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Communication issues. A real partnership is one in which families and schools share information, using what they learn from each other to change how they work with students. If only one side shares information, the partnership will not bring about the desired outcomes. A schoolwide partnership model that is comprehensive and well-planned and gives parents options on how to be involved works best.
Cultural differences. Because of differences within communities, partnerships look different across families and schools. A family's culture may not be similar to the school's majority culture, causing misunderstandings between parents and staff members. Clear communication will prevent misunderstandings that lead to blame. It is the responsibility of parents and school personnel to reach out to collaborate in supporting students' education and clarify any differences in expectations.
Barriers. Forming a real partnership proceeds more smoothly when partners understand the barriers that families, educators, and the partnership itself may encounter. Parents may face such barriers as limited financial resources, negative experiences with schooling, linguistic and cultural differences from the majority school population, and the perception that schools will not respond to their needs and desires. Educators may lack resources for family outreach, hold stereotypes about families and cultures, focus on problems instead of solutions, and fear conflict. The partnership can be constrained by limited time, poor communication strategies, and blame. Misunderstandings can also arise when either party interacts with the child in only one setting (school or home) and fails to recognize the constraints that limit the other party's efforts. Although barriers pose a challenge to a partnership, they also offer an opportunity for families and schools to grow closer by addressing them together.
Developmental issues. The partnership will change over the years of a child's education, as both schools and parents shift more responsibility to the student. Although collaboration between family and school tends to drop in the middle level, family-school partnerships can benefit students throughout middle level and high school. Parents can still offer support that will affect their child's education, such as monitoring homework, encouraging and helping to plan for postsecondary enrollment, and holding the child accountable for his or her choices. Schools can support students' developing independence by giving them more responsibilities while continuing to communicate with families. High expectations at home and school play a large role in students' achievement. Families and educators can work together to construct goals and expectations and provide the support students need to attain them.
Promoting Effective Partnerships
Effective partnerships require collaborative attitudes and collaborative actions. Additional effort is needed for families that for whatever reason are difficult to engage. Principals play important roles in promoting effective partnerships: they set the expectation for involvement as well as the tone for interaction (e.g., refusing to blame the other party, inviting input, being solution oriented, seeing different perspectives), encourage the development of meaningfill roles for parents, and provide the opportunity for initial and sustained communication.
Model attitudes that foster partnership. Administrators can promote and model effective partnerships by respecting family differences and asking for input. Rather than simply distribute information to families, administrators must be willing to listen to them, incorporate their ideas into schoolwide planning, and encourage teachers to do the same. Parents want the best for their children, even if their goals don't seem to align with the school's. Educators must strive to understand and support those goals.
Address conflicts constructively. As with any relationship, conflict can arise in familyschool partnerships. It is important to be respectful, nonjudgmental, and focused on the shared desire to resolve the issue in the best interest of the student. How the school approaches and helps resolve conflicts not only affects the outcome of the specific issue but also helps shape parents' attitudes about the value of family-school partnerships.
Make partnerships a schoolwide priority. Partnering with families should be a schoolwide priority that is shared among all school personnel. Administrative support for family collaboration programs and related staff development is essential, but school psychologists, social workers, and other specialists can help teachers create an environment that is family friendly. Because teachers may need to accommodate parents who have challenging schedules by visiting them at home or holding early morning or evening conferences, compensatory time and substitute teachers are important considerations. When working with parents who are not proficient in English, it will also be important to plan ahead by securing interpreters or community representatives.
Create a welcoming environment. Many families are uncomfortable becoming involved in their children's education because they do not believe they can help or because they do not know how to help. Therefore, adminisuators must explicitiy solicit families' involvement and encourage all teachers to similarly invite parents to collaborate. Families must understand the importance of their involvement and how a partnership between home and school is essential for youth to reach their highest potential, and schools must understand that they should not mandate how families must be involved.