It has long been held that building strong family-school relations is necessary to improve the academic achievement of students. Not surprisingly, this has resulted in expectations of family involvement that are typically school-centered. When families do not engage in such school-based routines such as Curriculum Nights, parent-teacher conferences, field trips, etc. they may then be seen as deficient and as lacking the resources to support their children’s school performances. This model of partnership as a neutral terrain, however, does not consider the unequal experiences of families, especially working-class families and those from linguistically, ethnically and racially diverse backgrounds.
Families of students with disabilities also constitute a form of “difference” within schooling systems, though their experiences may be also based on racial, ethnic and class differences from the teaching staff. While some parents of students with disabilities have adopted an assertive model of “involvement” in order to obtain services for their children, there remains many families of students with disabilities who experience the same disconnect from schooling structures shared by working-class families, families of color, and families from a variety of linguistic and ethnic backgrounds. For families with children with disabilities, the importance of a home-school connection is even more important, as such communication may improve the use of assistive communication devices across both settings, the establishment and maintenance of predictable routines for social, emotional, and behavioral support, and for continuity of academic support programs.
Working with families as an inclusive practice means moving beyond the school-centered model for family involvement. Rather than expect parents and families to meet the school on its terms, it requires investigating approaches for school involvement that are accessible to and would best serve the families. It means seeking to build and strengthen connections between school and families/community agencies when working with our most vulnerable and marginalized students.
To move beyond the school-centered model for family involvement, consider the following:
- Understand the ways in which your school works with families and the community
- Interview families for their perspectives on the school and their children’s education
- Use your knowledge of family and community needs to influence family workshops and curriculum choices
- Avoid a deficit approach to family involvement and rather consider what obstacles might be in place to prevent or discourage family involvement and how you or your school might think differently about reaching out to parents. Consider the obstacles and consider alternate routes.