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.

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