A final note
Successful partnership programs rely on four key principles.
||Building Skills, cultural competence, and social capital
In order to achieve their goals, families, students, and educators need certain skills -- particularly communication skills. Successful school and community partnerships need to help all participants develop and improve these skills in order to work effectively.
Learning to communicate across and between cultures is an important part of this process. It is crucial for teachers to be sensitive to their environment and to the cultural environment of their students in order to involve all of the members of the community. This "cultural competence" is especially important as the United States becomes increasingly diverse.
When good communication and cultural competence are achieved, "social capital" is developed. This includes trust and goodwill between families, educators, and other community members. The greater the social capital, the easier it is for teachers to work together with families to improve learning. It is also easier to find community-based volunteers, generate ideas, and raise money for projects and activities.
These factors continuously enhance each other and lead to increasingly powerful partnerships.
Fostering empowerment and managing roles and responsibilities
In order for school and family partnerships to work well, they must truly be partnerships. Educators must welcome family and community members as empowered, equal, and important participants. Both sides must listen to each other and learn from each other. But it is particularly important for educators to listen to parents, who may not feel as entitled to speak up as teachers and administrators do. This is what "fostering empowerment" really means -- and it is often crucial to the success of these partnerships.
As schools and society change, questions about "who does what" and "who's responsible" increase. In order to manage effective partnerships between families, schools, and communities, roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined.
A partnership program doesn't spring to life overnight, and its goals cannot all be achieved quickly. School and community partnership programs set themselves up to fail if they set only long-term goals and do not schedule and measure annual progress in small, steady steps. Each year, more parents should be involved in productive ways in these programs. Each year, the program should improve as evaluations are completed and everyone involved learns from both successes and failures.
|| Connection to curricular and instructional reform
Family and community connection activities are essential for -- not separate from -- the curricular and instructional improvements that most schools are trying to implement. If family and community involvement activities are purposefully selected, then community connection programs will help students reach school goals, including improving reading, math, or other academic skills. Or, activities may be deliberately selected to contribute to other school goals, such as improved attendance, good behavior, and safety.
Partnerships are no longer just a matter of public relations. Partnerships are part of whole-school change, school improvement plans, and goals for student learning. To serve this purpose, activities must be specifically designed and selected to closely link to specific goals for student success. The program practices must be assessed to determine if they are effectively implemented, and if they contribute to the attainment of the school's goals that have been set.