Parent engagement has the potential to create a story of a shared world in which educators and parents lay their knowledge alongside one another in schools to support and enhance the learning outcomes of children and to strengthen parents, families, schools and communities. An engaged community is dedicated to working together in a respectful and mutually enriching relationship.

While the terms “parent involvement” and “parent engagement” are often used interchangeably, to me they represent distinct conceptualizations of the place and voice of parents in schools. They are based on different assumptions and beliefs.

Benson (1999) notes that

[the word] “involvement comes from the Latin, ‘involvere,’ which means ‘to roll into’ and by extension implies wrapping up or enveloping parents somehow into the system” (p. 48).  Beare (1993) adds that “the implication in the word is that the person ‘involved’ is co-opted, brought into the act by another party” (p. 207, as cited in Benson, 1999, p. 48).  Parents who are “involved” serve the school’s agenda by doing the things educators ask or expect them to do – volunteering at school, parenting in positive ways, and supporting and assisting their children at home with their schoolwork – while knowledge, voice and decision-making continue to rest with the educators (Pushor, 2001; Pushor & Ruitenberg, with co-researchers, 2005, p. 12).

Engagement, in contrast, is defined as “contact by fitting together;… the meshing of gears” (Engagement).  The implication is that the person ‘engaged’ is an integral and essential part of a process, brought into the act because of care and commitment. By extension, engagement implies enabling parents to take their place alongside educators in the schooling of their children, fitting together their knowledge of children, of teaching and learning, with teachers’ knowledge.

With parent engagement, possibilities are created for the structure of schooling to be flattened, power and authority to be shared by educators and parents, and the agenda being served to be mutually determined and mutually beneficial.

Dr. Stirling McDowell Foundation for Research into Teaching