Perspectives on Parent Involvement: How Elementary Teachers Use Relationships with Parents to Improve Their Practice

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One of the most important areas of research in education is the role of parents in student achievement. Studies indicate that parents working as volunteers, homework helpers, and participants in school activities influence student success, but we do not know exactly how that happens or how teachers perceive of their relationships with parents. Although researchers state that the parent teacher relationship is important, they have not systematically unpacked how parent involvement is related to the instructional decision making of teachers. This study uses in depth interview data from 21 elementary school teachers who teach grades one through four. The study also includes participant observation in one private school. My findings suggest that teachers, in a variety of kinds of schools, use information about students' home lives and outside interests to make their teaching more effective. They report doing this by being able to motivate students, by being sensitive to a student's mood and by being able to make changes to their curriculum based on student needs. Much of what a teacher, especially in the elementary grades knows about his/her students is gleaned from the students' parents. It is this information that affects teacher practice in the classroom. This leads to teachers not treating all forms of parent involvement equally; they value communication and they use what they learn from communications with parents to customize their curricula for individual students. The literature to date has not examined communication patterns between parents and teachers fully. When examined closely, it seems that teachers try to manage and negotiate their relationships with parents through setting boundaries and through their communication patterns. It has been reported that teachers do not learn about parent involvement in their teacher education courses. This study affirms that assertion and increases our understanding of what teachers are influenced by: their mentor teachers, their colleagues, the school administration and their own parents. This study will add to the parent involvement research by examining teachers' views on their relationships with parents and will help educators and policy makers better understand how parents contribute to classroom instruction.