In an article recently published in School Psychology International, John Mark Froiland of Purdue University explores parent involvement in student PK-12 achievement. He proposes a framework for schools to support parents to engage in practices that work.
Froiland describes empirically supported (as well as ill-advised) parental strategies linked to academic outcomes. He details the psychological elements underlying these strategies, including Beliefs, Expectations, Autonomy Support, and Relationships (BEAR) that parents can implement. He then explicitly addresses what schools can do to connect to parents more effectively.
Froiland highlights the research-indicated superiority of home-based parent involvement compared to school-based parent involvement in children’s learning processes. Many school-based initiatives designed to engage families in student learning to-date have been surface-level, unsustainable, and, when present, have focused on what parents and caregivers can do in their child’s brick and mortar learning environment (e.g., conference participation, volunteering, etc.).
According to Froiland, parent practices implemented at home (e.g., reading aloud and efforts to promote interest and autonomy in homework efforts) to support children’s school experiences have a more substantial impact on student progress. Yet, school initiatives seldom promote these home-based efforts.
Some of the specific strategies linked to favorable outcomes include engagement in home-literacy promotion throughout reading and related discussion with children (associated with reading and mathematics achievement and self-regulation), community excursions and immersion opportunities (trips to libraries, community centers, museums, etc. found to be associated with acquired knowledge and math skills development), support with homework that inspires motivation and independence, and reducing excess screen time to the detriment of reading and social connection. Although many factors influence the impact of these determinants of success, they have each been found to be at least somewhat influential to student outcomes.
According to a bioecological conceptualization, families and schools exert a major influence on child development, and the interaction between these systems is important as well. Parental actions substantially impact children’s experiences of anxiety, ADHD-type behaviors, social relationships, school-based achievement, and much more. However, caregiver approaches to child education vary cross-culturally and as a function of socioeconomic status, urbanicity, and various other factors.
The Beliefs, Expectations, Autonomy Support, and Relationships (BEAR) model was developed based on a review of the attitudes and beliefs that underly parents’ practices linked to PK-12 student progress and achievement outcomes.
The word Belief (B) is used in reference to the importance of parental beliefs in the value of child preparedness for school, belief in a growth mindset, and belief that parents play an influential role in student learning. Expectations (E) refers to sustaining a high standard for growth and achievement in children conveyed through the supportive promotion of intrinsic motivation instead of progress motivated by external rewards. Autonomy Support (A) refers to guidance towards success distinct from control and permissiveness – giving young people the tools to pave their own paths towards achievement. Finally, Relationships (R) relates to family-school relationships through positive communication and innovations in connection.
The BEAR acronym and associated principles apply to school systems and caregivers across diverse environmental and socioeconomic landscapes. However, among the potential issues (and opportunities for progress) associated with rolling out BEAR concepts to caregivers is a lack of channels present for solid communication.
Administrators, educators, and school psychologists (the target audience for Froiland’s article) often lack formal training regarding strategies to engage families. This article suggests that educational graduate programs don’t provide substantive course work in this area. Schools also assume a natural focus on what happens on school property than at both because pressures are high in this area and because it’s more manageable to control than other variables influencing achievement (e.g., home-based parent involvement in student learning).
“Without the systematic implementation of parent education in home-based parent involvement, the burden is on individual teachers to voluntarily invest extra time in helping parents to improve home-based parent involvement. At the elementary, middle school, and high school levels, relatively few teachers and administrators have adequate training on promoting parent involvement.”
Froiland describes how a lack of parent-school involvement is often misattributed to lack of interest, whereas studies investigating perspectives suggest otherwise. Some of the variables contributing to the nature and level of parent engagement include work schedules, transportation, and school accessibility, opportunities made clear and available by schools, and the quality of parent relationships with school personnel. Sometimes school efforts to connect with families are futile because they’re not based on what will appeal to and work for the families they target.
School psychologists and other school personnel can consider supporting families by shifting the focus from strategies to bring parents into the school building to provide ways to equip families with resources to promote learning and support from home when school is not in session. Brief parent training may be integrated in concert with other, pre-existing school events so as not to increase the burden of multi-day logistics and attendance, and outreach efforts could be solidified. Although not explored in Froiland’s piece, online shifts associated with COVID-19 precautions have opened doors to create connections between schools and families as well.
Parents who may have historically encountered barriers in accessing school-hosted engagement opportunities may benefit from changes to school structures for connection. School personnel may also benefit from training in the BEAR framework to creatively relay to families to support their PK-12 students.
“Whereas some parent involvement behaviors are more fruitful for young children (e.g., parent-child shared reading), all of the facets of BEAR can be applied from preschool to 12th grade. Namely, positive beliefs about learning, strong expectations for graduating high school or college, autonomy and relatedness support, and positive teacher-student relationships predict psychological wellbeing and achievement across the school years.”
Froiland, J. M. (2020). A comprehensive model of preschool through high school parent involvement with emphasis on the psychological facets. School Psychology International. https://doi.org/10.1177/0143034320981393 (Link)