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TeacherParent Cooperation:

Strategies to Engage
Parents in Their
Childrens School Lives
LOIZOS SYMEOU
ABSTRACT: This article examines the collaboration of 2 teachers with the
families of their pupils. The data were collected during an ethnographic
study conducted in a rural school in Cyprus. The data set includes indi-
vidual interviews, focus groups, observations, and the researchers jour-
nal. These 2 teachers, with different perspectives on parental involve-
ment, adopted different but effective strategies to involve parents
actively in their childrens school lives.
S
chools are viewed as providing educational opportunities
and achieving their aims only insofar as what they offer
builds on and directly engages with the fundamental educa-
tion and curriculum that the child experiences at home
(Bernstein, 1975; Bloom, 1982; Bourdieu & Passeron, 1990;
Coleman, 1990; Lareau, 1987; Marjoribanks, 1979). Not
surprisingly, schoolfamily relationships are considered
nowadays a significant determinant of the quality of the ed-
ucation provided.
Nonetheless, there are fears that attempts to bring family
and school closer may widen the gap between socially and
economically deprived children and the rest of the children.
Therefore, even the most ardent proponents of initiatives for
engaging families in their childrens schooling admit that
benefits occur only when families are aware, knowledge-
able, encouraging and involved (Epstein, 1992, p. 1141).
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Similar caution is needed in relation to claims that these
findings apply for all grade levels, childrens ages, and
phases of childrens schooling; for all types of schools (i.e.,
urban, suburban, rural); and even for so-called difficult and
disadvantaged schools. Moreover, the lack of homogeneity
among families profiles and needs must be taken into seri-
ous consideration when attempting a description of the na-
ture and extent of schoolfamily relationships, even within
the same context.
This article reports on the efforts of two elementary school
teachers in a rural GreekCypriot elementary school to co-
operate with the families of their pupils. It presents these
two teachers active but different approaches to collaborate
with their pupils families, and it explores the ways that they
managed to make parents feel comfortable with school and
become actively engaged in their childrens school lives.
The data reported were collected during an ethnographic
study conducted in Homer and Vickys school, the two par-
ticipant teachers. The schoolwith a professional staff of a
female principal, a deputy, and eight teachersserved a so-
cially deprived, working-class community with 450 habi-
tants, named the Old Village.
The data were collected from individual and focus-group
interviews and observations. Individual interviews were con-
ducted with the two participant teachers, the schools prin-
cipal, and a number of pupils and their parents. Addition-
ally, separate focus-group interviews were conducted with
parents and pupils. All interviews were fully transcribed. A
descriptive content analysis approach was followed, using
inductive coding techniques (Seidman, 1998; Strauss,
1987).
Moreover, during occasional prearranged school visits,
the teachers, their pupils, and their parents were observed
in situ (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2000), namely, during
events at which parents were involvedfor example, the
Christmas-evening celebration, national anniversary
mornings, and the end-of-the-year graduation. Some par-
ent-association general assemblies and school fairs were
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also observed. The observations were made casually (Burns,
2000) and yielded significant ethnographic data of copious,
handwritten field notes recorded in the researchers journal,
which served for comparison between the two teacher cases
and as a source of background information.
The following part of the article uses the data to present
Homers and Vickys perspectives on parental involvement
and the strategies that they employed to involve parents ac-
tively in their childrens school lives. Anonymity of the school
and participants has been safeguarded, and all names are
pseudonyms.
HOMER: THE ACTIVELY LISTENING TEACHER
Homer was in his second year of teaching at the Old Vil-
lage School and his fourth year of teaching in total. His
fourth-grade class numbered 16 children, most from de-
prived socioeconomic backgrounds. The school principal
(HII),
i
his colleagues (RD), and his pupils parents (PII,
PFG) considered Homer an extremely dynamic and inno-
vative teacher who was sensitive to pupil issues. They all
felt that he was responsive to his pupils parents and
served families and their needs for the sake of his pupils
progress. Homer was most committed to being inventive in
offering pupils as many out-of-class learning and cultural
experiences as possible. Similarly, he put his links with
parents high in his professional agenda and claimed that
these connections are a determinant factor of his pupils
school success (II).
His views and practices about linking school and families
appeared to be underpinned by his beliefs about the role of
parents in the education of their children. Homer strongly
believed that parents have the overall responsibility for chil-
drens school success. Apart from the great value of parents
involvement for their childrens school performance, parents
should be involved because it is they who have the overall
and ultimate responsibility for their childrens school suc-
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cess (not the schools and not the teachers). According to
Homer, although teachers should do their best for pupils
progress and although this might succeed only through
gaining the active collaboration of parents, it is parents who
should be accountable for their childrens success. As he
pointed out, it is one thing for teachers to do their best for
their pupils and quite another who is responsible for ensur-
ing their success (II).
The focus of Homers policy was therefore to keep parents
as close as possible to render them more knowledgeable
(II). This was to be achieved by communicating both in per-
son and in writing with his pupils parents. He explained his
policy as follows: When you dont have frequent contacts,
you cannot do something; therefore, I pursue a meeting with
them. In other words, I dont let anyone keeping a distance
from me for a long time (II).
Observations of Homers relating to parents during their
visits at the school (OB) showed that he seemed friendly and
was skillful in chatting with them and treating them cor-
dially. Moreover, he sustained warm, social, and personal re-
lations with most of them, and unlike many of his col-
leagues, he rarely felt the need to use his professional status
to deny parental requests (PII). His basic goal was for par-
ents to feel free to contact him as often as possible. This was
something that he stressed to his pupils parents during
their first formal teacherparent meeting, which took place
one evening early in the school year. Even though it was not
the schools policy, Homer gathered all his pupils parents in
his classroom, introduced himself, and pointed out how im-
portant he considered their frequent communication with
him to be and the significance of cooperating with the school
and him for the childrens sake (OB). After enumerating
some occasions when he wanted them to communicate with
him, he vigorously concluded, I want you to cooperate with
me, to have regular communication with me. The relation-
ships between the school and the pupil, the pupil and the
parent, the parent and the school, the relationships between
this triangle have particular importance (OB).
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Having established his vision of parentpupilteacher co-
operation, he then challenged them to provide him with their
own expectations for him and to inform him about any as-
sistance that they needed, particularly, assistance with sup-
porting their childrens schoolwork. Parents apparently felt
free to express their expectations and worries, and they com-
municated them articulately. Homer explained later that he
seriously considered many of their demands and tried to in-
corporate them in his everyday practice. For example, he im-
plemented their suggestion to write pupils homework on the
blackboard so that all pupils could copy it into their note-
books and so that parents would know about it (PII, PFG).
Another idea that emerged from parents suggestions dur-
ing that initial meeting was the communication folder, an
idea that parents actively used during that school year and
that proved to be the most significant of all Homers family
outreach practices. The folder was used by both the parents
and the teacher when something needs to be transmitted
(PFG, mother). More specifically, when the teacher wants
to tell us [the families] something important, he writes it in
this booklet. The same applies for us; we can write some-
thing in the booklet, the teacher sees it, thus we can com-
municate (II, Mr. Ioannou).
As Mr. Ioannou stated, this idea was a convenient two-di-
rection communication practice between the family and the
teacher for messages that were not urgent. Pupils parents,
such as Ms. Euphemia, expressed positive comments about
this institution: I consider this as very pioneering, and it is
something that we have suggested ourselves [the parents] a
few years ago. That specific year the pupils were causing
problems to their teachers, and my husband suggested to
the teacher that it would be good if there was a communica-
tion booklet so that when the teacher had anything to report
. . . because it did happen that year, some pupils to be pun-
ished for serious things without the parent knowing. A child
will not go and tell him [the parent], You know, I have been
punished today, so we suggested the booklet, but I dont
know, they considered it a weird idea and therefore they did
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not [do it]. . . . This year, when Homer introduced it, I was
thrilled, because I found it very pioneering (II). Families also
saw it as a helpful means of communication when a parent
could not visit the teacher (PII, PFG). It was always there
for any parent to use alongside other communication av-
enues, such as visiting or calling the teacher.
Despite the value that parents placed on this strategy,
Homer himself had serious apprehensions about how fami-
lies construed its value and how it was eventually put into
practice. In the long run, the folder was used only when one
side or the other wanted to report bad news. Homer be-
lieved that this practice was hindering parents from utilizing
it in other circumstances. He also admitted his own mis-
treatment of the folder (II, FG), using it most times for send-
ing prescriptive messages such as Dear Ms. M, Sam needs
to read his reading passage more times (II).
Homer therefore stressed another practice that he believed
more satisfactorily fulfilled their needs and his own. As he
explained, communicating directly via the phone works out
much better. . . . I will call him [the parent] and talk to him
differently either at his jobIve got all their phone numbers
at workor at home, immediately, any moment, and not by
writing in the folder, which will mean that I will be waiting
for their response. . . . There are parents who cannot come;
there are parents who both work, truly (II).
As parents (II) and Homer explained (II), Homer permitted
the parents to call him during his lunch breaks or during the
times when he had no class, if there was no other appropri-
ate way of contacting him, or when something urgent came
up. To achieve this, he gave parents a time table signifying
the days and times that he could be reached by phone. Once,
for instance, while Homer was in the staff room during the
first break, a mother called asking for him (OB). Homer in-
terrupted his breakfast, and he and the mother had a
5-minute chat. She was calling because she was having dif-
ficulty coming to the school to get information about her
sons school performance. In a friendly way, Homer ex-
plained to her that her son was progressing academically,
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was genuinely trying to inhibit his involvement in deviant
behavior, and was actively participating in class activities.
He also described to her a relevant incident that took place
early that week.
Homer also called parents himself, if the parents had not
responded to a written request for a meeting, when an im-
mediate problem had emerged concerning the childrens ac-
ademic performance or behavior, or when the children had a
health problem or accident in the school (II, FG).
Homer consciously cultivated the most welcoming atmos-
phere when parents met him, in or out of the school. He al-
ways appeared friendly and warm, always referred to them
by their first name, and always welcomed them with a gen-
uine greeting: First of all, I would like to tell you that I am
very happy that you came to see me today (OB). Then, to
trigger discussion, he gently asked the parent to evaluate his
or her childs attainment: I urge them to tell me how they
see their child, whether they feel that [he or she] is pro-
gressing, whether they feel that [he or she] is facing difficul-
ties, if the child has a problem lately with homework (II).
Parents responded positively to this approach and usually
unfolded their doubts, worries, and stress about their at-
tempts to support their childrens school success (OB). One
mother, Ms. Makrygianni, for instance, shared her concerns
about her daughter: My child lately doesnt . . . while she
was feeling self-confidence she started losing it. I asked her
why, and she told me, One day in class my teacher told me
to read and insulted me. What should I do? (OB). [Q1:]
Another mother, Ms. Charilaou, described to Homer her
own plans to deal with her sons progress in handwriting:
Look, I have decided to take action with my son. I inform
you now as well so that you know what I am planning to do,
because he wasnt okay with his handwriting despite my
telling him to improve it and making it neater (OB).
After listening to the parents, Homer built on their com-
ments, grasping some elements of the parents replies and
then adding his own perspective, pointing out important as-
pects of the childrens schooling that gave the parents a
more complete picture. In doing so, he did not avoid sharing
508 LOIZOS SYMEOU
[Q1:
Please
reevalu-
ate this
transla-
tion. For
example,
perhaps
it could
be My
child . .
. was
feeling
self-con-
fidence
[but]
started
losing
it. I
asked
her
why,
and she
told me,
One
day in
class
my
teacher
told me
to read
and [it]
insulted
me.
What
should
I do?]
06-743_08_Symeou.qxd 1/3/07 10:48 AM Page 508
problems, and he intentionally saved the good news for last:
I always finish with the good news so that I dont stress
them. When you start with the good news, everything seems
all right, and then you start talking about the bad things
your mind sticks at the bad things. . . . That is why I start
with the bad news and then I tell them, All these that I told
you are just a part of the picture. There is the good self in
your child that is this, and this, and that. . . . And this
makes them feel pleased and relaxed. . . . I remind them that
your son is good, your daughter is good (II).
Through these communication strategies, Homer managed
to emphasize the childrens strengths and weakness in an
honest manner, a tactic that parents appeared to appreciate
and one that thus succeeded in keeping them coming to
school. As Homer maintained, if I tell them that everything
is going well, they might rest assured; if I tell them the truth,
at least they will know to do something . . . since [when] you
tell them that things are good, they will not step their feet in
school again (II).
Parents generally seemed quite relaxed when approaching
Homer, and many of them called him by his first name.
Moreover, they felt comfortable discussing with him their
fears and agonies regarding their childrens schooling and,
particularly, their difficulties in dealing with school issues or
events where they felt helpless or inadequate (OB, PII). They
found that his insistence on their sharing their observations
and difficulties in handling school matters supported them.
Homer explained his method by saying, Thus, I can see in
which way I can help or how much I can count on them for
support. Homers success in earning parents confidence to
cooperate with him might have stemmed from parents sense
of setting common goals with him for the childrens
progress, as well as from the value that he placed on par-
ents points of view. In the following occasion, we see Homer
explicitly reinforcing the value of communication and recog-
nizing the parents action:
HOMER: Thank you for informing me the other day for [the
reason for a students not doing] her essay, and whenever
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there is a similar case, please just write me down a similar
message in the communication folder.
MS. ANDREOU: She couldnt make it because she had her af-
ternoon English private lesson, and it was already 10 oclock
in the evening and we were still studying . . .
HOMER: It is good for me to be informed about it so that I
know as well, so that I am informed of what is happening. I
liked it that you informed me. . . . I didnt tell her off, some-
thing I would have done if you hadnt informed me. (OB)
Parents of Homers class who were interviewed agreed that
he is a teacher that a parent can discuss things with. As Ms.
Euphemia explained, Sometimes, us parents, we cannot ex-
press ourselves and cannot be absolutely understood (II).
Thus, Homers distinctive readiness to be open to discus-
sion and hear and then say his opinion (PII) was highly
valued by parents. All these parents compared their experi-
ences with Homer with years of experience when they did
not dare to visit their childrens teachers because they would
have been devastated by what they would hear.
At the end of a briefing, Homer always thanked parents for
coming to school to visit him. To urge the parent to keep in
close contact with him, Homer often concluded the conver-
sation by saying, As you see, with our communication, we
can improve your childs performance; it is only this contact
that sustains a warm relationship, which helps us follow on
(OB).
Trying to encourage parents to communicate with him as
much as possible and sustain their direct contact, Homer
urged them to visit him at school any time. Even though he
always reminded them that he expected them to meet him
during the weekly visiting period,
ii
he was always willing to
spend some of his nonteaching hours to meet, rather than
send them away and insist that they come during the official
time: When a parent comes during the break or early before
our sessions and I know that he is spending time from his
working hours and that its a matter of precious time and he
knows that this is an opportunity to see me, I will take ad-
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vantage of this opportunity. . . . Rather than not coming,
come to see me early in the morning. . . . There are some
cases that really deserve giving them a chance. . . . If I spare
a few minutes to tell them, Your child is studying. I want
him to study these few things, and I will check it tomorrow,
it is only 5 minutes in the morning that can make the dif-
ference (II). By maintaining this stance toward parents,
Homer was risking his relations with his colleagues. He com-
mented that he actually felt resentment by his colleagues
who feared that his practice would lead to similar demands
from their own pupils parents. This was something that he
appeared to handle quite successfully by sustaining warm
relationships with his colleagues and at the same time es-
tablishing clearly his pedagogical concerns about linking
with his pupils parents.
A significant aspect of Homers policy was his stubborn ef-
forts to bring all parents to the school to meet him, in par-
ticular, parents of those pupils facing academic difficulties,
because many times parents fear that their child is rejected,
and they, as parents, are insulted and do not come to the
school (II). Homer proudly indicated that, apart from one
family (the Christou family), all the others were in regular
contact with him and were well informed about how they
could become involved in their childrens school lives. Par-
ents pointed out that they felt knowledgeable about their
childrens performance in school and could recognize their
own role in their childrens school success (PII, PFG). Even
families that had been less inclined to come to the school in
previous years or whose children were not doing so well ac-
ademically pointed out that they found in the face of Homer
a teacher actively interested in their children, one who was
honest with them and who valued their opinions.
Having succeeded in bringing all his pupils families to the
school, Homer targeted the Christous, a distant and hard-to-
reach family. Homers attempts focused on persuading them
to visit the school periodically to meet him and on convinc-
ing them that their daughter Georgiana was not succeeding
academically and needed their support at home. As Homer
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explained, Georgiana is the weakest pupil in class. . . . [In
the beginning of the school year] she was lazy and very friv-
olous. . . . For you to understand, she never started a sen-
tence with capital; her spelling was dreadful . . . and she was
playing dumb. She was forgetting to do things; she was
telling me fake excuses. Her last years teacher had the same
problems; many times she was often not even coming at
school, pretending she was sick (II). Homer managed, first,
by being honest about the childs school performance with
the mother, who was the family member responsible for the
childs schooling, and, second, by not giving up their case.
Ms. Christou had been avoiding coming to the school. As she
explained (II), she did not want to be embarrassed by hear-
ing the bad news regarding her daughters performance.
Therefore, whenever Ms. Christou met a teacher, she pre-
tended that her daughter was doing well at school. Homer
and previous years teachers had noticed this pattern and
thought that she was too proud to admit that her daughter
was not a high achiever, because it would reflect negatively
on herself or her family, and thus she did not visit the
school. Ms. Christou had a different explanation and indi-
cated that her daughters previous teachers had misled Ms.
Christou about her daughters academic performance: Lets
say . . . my younger daughter . . . I am not saying that she
is having a lot of difficulties, but she had a problem with her
spelling and her reading . . . where we did not have . . . lets
say, the teacher during the previous years was telling me
that she was good. This year . . . somehow . . . we were not
doing well. . . . She has the capacities; she is not a child who
hasnt got a sharp mind (II). A second reason for Ms. Chris-
tous not coming to the school could have been some nega-
tive past experiences with the teachers of her older children.
Ms. Christou explained that all her children faced some ac-
ademic difficulties, and she hinted that teachers neither pro-
vided her the appropriate guidance nor did they respect her
family. Ms. Christou avoided contact with the school, and
she may have contributed to Georgianas negative attitudes
toward the school by persuading her daughter to distance
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herself from both her classmates and her teachers (II), who
considered her inferior and were certain, according to her, to
make her and her whole familys life miserable.
Homer, intent on bringing all parents into school, sent Ms.
Christou a note that convinced her to come to meet him at
the weekly visiting period. On their initial meeting, Ms.
Christou tried to anticipate Homers evaluation of her
daughters class performance. Homer commented afterward,
She came with arrogance, with confidence, lets say . . . and,
as I always do, I asked her, What do you think about your
child? . . . She told me, The only problem that Georgiana al-
ways had was her spelling and tried to close the subject and
consider that she is more or less fine. Then I told her, Of
course, spelling is a problem, but its not your daughters
major problem. Georgiana has many problems as well as
many capacities of course, hence we are here together
today. . . . In a way she showed that she was shocked and
said that she understood the situation (II).
At this meeting, they identified ways that Ms. Christou
could help her daughter at home so that she would improve
in spelling and reading. They also decided to meet again.
Even though Homer was convinced that Ms. Christou now
understood that there was a need for their systematic coop-
eration and that she would come to see him again, as they
agreed, Ms. Christou did not appear at the school for the fol-
lowing 2 months. Moreover, she was not supporting Geor-
giana, as they had agreed. Homer described what happened
as follows: I invited her again. I called her and told her to
come to the school. You must come to the school; it is nec-
essary for us to discuss various issues. She came here and
I confronted her . . . and I told her that I want her to come
in 15 days. . . . When she came after 2 weeks, I told her that
I wanted to see her husband as well. In exactly 2 weeks
time, her husband came with her. . . . In 2 weeks, she was
here again (II).
By insisting on her coming to school and by making it
clear that he would not give up, Homer managed to convince
Ms. Christou of the need for both parents to jointly support
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their daughter for her to progress in school. Homer indicated
to Ms. Christou that the child has a lot of potential. In other
words it is not a matter of mind but a matter of indifference.
I am sure that she can do very well, but she has to get in a
routine that will be strictly followed (OB).
After a series of visits to the school every fortnight during
the weekly visiting period, Georgiana changed her attitude in
school, and her performance improved. Ms. Christou herself
confessed during the interview that with the teachers in-
terest, I think that my daughter has made progress (II),
pointing out that she tried to be as informed as possible: I
also get informed about my child via the communication
folder. If we have any problem, [Homer] might write down in
there, We have a problem in . . . and I sign it. She comes
and brings it to me. I wrote to the teacher myself the other
day when she had some difficulties with doing her geography
exercise. . . . I wrote it to the teacher (II).
Homers colleagues were skeptical of his persistence with
the Christous, and his efforts were a topic of their conversa-
tion. Once, for instance, when Ms. Christou visited Homer
during the weekly visiting period and Homer was leaving the
staff room to meet her in his classroom, all his colleagues
laughed in a friendly fashion and made weird signals to him
while one of his colleagues said, Homer, youve got visits,
eh? (RD). Their reaction aimed at teasing Homer for not giv-
ing up his efforts with parents, particularly for a child who
had no chance and whose family was considered a lost
case. Homer smiled to them and nodded, implying that he
recognized that the meeting would not be an easy one but
that, at the same time, he was determined to give it a
chance, despite what his colleagues thought.
VICKY: THE ACTIVELY INVOLVING TEACHER
During the study, Vicky was the schools first-grade teacher
and in the second year of her teaching career. Vicky was a
well-organized and competent teacher. Like Homer, she had
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clear views about the need to maintain strong links with
pupils parents. Discussions with her, however, revealed that
her overall philosophy differed from his both in practice and
in perspective. In contrast with Homer, she believed that
parentsespecially, those of first graderscould not handle
the educational demands of their children. Hence, her goal
was to inform them and train them to become involved suc-
cessfully in their childrens academic lives.
Vicky had already had a rich experience working with
pupils parents. The previous school year, she introduced a
radical program of parents daily visits to her class so that
they could observe and, in some cases, be involved in learn-
ing activities taking place in school, thus indirectly training
parents for assisting and supervising their children at home
(II). Parents could come to school any day that they wanted
to and attend the class during the first teaching periods. De-
spite her ambitious aim and the initial success of her inno-
vation attempt, the program createdas Vicky herself ad-
mitted (TFG)problems that affected the whole school. Mr.
Moses, a member of the parent association that year, ex-
plained how the scheme began successfully but gradually
got out of Vickys control: Unfortunately, some mothers
took advantage of the fact that other parents could not make
it and ended up being in their childs class every day. This
resulted in a boomerang, because from that point onwards
some kids didnt want to go to school without their mama.
After that, more problems occurred, because the mama, in-
stead of assisting the teacher, was going to make allegations
against the teacher and was gossiping about her with other
teachers. Thus, a conflict was created among the teachers. .
. . We tried; both the schools inspector and the parent as-
sociation supported the idea, even though some parents
were against it in the beginning. Finally, it ended badly (II).
Reflecting back, Vicky (II) blamed her inexperience in deal-
ing with parents and the ill organization of the innovation as
the main reasons for its outcome.
During the following year, with a strong belief that it was
for the benefit of children to have their parents involved and
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in close contact with their childrens schoolwork, Vicky per-
sisted in her efforts and implemented a new program. De-
spite hesitation of her colleagues, the principal, the school
inspector, and the schools parent association, she planned
a new intervention. This time, she explained (TFG), she se-
lected various activities aimed not only at achieving her own
educational goals but also at meeting parents expectations
and views regarding the most needed and appropriate prac-
tices for supporting their childrens schoolwork. Thus, dur-
ing the year of the study, Vicky organized a meeting sched-
ule with all her pupils parentsmostly, mothers. Each
meeting served a different purpose, depending on Vickys
teaching aims and parents needs at the particular time.
The first meeting took place during the first week of the
school year, when Vicky invited (both in writing and by
phone) all the parents of her class to a preliminary getting to
know each other gathering (TII). This first meeting was held
during school time, and only mothers attended. Nearly all
mothers were there. During that initial meeting, Vicky briefly
presented her teaching priorities, demonstrated some basic
teaching activities in language and mathematics that she
would use in class, and explained to them how she expected
them to contribute at home. Parents seemed to appreciate
Vickys initiative and noted that it was a useful gathering that
managed to present the way children are taught and how
parents can assist at home (PFG, mother). Vicky stressed
the value of this initial meeting because many families had a
child in first grade for the first time and had no experience
with new teaching methods in learning to write, read, and
calculate: It is not as it is in the other grades where the
pupils participate in the lessons delivery; rather, it is a dif-
ferent stage. Lets say, first, I had to explain to them how
their child should read a sentence, how to work out sen-
tences; there are mothers who do not know how to do so (II).
A month later, Vicky organized a second meeting with all
her class parents during the annual Parents Communica-
tion Evening (OB). Instead of having a short briefing with
each individual family, as most other teachers did, Vicky
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met with all the parents of her pupils, including, this time,
many fathers. After briefly introducing herself, she pointed
out some activities that she considered basic parental
school duties, and she demonstrated some language activi-
ties that she considered important. Vicky explained her ra-
tionale as follows: We made clear from our first meeting
what I would expect from them, how I would like them to
read their sentences with their child during that first 34
weeks, and then, at the Parents Communication Evening,
when we had progressed enough, I told them more about
how to work with syllabicating, which was our main learn-
ing goal during that phase (II).
Throughout the school year, Vicky continued to organize
sessions for her pupils parents during schooltime. During
these meetings, parents received information regarding the
classwork and guidelines on how to deal with home activi-
ties. It is noteworthy that in no cases were these morning
gatherings attended by a father; hence, both the teacher (II)
and the parents (PII, PFG) referred to it as the mother
mornings.
Five of these mother mornings involved parents visiting
Vickys class, as in the previous year. This time, however,
Vicky drew on parents suggestions that, in some class vis-
its, parents should attend only as viewers and not as partic-
ipants and that, in others, the teacher should demonstrate
the content of some teaching sessions without the presence
of the pupils. Each of these sessions concluded with a dis-
cussion on what the mothers had observed.
During each of these class visits, Vicky tried to offer moth-
ers the opportunity to observe her teaching learning activi-
ties so that they would become aware of her teaching aims,
approaches, and practices during that particular teaching
phase: I want parents to see how I teach my pupils to
arrange the mixed sentences of a short text in a logical se-
quence and how we do it again and again, thus being able to
practice the same activity at home (II).
In the second semester of the school year, Vicky organized
another two mother mornings during the weekly visiting
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period. In these sessions, pupils were not present, and
Vicky offered information regarding classwork, as well as
guidance on ongoing educational and pedagogical issues. In
the March gathering (OB), Vicky demonstrated how the
mothers could assist their children to write a brief essay at
home. The meeting started with a brief introduction to the
mothers about new developments in the way the class
works and how parents can support the teachers work at
home. Then Vicky circulated their childrens essay books so
that the mothers could see their childrens first attempts to
compose an essay. She showed the mothers how she moti-
vated pupils to write the essay and how she facilitated their
efforts. They then discussed what parents should expect
from children at that particular age in essay writing and
how much the adults should interfere in the process. At the
end of the meeting, she gave mothers the opportunity to
discuss with her specific doubts and ambiguities regarding
individual pupils essays. Vicky also advised mothers on
how to prepare their children for the schools national day
celebration, demonstrating how to prepare their childrens
costumes and how to help their children learn their recita-
tion for the event. The theme of a second gathering was that
of reading short stories and fairy tales in the class and at
home.
Overall, the mothers that participated in the mother morn-
ings were highly satisfied with Vickys initiative and favor-
ably compared this approach to their individual briefings
with her during the weekly visiting period. One of the bene-
fits was the opportunity for the mothers to share their
doubts, suggestions, ideas, and solutions about how to sup-
port the child successfully: We talk mainly about our chil-
dren in general, not for your own child, for all childrens
work in general. This is important, because my own diffi-
culty can be the same as the other ladys, and the opposite.
It is important for me; hence, I have not missed any of these
gatherings regardless of my work and the fact that I have to
find a baby-sitter for my newborn (II, Ms. Aristeidou). Some
mothers also pointed out (PFG) that these meetings en-
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hanced their childrens school commitment. The mothers
claimed that their children were always interested to find out
what they discussed with the teacher and what they had to
do to fulfill the teachermother agreements.
Mothers claimed that the main merit of these meetings
was that parents could learn to align their homework assis-
tance with teachers classwork: The way [teachers] teach
today is much different from the way we [parents] were
taught was a common justification among participant
mothers (PII, PFG). We see how the teacher teaches, and
we take the way things are done and assist our children sim-
ilarly at home, another mother explained (FG). Some par-
ents pointed out that they observed how to use the school-
books at home, which change every now and then and,
particularly, the more recent books, [which] have a lot of
difficult stuff (FG). Most mothers were interested in observ-
ing particular types of schoolworkespecially, mathematics,
because of their difficulty with the mathematics text and ex-
ercise books.
Many suggested that such a practice would be useful at all
grade levels. As one mother suggested, every school year is
different. . . . I want to know how the lesson is done in the
upper grades, as well. I just want to get inside to see what
my child does correctly, how good he is (PFG). Most be-
lieved, though, that this practice was appropriate when
pupils are in the lower grades, especially in the first grade,
because Grade 1 is the class where a lot of assistance is
needed at home as well. By watching in the class, you see
the way the teacher works; thus, you see in what way more
or less you will help the child at home (PFG, mother).
Correspondingly, many mothers valued the class visit be-
cause it gave them a firsthand experience of their childrens
class and school behavior. As Ms. Spyrou proclaimed, you
can see how your child responds in the class, how he or she
is doing during the lessons, something that you dont know,
no matter how much information and description you are
given by the teacher. . . . If you do not see yourself, it is not
the same (II). Some parents suggested that this firsthand
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experience of their childrens school attitude might lead to a
better coordination of action between the teacher and the
parent and thus enhance a childs school performance. Ms.
Steliou (II), for example, maintained that by discussing her
observations with her son and Vicky (that her son seemed
reluctant to actively participate in oral classroom activities),
her son soon altered his class behavior.
Vicky also contacted her class parents via written notices
to all parents. Like the mother mornings, these notices had
two goals: to provide general guidance about the classwork
and aims and to explain an activity that her pupils would
engage in at home. Parents were delighted with these notes,
particularly, those on childrens homework responsibilities
(PII, PFG). According to parents, it is most important that
families be informed about common concern issuesfor in-
stance, tips on how children should study at home, how they
should behave in school and at home, and so forth.
Finally, Vicky paid particular attention to her communi-
cation with parents on an individual basis. She actively
urged parents to complement their attendance at all-parent
gatherings with frequent meetings with her during the
weekly visiting period. Spending extra time and effort to
provide her pupils parents multiple opportunities to get in-
volved in their childrens school lives, she claimed to be
strict regarding parents obligation to use the weekly visit-
ing period to meet with her. Correspondingly, she encour-
aged the parents to visit her only during that hour and not
on other occasions. Only for a few families did she make ex-
ceptions, trying to be flexible and display a spirit of under-
standing: Andrews mother has nine kids; sometimes, I ex-
cuse her. I will devote for her 5 minutes at the most [when
she comes to school outside of the time set aside for visits],
and I indicate to her that we will say more during the visit-
ing hour by saying to her, in other words, Okay, but this
isnt the best time to talk. The only exception is Kyriss
mother; we are faced with many problems with Kyriss be-
havior; he was crying a lot. . . . He wanted to leave the
school all the time, and we had many meetings [with his
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mother]; we became friends, and she was coming at school
very often, and she was calling me. Certainly, in this case . . .
(II, Vicky). Similarly, even though she was positive about
parents calling her at school, she took a firm stance, ex-
pecting that, with special exceptions, parents should contact
her during the weekly visiting hour.
Normally, the weekly visiting period was an open invita-
tion for parents to visit without an appointment. To comple-
ment the all-parent gatherings with a guaranteed minimum
of meetings with each parent and to permit Vicky to prepare
each parents visit by gathering all necessary documenta-
tion, she began to schedule meetings with individual parents
during this time. Instead of expecting the parents to decide
by themselves to show up, as the regulations suggested,
Vicky sent a written notice once a term to each family to
meet her for a 10-minute meeting during the weekly visit pe-
riod.
During the 10-minute appointment, Vicky informed the
parent about his or her childs performance since their last
briefing. To prepare, Vicky made notes about the childs ac-
ademic performance and his or her school behavior. She
gathered samples of the childs classwork or homework in
the various subjects and usually displayed sections of the
childs exercise books and notebooks, tests and exercises, as
well as other work (OB). She tried to provide quantitative
and qualitative data to parents that would enable them to
have a solid understanding of the childs work in school, and
she stressed the improvement, stability, or decline of pupils
test performances. Vicky placed particular emphasis on
whether the child was fulfilling his or her homework re-
sponsibilities. A few times, Vicky displayed to parents (with-
out revealing names), good examples of work from other chil-
dren so that parents had more concrete perceptions about
their childrens abilities and class expectations. She usually
then informed parents about the childs behavior and pro-
vided a final opportunity for parents to provide her with any
information that they believed to be important. The report-
ing character of the 10-minute appointment did not provide
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much opportunity to parents to interact with Vicky during
the discussion.
Parents appeared to feel privileged to have the opportunity
to have a 10-minute briefing for which the teacher was fully
prepared (PII, PFG). They considered Vickys invitation im-
portant and tried to be as punctual as possible. Parents were
also impressed and satisfied by the richness of the compar-
ative data, in contrast with the general and abstract infor-
mation that they used to receive when the teacher had not
known about their visit in advance.
CONCLUSIONS AND DISCUSSION
This article presents two examples of the ways that teachers
in a rural state school in Cyprus engage their pupils parents
in school life. In this school context, the two teachers, Homer
and Vicky, made efforts and took individual initiatives to
work with parents. Their interactions with parents, however,
varied from each other.
Homer was impressively committed to his communication
with parents and viewed this aspect of his work as both nor-
mal and expected, because he believed that parents had a
primary responsibility for their childrens education and that
families have individual needs to meet this responsibility. He
therefore appeared welcoming and, at the same time, was
open to learning from parents. In doing so, he was compe-
tent to connect with parents, but above all, he knew how to
talk to them. He put them at ease and listened intently to
them to learn every parents perspective. He was honest and
direct, and he showed parents their childrens strengths and
potential and where they needed to improve. Accordingly,
the parents of Homers class appeared to feel comfortable
and relaxed during their meetings with him and shared a
warm relationship with him. They had long conversations
with him, and his friendly and nonbusinesslike approach,
accompanied by his constant, systematic, and persistent ef-
forts to bring each parent to the school, resulted in parents
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frequent school visits for discussion of any issues relevant to
their childrens school lives as well as their all-round devel-
opment. Parents felt that they were sufficiently understood,
that their special interests and needs were met, and that
they were supported in fulfilling their parental roles. Homer,
with his impressive commitment to his communication with
parents, managed to be the main actor; the person who ini-
tiated his own policies and priorities about parents; and to
whom parents, colleagues, and his principal responded.
Vicky had a different understanding of teacherfamily co-
operation and adopted a different approach in engaging her
pupils parents. She had a philosophy about the value of
parents being involved in their childrens education. Central
to this was the notion that parents receive as much infor-
mation as possible about their childrens performance so
that they understand their childrens needs; further, Vicki
believed that parents need to know how teaching takes place
so that they are able to foster their childrens school
progress. Her priority then was to inform and teach parents
so that they become actively and directly involved in their
childrens education. Although she worked well with parents
as a group, she seemed less keen to collaborate with fami-
lies on an individual basis. Her priorities and practices re-
flected her unambiguous stance as the expert who trained
parents so that the school fulfilled its aims. She was collab-
orative but on her own terms.
Despite the different approaches that Homer and Vicky
used in liaising with their pupils parents, they both man-
aged to make parents feel comfortable with school and be-
come actively engaged in their childrens education. Homer
and Vicky communicated extensively and in a systematic
manner with as many parents as possible. They exchanged
notes with parents to discuss problems faced by the chil-
dren, and parents initiated contacts. Moreover, they called
parents on a regular basis to hear about the children
and to discuss issues of common concern; thus, parents
were fully informed about various facets of their childrens
schooling and subsequently committed to it. Discussions
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about schools, teachers, and academic progress were fre-
quent. Even hard to reach parents were coming to school
in a systematic manner. Interconnectedness (Lareau, 2000)
between the school and the pupils homes was thus devel-
oped. Interdependence in schoolfamily relations activated
the formation of close, intense relationships and networks
between teachers and families and among families. The two
Old Village teachers, probably without being aware of it, by
providing their pupils parents with ample opportunities to
come to the school, built social networks in the school
community. Their pupils parents used the collaboration
opportunities granted by the school to build a relationship
with the school and consult with other parents and teach-
ers about their childrens educational experience. Parents
maintained close contact with their children, became
friends with other parents in the class, interacted socially,
and created bonds among themselves, thus activating the
generation of social capital for their children, as conceptu-
alized by Coleman (1988, 1990, 1994).
Homers and Vickys efforts validate the important role
that teachers play in conveying to parents that the teachers
value communication between school and home and in cre-
ating ways to engage parents in the school and promote
schoolfamily collaboration. This was particularly important
in this setting, given that schoolfamily relationships appear
marginalized in the agendas of policy and practice (Georgiou,
1996; Phtiaka, 1996; Symeou, 2002).
Homers and Vickys approaches can be shared with other
schools and teachers within and outside the GreekCypriot
educational system, but what the two teachers suggest
should not considered models that work anywhere. What
might be successful in this small rural homogeneous com-
munity may not be equally appropriate in other communi-
ties, in other types of schools, and in the cases of other
teachers.
Particular caution is needed in relation to considering the
heterogeneity of families and their needs. The need for dif-
ferentiation of teachers strategies is important, and families
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circumstances have to be taken into serious consideration
when aiming at successful parentteacher communication,
even within the same educational context. At the same time,
both examples clearly indicate that teachers who value
parental involvement, approach parents with honesty and
respect, and actively seek involvement can establish sup-
portive relationships, even with parents who were predomi-
nantly poor, uneducated, and initially reluctant to be di-
rectly involved. In both situations, the teachers collaborated
with parents in the most appropriate manner per parent, re-
gardless of circumstances and background, so that all par-
ents departed from the school knowing better what they
need to do to support their children and how to do it.
In conclusion, active and frequent communication and
collaboration of teachers and parents provide interdepend-
ence and intensity in schoolfamily relationships. Activities
and practices that enable teachers, parents, and children to
interact and start knowing one another at a personal level
enable them to feel that they are part of the same commu-
nity. As parents get acquainted, they become familiar with
ongoing school programs, practices, and activities; they ob-
serve their childrens actions in the school; and they share
information about the children with the teachers. Through
establishing connectedness and interdependent relation-
ships, children strengthen their educational resources to
fully develop their potential within the school system.
NOTES
1. Key for locating data source. Type of instrument: focus group
(FG), individual interview (II), researchers diary (RD), observation
(OB). Type of participant: teacher (T), family (F), parent (P), child/
chidren (C), headteacher (H).
2. A distinctive institution of state elementary schools in the
GreekCypriot educational system, the the weekly visiting period
allows for parents and guardians to visit their childrens teachers
in order to be informed about their childrens school attainment
JSPR
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and to discuss with the teachers any school issues. Teachers typ-
ically expect parents to come to the school for these 10- or 15-
minute briefings on a one-to-one basis.
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Loizos Symeou is an assistant professor at the School of Humanities


and Social Sciences of Cyprus College, where he teaches methodol-
ogy of educational research, sociology of education, and introduc-
tion to pedagogical sciences. His doctorate research examines soci-
ological aspects of familyschool collaboration in Cyprus. His areas
of interest include qualitative educational research, sociology of ed-
ucation, pedagogy, familyschool relationships, and ethics in social
and educational research. Address correspondence to Loizos
Symeou, PhD, Assistant Professor, Coordinator of Primary Education
Programme, Department of Education, School of Humanities and So-
cial Sciences, Cyprus College, Room 307, PO Box 22006, 1516
Nicosia, Cyprus. E-mail: lsymeou@cycollege.ac.cy
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