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How can improving school, family and community connections help my class?
How do I get started using the partnership program?
What kind of activities can be supported in a partnership program?
What are some challenges I might face?
How do I assess progress in developing better connections between my school and the community?
How can technology be used to improve family and community involvement with schools?

What are some challenges I might face?

There are numerous challenges to developing a good partnership program. These include finding parents, teachers, and other members to serve on the Action Team for Partnerships (ATP), finding adequate funding, getting administrative support, and other logistical challenges. ATP members must learn how to work together, solve problems, overcome differences of opinions, and successfully plan and implement a program of partnerships.

Schools, districts, and states may join the National Network of Partnership Schools at Johns Hopkins University at no cost and benefit from the materials, guidelines, and services that are provided. Nevertheless, each site must invest in its staff and programs for successful partnerships with all families. Links to information about materials and other resources for family and community connections to schools can be found on the Resources page.

Other potential challenges that schools might face include parental fears about contact with school authorities, or educators' fears about contact with parents. Some parents may be wary of communicating with teachers; others may have had negative experiences in school themselves or prior negative contacts, if the school only calls when a child is in trouble.

It's very important to get people to talk about these fears and to confront them head on. Parents should be notified about positive school activities and positive achievements of their children, not just negative ones. Teachers also need to be praised and recognized by administrators, parents, and the public for good work. Turf wars among parent groups or leaders, or among community partners, can often be defused by clear definitions of responsibilities and by continuing opportunities for collaboration and communication. These battles most often erupt when people feel left out of the loop because decisions have been made without their input.

Many challenges are specific to particular types of involvement -- for example, busy parents or those who work outside the home cannot volunteer to be at school during the day, or even at a workshop or meeting at night. According to Joyce Epstein's research, several redefinitions of parent involvement activities are also necessary. For example, the term "volunteer" can be used to include participants who do work at home. "Workshop" can also be used to mean not only the actual meeting at the school but the content of the meeting, which can be distributed later to parents who could not attend.

Use of voicemail systems that connect parents with individual teachers, as well as schools' home pages on the Internet, can help overcome some of the time challenges that parents and schools face. Those who may not be able to attend a meeting at a particular time should still be able to obtain useful information and respond to issues, comment on decisions, or contribute their ideas by voice-mail or e-mail.

Another challenge may be for teachers and administrators to learn to work with parents as partners in children's education, rather than as sole authorities. Understanding the power dynamics that occur when "experts" try to work with "lay people" is important; teachers need to understand that parents really are the experts on their own children and that, while teachers may have particular ideas about the best approach, these are not always superior. Respect for and understanding of cultural differences is also important -- and this may require additional diversity training for educators.

Workshop: Making Family and Community Connections
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