any formal interaction between parents and teachers, and can work to disadvantage or to assist students in their schooling. In examining the formal ways in which schools and families interact, and the ways in which such interactions might be expanded and improved, the theoretical perspectives introduced above provide a conceptual framework for raising important questions of power and participation: which parents are being involved, on whose terms and in what areas of school life, and with what intended and actual outcomes for which students?

BOX 8.1 School, Families, and Communities as Co-producers of Student Learning

Schools, families, and communities “coproduce” student learning. Those of us working in and about schools sometimes like to think, however, that our part of the production is the main action. Indeed, the relatively recent appearance in the media of school rankings according to student performance on province or state-wide tests even encourages us (and the public at large) in the belief that differences in the characteristics of schools are enormously important explanations for how well our students do.
While the work that occurs within the school’s walls is undeniably important, it would be delusional of us to believe that little else matters for a student’s success. Evidence from large-scale studies of school effects now suggest that differences in the characteristics of schools explains only 12–20% of the variation in students’ math and language achievement across schools. So what explains the rest? Well a pretty compelling body of research now suggests that families and communities are a big part of the answer—perhaps accounting for as much as half of the variation in student achievement across schools.

Besides wringing our hands in the face of such evidence, how should we respond? Hand wringing might be a rational response if we had to view what families and communities do as “givens,” things outside our influence. An increasing number of educators, however, no longer see families and communities in this light. Instead they work with families and communities to help ensure the best possible educational experiences for their students both inside and outside the school building. It would not be too extravagant to claim, in fact, that contributing to the co-production of student learning is one of the most promising conceptions of professional educators’ work, especially for those who teach younger students.

Source: Lleithwood, K. (2004). The road to success. Special Issue for Orbit, 34(3), entitled, "Schools, families and communities: Which relationships matter most?"



Despite the role that families play in promoting educational success, schools have generally made only limited attempts to develop structured links with parents, and home–school relations are often still characterized by a considerable degree of unease. There are several explanations for this. Traditionally, social scientists have pointed to the inherent incompatibility of families and schools as social institutions in terms of their goals, roles, and relationships. Within the family, children and adults form small and enduring social units that are characterized by highly personal and emotional bonds of dependency and support. These cohesive social units operate in marked contrast to the ways in which large numbers of students are required to relate to a relatively few teachers in schools and classrooms that are, more or less, bureaucratically organized, and where relationships are typically task-specific and sometimes impersonal. Given this incompatibility, it was argued that homes’ and schools’ separate purposes are best achieved independently, when “teachers maintain their professional, general standards and judgments about children in their classrooms, and when parents maintain their personal, particularistic standards and judgments about their children at home” (Epstein, 1986, p. 277).

A further barrier to parent–teacher collaboration is created by teachers’ long-standing ambition to be afforded the status and prestige of true professionals. Inasmuch as such aspirations are seen as requiring teachers to be the possessors of a unique and specialized body of knowledge that is unavailable to others, the pursuit of such recognition has the dual effect of both devaluing, in the eyes of the school, the knowledge that parents possess about their children and discouraging teachers from sharing their knowledge with “nonprofessional” parents, even though these are essential elements of meaningful collaboration. When this drive for professional status is placed within the context of the deficit view of “dysfunctional” families noted earlier it is hardly surprising that only limited effort has been made to develop broad-based initiatives that could transcend the structural differences that characterize families and schools, and work collaboratively toward commonly held educational objectives.

As a consequence, parent–teacher relations often remain poorly developed, left up to the efforts of individual teachers, reaching only some parents, and directed away from central issues of instruction and governance. The fact that any parent approaching his or her child’s school in Canada is still more likely to encounter a sign saying “All Visitors Must Report to the Office” than one that says, in several different languages, “Visitors Are Welcome” reflects both a continued sense of separation and the responsibility assigned to administrators to act as gatekeepers of access into the life of the school.

While parents may receive, usually via “pupil post,” a steady flow of communication from schools, this is generally a one-way flow of information that is far more likely to address basic administrative matters (field-trip permission slips, head lice, notification of an upcoming professional-development day on which students do not attend school) or public relations (publicizing carefully selected events and achievements in the school) than it is to invite a dialogue with parents on instructional issues. Report cards and parent–teacher conferences, while offering the possibility of actual information sharing and two-way communication vis-à-vis central issues of individual student learning, often fail to live up to this promise. These occasional and brief encounters are often ritualized and trivialized to the satisfaction of no one: teachers lament the fact that “the parents we need to see never come,” and those supposedly hard-to-reach parents feel that they are neither listened to nor heard.



Arguments in favour of greater parental involvement in schools, as noted in Chapter Two, include philosophical and political beliefs that participation in such a key social institution is essential to the pursuit of democracy; that public education is too important to be left solely to educators; and that without participation the interests of those currently less well served by public schools will not be improved. A more pragmatic political argument suggests that broad-based participation is essential as a way of mobilizing and maintaining public support for schooling in an era of fiscal restraint and shifting demographics (Corter & Pelletier, 2004).   While we believe firmly in the importance of all these arguments, another set of arguments that tends to be focused more narrowly on school outcomes is of primary concern in this chapter. In the past 30 years increasing amounts of research have been accumulated that support the assertion that student learning and success is enhanced when communities, families, schools, and students work together. Referred to by Joyce Epstein as a theory of “overlapping spheres of influence” (Epstein, 1987; Sanders & Epstein, 2000), the essence of these arguments is stated boldly by Berla (1991):

The research is overwhelmingly clear: when parents play a positive role in their children’s education their children do better in school. This is true whether parents are college educated or grade school graduates and regardless of family income, race, or ethnic background. What counts is that parents have positive attitudes about the importance of good education and that they express confidence that their children will succeed. Major benefits of parent involvement include higher grades and test scores, positive attitudes and behavior, more successful academic programs, and more effective schools. (p. 16)

Many such claims are made in the literature. Given what we currently know of the complexities of schools, and the failure of much hyped initiatives in education to deliver radical improvement, we should treat such claims with caution. For example, de Carvalho (2001) drawing on the reproductionist perspective outlined above argues that rather than promoting educational achievement for all, current parental involvement policies constitute the imposition of a particular, class-based, parenting style and intrusion into family life, and are likely to lead to an increase rather than a decrease in educational inequality.


BOX 8.2 Four General Findings from Research on Overlapping Spheres of Influence

Epstein and Sanders (200) offer four key findings from their reviews of the international research on overlapping spheres of influence that could guide future research:

  • Teachers, parents, and students generally have little understanding of each other’s interests in children and in schools.
  • School and classroom practices influence family involvement – where schools invest in practices to involve families then parents become more engaged.
  • Teachers who involve parents in the children’s education rate parents more positively and are less likely to stereotype families than other teachers.
  • Specific educational benefits from family involvement in their children’s schooling are linked to different kinds of involvement.

Source: Epstein & Sanders, (2000), pp. 288-9.




Collaboration among parents, families, and schools can take many forms; in fact, effectiveness is likely to be predicated on families being able to assume a variety of roles based on their specific needs and the particular conditions of each school. For many years, some of the most comprehensive research and writing in this area has been carried out  by Joyce Epstein with the Centre on Families, Communities, Schools, and Children’s Learning in the United States. In a classic article, Epstein (1995) suggested six main types of partnerships among parents, families, communities, and schools relating to

1.         parenting;
2.         communicating;
3.         volunteering;
4.         learning at home;
5.         decision making; and
6.         collaborating with the community.

            Each of these approaches is summarized in Box 8.3, and with the exception of issues related to Epstein’s category of decision making, which have already been discussed in Chapter Two, and issues of collaborating with the community, which are given special attention in the second half of this chapter, each is discussed briefly below.


It is not the task of teachers or schools to dictate to parents how to raise their children. Nevertheless, schools at all grade levels can play an important supporting role in helping families provide for their children’s health and safety, and the development of parenting skills that complement children’s growth and experiences in school. Examples of such activities might include the early childhood centre described in the prologue to this chapter; invitations to parents to join teachers for workshops on issues such as conflict resolution, adolescent relationships, learning styles, or peer tutoring; the operating of food banks or clothing exchanges through the school; or the use of community liaison workers to assist with the reception and settlement of new families into a school’s neighbourhood.


School–Home Communication
Expressed in simple terms, school–home and home–school communication refers to the need for schools to transmit messages and share meanings with parents about school programs and children’s progress. Such endeavours are rarely simple. In a few primarily rural settings large amounts of such communication still occur with relative ease and informality. Parents and teachers who share many common experiences and expectations of the school meet frequently and comfortably in their everyday lives in the community. Yet these circumstances are increasingly the exception. In an urban community, large schools draw students from geographically, economically, and culturally diverse neighbourhoods that are often quite distinct from those of their teachers. In such contexts, interactions do not occur frequently; nor can common experiences and expectations of schools be taken for granted. Effective communication between home and school is unlikely to occur unless it is formally initiated, promoted, and nurtured by the school. Today the phrase “hard-to-reach parents” is often used, but we also need to understand the parental perspective that defines the issue differently as “hard-to-reach schools.”

BOX 8.3 Epstein’s Framework of Six Types of Involvement and Sample Practices

type 1: parenting
Help all families establish home environments to support children as students.
sample practices
•     Suggestions for home conditions that support learning at each grade level.
•     Workshops, videotapes, computerized phone messages on parenting and child rearing at each age and grade level.
•     Parent education and other courses or training for parents (e.g., GED, college credit, family literacy).
•     Family support programs to assist families with health, nutrition, and other services.

type 2: communicating
Design effective forms of school-to-home and home-to-school communications about school programs and children’s progress.
sample practices
•     Conferences with every parent at least once a year, with follow-ups as needed.
•     Language translators to assist families as needed.
•     Weekly or monthly folders of student work sent home for review and comments.
•     Parent–student pickup of report card, with conferences on improving grades.
•     Regular schedule of useful notices, memos, phone calls, newsletters, and other communications.
•     Clear information on choosing schools or courses, programs, and activities within schools.
•     Clear information on all school policies, programs, reforms, and transitions.

type 3: volunteering
Recruit and organize parent help and support.
sample practices
•     School and classroom volunteer program to help teachers, administrators, students, and other parents.
•     Parent room or family centre for volunteer work, meetings, and resources for families.
•     Annual postcard survey to identify all available talents, times, and locations of volunteers.
•     Class parent, telephone tree, or other structures to provide all families with needed information.
•     Parent patrols or other activities to aid safety and operation of school programs.

type 4: learning at home
Provide information and ideas to families about how to help students at home with homework and other curriculum-related activities, decisions, and planning.
sample practices
•     Information for families on skills required for students in all subjects at each grade.
•     Information on homework policies and how to monitor and discuss schoolwork at home.
•     Information on how to assist students to improve skills on various class and school assessments.
•     Regular schedule of homework that requires students to discuss and interact with families on what they are learning in class.
•     Calendars with activities for parents and students at home.
•     Family math, science, and reading activities at school.
•     Summer learning packets or activities.
•     Family participation in setting student goals each year and in planning for college or work.

type 5: decision-making
Include parents in school decisions, developing parent leaders and representatives.
sample practices
•     Active PTA/PTO or other parent organizations, advisory councils, or committees (e.g., curriculum, safety, personnel) for parent leadership and participation.
•     Independent advocacy groups to lobby and work for school reform and improvements.
•     District-level councils and committees for family and community involvement.
•     Information on school or local elections for school representatives.
•     Networks to link all families with parent representatives.

type 6: collaborating with community
Identify and integrate resources and services from the community to strengthen school programs, family practices, and student learning and development.
sample practices
•     Information for students and families on community health, cultural, recreational, social support, and other programs or services.
•     Information on community activities that link to learning skills and talents, including summer programs for students.
•     Service integration through partnerships involving school; civic, counselling, cultural, health, recreation, and other agencies and organizations; and businesses.
•     Service to the community by students, families, and schools (e.g., recycling, art, music, drama, and other activities for seniors or others).
•     Participation of alumni in school programs for students.
Ssource: Epstein, J.L. (1995). School/family/community partnerships: Caring for the children we share. Phi Delta Kappan, 76(5): 701–12. Reproduced with permission.

D’Angelo and Adler (1991) refer to effective communication as “a magnet that draws together the spheres of influence that affect children’s lives: school, home, community and the peer group” (p. 350). They categorize such communication into written communication (memos, newsletters, report cards); face-to-face communication (conferences, home visits); and technological communication (recorded telephone or e-mail messages, computerized attendance callbacks, homework hotlines, and videos). Some schools have now begun to develop comprehensive strategies for home–school communication, making creative use of multiple forms of communication from each of these categories. In this process, the importance of carefully planned, ongoing, face-to-face interactions that begin early in a child’s school career (or even prior to the start of his or her formal schooling) is generally acknowledged. Such interactions have the most potential for establishing and nurturing personal relationships of confidence and trust, which can then be reinforced with other forms of communication.

Robinson (1994) expands the topic of home–school communication by reminding us that educators need to communicate effectively with all members of the public regardless of whether or not they currently have children attending public schools. To this end he suggests that we should think of at least six “sub-publics”: parents with children in the public school system; parents with only preschool children; nonparents under the age of 40; parents with children who have finished school; parents with children in private schools; and, nonparents over the age of 40. Based on his research in British Columbia, Robinson argues that each of these subgroups has quite different attitudes toward schooling and different interests in communicating with schools, which call for quite different communication strategies.


Involving Parents in Schools

Most schools, especially elementary schools, make some use of parents as volunteers, although these activities are often left to the initiative of the individual teacher and remain largely unstructured at the school level. A parent volunteer may work in specific classrooms as an aide to the teacher; in the library, cafeteria, or on the playground; or at special events such as field trips or fundraisers.

Working one-on-one with students as a teacher aide, in addition to enhancing the educational productivity of the classroom, has the potential to provide parents with teaching skills that may be directly transferable to their home situation and their own children. Furthermore, while it may be impossible for many parents to be in school during the day, the normal presence of parents in the school may have other substantial benefits. As Ziegler (1987) notes, “the presence of parents in the school not only provides more adults to teach reading or offer help and support to children but also transforms the culture of the school” (p. 34).

A key element in many efforts to develop parental involvement in the daily life of schools has been the setting aside of space in the building for a parents’ centre, which serves as a place for parents to meet and work, allows for face-to-face contact between parents and teachers, provides materials for parents to take home, and facilitates a substantial and coordinated parental presence in the school.

Distinct in several ways from the early childhood centre described at the beginning of this chapter is the parents’ centre at Ellis School in Boston (Davies, 1991). In developing the centre, a small classroom was set aside and furnished with adult-sized chairs and tables, a sofa, coffee pot, and hot plate; a telephone was another essential piece of equipment. The centre was staffed by two paid, part-time parent coordinators from the community. It acted as a focus for school, family, and community communication through a variety of means, including recruiting parent volunteers requested by teachers, organizing a small library of books and toys for children, providing English as a Second Language (ESL) classes requested by parents, and acting as a referral service for parents who needed help in dealing with social service and other agencies (Davies, 1991, p. 379).


Involving Parents in Learning Activities at Home

Aside from the initiatives to promote work with parents in schools, there are the school-initiated strategies, involving all or most parents, that attempt to increase the “educational effectiveness” of the time that children spend with their parents. Such strategies may include activities designed to reinforce general skills and behaviours such as study habits, problem-solving abilities, and conversation skills, as well as specific learning strategies that are closely linked to the work that students do in their classrooms.

Becker and Epstein (1982) identify a large number of such strategies, and classify them as follows:

1.         techniques that involve reading and books;
2.         techniques that involve discussions between parents and children;
3.         techniques based on informal activities and games;
4.         tutoring and teaching techniques; and
5.         formal contracts between parents and children.

Probably the most common and frequently evaluated forms of home-based learning activities involve parents, or other family members, reading to or being read to by their children in the early grades of their school careers. This is an approach that Ziegler (1987), after reviewing the research, concludes “involves little training for parents and is very effective in promoting children’s interest in reading and ability to read” (p. 18).

Initiatives such as these, though relatively common in the early grades of school, become increasingly rare as grade level increases. One reason for the decline is that parents tend to become less confident of their ability to help their children; as well, without direction and support from the school, such forms of parental collaboration tend to taper off and disappear (even though the research suggests that it can remain important to student learning). Quite a few provinces have now created materials to help parents in this way, including Manitoba and Ontario – these materials can usually be found on provincial websites.

BOX 8.4 Paths to Partnership: What We Know and Don’t Know

Joyce Epstein, co-director of the Center on Families, Communities, Schools and Children’s Learning, and Professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, suggests the following key themes from recent research on improving parent–school collaboration:

•     Programs at all levels reveal similarities between parents and educators where differences were once assumed. Parents and teachers are finding that they share common goals and need to share more information if they are to reach those goals.
•     Programs must continue across the years of childhood and adolescence. Educators … now recognize the importance of school–family connections through the high-school grades.
•     Programs must include all families, including those traditionally considered to be “hard to reach.”
•     Programs make teachers’ jobs easier and make them more successful with students.
•     Program development is not quick. Long-term and sensitive work is needed for real progress in partnerships.
•     Special grants have been an important catalyst in the United States for innovations in parent involvement.
•     Family–school coordinators (under whatever title) may be crucial to the success of programs to link schools, parents, and communities. Coordinators guide school staffs, provide in-service training for educators, offer services to parents, and perform other tasks that promote partnerships.
•     Parent centres in the school or in the community are important ways of making parents feel welcome.
•     Even with rooms for parents, practices need to emphasize reaching and involving families without requiring them to come frequently to the school.
•     Technology can help improve many types of involvement.
•     There are still vast gaps in our knowledge that can be filled only by rigorous research and evaluation of particular types of school–family connections in support of children’s learning.

Source: Epstein, J.L. (1991). Paths to partnership. Phi Delta Kappan, 345–49. Reproduced with permission.



Despite some of the claims of its proponents, parental involvement is not a simple remedy for all the criticisms that continue to be laid at the classroom door. In their review of parents and schooling, Flaxman and Inger (1991) remind us that efforts to achieve parental involvement may not always reach the parents who most need to be involved, may stress skills that parents may not want to learn, and may risk implying that school success is only for those children whose parents are willing to conform to the norms of the school (p. 4). Yet other research, summarized in Box 8.5, suggests that strategies that increase parents’ involvement in their children’s schooling can have a significant role in improving student achievement. This is particularly likely when strategies are a comprehensive, well planned, long term part of an overall school plan rather than a remedial strategy, and when they continue beyond the elementary grades of schooling. Comprehensive initiatives require school and school system support. Teachers can do a certain amount on their own to foster close relationships with parents, but substantial developments require additional resources for community—liaison workers (to provide in-service support and to facilitate collaboration), parent centres, and additional time for teachers to develop materials for parents. These special resources, though not substantial, are likely to be essential to any significant and sustained improvement in schooling. Flaxman and Inger (1991) offer something of a counterbalance to the parental involvement crusade when they conclude that

[it] is not an educational panacea. For children to be better educated and for schools to reform, many things also have to happen. We need to find the right ways to educate children for a changing economic and social world. We need to reassert the place of education in developing values and civil behaviour. And parents, or their substitutes, have to raise their children, who are, more than ever, on their own. To achieve better school systems, we have to re-create families and communities that are now seriously disorganized, in new forms that the changing times demand and for all social classes. Schools, in turn, have to become flexible enough to restructure and innovate and change old models and practices long proved ineffective—even if this means radical change in governance, curriculum, and professional training. Parent involvement is a tool for these changes because it is a mechanism that links society, schools, and homes. (pp. 5–6)

BOX 8.5 The Idea of a Community School

•     The Community School concept has its roots in community development ideas. These schools collaborate with community members to strengthen both the school and the community in which the school is located. Close ties to the community ensure that school programs reflect the cultural and socioeconomic life experiences of the children and youth who attend, and also are directed at meeting their unique needs.
•     Community Schools are characterized by the provision of at least some of the following integrated school-linked services to children and youth, and their families: education, health, social services, justice and recreation. The school is the most convenient site for the delivery of these community-based services.
•     Community Schools value community involvement to enable students to succeed. Parents especially are encouraged to share responsibility for the education of their children. Community School Councils are made up of representatives from the school, including students, and the community. This structure guides the development of the relationship between school and community, and creates the opportunity for community/school collaboration and participation in important decision making.
•     Community Schools focus on community development as well as school development. As well as programs for students, school facilities are used for community events, meetings and programs. Adult education activities and day cares are well suited to Community Schools and serve as examples of how community functions can be integrated into the school. An “open door” policy is evident in these schools.
•     Teachers’ roles are different in Community Schools. Teachers are compelled to interact much more closely with the community and various service providers. They are more integrally involved with the non-academic needs of children and youth. Teachers require in-service to prepare them to work collaboratively with non-educators.
•     Administrators play an important leadership role in Community Schools ensuring that decision making is collaborative and that power is shared with teachers, the Council, and other service providers.
•     Many adults are present in Community Schools on a daily basis, playing a variety of roles from providing services to acting as volunteers. Students have access to a network of adults who support their learning and development. These include a coordinator, teacher associates, nutrition workers, counselors and elders-in-residence.

Source: Saskatchewan task force on the role of the school. (2001, Feb. 28). Appendix 4: What is a community school? Final report to the Minister of Education, Government of Saskatchewan. Prepared by Dr. M. Tymchak, chair, and the Saskatchewan Instructional Development & Research Unit. Reprinted by permission of Dr. M. Tymchak.



The focus in this chapter thus far has been on the relationship between families and schools, and its importance in producing school outcomes. We now broaden our discussion to include a more extensive set of interactions that involve parents’ collective activities, as well as those of people who do not have children or whose children are not of school age. These people, living and working close to schools, are often referred to as the “community,” although, as will be noted shortly, a strong sense of community in public school neighbourhoods is a relatively rare occurrence today.

Coleman and Hoffer (1987), in their study of public and private schools in the United States, found that the community surrounding Catholic private schools constituted a very significant educational resource. These communities, with their social networks and common norms of behaviour, supported individual parents both in their interactions with schools and with the supervision of their children’s behaviour. Referring to this as social capital, Coleman and Hoffer note, “The feedback that a parent receives from friends and associates, either unsolicited or in response to questions, provides extensive additional resources that aid parents in monitoring the school and the child, and the norms that parents, as part of their everyday activity, are able to establish act as important aids in socializing children” (p. 7). Similar situations exist within the Canadian public school system, although they tend to be relatively uncommon..

In most public schools,  students are drawn from a geographically defined catchment area rather than from a true community in the sense described above. Rather than being supported by a closely knit social group that holds a common set of values and expectations, the public school has become a meeting place for a wide range of interests and loosely structured communities. Within such settings, students develop a peer culture that may work either in harmony or in opposition to the educational goals of the professional staff. In some schools, virtually all of a student’s relationships outside of the family are with other students in the school, while in other schools students may have a much wider set of relationships. Likewise, the norms of the student culture may be in harmony with those of the school or may serve to undermine them.



Calls for community schools that are more responsive to their communities come from many quarters and are driven by many different visions and expectations for schools, their clientele, curriculum, and governance and use a variety of different terminology including “full-service community schools”,  “hub schools”, and “wraparound schools” (Clanfield & Martell, 2010; Thompson, 2008; Tymchuk, 2001). Despite their differences, most share a desire to reduce the separation between school and community and between “school knowledge” and “real knowledge.”

Thompson (2008) makes the distinction between community education as a philosophy based on community involvement and lifelong learning that expands the traditional role of the school and creates a mutually interdependent relationship among home, school and community (p. 6) and community schools as the delivery system for achieving this philosophy. To this end, the school’s clientele may be expanded from the traditional school-aged cohort to include all ages, from prenatal and early childhood to adults, with the traditional school year replaced by a year-round program. In some jurisdictions, the community school has been able to provide, by means of collaboration between social services—social workers, guidance counsellors, health-care workers, teachers, and so on—multiple services that are essential in meeting the individual needs of all students in the school. An extension of this approach to community schooling is the recognition that in some—perhaps many—situations, schools may not be the best places for students to learn; the community itself may be the best classroom of all.

Perhaps the most comprehensive recent effort to develop schools as the centre of the community and as the hub of services and supports for the neighbourhood that it serves occurred in Saskatchewan in the early 2000s. From 1999-2001, a Task Force on the Role of the School, chaired by Dr. Michael Tymchak undertook a public dialogue across Saskatchewan that focused on the changing role of schools. The Task force recommended a creative new vision for schools called School PLUS that would see all schools in the province located within a nexus of governmental, third party, and community-based human service organizations. For a short period of time School PLUS was the centerpiece for educational innovation, but more recently it has lost some of its prominence in the province (Thompson, 2008). The Tymchuk report remains an important articulation of a community schools model and below in Box 8.6 and Box 8.7 are some excerpts from the Task Force report.

Today in Canada a number of provinces, including Manitoba, British Columbia and New Brunswick have Community Schools Programs but generally these have taken on a narrower agenda as initiatives providing additional resources to specific high need communities to implement community based supports for students.


BOX 8.6 Saskatchewan’s Vision of School PLUS

the task force on the role of the school
Historically, schools have been charged with responsibility for public education. Great vigilance must be exercised in the protection of this trust. Instead, for some time, we have been asking schools to deliver more and more services and meet more and more needs that “school” was never intended to meet. Yet, these needs of children and youth must be met and, more than ever before it makes sense to meet them in association with schools. The Task Force believes that the answer to this dilemma of the role of the school, and the apparent competition between public education and the other needs of children, should not be met by asking “schools” as they are presently constituted to do more and more but, rather, by creating a new environment altogether…. We have called this environment School PLUS.

We say “school” because we want to signal our determination to preserve the vital role of public education as a service for children and a sacred trust for society. As we move further and further towards the new environment, however, it will become clear that the “school” in School PLUS names a mission that has become contextualized in a wholly new way, one that centers on the needs of children and youth.

We say “PLUS” because the recognition of the needs of children and youth as presented in the school environment today requires much more than public education. Schools cannot provide all of the “much more.” Indeed, if we foist this expectation on schools we must expect serious compromise of its role as public educator. Nevertheless, we repeat, the needs are very real and it seems evident that a serious attempt to meet them must be made by society in association with schools.
We say “in association with schools” because, outside of the home, the school is the front-line human service agency; teachers see children every day, and for significant periods of time in the day. Within the realm of public agencies school is thus the most immediate and most natural context for addressing the needs of the whole child.

The Task Force sees the school of the future within a larger human service network. We see the School dedicated to public education; we see the PLUS providing an environment of other human service support for children and youth. School was never intended to meet the needs of the whole child and neither were any of the other human agencies. If, in fact, we want to meet the needs of the whole child in an integrated manner, then we will certainly need a new human services agency network; but for the “net” to “work,” the strands will have to be bound much more tightly together than they are now.

Source: Excerpted from Task Force on the role of the school, pages 44–45. Final report to the Minister of Education, Government of Saskatchewan. Prepared by Dr. M. Tymchak, chair, and the Saskatchewan Instructional Development & Research Unit, February 28, 2001. Reprinted by permission of Dr. M. Tymchak.


BOX 8.7 The Realization of School PLUS … What Is Different?

•     Schools Have the Capacity to Meet the Developmental and Learning Needs of Every Child and Young Person: Schools, assisted by a network of human services, provide the supportive environment needed to ensure the success of every child. Rather than require students to be school ready, schools are student ready.
•     All Schools Are Centres of Community, Open and Welcoming: Schools actively engage young people, family and community members as partners in program planning and problem solving. School facilities and expertise are key community resources and, in turn, community resources support the well-being and learning needs of children and youth.
•     Human Service Providers Work within Schools or Are Linked to Them: Schools serve as hubs for delivery of an array of services and supports to achieve learning excellence and well-being.
•     Teachers Are Able to Focus on Providing High-Quality Learning Opportunities: Teachers are key to ensuring high-quality learning opportunities for children and young people. School PLUS acknowledges that for teachers to work at the top of their craft, and for children and youth to focus on learning, they need ready access to services and supports.
•     Government Departments Collaborate More Effectively: New structures and processes, at provincial, regional and local levels, formalize and systematically advance collaborative planning and integrated school-linked service delivery.
•     Resources Are Realigned to Support School PLUS: Barriers are removed to make services more accessible and coordinated. Programs are realigned and linked to schools at the community level.
•     Outcome Measures Inform Continuous Program and Service Improvements: The increased use of assessment and evaluation information ensures that programs and services are of the highest quality.

Source: Government of Saskatchewan (2003). School plus at a glance. Retrieved from the Saskatchewan Learning website <www.sasked.gov.sk.ca>, june 13, 2005. Reprinted by permission of Saskatchewan Learning.


The connections between the world of school and the world of work have been an ever-present dimension of Canadian public schooling: schools are charged with the task of preparing society’s youth for adult life, and work—in its broadest sense—is an essential part of that life. At certain times in Canadian history, these relationships have been characterized by relative separateness, stability, and an absence of controversy. At other times, usually associated with economic upheaval, they have become highly charged and controversial .

In the last two decades or so, many Canadian business leaders, in step with their international counterparts, have come to see their interests closely associated with the ways in which schools contribute to the preparation of a skilled and competitive labour force and have sought a stronger role in influencing school programs. As a result of these sorts of forces, many school systems have established a wide range of school–business partnerships.

Efforts to create so-called partnerships cannot be viewed uncritically. Indeed, they have at times raised moral and ethical questions that go to the heart of the purposes of public education (Barlow & Robertson, 1994; Robertson, 1998; Taylor, 2001). The educative roles of schools are not always compatible with the corporate agendas of the business world; for example, businesses may want willing and compliant employees whereas critical thinking and challenging the status quo are important goals of education. Implicit in the term “partnership” is that benefits will accrue to all partners, and this makes it important that those involved in establishing such initiatives focus on the common ground where the benefits to student learning are clear and uncompromised. In 2004 the Canadian Teachers Federation and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives conducted a national survey examining the nature and extent of commercial activity in Canadian public schools and the extent to which public funding was being replaced by alternative funding sources such as school-based fundraising. The results of this survey are reported in their 2006 publication Commercialism in Canadian schools: Who is calling the shots.

Many school boards and teachers’ organizations have established policies, guidelines, and ethical standards for school-business partnerships. The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) notes:

In B.C. there has been a long-standing healthy relationship between the business community and public schools. Through business education, consumer education, and work experience, schools and teachers interact with local business people to build public support and help students understand business and the role business plays in the community (BCTF, 1999).

To support these arrangements and to see that they are consistent with the purposes of public schooling and do not take advantage of the captive market represented by students, the BCTF has developed its own set of ethical guidelines for school-business partnerships (see Box 8.8)

One form of partnership explored by some provinces has been the use of public-private partnerships (known as P3s) in the building of public schools (Babiak & Brown, 2001). Nova Scotia pursued this actively in the mid-1990s where the government entered into a number of partnerships with business consortiums for the building and equipping of public schools. Under these agreements new schools were built and operated by private businesses and leased back to the province. By the end of the decade, after a change of government, this process was, temporarily at least, abandoned in favour of traditional methods of public financing and management (Saulnier, 2008; Shaker, 2003)

BOX 8.8 The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation Statement of Ethical Standards for Education/Business Partnerships

1.   The partnership enhances the quality and relevance of education for learners.
2.   The direct and indirect impact of partnerships does not exploit the school or the students for material, ideological, or other advantage and has a positive impact on the student’s school or personal life.
3.   The partnership treats students fairly and equitably, including at-risk students and those who have less access to resources from family and community; business partnerships do not reduce corporate obligations to pay their fair share of taxes to support public institutions.
4.   The partnership does not increase inequality in the education system and resources derived from the partnership are administered centrally.
5.   The partnership provides opportunities for all partners to meet their shared social responsibilities towards education.
6.   The partnership is free from stereotyping and discriminatory practices against women, ethnic groups, First Nations people, and members of other groups who have been subject to inequalities.
7.   The partnership ensures that corporate logos do not appear in any educational materials or school buildings and grounds.
8.   Acknowledgement of each partner’s contribution is appropriate, and includes logos or other forms of organizational recognition only if agreed to by the school and its community, including students, staff, and parents.
9.   The partnership allocates resources to complement, not replace, public funding for education.
10. The partnership is developed and structured in consultation with all partners and respects the policies, procedures, and traditions operating in the school.
11. The partnership clearly defines roles and responsibilities for all partners and involves individual participants only on a voluntary basis.
12. The partnership does not conflict with teachers’ obligations under the BCTF Code of Ethics or provisions of a collective agreement.
13. Partnership performance is evaluated to make informed decisions on continuation of the partnership.

Source: British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (bctf). (1999). Guidelines for education/business partnerships and ethical standards for education/business partnerships. Retrieved from the BCTF website www.bctf.ca July 10th, 2014.


Educational research has provided compelling evidence to demonstrate the powerful effects that families and communities can have in promoting student success in school. In the light of this research, many schools have sought to find ways to build collaborative relationships with parents, individually and collectively, and to work toward realizing a true educational partnership between home and school. Such efforts have often involved a painful struggle to overcome deeply ingrained suspicions on both sides. Yet despite the fact that co-operation has often proven to be a fragile state of affairs, working effectively with families and the community remains one of the critical elements of the work of today’s teacher and school administrator. 



1.         Reread the prologue at the beginning of this chapter. Based on the information provided there and the material in the rest of this chapter, prepare a presentation by Gordon, the principal, on the importance of school–community relations to successful schools. Address it to either his staff, the school board, or the Faculty of Education.

2.         Parents who rarely attend parent–teacher conferences, or who do not interact comfortably with the school, are often referred to as hard-to-reach parents. We do not generally talk of hard-to-reach schools. List some of the ways in which schools might purposefully (or accidentally) discourage parental participation in student learning. How could these barriers be eliminated?

3.         Interview several parents of students in either an elementary or a secondary school. What kind of contact do they have with the school? Who initiates contact? How do they feel about their relationship with the school?

4.         Interview one or more teachers about working with parents. What do the teachers do to involve parents? What are their views about the value or potential of greater parent involvement?

5.         Study a local school to see what policies and practices it has in place with respect to parent and community involvement. How do these practices compare with some of those suggested in this chapter?

6.         Review one reading by a reproduction theorist. Do you find her or his argument about the schools as instruments of the status quo to be compelling? Why or why not?

7.         Outline the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of developing a “full-service” school and school system as proposed in Saskatchewan’s School PLUS vision. What sorts of services would you link to the school? Which would you not link? Why?

8.         You are part of a small committee of teachers and parents that was established by your school principal to improve home–school collaboration. Currently, there is little interaction in your school between parents and teachers, apart from one parent–teacher conference each year to discuss student progress, a steady flow of memos from the school to parents, and the very occasional parent conference to deal with the problems of individual students, usually related to discipline. Develop a proposal that outlines a rationale for increased collaboration (why you think it is important) and a one-year strategy for initiating a new collaborative relationship. What difficulties might you anticipate from parents or teachers?

9.         In the chapter, it was suggested that effective communication is easiest between people who share similar knowledge, experiences, and expectations of schools. How might class and cultural differences between teachers and families create barriers to effective school–home communication? How might these barriers be overcome?