Sunday, April 18, 2010

Teaming with Families and Community

As a principal you spend a significant portion of your time working with the families of your students. Too often, the emphasis is negative as you resolve a difficult discipline problem. I'd like to suggest that an equally important role is to lead a coordinated school-wide effort to interact with families in ways that support students, families, the school and the larger community.

Intuitively we know that involving parents and family members in a partnership has a positive impact on students. When parents are involved both at home and at school, students do better in school and stay in school longer. When a parent and a teacher work together to help a student in a specific subject area, such as reading, students typically improve in that area. Students do best when their parents are comfortable with the school and the people who work at the school.

I've learned from principals that there are four strategies you can use to create a positive relationship with families and engage them in school life.
  • First, use a variety of communication strategies, some in print, some in person, and some electronic. Technology can be a wonderful tool for communicating but not all families will be as comfortable with technology or have access to technology. Publish a family-friendly school newsletter written in everyday language, avoiding educational jargon. Involve families in a variety of activities throughout the year.
  • Second, create and support authentic, meaningful roles for family members. Rather than just holding a meeting provide activities that include training and support. Ask families to participate in meaningful decision-making roles. Create volunteer options for family and community.
  • Third, provide support and resources for families. The specific type of support will vary with your population but one possibility is to create a family and community learning center. Identify a physical space with adult-sized furnishings; then add basic refreshments and helpful information. You may want to include information in a language other than English. Or you could create family support groups that deal with topics identified by families and their advocates.
  • Finally, support the larger community. Seek ways to move beyond the confines of your school. Identify opportunities for students to participate in community service activities. Celebrate the cultures of your community with specific activities. Collaborate with other agencies or groups in the area to deliver services such as immunization clinics, free health screening, or dental clinics. One school in Mississippi partnered with local doctors to provide a free health screening with only one requirement, that they bring their school-age children with them. Parents got hundreds of dollars of free services, students participated in fun activities and the bonds between school, families, and community were strengthened.
I'd love to learn about the ways that you've partnered with families in your school and community to improve the education of your students.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Creating An Advocacy Plan For Your School

Principals are advocates, always advocating for their school and ways to improve the educational experience of their students. It's one of your more important roles.

Advocacy is a way to effectively press for change. It is the foundation of our democracy and a process that allows ordinary people to shape and influence policy at all levels.

So, how do you get started on creating an advocacy plan. In our new book, Rigorous Schools and Classrooms: Leading the Way, Barbara Blackburn and I suggest an seven-step process.
  • First, analyze your environment: Scan the environment in which your school exists---district, community, state, nation, world. Then identify the issues that affect your school and those that affect your community more broadly.
  • Monitor changes in your environment. Read voraciously, talk with a wide selection of people in your community and stay current with trends at the state and national level.
  • Identify the factors needed for success: Look beyond traditional factors (good teachers, money) and consider emerging issues such as the acquisition of technology, the ability to respond to changing conditions. Identify groups in your community with which you can partner.
  • Think about your assumptions: Identify the assumptions you hold about your school and community. Test them by assessing the degree of certainly (high, medium, low) and the level of impact (high, medium, low). Assumptions play an important role in constructing the future.
  • Develop a vision of an alternative future: Consider the issue of rigor and identify the factors you identified that are critical for success. Develop a vision of the future different than the current circumstances. Creating several alternatives is better.
  • Consider allies and opponents: Identify individuals or groups that may support your efforts as well as those who may resist. Be sure to include those you know and those who may emerge. Develop a plan for building alliances with your allies and understand the opposition.
  • Develop a plan for advocating for your desired future: Identify specific steps that can be taken to achieve the anticipated future. Develop both "hedging strategies" that can cope with undesirable futures and "shaping strategies" that help create the desired future.
I'd enjoy hearing from you about the ways you advocate for your school and its students.