Several outstanding sources are referenced in this article. We highly recommend examining each LINKED source for clear insights and powerful “how to” examples.
1 – Promote Partnerships Between Schools, Families, and Communities.
The Six Types of Partnerships Framework, developed by Joyce Epstein and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins University is a widely accepted summary of partnerships between schools, families, and communities. The six types include: Parenting; Communications; Volunteering; Learning at Home; Decision Making; and Collaborating with the Community. The PACER Center publication “Supporting Parent, Family, and Community Involvement in Your School” builds upon these partnerships and is an excellent reference for education administration professionals.
2 – Build upon Positive and Proactive Communication Expectations.
Communications by school personnel to parents has often been perceived as negative. School contact with a student’s family is often about problems rather than successes. Parents and community members vary in their expectation and capacity to be a strong partner with schools – and also vary in their ability to actively participate in communication with the school personnel. Teachers and administrators also vary in their capacity to connect and communicate with families and with the community. Having a proactive approach to communication between schools, families, and communities allows schools to build on their strengths. A positive approach engenders positive attitudes about the school and about families and community members and respects the varied strengths of the school members and community as a whole.
3 – Encourage Schools and Principals to Actively Seek Input and Participation from Outlying Parents and Community Members.
Seek participation and attendance from outlying parents and community members (e.g., single parents, fathers, working couples, families whose first language isn’t English, etc.). Participation from these and other outlier groups will help the school develop a positive and proactive approach to inviting and uniting its community. This approach breaks through barriers and dispel prejudices, and will help to develop a positive and success-focused school culture.
A great summary and source for more information about this topic is “Key 3” (“Reach Out”) on page 10 of the Community & Family Engagement document published by the Coalition for Community Schools.
4 – Design the School’s own Unique Plan for Parent and Community Partnerships.
As outlined in Family-School-Community Partnerships 2.0, strong parent, family, and community involvement comes about through concerted, focused effort and planning. These benefits don’t “just happen”. Parents and other community members come into the school with varying experiences, weaknesses, strengths and expectations. A well thought-out and well communicated plan will bring all parties together with the same goal. Parent and community partnerships can then avoid diverging expectations, be well-communicated and be best-supported.
5 – Provide Family and Community Members with Enhanced Communication Tools
The more information parents, teachers and administrators share with each other about expectations the more they will be able to help students succeed. Collaboration between parents and educators creates a culture to help students. Tools exist to increase collaboration surrounding student behavior. Principals must apply technology like this to increase two-way communication about school programs and children’s progress which will result in better outcomes for students. Steps to enhance communication with families include: clarify expectations; communicate frequently and positively; emphasize the school as a welcoming, caring place; develop appropriate strategies; and get information into parents’ hands.
6 – Increase Volunteerism and Attendance at School Events
Volunteer support for school events helps the school staff and elevates family and community awareness of the school priorities, goals and mission. Volunteering gives parents first-hand experience with issues. Some of the opportunities and challenges with promoting volunteer support and attendance at school events include: offer flexible times to volunteer; address child care needs; provide meaningful volunteer experiences; match volunteer strengths to schools’ needs; adapt to language and cultural barriers; avoid past negative experiences; train teachers to work with volunteers; and give recognition to volunteers. Tools exist to help people coordinate the school & district calendars with their varied and hectic schedules.
7 – Increase the Number of Parents in Leadership and Decisionmaking Roles
All stakeholders benefit when each is included in a decisionmaking process. When parents are invited to share input and insights they become vested in school processes, policies and programs. They become more aware of the challenges facing schools and administrations, and become more supportive. Such parents reach out to other parents to give and gather input. Opportunities and challenges to increasing parental participation in leadership and supportive roles include: fill key roles (offer parents key roles in the school decisionmaking process); invite inclusive representation; give leadership training; respect time constraints; share school data (making school data understandable and available to teachers and parents so they can make informed decisions); and address resistance issues.
“Key 2” (“Share Leadership”) on page 9 of the Community & Family Engagement document published by the Coalition for Community Schools gives wonderful insights and “how to” examples on this topic.
8 – Improve Community Collaborations
The Six Types of Partnerships Framework in #1 above highlights the following opportunities and challenges in improving community collaborations: improve communication within the community; match community contributions with school goals; integrate child and family services with education; establish clear policies about the importance of confidentiality; and extend the use of school buildings (The use of tools like this can help neighborhoods with a place to hold activities, thereby elevating the status of schools within the community )
9 – Connect Students’ Education to Community Issues
Students and families experience the impact of belonging to a community when educators design and implement hands-on teaching programs relevant to students’ lives. Such programs help students and schools serve the community. A great example of this is a program named by the students, “Water, Water, Everywhere”, where K-12 students in Ohio investigate how improper disposal of hazardous materials affects water quality. They study the community water supply and work with organizations in the community which focus on reducing contamination and improving local water quality. Students then present what they have learned and make proposals for achieving a clean water supply in the community.
While no school or principal has mastered all of these “Top 9 Ways K-12 Principals Unite a Community”, many principals have dramatically improved their skills and school culture in each category. Clear goals, priorities and communication, along with teamwork, leadership and perseverance are essential for the best principals to make continuous improvements to unite the school and community.