Developing Caring Relationships among Parents, Children, Schools, and Communities


Dana McDermott

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Part I: Understanding Parents within Their Cultural Context

    Part II: From Theory to Practice: Fostering Caring and Culturally Sensitive Parent-Child-School-Community Relationships

  • Dedication

    I dedicate this book to the memory of my parents, Dan and Rose McDermott, for whose unconditional parenting I am filled with immense gratitude and to my wonderful children, Dan, Erin, and Matthew, who have been very patient with my own efforts to do the same for them.


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    List of Appendices

    The Appendices are available online at

    Appendix A: Sample Questionnaires
    • A1: The Parent-Teacher Role Checklist
    • A2: Getting to Know Our Parents
    Appendix B: Workshops
    • B1: Parents as Adult Learners Workshop—Deconstructing Parent Involvement
    • B2: “You Can't Sit at My Table” Workshop—Scenarios
    • B3: Advocacy in Schools and Communities Workshop
    Appendix C: Newsletters
    • C1: Resiliency Newsletter
    • C2: Resiliency Notes for Professionals
    • C3: Communication Newsletter—Enhancing Effective Communication in Home, School, and Community
    • C4: Friendship Newsletter—Some Thoughts on Friendship
    • C5: Transitions Newsletter
    • C6: Parenting for Prevention Newsletter
    Appendix D: Model Development Materials
    • D1: Parent Education Initiative
    • D2: Focus Group Guides
    • D3: Validity Study—Use of Concurrent Validity in Parental Needs Assessment
    Appendix E: Resources for Parenting Education and Support
    • E1: Journaling Guides
    • E2: Communication Guides
    • E3: Some Helpful Resources
    • E4: What Is Excellence? An Example of a Joint Parent-Teacher-Staff Inquiry
    • E5: Thinking Skills in Parenting
    • E6: Parenting Education and Character Development


    This book is written for those of you who will work with parents and families in schools and communities or who are currently doing so. It is an essential supplement to graduate and upper-level undergraduate courses in home, school, and community involvement in schools of education or human development and related courses in psychology, family studies, family and consumer sciences, early childhood education, health sciences, or social work. It is an essential addition to training for professionals in Head Start, home visiting, and Strengthening Families programs and in community development. My approach is different from that of other texts on parent-child-school-community relations. I focus in more depth on the developmental tasks and perspectives of the adults in children's lives. I wrote this book because as a developmental psychologist, I feel most books and disciplines spend too little time understanding parents, teachers, and other caregivers as developing persons hoping and needing to form caring relationships with others in their lives.

    This book follows a theory-to-practice format so the reader can “see” how an understanding of theories of development and relationships enhances practice. Part I focuses on the current rich and informative theory and research about how parents and other adults of diverse backgrounds grow, learn, and competently fulfill their parental and caregiving roles. Helpful charts, diagrams, and sample tools for use with parents are provided in Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 and in several appendices for the reader to see the progression of work in the field and to organize the information for understanding and immediate application. Large amounts of information (such as a narrative of a focus group with middle school parents or questions about Parents' and professionals’ unique cultural perspective in this process of caring for others) are classified and boxed for easy reading.

    Inspiring quotations and questions, posed at the beginning of each chapter and answered throughout, guide the reader to the important issues to be addressed, and questions at the end of the chapter promote experiential learning, critical thinking, synthesis, planning, evaluation, and action. From the beginning, I suggest ways theories should inform practice. Through the use of appreciative inquiry, the reader “sees” in each chapter examples of parent-child-school-community relationships that have succeeded and understands why.

    The second, more application-oriented part of the book describes how practitioners have used the comprehensive theory and research from Part I to develop best practices models for parent-child-school-community relationships that differ from many models used today in schools and community-based agencies. The Parent Education Initiative is described in Part II and in more detail in Appendix D1 as an exemplary model.

    Working from a Family Strengths Paradigm

    A few decades ago, when I began teaching “parenting in cultural context” courses to undergraduates and graduate students, I found child development and community psychology and sociology students, special education students, early childhood education students, future principals and policymakers, nurses, future school counselors, pastoral counselors, social workers, and future teachers taking the course. This course and the learning and conversations among students from different disciplines resulted in a richer understanding of parents and themselves, as well as of complex social contexts. Tools for relating to parents in a variety of situations were presented in those classes and are provided in Chapter 6. The hope of instructors of these kinds of courses then and now is that professionals embrace an approach to working with parents and families that is grounded in an understanding of the Parents' developmental challenges and potential as well as the societal challenges they face. With its focus on adult developmental and learning issues that parallel child developmental issues, this book also provides an opportunity and a guide for the professional and personal development of the practitioner, most specifically in Chapter 8. I have also included useful information throughout to inform policy making and educational and societal reform.

    A problem with traditional books on parent or family involvement is that they tend to be written within the paradigm of top-down relationships (Graue, 1998; Shirley, 1997). Even in books that view parents as partners, parents are often referred to in stereotypical terms and as teacher “assistants” rather than as colearners and coconstructors of knowledge and action plans (Drummond & Stipek, 2004; Lareau & Shumar, 1996). Parents are encouraged to be involved to enhance student success. Little attention is focused on understanding a parent's thinking capacities or feelings of self-efficacy, although these topics are analyzed in their children. New professionals still come out of these traditional courses braced for coping with parents as member of groups (e.g., single parents, minority parents, affluent parents, “difficult parents,” etc.).

    I wrote this book to provide an alternative and to give readers an opportunity to reflect on their beliefs about the professional role, the parent role, and child and family needs, as well as school and community needs. This opportunity is often missing and is sorely needed by professionals working or planning work with parents (Graue & Brown, 2003).

    The first purpose of this book, then, is to fill a knowledge gap. What do we need to know about parents before we ask them to fulfill certain roles? This book does not review or describe every existing parent involvement program. It describes the journey of professionals working to understand theories of optimal parent-teacher-child development and then to apply them to the design of programs.

    Considering Parents and Teachers as Lifelong Learners

    This book offers another unique proposal. Ideally, each school should have a parenting educator (McEwan, 1998) to support parents, families, and teachers as parents-caregivers themselves. This professional is still rare in schools. Just as we have been learning about the complexity of infant development, so educators have been learning about the complexity of the parenting role, and indeed the adult role (Kegan, 1994). Experts (Brazelton & Greenspan, 2000; Comer, 2001) are calling for teachers to better understand human development in order to facilitate children's growth socially, emotionally, and intellectually. This book also addresses human development for professionals and parents as adults who are growing socially, emotionally, and intellectually. While schools, understandably, have been structured to focus on students, the time is right to find a way to better understand parent and teacher contexts (Comer, Ben-Avie, Haynes, & Joyner, 1999).

    Principles of adult learning are very important tools to accomplish this task. This book describes the development and implementation within a school setting of a center for parent growth and development consistent with all the information on adult learning and human development put forth in Part I. In Part II, I share lessons learned in implementing this paradigm shift in thinking about parents, teachers, and others who care about and for children: We need to think about them as adults who are learning and growing in different and unique ways along with the students in their care (McDermott & Segal, 1998).

    This book also fills a research gap regarding one group of parents. Books on parent involvement tend to be based on work with so-called at-risk parents or to assume that all parents who have middle-class values and goals are not at risk. Having also studied parents of higher socioeconomic status, I can firmly suggest that parents and caregivers of children of all socioeconomic backgrounds are at risk of not growing and often do not help children grow. The reasons include the ways society defines and supports parents, the ability or willingness of adults to fulfill their roles, and the narrow way in which society defines school support and student success, as well as adult success.

    Because of the dawning emphasis on schools as learning communities; because of the new challenges facing parents, teachers, schools, and community agencies; because of all that is known about the complexities of the parent and caregiving role; and because of what is known about adult learning and development, this book provides new guidelines for parent-child-school-community relationships. As a North American author, I also feel a responsibility to provide opportunities for readers to learn from professionals around the world. The reasons we lack adequate parent involvement in schools and communities cannot be understood until we step back and gain a broader view of the adults in children's and students' lives.

    I have chosen to use we, us, and our rather than this author because I want to remind the reader and myself that I was part of a larger community of lifelong learners involved in researching and writing this book, and I continue to be part of that community. Consequently, my personal reflections have been separated from other material in the text. The book is both a synthesis of scholarly literature and an opportunity for the reader to apply and extend the topic. It has been designed to also be a useful opportunity for learning and dialogue beyond the United States. To that end, the Appendices, containing various questionnaires, workshops, newsletters, model development information, resource material, and other exemplary projects and resource sites here and abroad, are not bound into the text but are posted to the Sage Web site at This format not only provides opportunities for updating the information but also allows for easy use, adaptation, and suggested improvements by the readers. Feedback and recommendations from readers are most welcome.


    I would especially like to thank Joy F. Segal, my collaborative partner in planning, designing, implementing, and assessing the Parent Education Initiative project shared in this text. Her vision, creativity, and commitment to supporting parents and teachers as lifelong learners were essential to the success of this project. I also wish to thank Harriet Heath for her support and collaborations and for her extensive body of work on caring and parenting, which has contributed so positively to the practice of many educators and family-serving professionals.

    I would like to thank the founding members of the National Institute for the Study of Parenting Education (NISPE), launched in Clayton, Missouri, at the Clayton Family Center. Special thanks to Carol Kaplan-Lyss and Debbie Reilly at the center and to all NISPE members for creating this way to support the work of parenting educators in schools and communities across the country. I also thank my colleagues of Prepare Tomorrow's Parents for their commitment to preparing the next generation of parents. Thanks to the National Parenting Education Network for its work to elevate the field of parenting education and support.

    In Chicago, I have been especially inspired by Bernice Weissbourd, founder of Family Focus and the Family Resource Coalition. I could not have done my work without the support of the Irving Harris Foundation, the George Clemens Foundation, the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Minority Women's Leadership Grant, the Fund for School Reform Planning Grant, research funding from Loyola University and DePaul University, and funding from the Anne E. Liebowitz Foundation.

    I wish to thank the parents, teachers, staff, and students of the schools in which I have had the privilege of working collaboratively over the years. Special thanks to the Latin School of Chicago, Saint Ignatius School, and St. Peter's School and to the following Chicago public schools: McKay, Morrill, Saucedo, White Career Academy, and Haugan School. I would also like to thank the students at Loyola University—Chicago and DePaul University, who have taught me so much as we work to understand and support parents and families. Thanks also to my colleagues at DePaul's School for New Learning for their support.

    Special thanks to educators Julia Gippenreiter, psychology professor at Moscow State University in Russia, and Peter Turner, former director of the Southern Region of the Catholic Archdiocesan Schools in Sydney, Australia, for collaborating with parent educators like myself to find better ways to support parents and teachers around the world. Thanks to the many educators and leaders I met in Russia in 1993 in Moscow at the Kavchek School, the Gymnasium High School, and innovative community organizations and parent centers such as Yablaka, who were all seeking more-effective ways to work with parents. Thanks to parent and community educators in Sydney, Australia—Sister Loreto McLeod, RSM, Caroline Benedet, and Grainne Norton—and to school parents and staff in both countries for their commitment to working in more-caring and collaborative ways.

    I also wish to acknowledge the following reviewers for their reading of and helpful suggestions for the text:

    Joel Nitzberg, Cambridge College

    Helen Marks, Ohio State University

    Phyllis M. Garcia, Arizona State University, Tempe

    Lee Shumow, Northern Illinois University

    Judith R. Mayton, Oral Roberts University

    Jaesook Lee Gilbert, Eastern Kentucky University

    Regina Miller, University of Hartford

    Janet S. Fields, Mercer University

    Beth Nason Quick, Tennessee State University

    Saigeetha Jambunathan, New Jersey City University

    Gloria Wenze, University of Scranton

    William McInerney, University of Toledo

    Natalie Kennedy Beard, Harris-Stowe State University

    Tunde Szecsi, Florida Gulf Coast University

    Barbara Foulks Boyd, Radford University

    Lesley J. Schoch, North Idaho College

    Elizabeth J. Sandell, Minnesota State University, Mankato

    Sandra Saucedo Scott, Eastfield College

    Grace Hui-Chen Huang, Cleveland State University

    I would like to especially thank my Sage editor, Diane McDaniel, for her continuing support and guidance, editorial assistants Erica Carroll and Ashley Plummer, production editor Melanie Birdsall, and copy editor Bonnie Freeman for their eagerness to support my efforts throughout.

    Finally, I would like to thank colleagues and friends Idy Gitelson, Donna Newton, Barbara LeBlanc, Ann Ellwood, Rae Simpson, Glen Palm, Joan Comeau, Nancy Kelly, Carol Coughlin, Carol Lewke, Andrea Schuver, Joan Barbuto, and Marilyn Swierck, who have inspired and supported me over the years. Their support in thinking through our roles and the needs of children, families, schools, and communities has sustained me on my journey in spite of challenges along the way. And it goes without saying that I could not have done the research and work without the support and encouragement of my entire family, especially my children and my sister Therese Tetzner.

    Introduction: Thinking Mindfully About Parents

    In his wonderful poem “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost described two roads in a woods and how choosing the less traveled one had “made all the difference” for him. This book asks you the reader to take a less traveled road as well, one that I hope will make a positive difference in relationships with families. It asks you to look at parents, families, and yourself in a new way. It draws on the scholarly work on the concept of mindfulness and specifically mindful learning (Langer, 2000), which asks educators to approach teaching in a very different way as well. Langer asks educators to avoid delivering information as absolute fact and to help students avoid forming mind-sets about any subject they study, because such mind-sets often place limitations on their learning. Langer describes mindfulness as “a flexible state of mind in which we are actively engaged in the present, noticing new things and sensitive to context” (p. 220).

    I ask you, thinking mindfully, to notice new things about parents and parent involvement in this book. Rather than give you a definition accepted as fact, I will ask you to think about five ways parents in very different situations might view parent involvement. I also ask you not to take in the information shared here as if it were new facts but to question it, reflect on it, and test it against your experience. I don't ask you to replace old facts with new facts but to be open to new possibilities and new ways of understanding the issues.

    In each chapter in this book, you will find a variety of ways to view parents. Part I reviews theories and research on parent involvement and engagement, the parenting process, adult learning, and cultural diversity. Case studies and narratives are interspersed to connect concrete experiences to theoretical frameworks. To date, the ideas for this book have been explored with teachers from the United States and from Mexico, Canada, Russia, Australia, Africa, England, Japan, and Germany who are also working for change to strengthen schools and families. The research and examples from international sources, though not representative of all countries worldwide, are interspersed throughout. I hope that an even larger international community of educators and parent- and family-serving practitioners will join this ongoing dialogue.

    Part I. Understanding Parents within Their Cultural Context

    Chapter 1 poses the question, why are parents and teachers resisting school and societal expectations for parent involvement? A description of some past and current parent-teacher experiences in schools reveals that some parents feel they are told what to do, and teachers feel they do not have time to solve parent-school-child problems, which seem to be escalating. Parents and teachers are expected to “fix” children (Turnbull, Blue-Banning, Park, & Turbiville, 1999). Both parties resist this expectation without looking at the larger systems affecting children's lives as well. So the mindful question might be, how could people approach parent involvement if they understood more about how it is viewed by families and teachers?

    The chapter also describes typical standards and guides for parent involvement that in themselves explain why many parents and teachers might be resistant and recommends that the diverse needs of teachers and parents be considered in setting these standards. The book provides a historical glimpse of the changing view of the role of parents by theorists and researchers over several decades. Almost all models of parent involvement in the past suggested that the school or agency should define and provide a role for parents and provide parenting education and skill development as well if they were needed. But we must ask whether what the models usually provide is adequate for the complex society in which we live.

    Few books describe the kind of programs that are appropriate based on current theory and research on the parenting process and the ideal parent-child relationship. What we now understand about good parenting provides a clue to why parents do not always want to spend their time on homework. Elias and Schwab (2004) reviewed all the expectations of parents today—all they must do to support their children's growth within a society that seems to thwart their efforts—and suggested that just supporting parents in being parents will in the long run help children succeed academically as well as socially and emotionally. Of course, part of being parents would involve being interested in what children do in school and other settings. What you might ask is, don't parents know what to do? And if they don't, isn't the solution just a matter of teaching them some skills?

    Understanding Theories and Research on Parenting

    Chapter 2 reviews the progression of theories about the ideal parent-child and adult-child relationships to encourage. What should parents and teachers be doing to support a child's growth and development? The way “experts” have evolved in their theories about Parents' roles and tasks over time has affected the way society thinks about parents and about school relationships with parents and with children. This thinking has moved from unidirectional theories of Parents' effects on children to theories describing the impact of children on parents and teachers. It has also shifted from a view of the child as a passive recipient of parenting or teaching to efforts to understand how children might each perceive and relate to each adult in their lives very differently.

    Here are just some of the factors to think about in understanding parent-child and adult-child relationships today: behavioral genetics; cognitive-developmental processes; social relationships; children's effects on adults; attachment and interpersonal neurobiology; personality and trait theories; social-cognitive perspectives; parental self-understanding, awareness, and identity; family systems theories; bio-ecological systems theories; and family empowerment models. There is so much to know about parents and children, and it is often missed in traditional courses on parent involvement or child development.

    In Chapter 3, I discuss a particular developmental and ecological theory of parenting that focuses on parental competence (Heath, 1998, 2006) to give order to the large amount of information in Chapter 2. This theory describes the internal characteristics or ego processes of parents and caregivers of children and the external factors that facilitate or impede their and their children's growth. It puts the parent back into parenting theories. To work effectively with parents and caregivers, it is essential to understand their beliefs and their capacity for thinking; feeling; perspective taking; decision making; problem solving; coping; anticipating, planning, and appraising situations; nurturing; advocating; communicating; and their level of parental awareness. Finally, we have to consider all the additional factors, such as physical and mental health, gender, temperament and goodness of fit with the child, developmental level, previous experience, social support, and current cultural and societal impact. So when we think about parents, I suggest that a focus on these topics and a sensitivity to context, as Langer (2000) has suggested, guide our thinking.

    Understanding Parents and Teachers as Lifelong Learners

    The goal in Chapter 4 is to move from theory to methods, review current models and goals of parent involvement and parent-teacher relationships, and describe these models' obstacles to success in light of what is known about parents as adult learners and as lifelong learners. Current texts on parent, school, and community are missing the large body of theories and information about parents in Chapters 1 through 3, about adult learning principles in Chapter 4, and about the importance of using this information to inform and assess current school practices. So we must ask, what could it mean to our practice if we think of parents and teachers as lifelong learners?

    In Chapter 4, I suggest that there is a disconnection between the message in current parent involvement guides and the information on principles of adult learning and development. I also provide examples of programs that are addressing adult needs. Adult learners appreciate diverse approaches to learning. Successful adult learning focuses on relationships; inquiry and process; joint problem solving; self-direction; the rich experiences adults bring to learning; the critical thinking—dialogue—action process; an adult's readiness to learn and act; the importance of filtering information through a parent's values, beliefs, and feelings; and the importance of allowing parents and teachers the opportunities to use successful adult learning strategies suggested by Taylor, Marienau, and Fiddler (2000), such as assessing situations, collaborating, experimenting, imagining, inquiring, performing-simulating, and reflecting on how they work together. If this is how adults learn best, can we provide parents and teachers better opportunities to do so?

    I have added the dimension of adult development to adult learning because the fact that parents, teachers, and other professionals working with children should be growing over their lifespan is often missed or seen as a zero-sum, with any focus on them being viewed as a loss of time to focus on the child. Adult self-care is needed for ultimate student success (First & Way, 1995; Smith, Cudaback, Goddard, & Myers-Wall, 1994), as is time for self-correction and self-generation (Flaherty, 1999). A caring school model of relating and some parent development initiatives described in Part II illustrate how this information can be incorporated into program development.

    Understanding Culturally Diverse Parents and Teachers

    In Chapter 5, I address in detail culture as it affects how parents view parent involvement and their role (though culture is addressed throughout the book). The way in which parents receive information from a school depends on how that information is filtered through their cultural beliefs and values. Knowledge about culture is effective if it speaks not in terms of group stereotypes but in terms of answering a broad range of questions about individual Parents' ideas, goals, and beliefs about children and themselves, the school, and other issues. Stereotypes imply mindlessness, or doing things without thinking. As Langer and Moldoveanu (2000) note, “Negative intergroup attitudes can (also) be the result of mindless categorization” (p. 6). I recommend that professionals dealing with cultural diversity ask themselves a broad list of questions in dealing with cultural diversity. Experts (Graue & Brown, 2003) strongly encourage asking future and current professionals some similar questions to help them explore where they stand and the cultural perspective they hold.

    Once we have addressed how parents think and learn best, we must also understand how culture and social class interact. Irrespective of socioeconomic status, certain parents are more supportive of the school-as-expert approach because it is consistent with their cultural experience. Therefore, they may take a passive, hands-off approach to school interactions even though they are quite actively involved in other areas of their children's lives. Some parents have language challenges, and some consider themselves to have little to offer their children. Is it better to try to change people, to accept where they are and what they can or are willing to contribute, or to explore different perspectives, as mindfulness would imply?

    As Goodnow and Collins (1990) asked several years ago, what do we know about the content and quality of Parents' ideas? Consistent with their research, this chapter asks, what might they believe about the direction of child development, or about how parenting conditions affect families? What are their beliefs about children's, parents', and teachers' roles? What are their goals for children and their ideas about the nature of children and even of their own situations? Asking these guiding questions makes more sense than studying what particular cultural groups do.

    Part II. From Theory to Practice: Fostering Caring and Culturally Sensitive Parent-Child-School-Community Relationships

    Chapter 6 and Part II move from theory to practice, although practical applications are referred to throughout. Readers will learn about a model for institutionalizing caring and culturally sensitive parent-school relationships in a school. A parenting educator often facilitates this process, and the model emphasizes building better human connections. The model is unique in that it was developed in light of the theory discussed in Part I to account for the complexity of parenting. Whether readers are teaching preschoolers, special education students, or adolescents, whether they are working in community schools or family support agencies, the model is a heuristic that can facilitate caring and successful parent-child-school-community relationships. The model promotes caring in terms of how teachers and other professionals relate to students, families, and each other; how students are encouraged to relate to adults and to each other; and how families, children, and schools relate to each other and their community.

    The model introduced in Chapter 6 takes theories of parenting, adult learning principles, and culture into consideration. Heath's (2001) “parenting process,” which is used as a guide, takes everyone's situations, goals, beliefs, cultural background, needs, feelings, developmental level, learning style, social context, temperament, time, energy, and resources into consideration in making decisions. It is a way to deal with issues related to child rearing, school discipline, parent-professional conferences and planning, home visits, and school and community challenges.

    Understanding Parents' and Teachers' Concerns

    Chapter 7 describes the range of issues of concern to parents and teachers across grades and social class, such as discipline, peer pressure, and assessment of student success, both academically and from a social-emotional perspective. I present data from educators and family support professionals about the issues parents of all social backgrounds have in common and the areas where parents might differ. Some themes occur across age groups, and there is clearly a learning curve for all adults, not just parents. This chapter discusses the themes of control, autonomy, communication, and threats from the environment. How to approach these topics with adult learning principles and a caring process of decision making is also shared. Some of the topics affect adults of all cultures, educational levels, and socioeconomic backgrounds most strongly in terms of their sense of powerlessness. In addition, Chapter 7 includes diverse methods of presenting material on these topics based on Parents' learning preferences and sociocultural background.

    Chapter 8 demonstrates that the same theories of adult development and adult learning that underlie the parent-engagement model will effectively support teachers and all adult caregivers as well. I describe teachers and other professionals serving families in a preK–12 school who successfully enhanced their own learning and reflective practice at school through faculty development and engagement in a parent education initiative. Readers will also find descriptions of other successful tools for professional development (writing, storytelling, etc.) that relate to similar support initiatives for parent and teacher development.

    Specifically, this chapter highlights a parallel learning experience of teachers and parents within one model development school to demonstrate that teachers and parents can and should be on a similar learning journey, both for their own benefit and for the benefit of the children in their care. As a member of both a teacher group and a parenting group at this school, I was in a unique position to see parent and teacher-staff learning and reflection (McDermott, 1999). Without the opportunity to take time off from university work to share in the experience of parents and teachers for 5 years, I could never have adequately appreciated the potential for adult growth that this model offers.

    Ensuring That the Next Generation of Parents Is Prepared for Their Role

    In Chapter 9, readers will learn how to build, within a caring school model, a way to teach parenting so that students will be even better learning partners with teachers, better parents in the next generation, and better classmates, as well as more well-rounded academically, socially, and emotionally. The theory, research, and rationale for teaching parenting education from preK to Grade 12 indicate that among many good outcomes, parents in the next generation will be better prepared to partner with teachers competently and confidently (Brazelton & Greenspan, 2000; Eisler, 2000; Zigler, 1999; and countless others). The parenting skills taught to children and youth are linked to the parental and teacher competency needs discussed in Chapter 3. Thus, these programs not only make students well-equipped future parents but also help them improve their current relationships with peers, parents, teachers, and others. The courses emphasize the importance of relationships and of providing the right environment, from infants' earliest days, to maximize their potential for future development.

    The caring process of relating and decision making described in Chapter 6 is central to this curriculum. School parents have the opportunity to learn an adult version of the student parenting program as well. It is often easier for parents to come into a parenting curriculum when it is tied to what their children are learning and, more important, tied to family issues that have more face validity to many than learning the new math does.

    The Epilogue reviews the rationale for using the approach to parent and professional engagement described in this text (focusing on relationship more than involvement and on being more than doing). Readers are advised to take a thoughtful approach to a complex situation such as parent-teacher relationships. The Epilogue also reviews the successes and challenges of the theory-to-practice models put forth in the text and notes challenges, such as an institution's anticipated resistance to change, and pressures to focus on student performance in academics. Nevertheless, I recommend staying on this “road less traveled.”

    Bonnie Benard (1996) summarizes it this way:

    Ultimately research on resilience challenges the field to build the connectedness, this sense of belonging by transforming our families, school and communities to becoming “psychological homes” wherein youth can find mutually caring and respectful relationships and opportunities for meaningful involvement…. Creating belonging for youth means we must also do this for ourselves. (pp. 5–6)

    Something must be done to improve parent-school-community relationships, so even though the task seems daunting, we must move forward. That something includes designing a model demonstrating collaboration from all systems in Parents' and families' lives, including neighborhood and community service agencies, medical services, religious institutions, government policies, and so on. We cannot focus on just the home or school and expect adults in these two institutions to solve all problems without the support of their entire community and society.

    In addition, borrowing from the work of appreciative inquiry (Cooperrider, 2001), I suggest throughout this book that we move from identifying problems to thinking about what could be possible. In the decades I have spent listening to parents, teachers, and professionals working with families, I have heard abundant stories of collaborations that have worked well. I have included some of these stories, and I apologize for omitting so many others. I have included as many as I could to fulfill the goals of appreciative inquiry (Barrett & Fry, 2002, pp. 6–7), which involve the four Ds: discovering times when adults have provided nurturing environments for children, dreaming together to envision what the future might hold for our children and ourselves, dialoguing with each other within environments of safety and trust, and designing better spaces for all of us to live and grow. Appreciative inquiry might pose questions such as these: When have parents and all the adults in children's lives felt successful in caring for children? What supports and strengthens our ability to care? What conditions need to be in place for these successes to happen more in the future? Let the inquiry begin.

  • Epilogue

    Relationships as a Unifying Theme

    In the first part of this book, we looked at parents and teachers as lifelong learners, embedded within a variety of sociocultural contexts and challenges but all with the potential to grow and develop personally and professionally as they care for children. You learned that children's development and success depended on the quality of their relationships with others and on the relationships between adults in their lives within all systems, starting with the parent-child relationship and moving on to a commitment from extended family, neighborhoods, schools, whole cities or towns, governments, countries, and the world to building better human connections on which children can build a better world for their own children (Eisler, 2000; McDermott, 2003–2004).

    As can be seen in the chapters in Part II of this book, a caring model of decision making and parenting education and support initiatives can be helpful to teachers and parents in many ways. Both involve parents and teachers looking inward in terms of their own concerns, attitudes, beliefs, and values and looking outward to see how they could individually and jointly counter societal institutions, culture, and media that are not supportive of families.

    Ideally a parenting educator in each school, aware of and continually reviewing the relevant theories and research in human development and human services, could help teachers and parents learn more about children's and adults' developmental needs, tasks, and abilities across the lifespan. In the theory-to-practice model described in this book, we worked from a model that takes into consideration the impact of the environment on parents, teachers, and students; thus we were also able to provide a realistic view of the challenges faced by all. If people look at teachers and parents out of the context in which they were reared and live and work, our schools will be the worse for it.

    A parenting educator is in a great position to support the whole school and not just one constituency. Because they are there to work with all parents, teachers, and staff over a period of years, parenting educators provide continuity, picking up on areas of parent or teacher interests after meetings and presentations and doing follow-through. How many times have teachers and parents come to sage-on-the-stage lectures after which nothing happens to build on the new information? At the model school I studied for 5 years, new parents of prekindergartners, with support from a parenting educator, formed a support group to take them through the school years together; middle school parents got to know each other better and began trusting each other enough to stick together through the difficult high school years; and high school parents found a place to discuss the more serious issues that their children faced—much to the relief of many of their children. In this book, you also looked at certain educational and parental goals and methods of relating to children and families based on what is known about how children become confident, autonomous adults with the competencies they need to survive and thrive in a global society. Those competencies go beyond reading, science, and math literacy.

    Final Reflections
    A Practitioner's Reflection

    One of the reasons the particular urban K-12 school was chosen for the Parent Education Initiative (PEI) model development was that, unlike most schools, it had a counselor, a nurse, and an affective education teacher in each school, as well as strong parent leaders who truly appreciated this approach to working with parents, and when the study was over, it was hoped, this infrastructure would have been influenced by the PEI parent development philosophy. The hope was that all three principals, from the elementary, middle, and high school, would opt to continue a version of the PEI. As often happens in schools, however, new administrators, who had not been involved from the beginning, came in and brought with them different priorities. I had collaborated on several projects with support staff over the 5 years, focusing on the needs of parents, children, families, and teachers in a very different way than they had experienced in their professional training. Many of us hoped and believed that this exposure to a more mindful look at parents would have a long-lasting impact.

    In addition to such an infrastructure, a parenting initiative coordinator is needed in all schools or school districts to coordinate and advocate for systemic and continual efforts at engaging parents and in educating and supporting students as future parents. Before I worked at the model development school, I had been involved in components of a PEI at schools that were facing so many “competing urgencies,” or pressures from the school system and government, that they were not able to test the model's full potential or sustain it after the funds for the project were exhausted. The model school, however, was in a position to sustain the PEI if all principals and administrators chose to do so.

    I am continually grateful for the openness of many parents, teachers, and staff to being part of this new paradigm. They took risks, exposed their own parental or teacher fears and concerns, and did the hard work needed to succeed in their roles. Perhaps it also helped that the teachers were reading Parker Palmer's book The Courage to Teach (1998). Some of the lessons learned are the following: While one gets interest and participation from many teachers, often the teachers who are most interested are also the busiest and most overextended. Time and those competing urgencies become a personal enemy. A paradigm shift in the way a school institutionalizes support for parents and teachers to collaborate needs buy-in and structural change on all levels, but most importantly from the top, to be sustained. There still is too much resistance from administrators (Graue & Brown, 2003; McConchie, 2004; Shartrand, Weiss, Kreider, & Lopez, 1997), and that must change for programs like the PEI to be institutionalized.

    In the 1980s and 1990s, I had introduced components of the caring school decision-making model to Chicago public schools and to a small parochial school (240 children, toddlers through eighth graders) in Rogers Park, an inner-city neighborhood in Chicago, which has been described as one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the United States. The principal was completely supportive and recruited teachers who also were open to this approach. We had retreat days on the philosophy of the school and the caring school approach described in this book, and teachers had an opportunity to be involved in planning. We had many other meetings with individual teachers and small and large groups throughout the first year. We then gradually implemented the components of this model, based on teacher interest. They suggested we begin with parent-infant visits, as described in Chapter 9, as a new way to involve parents. We also involved the older students in teaching this caring process to younger students. Then mixed-grade parent groups met to learn the adult version of the caring process of decision making. These parents were selected by the principal because they represented all levels of school engagement, self-confidence, and self-efficacy, from none at all to confident full-time volunteer.

    Some of the school parents also used the caring process of decision making as they challenged the Chicago Catholic Archdiocese, which ultimately closed the school because it lacked funds to pay off huge building-repair loans. Unfortunately, the decision was made without sufficient awareness or recognition of the good things that had been happening in the school. Because of the financial exigencies, parents in this urban school did not have enough opportunities to convince the decision makers that what the school community was providing the children and the adults was very exceptional.

    That principal went to another school, where we again incorporated components of the caring school model, but we never forgot the group of teachers and parents at that small school in Rogers Park who were united and truly growing together. Ironically, at the time of the school closing, we had been making wonderful progress in working collaboratively with the local university and local community agencies (the Loyola University Family Literacy Program and the Child Assessment, Child Care and Counseling Services) to provide additional needed support to these parents and to the neighborhood community council offering help with family services. Similar important collaborations have been described recently by Sanders (2005). We ran out of time at the Rogers Park school, but parents, teachers, and children were changed, with the principal's leadership and school support, and are no doubt having an impact wherever they are. This story is mentioned because it is important to understand that while the principal's leadership is critical, external threats may prevail, even when a program is very successful. Efforts early on to involve the whole community are essential. With community support and principal leadership, commitment, and courage, great things can happen.

    Having at least one staff person in each school or school district with a credential in parenting is very important. Many Family and Consumer Science teachers are qualified and prepared to teach these courses, but with the current focus on testing and the so-called basics, they are often cut from school faculty. The National Parenting Education Network Web site lists other programs offering degrees and certifications in parenting education. Currently the master's degree in Parenting Education and Support developed at DePaul University finds that more than half the students are teachers wanting to enhance their understanding of and work with parents and children. Because of the complexity of parenting, as you have seen in this book, it is hard to imagine making progress in terms of child and adult outcome unless we move in the direction of parenting education and support. In the meantime, I hope that the content of this book will help family-serving professionals have a better understanding of the developmental challenges of parents and families and a better idea of how to collaborate with families more effectively.

    I once read an article about how to help our children have hope in a time of nuclear threats. The author quoted a little boy, who said, “It will be okay, because my dad goes to a peace meeting each month.” We do need to help our children be hopeful by showing them that although it is hard, we will never stop working together in a caring and collaborative manner on their behalf, even if it means the difficult work of structural changes in the way schools and all our institutions and governments operate and relate to parents and families. This brings us back to appreciative inquiry, discussed earlier in the book. Bliss Browne, an expert in this field, left the corporate world and founded Imagine Chicago more than a decade ago to connect youth to older, more experienced community members—whom she called the “glue” of the community—in order to facilitate dialogues across generations, races, incomes, cultures, and so on, and to “cultivate hope in both generations” ( Please look at her work, which has now been replicated around the world, to get creative ideas about ways to involve youth and their parents, families, and communities in imagining themselves as creators of a better and more civic society. Her visioning process is akin to the assets-based community-building approach, but it hinges on young people seeing themselves as leaders in community change, not just part of a problem. This view has also been supported and described further from a global perspective by Flanagan (2001). Browne's success stories of parents and youth are inspiring. In opposition to the deficit approach and in line with successful strategies of adult learning, she focuses on people better understanding what is, imagining what could be, and creating what will be. Let us think mindfully about all the good work we do and can do to advance these efforts toward creating more caring homes, schools, and communities.


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    About the Author

    Dana McDermott, PhD, CFLE, is an Assistant Professor at the School for New Learning at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. She received her doctorate in Human Development and Social Psychology from Loyola University of Chicago. She is also a nationally certified family life educator. She has worked for more than three decades in the Chicago area, nationally, and internationally in the area of parent and family development. In Chicago, she has been involved in minority parent leadership and in implementing parent education programs for children in K–12 schools and for their parents. She joined the faculty of the School for New Learning in 2002. She teaches classes on parenting in cultural context and parent-school-community relations to both undergraduate and graduate students. Recently she has developed a special, customized Focus Area (Parenting Education and Support) within the School of New Learning's Master of Arts in Applied Professional Studies program. She serves on two national boards: Prepare Tomorrow's Parents, an organization dedicated to promoting and supporting parenting education in schools, and the National Parenting Education Network, dedicated to supporting parenting educators in their work. She consults with schools and parent groups in the areas of parenting, gender relationships, teaching caring, social and emotional development of children, and violence prevention. She is a member of several professional organizations, including the National and Illinois Councils on Family Relations and Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

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