Parental Expectations and Culturally Responsive Schools

Parental expectation in teaching or cognitive styles of teachers is important in creating culturally responsive schools.

It might seem odd that there is a link between parental expectations and how children learn, but parents can be a strong driving force in a child’s education and we need to respect that.

The current population of administrators and teachers learned from a very teacher-directed educational style. What this means is that we, as students, probably sat in rows in a space within a square room, where the teacher stood at the front of the board and wrote everything out on the board.

A ‘Sage on the Stage‘ mentality. I remember sitting for an hour for each class in high school, seven hours straight, of just sitting and listening to teachers talk. I remember getting antsy, my mind started wandering, and I was looking for something mentally engaging before I would fall asleep.

This is what we grew up with. Let’s NOT put our students through this.

More than ever, our world has become globalized with social media, technology, and satellites. We need to prepare kids for future jobs that are global. For jobs that don’t yet exist.

We can provide professional development for administrators and teachers to understand how to make student learning more engaging. We get this because it’s our field. But not all parents understand this. Let’s take a look at some examples from a global perspective. I will use some concepts from international schools as examples as they tend to be highly culturally responsive to diversity and learning styles.

In many parts of the world, local teaching practices are quite traditional/non-progressive, due to a lack of funding and professional development. Two conflicting mindsets exist as it relates to expectations of parents. The first mindset stemmed from past experience of the parent and how they learned, which we just discussed.

The second mindset comes from parents with global perspectives. These parents come with open-minded attributes and are very tolerant of each other and people from other countries.

As a matter of fact, with student-centered learning, parents are able to transition their kids from country to country knowing there is a common teaching or cognitive style so students can focus on learning content and skills.

Prior learning experiences lead to parental expectations of how their children learn in school. Expectations were either through the lens of past experiences from when parents grew up, or from familiarity in understanding how instructional practices work at international schools to set kids up for success in a global market.

International schools are at times in conflict with parental expectations from the host country culture, or other cultures. For example, parents and students in Canada and Australia might be more motivated by competition, whereas in Qatar and Asia they are more motivated by social approval and test scores (Zhao, et. al., 2005).

Parents in some Middle Eastern countries such as Kuwait, Qatar, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia preferred more teacher-directed and lecture style instruction. And in Kuwait and Qatar, parents valued education that reflected religious knowledge (Amer, et. al., 2009).

In Switzerland and Poland some parents prefer more teacher-directed instruction because that was the way the parents had learned in school and they perceived this to be a more rigorous style of learning. In Japan and South Korea had parental expectations that teachers were more rigorous if they had a moral lecture-based style and provided more homework.

On the contrary, per other educators interviewed, most parents had expectations of having an international curriculum along with innovative, student-centered instruction. Parental expectations very clearly were created from parental background and experience, which were then voiced to educators at international schools.

Are we beginning to see why parents play an important role in teaching style?

I talked to a few educators in different countries, specifically South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Zimbabwe. In these countries, they commented that parents were very focused on amount and rigor of subject content being delivered in the classrooms rather than focusing on the teaching styles of educators. For example, some parents wanted more teacher lecture, content-based academics in class or more homework.

Why? Parents preferring content-based instruction came from the cultures where teacher-directed or lecture-based instruction was the norm. They focus on their students doing well on exams.

In comparison to parental expectations of teacher-directed, content-based education, the flipside of the coin was that many international parents preferred a Western or International Baccalaureate (IB) type of teaching style focused on a student-centered inquiry model.

Most of the parents with these expectations traveled frequently and had their children attend international schools. They were interested in a more creative, problem-solving style of learning that is transferable to anywhere on the globe.

How do we work around parents with preferences in different teaching and learning styles, and do not understand the new concept of student-centered learning? Simple. Educate parents.

Parental expectations regarding instructional practices can be one of the biggest challenges Not all parents have the same experiences and background, and therefore information needs to be provided to parents so they understand the mechanics student-centered learning.

Here are some easy steps you can take to get parents up to speed and have them in your corner.

  • Conduct a parent instructional night, where you can outline the difference between traditional, teacher-directed learning and student-centered learning. Discuss the benefits to student learning and setting them up for success in a global market. Create some parent activities to help them see the difference
  • Invite them to visit their child’s classroom to see first-hand what student-centered learning looks like, or volunteer in the classroom to be a part of it
  • Tell parents how they can support their children in their learning at home. Give parents tools they can use at home to encourage learning and create a home-school connection
  • Emphasize that the schools are creating a culturally responsive approach to being creative and open-minded, to learn from others no matter culture or background.

Let us know what you do in your school! We would like to hear from you! Don’t forget to share this approach on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest with your ideas as well!


Amer, S.R., Ingels, S. J., & Mohammed, A. M. (2009). Validity of Borrowed Questionnaire Items: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Int Journal of Public Opinion Research, 21(3), 368-375.

Fedorowicz, Sharlene M., “An Examination of Educators’ Perceptions of Host Country Cultural Dynamics in International Schools Abroad” (2017).

Zhao, C., Kuh, G. D., & Carini, R. M. (2005). A Comparison of International Student and American Student Engagement in Effective Educational Practices. Journal Of Higher Education, 76(2), 209.