Turning parents from critics to collaborators, from spectators to effective team-players, and from external evaluators to partners, implies developing mutual empathetic understanding. A generational-friendly approach can provide tips and solutions for better home-school partnerships and increased academic results. But let’s start at the beginning: Do we mean the same when we refer to parental involvement and engagement?
The answer is not quite so. Whereas family involvement implies ‘doing to’—i.e. schools telling parents how they can contribute (projects, volunteer work, homework help, etc.)—engagement implies a more committed type of bond: ‘doing with’. In other words, engagement implies listening to parents’ needs and concerns about their children’s education right from the start and making joint decisions. And, as in true teams, together everyone can achieve more.
How can generational theory help at school?
Generational trademarks may lead collective parental behavior as we experience it today. This form of ‘being with others’ was first described by Hungarian sociologist Karl Mannheim (1928) who defined a generation as ‘a group of individuals of similar ages who have been influenced by the major historical events of an era’. Parents share generational traits that give them a sense of belonging and that may lead them to interpret phenomena in specific ways. As Lovely (2007) suggests, parents can be portrayed according to ‘generational trademarks that drive their behavior and daily interactions with school staff.’
It must be borne in mind, though, that generational mindsets describe large numbers of people but they may fail to predict or explain how any individual person will behave (Shaw, 2013). Generational descriptions provide an overall picture of common group characteristics without aiming at making individual self-portraits (Abrams, 2014). Therefore, the collective description that follows may not directly represent that mom or dad you will meet in a parents-teacher conference today. Yet, mathematical chances remain high so, in Gen-X-style, be prepared. Just in case.
Profiling Generation X Parents
Generation Xers were born between 1965 and 1976 and are relatively a small generation due to the impact of birth control methods (the pill, for instance) and the legalization of abortion in some countries. The socio-economic context and formative international influences that affected this cohort were the end of Cold War, the Fall of Berlin Wall, Pope John Paul II and President R. Reagan’s shootings, the AIDS pandemic, the Challenger Tragedy, Chernobyl, Jonestown mass suicide, MTV, and Sesame Street, among others (Erickson, 2010). There were specific markers in Latin America, where Gen Xers faced the social turmoil of the ’70s, military governments, and geopolitical conflicts.
Xers are profiled as flexible and creative, entrepreneurial, pragmatic and self-sufficient. They consider themselves world citizens and seem to be more tolerant than previous generations of parents, what might favor inclusivity. Having used video games for entertainment, Gen Xers feel comfortable with technology and embraced it for work, communication and pleasure right from the start. They are generally quick to react with unexpected events and may be ready to start from scratch in case of failure. This so-called ‘video game approach to life’ or mentality may impact upon home-school relations and may drive parents to change institutions when problems crop up instead of facing them in search of solutions.
On the negative side, Gen Xers are stereotyped as slackers and pessimistic with a tendency to speak their minds and question authority figures. Individualistic, inherently skeptical and cynical, they may prefer their children to work solo or approach schools in an ‘I-know-how-to-do-it’ mood that may pose an extra challenge to teachers and heads. Again, this perception of school reality has deep roots in their social markers, so wearing parents’ generational lenses may reduce conflicts and increase synergy.
Gen Xers may behave as ‘helicopter parents’ and are stereotypically profiled as fly-overs and swoop-ins. They may either micromanage what kids can do on their own or completely delegate their parental tasks to a panel of experts (psychologists, psychopedagogist or tutors to mention but a few) who are hired to cater for their kids’ most varied needs. Being explicit about the expected parental performance through clear school rules leads to healthier home-school bonds. And expect your interlocutors to interpret the terms flexibly!
3 Fail-Proof Tips to Increase Parental Engagement:
Firstly, building Xers’ trust is directly related to accountability. Allowing easy access to school curricula, methodology and even teachers’ credentials may grant better parental disposition to work in partnerships. Gen Xers’ see feedback as a necessary form of positive reinforcement and may solicit it regularly. Additionally, they may be prone to give their own feedback, generating resent and uneasiness in certain ambits. Do not get surprised if this generational trait becomes evident in your institution and be ready to give and receive feedback on equal terms.
Secondly, Xers learnt from early infancy that there are more options than plain black or white and that even the strongest institutions could fail. They developed coping mechanisms in the shape of B plans and learnt to reboot if events did not unfold as expected. Measures such as predicting in advance, providing timely support before difficulties arise and taking action before exam time, also foster commitment. Golden rule to see Gen X parents at their best is: ‘Make sure report cards do not announce what has not been informed somehow ahead.’
Thirdly, Gen. Xers express a strong desire for work-life balance and so they tend to parent putting time with family above challenging work or other priorities or obligations, such as the rigid school calendar or school timetables. Therefore, promoting family involvement through a flexible approach is a school’s best way to create a generationally inclusive climate. A mix of real and virtual encounters may provide opportunities for channeling parental interests and needs successfully. Setting important dates well in advance also helps: the sooner, the better.
It may fail, but …
Partnering with parents involves planning different pedagogic agreements while imagining different learning scenarios. To cement healthy, profitable home-school connections, educators need to look past their own generational filters in search of increased parental engagement. Understanding collective patterns may help educators build stronger school-family bonds in favor of students’ learning. After all, parents are schools’ first and most important partners when aiming at student success.
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