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date: 28 January 2021

Models of School-Family Relationslocked

  • Cristina Santamaría GraffCristina Santamaría GraffIndiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis
  •  and Brandon ShermanBrandon ShermanPurdue University at Indianapolis

Summary

For educators located in the Global North or South what it means to work with families in inclusive settings is often a reflection of fundamental conceptions of the very nature of schooling and learning. These conceptions, whether implicit or explicit theories, inform teacher practice, interaction, communication, and involvement when it comes to students’ parents, families, and communities. Understanding how theories of learning relate to family engagement and inclusive practices allows for (a) an accounting of established knowledge and practices and (b) more innovative future directions for engaging parents, families, and communities in schooling.

Three specific theories of learning (behaviorist, sociocultural, and critical) demonstrate stark differences in how the roles of parents and family are understood in their children’s education. Each of these theoretical lenses produces different answers to the question of what it means to work with families. They entail different conceptualizations of parent/family engagement and inclusion, the challenges to this engagement and inclusion, and the tools used to address these challenges. Families can be positioned as passive recipients of knowledge, contributors to knowledge, or knowledge-makers. Regarding their child’s schooling, parents can be seen as supporters, contributors, or collaborators. They can be situated on the periphery of schooling or in the center.

Contrasting and complementary elements of behavioral, sociocultural, and critical theories of learning provide insight into traditional, relational, and transformative approaches to working with families. These theoretical approaches entail practical implications as well, reflected in both standard educational practices and in extant findings in the field of educational research. This theoretical/practical approach allows for insight into why, in application, there is dissonance in perspectives among educators about how to work with families and what this work may entail and look like, and provides suggestions for how families and communities might come to play a more central role in the education of their children.

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