Let's be honest: many teachers probably see parents as a necessary evil. After all, who is the expert in a school? The teacher, of course! Parents can be tolerated if their involvement amounts to a couple of ten minute interviews at parents' evenings, and to help enforce school discipline.
A more enlightened attitude leads to the professional educator acknowledging that the parent is, almost certainly, a better expert when it comes to their own child. In such cases the parent may be thought of more as a client or customer, in these days of pseudo-business language creeping into the school lexicon.
In a sense, though, you could argue that while the latter, hopefully more prevalent, way of thinking is more welcome than the former, it is merely a better aspect of the same phenomenon. That is to say, the paradigm which sees the parent as there to be “done to” rather than “done with”, in which even consultations with parents are discussions about what the school wants.
Now, I don't wish to put words into the authors' mouths, but it seems to me that that is the nub of their distinction between involving parents and engaging them. Engagement puts the parent on at least an equal footing with the school. Whilst parental involvement is about how to get parents signed up to school values and projects, engagement is more to do with finding common ground, of finding projects that the parents, the community as a whole, have identified as being necessary and desirable.
The book has a number of plus points. It features inspiring case studies, but it also puts great store by practical advice: this is not simply about having a vision. It also includes an extensive resources section. Unusually, the case studies are varied, and at least one should strike a chord with the school community or parent liaison officer.
On the other side of the balance sheet, the book has one or two confusing sentences. For instance, was the Sacramento parent visit training 3 hours long or 4 hours?
More seriously, all the examples and resources are from the USA. Now, the principles described can be applied, with some adaptation, to anywhere probably. However, any educators outside the USA will have to do their own research to find out their national equivalents of the agencies cited -- and, indeed, if they even exist. This is a pity because it limits the potential usefulness of the book. On the other hand, restricting the size of the book has ensured that it not only inexpensive, but manageable: I read it and made notes on it in just a couple of hours.
A serious (from my point of view) omission is the lack of reference to the use of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs). In the UK, and parts of Europe, one of the key potential benefits of a VLE is to enable parents to become engaged with the school. This is at an early stage in many schools, with the VLE being used to enable parents to see school notices, their child's timetable and examples of the child's work. In more advanced schools, parents can comment on their child's work, and view the teachers' comments. I was rather hoping that this book would offer some practical advice for going up the steps of this particular ladder. Alas, the book doesn't cover it at all. In this respect, I found it disappointing.
Nevertheless, all is not lost. One case study that will be of interest to ICT/Technology Co-ordinators is the Home-School Technology programme. The UK has enjoyed a national home access programme, but this was largely about providing individual families with hardware and internet access. The scheme described in the case study was about that, but in one respect went further: it encouraged families to communicate with each other via their computers, and for family members to help each other.
It may be that the challenges addressed by the case study project are too particular for the solutions adopted to be applicable very widely. In particular, poverty and poor English is not known to be conducive to high educational engagement and attainment. But I know there are localities in the UK where the same unfortunate circumstances exist, and the schools in such areas may well benefit from reading this case study even if the others were ignored.
On balance, I would say that this book is worth reading. The general principles put forward make good sense, and the Technology study alone makes it good value for money for the ICT leader.
To purchase the book, click here: Building Parent Engagement in Schools, by Larry Ferlazzo and Lorie Hammond