Utilizing Social Cognitive Theory to Explore Knowledge Gaps in School Health Education: A Phenomenological Study

A lack of coordination between schools and students’ families has resulted in considerable knowledge gaps in comprehensive school health, with only 28% of these programs reporting parental involvement in the planning and implementation. The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to explore possible knowledge gaps by understanding parents’ experiences with school health education. Bandura’s social cognitive theory (1977, 1986) provided the lens through which the problem was examined more acutely in this study. The phenomenological approach provides overarching philosophical assumptions and specific technical guidance. The empirical material was collected through interviews and focus groups with parents. A code book was generated through inductive and deductive coding, and data was analyzed by using steps from Colaizzi’s phenomenology data analysis to identify major themes and categories. The findings indicated that parents have a fragmented concept of health and, therefore, school health, which shapes their expectations of school. Parents had minimal expectations for sex education, implicit expectations for physical/social health, and explicit ones for mental health. Athletes’ parents had better perceptions of school health compared to parents of non-athletes. Parents consider themselves under-involved in high schools, but over-involved in children’s out-of-school lives. The facilitators to achieve whole-child health are communication with children, parent modeling, school culture, and personal connections at school; however, the barriers are social/lifestyle challenges, regressive school health, and lack of communication from schools. The recommendations for school/district administrators were to use coaches as school liaisons, think outside of the box, and include parents in decision making and for policymakers to evaluate existing school health policies and establish school-based health centers.