Building shared responsibility for educational outcomes
There are many ways to build a partnership between families and schools. These partnerships to enhance student success. Here are some ideas for both parents and schools to share that responsibility.
Traditional: Parents are welcomed by the principal and follow their child’s school schedule. Varying ways parents hear about school/teacher expectations and policies. Examples include homework or discipline, and varies by school and teacher.
Partnership: Parents receive an invitation to the orientation nights. These would occur multiple times to accommodate parents’ schedules. Explain school policies. Distribute a handbook and school calendar to parents. Take attendance. Follow-up including phone calls or home visits for non-attendees. Schedule several meetings to receive parent input on policies. Also discuss parents’ and educators’ roles and responsibilities.
Another approach is for teachers to welcome parents and students to the classroom. Teachers articulate their goals for this to be the students’ best year. They request parents and students to share their goals. Teachers summarize by noting the goals for which there is consensus. Make arrangements for contacting each other (Weiss & Edwards, 1992).
Traditional: Schools offer workshops for parents to learn about school-determined or parent-determined topics.
Partnership: Offer topics for workshops that require an “institutional” and parent perspective. Both parents and educators, as co-learners and co-teachers, attend. An educator and a parent organize and facilitate the workshops.
Sample topics include:
- Improving IEP conferences.
- Improving parent-teacher conferences.
- Improving communication such as maintaining a non-adversarial approach.
- Test standards.
Traditional: Teachers make positive phone calls to parents at work or at home. If teachers make two phone calls per day (40 per month), they would have made 360 phone calls in one academic year.
Partnership: Alternate phone calls between school and family. Teachers make the first couple positive phone calls. They request parents to call next with their good news observations.
Traditional: Most communication flows from the school to the home and is in print. Home-school assignment sheets are used for individual students.
Partnership: Written communication says:
- We want to be partners.
- Parent input and involvement is critical to children’s educational achievement.
- If there is a concern, we will work together to find a solution.
Also, communication builds in opportunities for dialogue. For example, the principal schedules “office” hours for discussion. The description for this is "Principal-Parent Hour" to reflect the partnership.
Home-school assignment books or journal notebooks are used on a daily basis. They are used to set clear expectations for work to be completed. Teachers allow time before the end of the school day to allow students to organize their responsibilities. Students write in assignments. They may copy from the overhead and may use a buddy for checking accuracy. Parents, teachers, and students rate student behavior and academics weekly. Describe the system at Back to school nights; non-attendees receive a personal contact.
Traditional: Home-school contracts used for individual students.
Partnership: Home-school-student contracts used school-wide. These can be linked to individual learning plans (ILPs) and individual education plans (IEPs). Specific responsibilities for the school, family, and student to achieve the goals are documented.
Traditional: Schools, especially teachers, assume responsibility for informing parents about student progress. This includes report cards, personal contact by phone, and home notes.
Partnership: Share monitoring student progress with parents. Ask parents to keep educational records for their children. They can also share these with the child’s teacher(s) the following year. Establish a system where parents request specific information about the student’s progress. For example, parent calls the 9th grade teacher to ask about performance in algebra class. Hold conferences with parents early, within the first half of the quarter. This serves the purpose of developing two way-communication about student progress. Suggestions for improving class grades and learning the material are available.
Traditional: Schools distribute a list of volunteer activities to parents. The list specifies the needs of schools. It indicates that parent involvement in this capacity is desirable.
Partnership: Distribute a list to parents. Make sure the wording emphasizes that parents are essential. Introduce the list in a way that makes sure involvement and participation are expected, but is also responsive to the parents’ choices. For example:
- At ___ School, we believe that teachers and parents are both needed to help students achieve their very best performance. This is an invitation to share your abilities and time with your child and/or other children at school. Your suggestions and expertise are needed.
- These volunteer positions include one-time commitments including___.
- These volunteer positions include on-going, longer-term opportunities including ___.
- In what way do you plan to be involved? Feel free to suggest another way.
- We know when parents are involved in their children’s learning, they ___ (list benefits for student learning).
- Involvement can include activities at school and at home.
- Get slips from all parents. Make personal contact with those who do not return the slips by the designated time. A parent often coordinates this activity.
Traditional: One-way communication, usually focusing on teacher evaluation of child performance. This places the sole responsibility on teachers.
Partnership: The use of early goal setting and information sharing conferences. Usually this is within first month of school. This provides an opportunity to build the parent-teacher relationship. Give parents sample questions to ask of and answer for the teacher. Encourage students to attend the conferences so everyone is on the same page. Establish a system for on-going communication. Student-led conferences pair well with this format.
Christenson, S. L., & Sheridan, S. M. (2001). Schools and families: Creating essential connections for learning. New York: Guilford Press. [Adapted by permission.]
Weiss, H. M., & Edwards, M. E. (1992). The family-school collaboration project: Systemic interventions for school improvement. In S. L. Christenson & J. C. Conoley (Eds.), Home-school collaboration: Enhancing children’s academic and social competence (pp. 215-243). Silver Spring, Maryland: National Association of School Psychologists.
Reviewed in 2018