Sunday, May 29, 2011

Enhancing Parent Leadership Through Building Social and Intellectual Capital

Citation: Bolivar, J.M. & Chrispeels, J.H. (2010). Enhancing Parent Leadership Through Building Social and Intellectual Capital. American Educational Research Journal, 48, 4-38.

Summary: This article was written by a UCSD professor and UCSD Doctoral student. They both have a shared interest in community building and school-family relationships. This article focuses on ways that parents, specifically low-income and limited-English-proficient-families, can become empowered to effect change within their children's school. The authors examined a 12-week parent leadership program carried out in Los Angeles through the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Parent School Partnership. In this program, parents were taught about school rights for parents and ways of communicating with their children's schools. In addition, they were encouraged to take action and become catalysts for change. There were 12 weekly sessions that lasted 2 hours each. The authors observed classes as well as conducted interviews with the parents in this program (in Spanish). This article provides multiple excerpts from interviews that highlight the qualitative success of this program. They additionally cross-referenced all videos of the interviews and classes to look for common themes.

There was one section of the article that gives background and focuses on social capital. The authors reference research that shows that middle and low-income white families do not use their social networks or resources to tap into resources like affluent families do. The same correlation can be seen in families with limited English fluency. The three things necessary to have social capital are: 1) trust 2) access to information channels that provide a basis for action 3) norms and sanctions within a community that promote common good over self-interest. The leadership program being studied attempted to build on social capital of low-income families by developing a social network and bringing in new information to these parents.

The other section focuses on intellectual capital. This is defined as the "knowledge and capabilities of a collective with potential for collaborative joint action". Creating intellectual capital stems from exchanging individuals' knowledge in a social setting and coming up with new knowledge. The article examined how the leadership classes were able to lead to joint action as well. There were a few examples cited such as one group of parents who created a center at an elementary school called Cuenta Conmigo. This center offers parenting classes, community health fairs and other community-building activities. From the article it seems that the leadership class had positive outcomes on parent relationships with the school.

A lot of the research in this article is qualitative, which I think is the most helpful for me. It is difficult to measure social and intellectual capital, and the article's strength is found in the excerpts from interviews or explaining collective action that had been taken as a result of the leadership classes. There are additionally 2 helpful tables that compare the results of the different parent groups participating in the study.

There are some areas in which an educator might feel defensive, however. Some of the action that parents were inspired to take was collective action against teachers and specific schools. I wonder how the LA schools that were participating reacted to this outcome. At one point, through collective action agains one particular teacher who wasn't communicating with families, the advice given by the School Board was to: "look for another teacher to communicate with. So if you have a problem with Mr. Hernandez, then let's ask Mr. Castro to come and try to help." That approach of parents/teacher v. a colleague seemed strange to me, and I wonder if that was the type of result the schools participating in the research was looking for.

The approach taken towards forming the leadership group is going to prove helpful to me. I am looking for ways to increase parents' understanding of project-based learning and specifically our school. Additionally, I want to work on helping parents understand appropriate ways of communicating with the school with concerns. One thing that they stressed about the leadership group was that they were self-selected. The students took a flyer home to their parents who then could choose to participate. 35 came to the first session and 20 continued throughout. I'm wondering how I could get more of an impact without requiring this sort of parent education for all new parents at the school. I really liked following the process with the interviews though. I am thinking I might want to have a couple of case studies now for my research as well.

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