U of S curriculum studies professor Debbie Pushor.

Engaging parents in schools

University of Saskatchewan curriculum studies professor Debbie Pushor of the College of Education aims to transform education in the province by making parent engagement in teaching and learning an integral part of schools, something she said will enhance student outcomes, build community and help retain teachers.

“We have five decades of research that shows students do better academically, socially and behaviourally when parents are engaged in children’s learning,” said Pushor, who was recently awarded an Insight grant of $184,500 by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for her prototype project.

“Studies show parent engagement has a positive effect on student attendance and student performance on in-class tests and standardized tests,” she said. “Students also take higher level and more challenging courses, and both their on-time completion of courses and on-time graduation rates also go up.”

Children spend only 17 per cent of their time in school and 83 per cent of their time with parents, Pushor said. This out-of-school time is a huge opportunity to have parents collaborate to enhance the educational outcomes for their children.

Parent engagement is qualitatively different from parent involvement, where a parent helps with fundraising or a school trip, and the teacher sets the agenda and makes all the decisions, she said. Pushor added that parents have “parent knowledge” that’s specific to their child and family that they can contribute.

“When I engage with you as a parent, I ask for your knowledge to be laid alongside my own. Now, when we are making programming decisions or talking about your child’s schooling, you have a voice as a decision-maker,” Pushor said.

Her three-year project involves pre-kindergarten to Grade 8 classes at Howard Coad School in Saskatoon’s diverse Mount Royal neighbourhood, where Indigenous families, newcomers and other Canadians each make up about a third of the population. Family median annual income is low at less than $30,000 (in 2015), even though most adults are employed.

The provincial education, social services and immigration ministries, the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, and Saskatoon Public Schools are collaborating on the project because they are interested in increasing opportunities for parents, assisting with newcomer settlement, increasing Indigenous student graduation rates that currently are half the non-Indigenous rate of 84 per cent, and improving the child poverty rate of close to 25 per cent.

The project includes having parents engaged in pursuing educational and economic opportunities for themselves—through such things as adult learning or language classes, or skills enhancement. Given the poverty and low adult education and literacy rates in the area, what’s learned at Howard Coad School offers great possibilities to guide a provincial prototype for engaging parents, which will include rural and northern areas, said Pushor.

Pushor is also exploring ways that teachers can build relationships with families. This could include relieving teachers of such duties as lunch supervision to free up their time to visit students’ homes. Experience in some U.S. schools has shown that such relationships with parents has helped teacher retention.

“This research will address major challenges in public education and contribute to the well-being of children and families in Saskatchewan and beyond,” said Pushor.

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