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Individual & Collective Power

The Individual and Collective Power of Parents & Caregivers 

No matter their background, parents and caregivers want the best for their students and families. While parents and caregivers differ in their approaches and capacity to support their student’s learning and growth, there are many tools and resources available to support their engagement in schools. This section of the module will focus on how to co-create and co-lead with families to leverage their individual and collective strength to transform educational outcomes for students and schools. 

Shared leadership with families also requires a shift from traditional partnerships with parents and caregivers to an equitable collaboration that centers the roles of families as leaders and views the role of educators and families as agents of change for entire communities. For schools and districts to move toward equitable collaborations with parents and caregivers, they must be able to harness both the individual and collective power of families through participatory systems change.

Harnessing Parent and Caregiver’s Individual Power

Parents and caregivers are often the most important people in a child’s life. They offer love, acceptance, appreciation, encouragement, and guidance, and provide the most intimate context for the nurturing and protection of children. Harnessing the love and power of parents and caregivers in their child’s education is a powerful tool that schools can leverage to improve academic outcomes. When schools and districts recognize and support these diverse strengths they are better equipped to engage them in meaningful ways that support the educational success of their children and create a more positive school culture.

One of the most important steps schools and districts can take to leverage the individual power of families is to ensure that educators move away from traditional and hierarchical ways of viewing and thinking of families and move toward participatory systems change. As educators adopt a more equitable approach to thinking about and working with families, practices also begin to shift and learning becomes a two-way process where both parties learn from one another. Practices that schools and districts traditionally adopt become more collaborative, decision-making becomes more shared, and parents/caregivers are uplifted as true leaders in their child’s education.


Take a moment here to reflect on the ways in which your school and/or district is leveraging the individual power of parents through participatory systems change.

How might you and your team(s) acknowledge families as partners in their children’s education in school/district policies, practices, and programs?
Have you and your team(s) created opportunities for two-way conversations that place equal value on the insights and perspectives that families have about the assets and challenges of their students (i.e. parent-teacher conferences)?
Have you and your team(s) offered staff and families opportunities to regularly discuss students’ individual learning styles, family cultural experiences, strengths, and academic and personal needs? How might you create spaces where families can share information about their learning goals and aspirations?
How are you and your team(s) informing families about their child’s academic progress? Are familes given tools and resources to support their child’s learning?
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Most family engagement models across the United States focus individual goals for parent engagement – meaning that approaches are aligned with fostering the knowledge, sense of responsibility, and behaviors of individual parents to support their own children’s academic achievement. Oftentimes, schools and districts focus on developing the capacity of individual parents to work with their own children to support their academic performance, as defined by standardized test scores or other academic indicators. Focusing on student achievement is an important priority, however schools and districts should also consider how families can contribute to the well-being of the community as a whole.

Harnessing the Collective Power of Parents and Caregivers 

It’s important to never lose sight of the fact that families and schools are parts of larger systems and communities. Harnessing the collective power of parents and caregivers creates opportunities to improve the structures, systems, policies, and practices in educational systems in which both educators and families operate. When schools and districts begin to shift the power dynamics between families and schools, the rules of engagement begin to transform and parents and caregivers are able to take on new roles as leaders in their communities.

The Venn diagram below shows a very basic “Model of Parent Engagement Initiative Goals.” As has been stated above, most traditional models work with parents and caregivers to focus on self-efficacy (or self-sufficiency) and student academic outcomes. Equitable collaborative efforts for family and community engagement leverage both the individual and collective civic capacities of parents and caregivers. Schools and districts that invest in the civic capacities of families work with them to support community-wide causes by building a shared responsibility to act in partnership. As experts in their children’s native language, culture, community context, and learning needs, parents can play key decision-making, design and implementation roles in educational transformation efforts. Moving into collective and equitable family engagement also requires that parents and caregivers work alongside educators to build a shared vision and goals and highlights the importance of shared responsibility. Lastly, shared responsibility implies the need to build the capacity of educators and families to work together for the wellbeing of the community. 

Collective collaboration strategies seek to change the structures, systems, policies and practices in educational systems, particularly those that exclude or marginalize nondominant families and students. Districts and schools that adopt these strategies require a shift in the balances of power and a true commitment for families to have a real influence in educational systems. Schools and districts can make progress toward collective civic capacity building by:

  • Building Systemic Capacity: Schools and districts often have to build infrastructure, systems and capacity to support families. This can include hiring dedicated human resources, professional development for educators and building partnership with community-based organizations to remove barriers to parent participation in capacity building efforts (i.e. childcare, transportation, community meetings spaces, etc.)
  • Parent Leadership Development: For families from marginalized communities who are navigating the educational system, it is especially important to walk alongside them to build their leadership skills and provide pathways for their engagement as leaders in the school and district. Examples from schools and districts include Parent Leadership Academies that build families’ skills to understand and advocate for their students to Parent Advisory Teams that help guide parent engagement strategies and school-wide initiatives.
Source: The Road Map Project (2014) Charting A Course To Equitable Collaboration: Learning From Parent Engagement Initiatives In The Road Map Project.


Take a moment here to reflect on the ways in which your school and/or district is leveraging the individual power of parents through participatory systems change.

Do you and your team(s) offer parent leadership programs, opportunities for families to develop their skills as leaders? Are families honored and respected by school and district leadership as leaders themselves?
Are you and your team(s) building the capacity of families to inform and lead the development of Local Control Accountability Plans and to join School Site Councils?
Do you and your team(s) create spaces where families can meet one another, learn about each other, and build relationships to build social capital and connections to communities that can support their children’s learning and development?
Do families and community members co-facilitate family and community oriented workshops at your school or district?
Do families and staff jointly develop programs for recruitment and support, resulting in active participation of families representing the school site student subgroups in councils and committees at your school or district?
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School Site Councils (SSCs) are ideal spaces for parents to join, take on leadership roles, and inform the development of the Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA) and oversee how the school is utilizing its budget in alignment with the SPSA. Many families, however, do not have sufficient resources or an understanding of SSCs nor the support to fully take on those roles. Similarly, districts are required to involve families in the development of their Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) and few are investing in developing the capacities of families to meaningfully participate as co-educators in the process.

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