The importance of the parent and school relationship

December 11, 2018
By Jane Macleod, Senior Manager, Research and Records

Nothing About Them, Without Them–a local learning coach subscribes to this philosophy when advocating for parent engagement opportunities within her school division. Certainly, research supports the fact that parent engagement in their child’s education matters. 

Robert Marzano, well respected for his research on effect sizes and student achievement, concluded “33 per cent of the variance in student achievement could be predicted by factors related to students’ home environment.” Closer to home, Sarath Peiris, a University of Saskatchewan research director, references professor Debbie Pushor who asserts, “we have five decades of research that show students do better academically, socially and behaviorally when parents are engaged in children’s learning.”

Without a doubt, when school leaders invest time and energy enhancing parent and school relationships, this is time well spent. However, a couple of questions arise. Are some kinds of parent involvement more effective than others? If so, what kinds of parent engagement/involvement have the most significant influence on student success and achievement?

Currently, parent engagement takes a variety of forms in schools across Saskatchewan. Parent involvement in classroom or school events such as field trips, theme celebrations or learning exhibitions are valuable in that these events familiarize parents’ understanding of their child’s learning activities. Similarly, many teachers create opportunities for parents to engage in classroom activities (e.g., listening to student reading, helping with art activities). 

Ensuring that parents are fully informed of what’s happening in the school and classroom is important and Saskatchewan schools have developed some very creative ways of keeping the lines of communication open with the home. Blogs, websites, conferences (either inside or outside of the school), notes and journals all send the message that the school recognizes parents as part of the students’ learning experience.

However, when looking at the different kinds of parent engagement, William Jeynes’ 2011 research is interesting. Jeynes’ meta-analyses of research on parental involvement identified “parental communication of high expectations” as having the most significant effect on student success and achievement. What is significant here is that this less obvious form of parent influence was found to have a greater influence than any other parent behavior, including supervising homework or participating in school activities.

This is not to say that the many other ways schools engage with parents are not important. The essential elements of open and ongoing respectful communication, and a shared concern for and commitment to student well-being and success, also have a positive effect on student success. 

Research also tells us that successful relationships with parents don’t just happen through formal conferences or events. Jeynes’ research invites school leaders and teachers to seek out new ways to engage parents in conversations about how teachers and parents can work together to help students internalize high aspirations for themselves. Such interactions enable teachers and parents to acknowledge the expertise and gifts of both roles and to create a relationship that supports the student and his or her learning success.

The adage, Nothing About Them, Without Them, rings true in the research. Henderson, Mapp and Johnson (2007) tell us that all families want the best for their children and for them to do well in school. Therefore, schools that prioritize efforts on inviting parents to share their expectations, hopes and dreams for their children send an important message–parent engagement matters.