The first and most significant category dealt with communication. Both teachers interviewed stated that an involved parent needed to be able to effectively communicate with their child, specifically, using sign language. Without effective communication, parents not only could not communicate with their child, but they became limited in what they could do in the classroom. The upper elementary teacher stated:
Basically parents had to be able to communicate. They [parents]
would tell me, \\my son said such and such" or "my child can't
read this." Even if they had elementary signs it would help.
Therefore, in order to provide any classroom or academic support, a parent needed to be able to sign. Both teachers suggested that even a basic knowledge of sign language was better than no knowledge at all.
In addition to sign language, the teachers also mentioned other kinds of communication. Both teachers sent written communications to the homes. The lower elementary teacher sent a daily dialogue journal; the upper elementary teacher sent occasional notes at the end of the week. The teachers also mentioned phone calls as a form of communication. These were described as calls from teacher to parent or parent to teacher. As one of her most positive experiences, the upper elementary teacher mentioned active communication between parent and teacher.
The [parents] would visit the classroom, call me nightly. I mean
six or seven parents a night called me. I had never before since
experienced anything like that. And it was really neat.
But, this finding differed from the findings in the Epstein (1994) study on school policy and parent involvement. Teachers interviewed in his study questioned whether these types of communication constituted "parent involvement." In this study, teachers interviewed labeled these different types of communication as parent involvement.
The upper elementary teacher defined parental involvement as simply being in contact with your child in the cottage if he or she was a residential student. She stated: `I consider them involved if they are talking to the cottages."
An involved parent was also seen as one who might talk with teachers and accept their comments and suggestions and follow through on them at home. Teachers and parents saw this as a reciprocal activity, where parents not only accepted comments from teachers, but teachers also accepted comments from parents. The lower elementary teacher especially appreciated such comments. She stated:
An involved parent in my case would ask lots of questions
[and ask about] ways that they can do things better or [offer]
information to share other than what is being done in the
classroom. Like they [the child] were having problems
sleeping and such.
The second category that emerged was classroom support. Classroom support was defined by both teachers and parents as parents visiting the classroom; in addition to parents providing or making snacks or materials. Both teachers and parents agreed that involvement included parents volunteering in the classroom. Volunteering was described as helping with special events, coming to read to the class or making things. In addition, teachers defined classroom support as parents responding to teachers' requests. For example, the upper elementary teacher asserted: `I consider them involved if I say 'Please send valentines,' and they actually send them without ever talking to me." Both parents and teachers defined classroom support as parents providing support to the teacher, but the teacher providing support to parents also. The parents interviewed found this very important. Their most positive experience dealt with the teacher accepting suggestions from the parents and helping to provide consistency from home to school. They stated that a positive teacher would be one who is "willing to accept parents) suggestions to help carry things over from home." They added, "teachers need to listen to parents."
The third category that emerged was academic support. Teachers defined involvement as not only helping with homework, but also knowing how to meet the needs of their child. Teachers also felt that parents needed to participate in other activities with their children, in addition to academics. The upper elementary teacher suggested "taking them bowling or reading to them."
Barriers to Parental Involvement
In defining parental involvement, several barriers to involvementwere also identified by the parents and teachers. Communication was again cited as a major barrier. Both teachers and parents in the study noted that many parents do not know how to communicate with their children who are deaf. The upper elementary teacher found that lack of ability to communicate not only impeded education progress, but also emotional stability.
I have seen angry, emotional children, especially that grow up
and come back and tell me about it. They'll say, "remember I
didn't like my daddy," or "remember, my daddy refused to
communicate with me?" And usually that's the teenage years
when they come back to visit me. And I've actually seen children
express to me or to their friends, they think their parent is uncaring,
uninterested, not sensitive and maybe not even loving to them,
because their parent refuses to learn to communicate with them.
And in their eyes that's it. They just say, `my mother doesn't know
how to sign; my mother doesn't care."
This lack of communication also leads to little involvement in the classroom. Powers (1997) also arrived at a similar finding in his study comparing parental involvement of parents of children who are deaf with the parents of children who are hearing.
Teachers also mentioned that many parents did not respond to the daily journals and/or notes sent home. They gave this as an indication that communication was not reciprocated. The lower elementary school teacher experienced this lack of reciprocation daily.
We have many parents we see at the beginning of the year and
not again until the end of the year. But we still continue to send
the journal home everyday. The majority does not write anything
back. Some are really good at writing back and some don't offer
anything. I think we just try to keep that journal contact.
This lack of reciprocation also seemed to be a recurring theme in the literature on parental involvement. For example teachers surveyed by Dolan and Gentile (1996) labeled this lack of correspondence as a negative experience (p. 11).
Teachers also felt that parents' expectations often caused barriers. Parents had expected the teachers to be the experts, with all the answers. When teachers did not have these answers, parents often became frustrated. This was a concern of the upper elementary teacher:
I would say ninety-five percent of our parents think that we
are the experts, and we are, but sometimes we don't have the
answers and they can't believe it. They come here and expect us to
know the answers and that's a problem.
Education was given as a barrier. The upper elementary teacher cited the education levels of parents as a barrier.
In many ways, or sometimes, the parents are not well educated
themselves. They may have, like, and eighth grade education.
They may have a higher education, but are not educated in
deafness and its effects.
Parents were also not educated about the developmental progress of children in general. The lower elementary teacher often felt she had to explain to parents what were the correct developmental expectations for their children.
More often than not I have to educate parents on what really
is appropriate to the preschool level. They [parents] want them
to be more academic. Parents might say, `I want you to work
on the alphabet." The kids all scribble the alphabet naturally.
But that is not something you teach in preschool. I had a parent
write that in a journal to me this morning, that they wanted
their child to spend more time writing the alphabet. I have
to help them understand what is appropriate to the age of
Distance was also noted as a significant barrier. Many students
came as far away as the other end of the state. Because of this, it was difficult to include these parents in the day to day activities at school. Both teachers and parents cited this as a crucial barrier to becoming involved.
Employment was also given as a barrier to involvement. Both parents interviewed worked full time jobs, consequently their hours of employment were the same as those of school. This made it difficult for them to give any type of classroom support during the day.
Both teachers found that the behavior of students and parents could also hinder involvement. The lower elementary teacher noted that parents could become a distraction to children when they were in the classroom:
I don't know if it's just this age or if it carries through, I think
it probably carries through to all ages, for some reason when
a mom or dad is in the room the kids usually bounce off the
walls because they are so excited. I think they would get used
to it if it were a regular thing that parents were there. I don't
think that would be a problem. I know that there are teachers
that have used parents very effectively in the classroom.
The response from teachers interviewed in this study was notable when compared to the responses from parents interviewed by Lin and McBride (1996). In their study, it was the parents who felt their presence might distract the students. The parents interviewed for this study did not mention this as a barrier, only the lower elementary teacher did so.
Both teachers had experience with passive and violent parents. This behavior severely limited any type of involvement with the teacher or classroom. Teachers interviewed by Lin and McBride (1996) also mentioned their fear of confrontation with parents as a barrier to encouraging parental involvement.