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Centre for Urban Schooling

Principals and Parents

Connections and Disjunctures

Big Question:

According to principals, what are the purposes of parent and community involvement?

Researchers: Dr. Joseph Flessa and Rachael Nicholls
Research Theme: Schooling and Community Connections

There is a large body of normative and professional writing on school improvement that highlights the importance of parental involvement. Typically, such work highlights the role of the principal in encouraging home-school connections and makes recommendations. Our study diverges from this typical approach by focusing on how principals learn about the families and communities they serve. What inquiry process, explicit or implicit, do principals follow to learn more about the context in which they work? As researchers we seek to discover the ways principals learn about and make connections with the parents and communities they serve.

Watch the full interview with
Dr. Joseph Flessa and Research Associate
Rachael Nicholls

Theoretical/Conceptual Framework

Using an inquiry approach, we considered the relevant theory and literature, including policy incentives (Stone, 1988), parental engagement (Pushor & Murphy, 2004), urban schools in challenging circumstances (Flessa, 2009; Valencia, 1997; Valencia, 2009) to gain understanding about the way that principal learning and reflexive inquiry counterbalanced prevalent deficit frameworks about urban families and communities.


Research Questions and Methods


  • What do principals in model inner-city schools say they know about the parents and communities they serve, and how did they learn it?
  • What do principals say are the purposes of parent and community involvement?
  • What do principals in model inner-city schools say are the nuts-and-bolts of encouraging parent and community involvement?
  • How do principals evaluate their own work with parents and community partners?


Before visiting the schools we accessed public documents through the school board and each school website. We visited and interviewed four Model School principals in the spring of 2009. Each interview was one to one-and-a-half hours in length. Following the interviews, we observed the participants through a school tour. Interviews were transcribed and used along side documents to develop themes.

Read significant findings


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