Building School and Community Partnerships Through Parent Involvement
reviewed by Robert L. Crowson - 2001
Title: Building School and Community Partnerships Through Parent Involvement
Author(s): Kay Wright Springate and Dolores A. Stegelin
Publisher: Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs
ISBN: 013520545X, Pages: 339, Year: 1999
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At the conclusion of a long career in rural education, David J. Malcolm wrote a series of full-of-advice letters to his daughter. His daughter was just entering the teaching profession at that time (early in the twentieth century). Later, in 1927, Malcolm’s collected letters to his daughter were published. Many of the letters addressed interactions with parents and the community. These ranged from just what to do to get folks together around schoolhouse issues, to how to advise parents on matters of their children’s education (including meals, playtime, homework, and even table manners), to just what are the teacher’s rights and responsibilities vis-à-vis parents and the community.
It was not David Malcolm’s message, however, that captured the educational profession through much of the remainder of the twentieth century. Much more attention, over time, has been given to the warnings of Willard Waller (1932)—who instead urged that a clear distinction must be established between school and not-school; and there must be a decided distancing of the professional educator from all parental intrusions or community pressures.
Interestingly, it has only been in recent years that educators have been returning to Malcolm-like advice—with a new emphasis upon partnering with parents, cultivating parents, joining parents in child advocacy, and involving parents directly in matters of classroom instruction. One of the best of the recent efforts to be quite specifically helpful, with some extremely practical suggestions for teachers, is the work by Kay Wright Springate and Dolores Stegelin.
The authors pack a great deal of "coverage" into an extremely well-organized text, but sacrifice depth in the process. The book hangs together well around the organizing theme of assisting teachers in an outreach to parents, using a conceptual framework drawn heavily from Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theorizing. Early-childhood and elementary schooling are the prime referents for the two authors in any literature-reviewing; and, accordingly, most of the book’s well-thought-through sets of activities and resources for teachers focus upon the preschool and primary years of education.
Quite a number of the chapters (in what might be considered a key strength of the book) deal with important contextual forces in the parent relationship. Included are chapters profiling the American family; examining a history of families and childhood; presenting cross-cultural issues in the school connection; treating school linkages for children with special needs; and discussing the children of divorced, adoptive, and "alternative" families (e.g., gay or lesbian households). Each treatment of special context includes an informative set of chapter-ending activities and thought-provokers for just that particular complexity in the parent-involvement connection.
However, despite its broad coverage, there are some disturbing gaps in the authors’ approach to the notion of the school and community partnership. One sizeable gap is a lack of attention to the basic idea of "the partnership" itself. An extant literature suggests that while weak partnerships abound, strong ties can be maintained only with very frequent interaction and a genuine liking and intimacy between the partners (see, Kraatz, 1998). Partnering between professionally trained educators (with their arcane array of coded wordings and behavioral scripts) and the non-professional parent (equipped often with less "sophistication" and a substantial cultural divide)--is not uncommonly constrained by these (often vast) differences in background and perspective. Beyond some under-explained suggestions for involving/informing parents and explaining the school’s special terminology to parents (p. 319), there is little in the Springate and Stegelin volume that goes deeply into what it really takes to create a parent-involvement partnership.
A second, and related, gap is an extremely heavy focus throughout the book upon the family as partner—to the relative exclusion of school collaborations with other, important local institutions. As Dryfoos (1999) has recently noted, the out-of-school time of the child is now increasingly in the hands of such non-parental groups as neighborhood churches, Boys and Girls Clubs, daycare centers, public libraries, parks departments, community organizations, and (with after-hours efforts) the school itself. With family lives becoming increasingly hectic, much successful partnering in the interest of child-development might well be productively directed toward a far larger arena of caregiving than just the parent. Indeed, although Springate and Stegelin do draw upon the ecologizing of Bronfenbrenner (as noted earlier), they fail to go sufficiently ecological in their strategies for collaboration.
Nevertheless, there’s a useful, practice-oriented, and down-to-earth book about the parent-connection to be found here—in an area of professional activity wherein both classroom teachers and educational administrators remain woefully under trained.
Dryfoos, J.G. (1999, Fall), "The Role of the School in Children’s Out-of-School Time," The Future of Children, 9(2), 117-134.
Kraatz, M.S. (1998), "Learning By Association? Inter-Organizational Networks and Adaptation to Environmental Change," Academy of Management Journal, 41(6), 621-643.
Malcolm, D.J. (1927). The Letters of a County School Superintendent to His Daughter. Chicago: Benj. H. Sanborn.
Waller, W. (1932). The Sociology of Teaching. New York: Wiley.