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Building Family Engagement with “Cultural Brokering”

Building Family Engagement with “Cultural Brokering”
 Ishimaru, A.M., Torres, K.E., Salvador, J.E., Lott, J, II., & Tran, C. (2016). Reinforcing deficit, journeying toward equity: Cultural brokering in family engagement initiatives. American Educational Research Journal, 53(4), 850-882. doi: 10.3102/0002831216657178

What is the study about?
Parent-engagement efforts in schools often discount the cultural resources of minority families. This study explored the roles and actions of individuals hired by schools to increase parent engagement through “cultural brokering”.

Cultural brokering: may take the form of helping families translate and rehearse the behaviors & communication styles of the dominant culture, providing access to institutionally based networks, & integrating the cultural values & resources of families & community members into the school environment.


What did they find?

Most cultural brokers attempted to socialize families into dominant school-centric norms and agendas but rarely addressed power dynamics between families and schools or leveraged opportunities for schools to learn from families.

Only one study site was successful in engaging parents. Success was attributed to 2 factors:
1. Formal leadership actions: Changing hiring requirements to allow people with cultural, linguistic or other relevant experience to be hired in these roles, adjusting budgets to allow for childcare and transportation at parent events, and involving the broker in strategic planning and decision making.
2. Autonomy for brokers: Autonomy in their roles allowed brokers to provide services that were responsive to family identified priorities rather than school-determined goals and priorities.

Successful brokers were able to…

1.  Create welcoming school climates: Greet parents with smiles and hugs, create space for families to interact and work together, encourage parents to join discussions/activities, and involve families in strategic planning and decision  making.

2. Foster relationships between families: Create opportunities for them to engage with each other and work toward shared goals, and link families of the same culture or language for culturally specific support.

3. Foster engagement in the broader community context: Schedule activities in neutral contexts so educators join families rather than families joining the cultural activities of the school (i.e. community-based family field trips & events to help other families in the community).

Why is it important?

Current efforts to engage families of non-dominant cultures are failing because they fail to engage families as partners!

Schools must view families as experts on their own children, culture, community, and needs.

Schools must recognize the strengths of other cultures and learn how to build reciprocal relationships that engage families in decision making.


What can School Social Workers Do?

1. School Social Workers are uniquely trained and skilled to be driving these efforts.

2. Share your expertise in cultural brokering with your schools and advocate for it to be part of your role.

3. Use the results of this study to advocate for changing the way your schools attempt to engage families.


How was the study done?

The authors used a comparative case study approach to examine people in cultural broker roles across 3 sites in a western metropolitan region that had all struggled in engaging parents from non-dominant cultures. Researchers collected data through interviews with school staff, administrators, and community leaders; focus groups with parents and family liaisons/cultural brokers; and observations of parent activities, planning meetings, staff trainings, and other school and community events.

About The Author

Michele Patak-Pietrafesa

Michele Patak-Pietrafesa is a LISW-S, LSSW with over 10 years experience in schools. She serves on the Ohio School Social Work Association board as Past-President and Director of Communications. Michele currently works in private practice providing school social work services for college students in Columbus Ohio. She also works as a graduate research associate while working toward her PhD at OSU’s college of Social Work. Her areas of interest are school social work, special education and school reform, education policy, and educational equity for racial minorities and students with disabilities.

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