Russell Quaglia makes an important distinction about the concept of student voice. He notes that equal in importance to asking and listening to students is what happens next—the engagement of teachers and students in meaningful dialogue and then working together to allow students to see tangible results of their inclusion in the process which helps to form a “collaborative community of learners.” It seems, then, that promoting student self-efficacy is an essential ingredient in creating schools in which all children thrive.
The same can be said for parent voice as well. Families that believe they can make a positive difference in their children’s educational lives are said to have a high level of efficacy. Parental efficacy simply means that parents possess the skills, abilities, and resources to parent effectively and improve the family’s school and community; or that they are empowered to produce a positive effect on their child’s educational outcomes. This last idea connects the concept of parent voice to student learning and experiences in school.
Noted psychologist Albert Bandura said, “Self-belief does not necessarily ensure success, but self-disbelief assuredly spawns failure.” Families who believe they can support and nurture learning in tandem with their school are at a much higher level of efficacy than those who believe they cannot—or worse, that their child’s school is unfriendly and unwelcoming to their involvement. Parent voice is enhanced and becomes part of that collaborative community of learners when schools promote the efficacy of parents as they do their teachers, leaders, and students. Without the promotion of parental efficacy by the school, parents are left to different means of gathering information or making their opinions known and often the results cause a further divide between homes and schools.
So How Can We Promote Parental Efficacy?
Research has shown that school perspectives often make a dangerous assumption: Children do not succeed in school because their families do not support the efforts of the school to educate their child. There is a strong correlation between student success and family engagement; however, there is no correlation between family disengagement and apathy. Every family, regardless of who they are, has the same desire—that their children exceed them in their quality of life.
Fears, parental education levels, language, economic hardships and family structures all play a role in the type and frequency of family engagement. Believing that every family cares about their children and wants what is best for them is a great first step for any school to leverage efficacy and develop voice. Recognize every family as essential to the learning team of every student. Encourage, welcome and value their participation. Understand that every family holds the same distinction: they are the first and most influential teacher of their children.
Three Ideas to Build Upon
The Five Simple Principles to Engage Every Family™ include the important notion of parental efficacy. The following three statements are guiding practices to promote efficacy and develop parent voice:
- The school makes a conscious effort to educate families to play a proactive role in the school life of their children throughout their school career.
- Families participate in the development of the student’s learning plan, help assess progress, and provide support for their children’s learning.
- Teachers suggest mentoring possibilities for families and use their local knowledge, personal skills, assets, and networks in ways that support the school’s program.
While I understand these are large and lofty statements, they can be a catalyst for great discussion about strategies to employ. Use the statements above to create goals and actions that enhance parental efficacy which in turn leverages parent voice in learning. Commit to using some professional development time this summer and next year to think about these statements and discuss schoolwide promotion of the ideas.
Practices that promote parent efficacy are grounded in student achievement and parent participation data and are action-oriented, allowing parents to participate in learning and then transfer knowledge to their children. Parents are motivated when they believe their children’s school values their participation and will change their own perception of their ability to help their child.
With the promotion of parent efficacy leading to parent voice, that collaborative community of learners that Russ talks about just got bigger and better.