BVSD Strategies for Student Success

Why We Should Avoid “Random Acts of Family Partnership”

The research is clear — when families and schools actively work together to support kids, students are more successful academically, are healthier, and are more likely to thrive (Epstein et al, 2009, Jeynes, 2011, Sheldon & Jung, 2015). At the same time, families and school staff alike are often stretched for time, juggling their many work and family responsibilities. A-0 Emerald photo day 6 (31) croppedTherefore, as BVSD schools enhance their efforts to welcome, communicate, engage and partner with families, we must avoid slipping into “random acts of family partnership.” When we are strategic and purposeful in our work with families, family partnership can be one of our most effective tools to support our shared goals for kids.

This does not mean that fun, social activities hosted by schools are not valuable — they most absolutely are! Foundational to partnering with families is that schools build strong relationships with every family and that families have opportunities to build relationships with each other. For this reason, activities that promote community-building, particularly those that are welcoming and accessible to all families, are essential. However, we cannot stop there. In order to maximize the positive impact on kids that can be gained by families and schools working together, we must ensure that our efforts to partner with families are also directly supporting our goals for kids.

For example, one of the Success Effect’s priority action areas is Literacy and Early Learning and all of our schools have a literacy goal built into their Unified Improvement Plans. If this is one of our goals, then the question for schools is how can we work with families to support their child’s literacy? Maybe we could be deliberate in communicating literacy techniques that we are utilizing in our classrooms and supplying timely progress reports to families about their kids. Teachers could provide families with literacy activities to do at home with their child that would reinforce learning that is happening in the classroom. Perhaps schools could create new systems for parents to share their own expertise about what gets their child excited about learning. Maybe we could improve family engagement in literacy goals by learning more about what language and in what ways families prefer to receive information.

The good news is that there are already wonderful and strategic family partnership efforts happening at schools all across the District. Through the Success Effect’s Family Partnership Initiative,Madeline Groups 2 cropped we have a real opportunity to strengthen and build on those efforts. Here is what we are doing to support strategy, innovation and intentionality in our work with families:

  1. All 56 BVSD schools have identified family partnership goals, which will be utilized to focus their family partnership efforts.
  2. We have created the BVSD Family Partnership Network, which includes at least one staff person working closely with families from each of our schools. In addition to receiving professional development, BVSD staff collaborate, share ideas, and problem-solve collectively as they pursue their school’s family partnership goals.
  3. We are creating a BVSD Family Partnership Toolbox where schools can showcase their most effective strategies to each other through an online platform. As schools pursue their family partnership goals, they will not have to reinvent the wheel; they’ll be able to learn from what’s working at their sister schools.
  4. Under the Families and Educators Together in Schools (FETS) project launching in the fall 2016, a cohort of six to seven schools will be forming school-based family partnership teams. These teams will create action plans for family partnership that are centered around the school’s UIP goals and other schools goals. Additional schools will be added to the FETS project over time.

Families are their children’s first and most important educators. When we are purposeful and strategic in the way that we partner with families, we have a real opportunity to have a positive impact on kids.

By Madeleine Case, Director for Parent & Family Partnerships
Chair, Parent & Family Partnerships Priority Action Team

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2 Responses to “Why We Should Avoid “Random Acts of Family Partnership””

  1. David Mollerstuen says:

    After reading your post, I’m left wondering ‘Why We Should Avoid “Random Acts of Family Partnership”’ — indeed, what exactly ARE “Random Acts of Family Partnership”?

    Your post seems to support the idea of strategic initiatives that partner educators with parents / families to further specific educational goals — which strikes me as laudable and unimpeachable. But you don’t speak to the subject of your post, specifically “Random Acts of Family Partnership”. Could you follow up with information about what you mean by the phrase, and WHY they ought to be avoided?

    • Madeleine Case says:

      Happy to clarify! What I mean by “Random Acts of Family Partnership” are things that we do with families that are not part of a systematic strategy that supports our existing goals for kids and schools. For example, a school might be doing lots of activities with families – fundraising and social events, Back-to-School Nights, Parent-Teacher Conferences, a resource fair – but if these activities are not part of a larger goal-driven strategy, they may have little impact on supporting student success, which is our ultimate goal in partnering with families. In other words, they may make us feel like we are “checking the family partnership box,” but may not have any long-term impact on the school community or its students. While the activities that I mentioned above could indeed be part of such a strategic effort (for example supporting a goal of creating a welcoming, inclusive school culture), this would require that the school design these activities through that lens and also that they are embedded in other systematic changes that support the same end (ex: having teachers make five positive phone calls a week, ensuring that signage is clear and welcoming to families, translating school documents into families’ native language, etc.) A great resource that I’ve been using as a guide to this work, in case you’re interested, is a book called “Beyond the Bake Sale” by Anne T. Henderson et al. Thanks for your interest in this topic and feel free to reach out if you are interested in discussing more!

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