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Working together or working apart? An effective approach to parent-school relationships

Evgenia Theodotou

It is not a new argument that parents and family in general have a very strong impact on children’s cognitive and social performance. This argument originates back in the ecological theory of Bronfenbrenner (1979), who argued that a child’s ability to learn is dependent on the values that exist in the home environment. He also stressed the importance of consistency among school and home approaches to learning. Nowadays, researchers (see Al-Alwan, 2014; Rapp & Duncan, 2012) still highlight the fundamental role of the family in children’s learning by creating the foundation for learning. Considering this, a crucial dilemma is born for the practitioners of working together with the parents or working apart. A working together approach can be translated into a school-based involvement, which presumes that parents take part actively in the school decisions and activities. A working apart approach can be translated into a home-based involvement, which presumes parental engagement with their children in their home setting. Both have substantial benefits for children’s development and it is important to embrace both, especially in early years’ settings.

This can be implemented by developing a mutual community of practice in the school environment. A community of practice consists of a group of people who basically have common interests and passion over a specific area and interact frequently to exchange their knowledge and expand it. A mutual community offers/provides the opportunity to stimulate students to engage actively in the learning process and make them active learners. It is important to include everyone that plays an important role in students’ learning and especially the ‘important others’ who can act as facilitators. For this reason, the participants of any such community should be teachers, students, and parents as they can each contribute their expertise, knowledge, and role.

Parents can contribute to this mutual community of practice by working together with the practitioners and play an active role in the school activities, or by working apart and support students in their home settings. This decision will be made based on the available time and willingness of the parents. Either way, their effort should be highly recognised by practitioners.

This mutual community of practice should have stimulating characteristics that would make the students want to participate freely, without considering this as a formal external expectation. A very important parameter for success is to give students the leading role in the teaching and learning process and to allow parents to engage in this process by providing their support when needed. A good way to implement this is to allow students to decide their own learning goals and manage their progress. In this practice, teachers can act as facilitators to empower students to reach their goals and parents can act as co-participants in the learning environment with their actual physical presence in the school or by supporting students at home. In practice, this could take place using the following general principles:

  • Establishing a good relationship from the beginning of the school year.
  • The teacher using the available tools and resources to organise a lesson plan which is based on students’ interests and engage parents in playful activities.
  • The teacher discussing with the parents about the students’ special interests and needs.
  • The teacher setting a range of learning goals (core and optional) that are relevant to the subject area of the module and organise them into groups and in a hierarchical order.
  • Each student selecting the learning goals of each group. The student should be guided to meet all the core learning goals and some of the optional ones. They will decide the order they want to achieve them in each group and suggest the activities they need to do to meet them.
  • To meet every learning goal, the student should engage with their parents and their teachers to gain the information and support they need.
  • Upon every effort, the student should report on their progress on a rubric and ask for feedback for improvement from the teacher. The parents can comment on this by giving extra motives.


Al-Alwan, A.F. (2014). Modeling the relations among parental involvement, school engagement and academic performance of high school students. International Education Studies, 7(4):47-56.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Rapp, N. & Duncan, H. (2012). Multi-dimensional parental involvement in schools: A principal’s guide. International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, 7(1):1-14.

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