Negotiating the Boundaries of Parental School Engagement: The Role of Social Space and Symbolic Capital in Urban Teachers’ Perspectives
by Tina M. Durand & Margaret Secakusuma — 2019
Background/Context: Research has documented the benefits of family and parental involvement in children’s schooling, both developmentally and across domains. Classroom teachers play pivotal roles in establishing and maintaining home–school partnerships because of their sustained contact with children. Despite this, few studies have examined empirically how urban teachers actually define their own roles in helping schools to connect with diverse families and, especially, the power asymmetries that exist between families, teachers, and schools themselves in a climate of increased accountability and scrutiny of urban public schools.
Purpose/Objectives: Using Bourdieu’s concepts of social space and symbolic capital, this qualitative study examined urban teachers’ perspectives on their roles in facilitating effective partnerships with diverse families and the ways that issues of power, authority, and the need for boundaries in home–school relationships were expressed in their discourse.
Setting: Data were gathered at four public schools in a major metropolitan city in the Northeast. All were racially/ethnically diverse (more than 50% non-White in all schools) and served high percentages of low-socioeconomic-status families.
Participants: Participants were 44 classroom teachers. All but two teachers were female; participants were racially diverse (42% White, 42% Black, 16% Latino/a) and had been teaching for an average of 17.25 years.
Research Design: Qualitative focus group interviews were conducted with teachers at each participating school site over the course of six months.
Data Collection/Analysis: Focus group data were analyzed using qualitative content analytic techniques.
Findings/Results: Analyses generated three themes that illustrated the powerful but contradictory positioning of teachers in facilitating authentic partnerships with families—(a) creating responsive relationships, (b) casting engagement as education, and (c) creating varied and tailored opportunities—yet also revealed teachers’ assertions of power and authority, most often expressed as a need for boundaries between home and school.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Findings support a progressive approach to family engagement and educator resistance whereby teachers engage in collaborative advocacy with urban families to reclaim the notion of teaching as a public service aimed at the promotion of equitable, accessible, and culturally responsive schools.
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