Friday, August 22, 2014

Family-School Partnership Models

In thinking about the type of partnership your school culture embraces, consider how well it engages families and the greater community in:
  • Building Relationships
  • Linking to Learning
  • Addressing Differences
  • Supporting Advocacy and
  • Sharing Power
Bake Sale authors point the way with these four partnership models:

The Partnership School

This school's culture holds that all families and communities have something great to offer and the school will do whatever it takes to work closely with all stakeholders to make sure every single student succeeds. Home visits are common with new families. The building is open to community use and social services are available to families at all times. All family activities connect to student learning and parents and teachers look at student work and test results together. The parent group includes all families and there's a clear, open process for resolving problems. Student-led Parent-Teacher conferences are held three times a year for 30-minutes. In a Partnership School, the PTA is focused on improving student achievement and families are involved in all major decisions.

The Open Door School

Partnership is improving here: families can be involved in many ways and they're working hard to get an even bigger turnout for activities. Teachers explain test scores, if asked, and folders of student work go home occasionally. The school holds curriculum nights three or four times a year and families are knowledgeable of out-of-school classes in the community. Minority families have their own group and multicultural nights are held once a year. Regular progress reports go to parents, but test data can be hard to understand. Parent-Teacher conferences are held twice a year. Parents can raise issues at PTA meetings, as well as set its own agenda and raise money for the school. And, a Community Representative sits on the school-based site council.

The Come-if-We-Call School

The phone is used as a hotline by staff to invite parents in - but only when there are problems, because the school thinks there's only so much families can really offer. The school is the expert here and families are told what students will be learning at the Fall Open House. The school can't address differences when it's overwhelmed with more than twenty different languages, because they think immigrant families don't have time to come in or care to contribute. The principal sets the agenda for parent meetings - and the PTA gets the school's message out! If community groups have concerns, they are more than welcome to take them up ... with the School Committee.

The Fortress School 
By its very nature, a fortress is most difficult to access. There's a whole community up there behind those walls, but unless you work here, or go to school here, you are not welcome - and you will be seldom invited in. The school thinks that if students don't do well here, it's because their families aren't giving them enough support - because the school is already doing all it can. The principal will select a few "cooperative parents" to help out at times. And families are afraid to complain fearing reprisals on their child.

 A key to understanding partnership, is to see it along a continuum. Some schools may be Open Door Schools, yet still have some Fortress classrooms. How will you ensure your school's culture is open to embracing true partnership with families and the community?

As a first step, take a welcoming walk-through of your building with an eye for any unintentional barriers; consider how you will engage your families in that process. And then, once you identify barriers, what's your process for removing them?

In education, what will be effective depends on your goal and how it's measured. Schools cannot do this work alone - it's a shared responsibility of schools, families, and communities to ensure all students succeed. This means looking beyond parent volunteer and fundraising stereotypes to build inclusive and effective partnerships for student success.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Intro to What I Learned at #PTcamp

Sometimes we forget. We don't mean to, but we forget that our children are whole children who come to and from school from families and communities.

But what if we didn't forget? And what if we engaged parents as partners, allies, and advocates in children's education at home and at school?

Because more than 40 years of research shows that when families are engaged in their child's learning, that child does better. And this holds true regardless of a parent's level of education, country of origin, or socio-economic status.

So, why do so many schools struggle to engage families? And does it really matter how family-friendly your schools are?

These were some of the questions I had in mind this summer when I participated in #PTcamp: a free and open, virtual bookchat spanning 10 time zones and involving more than 100 educators and parents. Together we read Beyond the Bake Sale: the essential guide to family-school partnershipsEach week we read a couple of chapters, then using some digital tools (including blogs, Twitter, Voxer, and ApprenNet), we engaged, reflected, challenged, and provoked each other's thinking - for learning.

Bake Sale not only connected all of us globally, it got us thinking about the best ways to authentically engage families for student success. By placing family engagement at the heart of school partnerships, the authors promote these 4 Core Beliefs:
  1. All parents have dreams for their children and want the best for them;
  2. All parents have the capacity for supporting their children's learning;
  3. Parents and schools should be equal partners;
  4. Responsibility for building these partnerships rests primarily with school staff, especially school leaders.
Then, the authors point the way through an analysis of four partnership models, using five essential metrics by which to gauge how well schools:
  • Build Relationships
  • Link to Learning
  • Address Differences
  • Support Advocacy
  • and Share Power
My next blog posts will outline the four partnership models discussed in the book - I am so curious to know what will look familiar to you!