Revisioning Parent Engagement in high poverty contexts

Year: 2016

Author: Woodrow, Christine, Skattebol, Jen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Images of families living in high poverty contexts as either disengaged or ‘hard to engage’ are pervasive in educational discourse and in social policy. These images tend to resource research which seeks to explain parents’ participation in their children’s education through psychological, individualised frames and lead to the production of generalised strategies that tend to objectify families as problems to be solved. Whilst there is growing awareness that strengthening parents’ engagement can enhance children’s learning achievements, sense of wellbeing and connectedness (Pomerantz et al., 2007), the research literature base in Australia is small and emergent, and typically reflects either an institutional results/reform or an individualist/psychological lens. Similarly, there is a tendency for ‘models’ of parent engagement to reflect white middle class families (Baquedano-López et al., 2013). This suggests the need for research that engages with the materialities and affective atmospheres of contemporary Australian family experiences of poverty and the voices of parents.This paper presents motifs from 3 separate research projects that seek historical, biographical and ethnographic understandings of families’ engagement with schooling systems. Our analysis highlights broader issues of parental experiences of their children’s education in order to problematise prevailing notions of parent engagement for families in high poverty contexts. Across the projects, clear themes emerged that inform the formation of different perspectives on parent engagement and may lead to alternative approaches in conceptualising policy and practice. Some of these themes include legacies of institutional failures, communication issues (mixed messages about role and degree of welcomeness in the school environment), the multiple, intersecting cascading effects of family and economic pressures, pressure on schools (resourcing and performance), and lack of knowledge and training about the contemporary experience of economic hardship and social isolation and disadvantage. The analysis canvasses the complex landscape of high poverty/ marginalised communities through the voices of parents and educators.The paper concludes by offering future possible trajectories for research, policy and practice that have emerged from the analysis.ReferencesBaquedano-López, P., Alexander, R. A. & Hernandez, S. J. (2013). Equity issues in parental and community involvement in schools: What teacher educators need to know. Review of Research in Education, 37, 149–182.Pomerantz, E., Moorman, E., & Litwack, S. (2007). The how, whom, and why of parents' involvement in children's academic lives: More is not always better. Review of Educational Research. 77, 373. doi: 10.3102/003465430305567