Educator Larry Ferlazzo explains the difference this way:
“When it comes to a breakfast of ham and eggs, the chicken is involved but the pig is committed. This old saying is roughly analogous to the issue facing schools today as they consider the kind of relationships they want to build with the parents of their students. I would characterize it as a difference between parent involvement (the chicken) and parent engagement (the pig).”
What this means is that parent involvement is generally focussed on parents volunteering with school classroom activities, fundraising and support based on what plans and the goals school has determined on their own. Schools do their annual planning in isolation and then go to the parents asking them to support those plans. Parents fulfill a support role in the schools. While there are opportunities to advise the school on issues, policies and programs, it is the educator knowledge and planning that drives the opportunity for parents to advise.
But parent engagement provides an alternative way to bring teachers and parents together in schools. With engagement the educators no longer work alone to design and plan their programs, schedule and policies for the school. Rather, educators work together jointly with parents and the “parent knowledge/experience” and the “educator knowledge/experience” both inform planning and decision making. Rather than simply advising the school, parents have a voice in the decisions made which impact their children.
Some quick examples:
- Involvement would be: The administrators, educators and support staff meet to review and select what social responsibility program would be taught in their school for the upcoming year. After the program is selected parents would be advised as to what they could do to support the work the school is doing.Engagement would be: The parents working alongside the educators to review and select a program. They would be part of the initial decision making.
- Involvement would be: The school staff developing a dress code policy for the school and then advising parents (and students) to the expectations and consequences of the code. Staff may ask parents their thoughts on a draft code but ultimately the development and final decisions of what such a code would look like would be with the educators. Parents would be asked to support the dress code from home.Engagement would be: A dress code policy would be researched, drafted and developed by educators and parents together.
- Involvement would be: Billy has severely misbehaved on the playground. The teacher and/or principal have decided on what the consequences for his behaviour would be. The parent would be informed after the fact as to the discipline for his actions. Engagement would be: The teacher/principal would call the parents in to meet before any decision on discipline is made. They would jointly decide what would be appropriate discipline/consequences for his negative actions.
While there is nothing wrong with parent involvement, if the new plan for education in British Columbia is to be successful for all students, we need to move from our current model of involvement to a new model of engagement. Moving to a new model of parent participation begins with one question:
Do you have parent involvement or parent engagement in your school?