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Cultural beliefs regarding appropriate roles for parents, teachers, and students

What constitutes parental engagement in the opinions of teachers and parents can often diverge, leading to unrealistic expectations and tensions between home and school. For instance, in the case of ethnic minority parents, their responsibilities for childcare may be culturally shaped as demonstrated in a study of Mexican parents, who saw their role as ensuring their child’s attendance, instilling respect for the teacher and good behavior in school, and providing for their children (sometimes in the face of considerable poverty), while education was seen as the responsibility of the teachers and the school (Chrispeels and Rivero 2001, p.160). Moreover, teachers’ beliefs and preconceptions of disadvantaged families can impact relations with both students and parents. These include perceptions that ethnic and racial minority children exhibit less control and have behavioral difficulties leading to diminished engagement; differences in the parenting practices, communication styles and educational beliefs between minority-parents and teachers; and teacher’s ethnic or racial stereotypes about children. These may influence teachers’ feelings toward students and their parents, and lead to behavioral difficulties manifesting as a self-fulfilling prophecy (Jan and Kwok 2007). According to Lynch (2010), teachers can hold stereotypes about poor families and those with less formal education. This is supported by another study of school-family relationships which found that teachers did not believe the parents of low-income children were interested in their children’s education, resulting in parents experiencing feelings of inferiority (O’Connor 2001, quoted in Boethel 2003).


Intervention strategies using cultural brokers can work to counter the limiting definitions of parental responsibilities that parents might hold, and empower them to play a greater role in their children’s education (Chrispeels and Rivero 2001). Cultural brokers may be seen as ‘bridging figures’ among Roma or other vulnerable communities, implying the perception of parents as an extension of the school team. Bridging figures, in turn, act as a go-to point for parents, teachers and neighborhood organizations and a representative of the school in the pupil’s home environment. In other words, “The bridging figure’s task is to pick-up the signals given by teachers or parents about a pupil’s school attainment or general well-being, and to frame those signals within the specific pupil’s home context, striving for a shared solution to overcome the difficulties faced” (Wauters et al. 2015, p. 9). Since most of their work takes place outside of the school, bridging figures may be regularly found at the school gate at the start and end of the day, so they can have an informal talk with the parents, and are seen to be visible and approachable. They may participate in conducting home visits, and their role is to build long-lasting relationships between schools, families, and local communities.


In many schools, trusted persons emerge through years of interaction with parents, the community and teachers. These persons, or cultural brokers in a sense, tend to be members of the minority community who maintain ties with parents and are able to communicate needs on both sides (the school and parents). Cultural brokers may be appointed, such as Roma school mediators or assistants who are employed in schools of many European countries, but in some schools they emerge organically through their position as a trusted person. For instance, in one school the secretary, who was a Roma woman, enjoyed the trust of the Roma parents. In turn, school staff and teachers could capitalize on her bridging role and engaged with parents through the secretary. Considering that some vulnerable minorities, including Roma, may also belong to low socioeconomic groups, it is important to differentiate cultural elements from particularities of poverty.