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. Therefore, 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, 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:
- All 56 BVSD schools have identified family partnership goals, which will be utilized to focus their family partnership efforts.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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