Home & School Partnerships that Engage, Equip and Empower

When parents and teachers experience disequilibrium and do not feel understood in an educational environment it can be frustrating. At times there can be a pervasive perception on both parts of teachers and schools of not feeling heard and thus allowing communication to breakdown. For example; if a parent doesn’t feel that their student’s teacher appreciates their child’s uniqueness and specialness- this can lead to roadblocks in future conversations. If a parent’s communication style is overpowering or even if a parent, for some reason isn’t available to dialogue with a teacher – these are relationship circumstances that can appear to be overwhelming to overcome – for both educators and families.

I have been on both sides of the educational partnership gamut as a teacher/administrator and today- I have grown to learn my role in the relationship with educators being a parent myself. Becoming frustrated or feeling that communication has broken down with a child’s teacher or school administrator can happen in the best of schools and with the greatest communicators. I have seen this disequilibrium surface, on occasion no matter what hat you wear in the relationship.

I believe that the most impactful strategies to combat irritation and interruptions in the education environment are though home and school partnerships that seek to engage, equip and empower people into effectual communicators for the benefit of students.

 What is a Home and School Partnership

Simply stated- one of the most authentic ways to advance student development academically and socially is through a partnership that links the home/school bond. When parents, teachers and administrators are able to share openly/honestly about a student there are opportunities for greater student advancement in both settings.

 Looking Way Back

When I was growing-up if something happened at school I remember my parents would ask my opinion and we would have a discussion. If more information was needed they would talk to the teacher and together- my parents and the teacher would make a plan and let me know the solution. My parents and the teacher were going to make a plan together.  I always knew (my) home and the school were on the same side (even if internally they weren’t for one reason or another- I never knew).

And, by the way this was not something unique to my family of origin. Many families adhered to this ethic. There was an unspoken partnership and trust where the school (administration/teachers) and parents worked in harmony together.

 Today

Today it seems, in many situations educational partnerships between families and schools is something to be sought or yearned after. When  I look around at various educational environments, listen to political speeches, Home and School Partnerships are becoming something to be campaigned on a poster or listed in a school’s statement of philosophy as opposed to an ethic that is intrinsically driven as a natural way of functioning? Comprehensive partnerships that are meaningful and life changing; supporting students, families and schools are meant to be individual and unique to each community driven by school’s and parents natural desire for effectual communication.

 Partnerships Have Problems Too

As a former teacher and executive director I was always eager to build a partnership with parents. Over the last 18 years that I’ve worked with parents- I believe building relationships is the key to getting to know the children parents tuck-in at night. I believe strong educational connections are the glue to getting to know the little people parents soothe and comfort when they have a fever.

When you read this- doesn’t a partnership sound ideal? Doesn’t it sound amazing- like the fix-it solution to all the problems we face in education? While it is not the end-all, be-all, partnerships are built within the culture of an organization and based on the ethos of leadership. But even with the best and most relational leaders, a partnership can have its problems and it is not the only answer.  Even a healthy systematized partnership may not always be reciprocated or welcomed at first by teachers and families.  Some parents are slow-to-warm-up and there are natural struggles when aiming to build relationships.

I remember when I was leading a school, if difficulties with children happened in the classroom, on the playground, with curriculum or with peers and if families, teachers and I were not eloquently sandwiched in an effective and thriving partnering relationship, I knew that the outcome of the situation may not resolve ideally at first. At the very least the scaffolding support the child-needed everyday could become unstable which made the child’s experience incomplete (for the time being) because parent feelings impact a child’s environment.

Despite the benefits of home-school partnerships, schools often face a series of challenges that prohibit them from achieving a culture of true collaboration. And if authentic collaboration isn’t achieved than teachers/administrators may risk many threats such as overworking, burn out or lack of motivation. Parents might react to their child’s needs on their own and communicate by either over involvement or under involvement and disinterest; which intern can create more issues for schools than the original/presenting topic the school was interested in discussing in the first place.

Typical Threats that Challenge Home and School Partnerships

  • There is not a regular system in the school of identifying the unique and special gifts or needs of individual families or students.
  • Over time parents’ distrust the school; it’s leadership, administration in current or historical actions or practice.
  • Teachers, administration or school demonstrate a lack of understanding in use of families cultural or language practices and/or they demonstrate a lack of consistent knowledge in applying their background knowledge of children’s abilities to create appropriate and safe programs.
  • The school does not in its communication seem to value or recognize each parent as the expert on his/her child by acquiring parent opinion on their child before making important decisions that affect individual students.
  • No news does not always equal good news. Ripples and waves are a typical part of life’s journey as well as the educational relationship. Strong partnerships include transparent and honest conversations that eventually lead to better understanding and solutions. If educators are not regularly receiving both positive and construtive feedback from families, this may be an indication that families do not feel comfortable in the relationship enough to share openly and regularly; positively or negatively.

 My own Journey with Home and School Partnerships

My personal experiences in advocating for healthy home and school partnerships don’t just stem from the rolling hills of affluent Los Angeles but they extend to the heart of the inner city where 90 percent of Phoenix students were on free and reduced lunches. I have seen the passion of parents for their children and a drive from the depths of their souls to give children the best. These are actions and feelings entrenched from the same desire no matter where you go, no matter what your zip code. I have encountered both ends of these economic spectrums (and a lot in between). I have concluded that parents have a deep seeded love and longing to care, protect and support their children.

I have been the Director who held a sad child into the evening hours waiting for mom to come pick him up because she had to take two busses. I’ve been the teacher who bought the Secret-Santa gift to give to the family who didn’t have any money for the gift exchange. I’ve served as a Head of a School and embraced a tearful mommy and daddy after an emotional meeting, talking in the parking lot- handing them the phone number to the early intervention referral.

I know many fears that parents go through. I’ve walked that road for years. Most parents don’t get upset, mad, or intervene. They don’t demand good grades or want control for the sake of controlling, prosecuting teachers and administrators or simply bullying.

They don’t typically become uninvolved in their child’s education because they don’t care or love their children. Typically, if parents communicate in direct ways its because they are scared and are protecting their children If they are unavailable, many times they are working and trying to provide.

If schools begin relationships with the mindset of healthy partnerships, surrounded in communication, sharing power and building-trust, students would have opportunities to resolve conflict, persevere through situations and will have opportunities to flourish because parents and educators will have more opportunities to work together as advocates.

Home and School Partnerships through the Eyes of a Mother

When I became a mother in 2007, and again in 2011 and 2013 to my three children it flipped my perspective of the world upside down as I’m sure it does for all parents. But I am a career educator and I work professionally with children, so it really changed – not just my life, but it also my profession.

It is as if all of the empathy I had ever sought to learn or ever tried to identify with as an educator finally clicked in one singular, isolated moment. It’s not that I didn’t recognize the administrative/school worldview any more, I certainly did. I wore that hat and still do very much to this day.

But my life, my breath, my heart and soul were now more understanding and compassionate to the role of other mothers and a fathers, because I am one. I walk that road; I know the emotions, the juggle, the fears and the worry.

I saw other people’s children and my heart melted. I felt for them. I wanted more for them than I ever did before. It’s hard to describe but my work was more real to me after becoming a mother because I saw a connection in the life-long journey of parenthood, not just the one to three year stint that I had their child in the program for which I was responsible.

I understood and felt in my soul what it meant to leave your baby, to watch them grow and experience life outside your body. I grasped how difficult it was to develop trust in another adult- like a teacher. The responsibility of my job as an administrator and building a partnership was momentous and took on new meaning.

I would look back and envision these little people in our school as infants, toddlers, and now preschoolers and then I would foresee what they might grow into as humans. I don’t just know the clinical/school side like I used to. I began to tap into the personal side after becoming a mother. I identified with the human side of what I did. It has made me, a better me and from that point on and it made every partnership between the school where I was a leader, better. I got it.

Looking Back, Again

My responses changed when I became a parent but not just because I was able to look forward it was also because I was able to look back.

I am thankful for all the parents and mentors who trusted and invested in me as a young teacher and director. For the people who gave me liberty and guidance but never told me what to do but asked the right questions to guide me toward critical thinking.

For all of the people who looked to me, trusted and cultivated in me the intrinsic life-long learning process of reflection that I crave to this day.  Because of those early years I will give the same to others as I enter my more seasoned era.  I have benefitted from counselors and parents who endowed in the younger, rookie version of me and I will give back to educators and parents even though I may feel like I want to be the protective, helicopter parent of my own children.

Sometimes my instincts are to jump-in or influence my children’s classroom environments when I feel insecure. There are moments when I feel like I prefer a more experienced and veteran educator for their classrooms. These days I’ve learned to hold back and trust. And I’ve been surprised. What my children actually need is not always what I think they need.

When I let go, trust and do exactly what I always asked parents to do when I was the teacher and administrator, WOW what a dose of humility I get in the journey of parenthood, every single time.

When I open up, talk, ask questions, share my story and extend a hand to build the partnership with my child’s school, I actually find honest, trusting, open people who are willing to listen, learn about my child and hear my ideas.

The benefit of communication and partnerships between schools and families will ultimately support quality for all children. I encourage you, to begin fresh as parents, teachers and administrators in building trust, listening to each other. You are on the same team. You want and love the same things. Children are worth it!

Supporting Home and School Partnerships

I have seen power through the relationships of home and school partnerships. My father, a minister in the Christian church used to tell his leadership to support people’s investment in the community by engage, equip and empower. So, I borrow this phrase from him.

 

“Engage, Equip and Empower”
verb; to participate or become involved by supplying with the necessary items for a particular purpose and giving (someone) the authority or power to do something
(http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary)
Engage Through…

 Welcome and Approachable

From the beginning of the relationship families need to feel empowered to approach faculty and staff and discuss anything on their minds. Trust is being built from the first day and parent opinion and participation is valued when the environment is welcome and personnel have an approachable spirit.

 Communication

Effective, respectful, peaceful and meaningful communication that encourages student learning is valued and promoted. Establish the tone of communication early and don’t be afraid to reach out.

 No Child is Left Out

It is the right of every parent and educator to consider all aspects of students learning to ensure success. Whether there is special learning or developmental needs, giftedness or peer/social situations to consider all children deserve unique attention at certain times in their education. Parents and educators deserve respect and fairness in processing these.

 Honesty

Educators are there to support, stretch, challenge and push children to the next level of learning but not above their frustration level. Each child has his/her own history of strengths and areas of growth and parents become intimately aware of what those areas are and how they have been addressed in the past. Parents know what they feel works best and what does not.  If parents are in tune and open to the feedback presented throughout their child’s academic tenure, they are in a phenomenal position for stretching children to advance past areas for which they may struggle by building an honest and transparent partnership year-over-year with their child’s educators.

Equip Through…

 Supporting Activities

Schools create and environment that welcomes participation and families support schools and children’s learning by supporting activities. Families support the school environment by guiding student school work in the home and discussing daily or as often as possible- teachers, interactions, peers at school. Schools regularly advise, suggest and provide age-appropriate and (if possible) individual resources for students to do at home.

Empower By…

 Sharing of Information, Power and Decisions

Family and school partnerships work best through transparency and a system of trust. This happens through relationships and accountability. Governance such as established committees, PTA, PTO and trustee boards, where families can be involved, informed, responsible and have a voice of advocacy in establishing short and long term goals, decisions and making change helps to develop community.

Empowerment Happens When

  • Families and Schools form Cohesive Partnerships
  • Students Excel in Appropriate Educational Environments
  • Environments Exist with Thriving Educational Relationships
  • Options are Created for Students to Connect and Find Support
  • Parents Require Excellence from Schools
  • Leaders Establish Accountability
  • Communication and Trust are Priority
  • Schools Continually Call Themselves to the Higher Standard
  • Parents Access Parenting Tools as well as Knowledge, Power & Information
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