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Parents as Partners in Education

written by Andrea Frank 14 July 2016
Parents involved in maker ed

Andrea Kane Frank, MS, LCPC, CAPP, is a wife and mother who focuses on the flourishing of families (her own first) and organizations. Her experience includes higher education, institutional advancement, corporate consulting, hospital based community treatment, and clinical mobile crisis management on a police based team. Andrea's articles are here.

There is good news on the horizon for parents! The top-down trend characteristic of decades of parent education programs and educational institutions is showing signs of shifting. Experts are exploring the value of involving parents and children as the leaders in co-creating curricula to meet their academic and household needs.

Learning How to Be a Good Parent

Being a parent is a job with a more far reaching impact than any title worthy of an office. Parents often feel ill equipped for the role and want to do this important job better.

Programs like the HOPE Project (Helping Our Parents be Educators) are surfacing where educators support parents as they work alongside other parents who are most likely experiencing similar challenges. As described by Wright and Wooden, educators take participants through a traditional group process and strike a gentle balance of being present experts but empowering the parents to achieve group cohesion and decide what the focus of the group will be and what strengths and resources exist within the group. The parents become the educators of one another while the expert role becomes less visible, there just for the parents’ security.

Participants find similar struggles exist across socioeconomic differences. They meet in an atmosphere void of judgment where friendships can be born. They decipher additional resources external to the group to enhance their learning and performance. Whenever there is a change in the group where a participant leaves or a new member joins, the group revisits the group process to ensure cohesion is fully maintained. The agenda, focus and outcomes are all decided by the parent participants.

Drawing on Funds of Knowledge

Some educators are also using Funds of Knowledge in the classroom. Researchers Luis Moll, Cathy Amanti, Deborah Neff, and Norma Gonzalez use this term to to refer “to the historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual functioning and well-being.” When teachers tap into what is distinct about each child’s home and the cultural knowledge base that exists there, the strengths of parents and children are brought into the classroom for curriculum development.

An example illustrating this work involved a teacher trying to increase parent involvement at school. She discovered that the father of one of her students is a grounds keeper, and she asked for his assistance in helping with the classroom garden project. When she further discovered that he also played guitar and wrote songs, she tapped into his talent further and asked him to write a song for an in-class musical to tie in agriculture lessons that were focus of the garden project. She called on two volunteers to bake bread. They were 101 and 102, extended relatives of children in her class. She also invited another mother with choreography skills to participate as well as other parents and relatives who helped make costumes. The families involved discovered they liked being part of the classroom, and they felt appreciated for their special skills. The class learned about cultural practices from other families and the teacher tapped into a wealth of rich curriculum items that were added to the lesson.

The trends are promising for parents to be more valued for their strengths in the education of their children in an atmosphere that highlights the strengths of everyone and enhances the home and classroom environments. The lessons transcend the classroom and translate into increased cultural awareness and positive connections which also allow for successful learning outcomes. The teachers learn to zero in on the special skills and knowledge the children inherently bring to the classroom and all are enriched by their learning together.


Validating parents as true partners has great implications clinically for therapeutic alliances and treatment outcomes for families. It offers a team-based approach that includes parents instead of dismissing them as part of the cause for resulting behaviors and focusing on their deficits. As far as education goes, the empowerment of a family no matter their level of functioning has a positive impact on classroom performance.

It’s a wake up call for clinicians, educators, and ‘experts’ involved in the learning and treatment of children and families. The family is under duress in these cultural uncertain times, and the need for strength-based resources having the widest impact are needed. Multicultural and multigenerational families and all students and families will benefit from these exciting trends.


Wright, K. N. & Wooden, C. (2010). A Parent-Developed Parent Training Program. Family Science Review, 15(2), 41-55.

Gonzalez, N., Moll, L. C., & Amanti, C. (Eds.) (2005). Funds of Knowledge: Theorizing Practices in Households, Communities, and Classrooms. Routledge. Review by Kathryn M. Howard. Online sample. The quotation is from page 133.

González, N., & Moll, L. (2002). Cruzando el puente: Building bridges to funds of knowledge. Journal of Educational Policy, 16, 623–641. Abstract.

McIntyre, E., Rosebery, A., & González, N. (2001). Classroom Diversity: Connecting Curriculum to Students’ Lives. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Photo Credit: via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses

Parents involved in maker ed courtesy of fabola
Helping in the school garden courtesy of kcmckell
Playing guitar (with help) courtesy of j2dread

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