Archive for the ‘edam821’ Tag

All those involved

Friday, January 28th, 2011

What are the primary principles of effective school/community engagement?
Generating community engagement with learning institutions can be a difficult task as educators attempt to draw influence from the community in hopes to improve student experiences at school. As schools set out to engage parents and community members they must be cognizant of the various factors that will have a major influence on the type and extent of the engagement. The dissemination of information and subsequent conversations between school staff and community members requires careful planning and a flexible approach to collaboration. Outlined below are what I believe to be the primary principals of effective community engagement.
The first aspect of community engagement is the development of a shared vision. Both school staff and community members must be made aware of an institutions expectations in order to pursue an advantageous working relationship. The first step in the development of a shared vision is conducting research into the needs of the community. In doing so as a facilitator you will be in a better position to create a vision which incorporates the diverse interest of all stakeholders as to engage the whole community. The vision’s broad outline then becomes a template against which to consider staff, curriculum, instructional changes, and assessment of school progress and parent involvement.
Within the framework of developing a shared vision a mutual respect needs to be fostered between school staff and community members. Unfortunately a parent’s school experience can act as a barrier to obtaining their participation. Most often negative experiences, language and cultural barriers; issues of race and class and lack of preparation conspire to breakdown connections. It is too easy for staff and other parents to assign cultural labels to behaviors that have very little to do with group values and much more to do with poverty and its associated lack of access to supports and opportunities. One way in which to over come these obstacles is to have a visible presence in the community and encourage community members to be a part of discussions and share their expectations in working towards the shared vision.
In the article “Community and Family Engagement” the author frames engagement as follows, “Community engagement is a two-way street where the school, families, and the community actively work together, creating networks of shared responsibility for student success is a two-way street where the school, families, and the community actively work together, creating networks of shared responsibility for student success” (Berg, Melaville, & Blank, 2006)
Once community members feel like their input is going to be respected the next step is to consult and collaborate at a deeper level. Successful collaboration takes into consideration that flexibility of donors, organizations, and community members is needed to collaborate successfully and all members share power at all levels of community engagement. All players involved need to determine the level of engagement required including defining from the beginning such terms as participation, communication, engagement, mobilization, and empowerment as they apply, before starting a project. Also members should agree on clear indicators with expected outcomes and on a documentation process that will reflect both growth and levels of engagement. Since community engagement is not a one-time event stakeholders may need to be reminded that it is a process that varies along with the community it intends to serve.
Along with the varying levels of collaboration so too are the variances in tools for attaining engagement from the community. The following engagement processes can be used alone or in conjunction with one another to solicit action from the community. An Action Planning Event can be used, as a starting point as this is used when structure and planning is required. Schools may also want to submit a public service announcement in hopes of reaching a broad audience although PSA’s can be expensive and can miss key demographic groups. Certain schools may see benefit from establishing advisory committees from which consistent input can be obtained, however committees such as this can be time consuming and needs a good facilitator to be successful. Printed material like a fact sheet or newsletter can provide jargon free accurate information working to reduce language barrier and reach the target audience. Also non-print materials such as web sites may be more cost effective than traditional print material and reach a broad audience, nonetheless schools cannot ignore the digital divide in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods, which could result in key community members not being informed. Community research via small group sessions, questionnaires/surveys or written submissions can help strengthen partnerships and get more of the community involved.
Once schools begin to secure key players and stakeholders the challenge turns to keeping people committed. “Organizing a community-wide group to explore and possibly undertake a community school initiative takes credible leadership, planning expertise and knowledge of the community.” (Melaville, 2004) Participants must have the organizational clout to make commitments and follow through on them, as the school administration side needs to be strong, organized, supportive and experienced. Leaders should expect to engage and then reengage throughout the life of the project, as communities are dynamic and behavior change is not linear.
Community engagement is a dynamic process in which leadership and needs are constantly changing. The engagement process is continuous. It can move from individuals being more or less involved, but it constantly must be reevaluated to ensure that indicators are appropriate and met. When families are committed to staying connected to school students show increased stability, communication with teachers and the overall school experience involves. Parents also demonstrate a greater sense of responsibility for their children’s learning success thereby shifting some of the accountability from the teacher onto the parent. It is through this empowerment of the family that success and renewed commitment in the shared vision will continue to motivate all parties involved to stay active.
The last two pieces of community engagement are quite closely related as one lends itself to the other. When decisions are made via the public forum a level of accountability is transferred to all members involved due to the transparent nature of the decision-making process. As both school administration and community member’s work together they create transparency, promote responsibility for priority setting, and encourage shared ownership of initiatives and strategies to achieve our goals. Ultimately the relationship between the school and community members needs to be about learning how to change and commitment required to be successful. In no way should the process lend itself to a battle of power and control. For the successful merging of school and community perspectives there must be connection to an outcome or commitment, all those involved must be interactive during the process as the process itself is designed to build relationships with community members and the connections that requires organization and leadership and support initiative and transcend the working relation between school and community to reduce the fear of change in the community being affected.
Communities can be as difficult to navigate as the most robust torrent of white water rapids spilling down the side of a canyon. As teammates are thrust through the highs and lows of the river their goal is to stay up right and off the crushing rocks that lay beneath the surface. So too is the precarious balance that exists in community engagement. Community engagement needs to take place at the right time with the right people who have a share vision. As connections are made and the shared vision becomes the guide, calm waters lay ahead for both the rapid enthusiasts and the school in growth.

References

Berg, A, Melaville, A, & Blank, M. (2006). Community & family engagement [Principals share what works]. (PDF)

Melaville, A. (2004). Doing what matters [The bridges to success strategy for building community schools]. (PDF)

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Communal Tensions

Monday, January 24th, 2011

As a follow up to my last post here is the paper I was wanting to share. Again it is a reflection piece about tensions between schools and communities taking into consideration the community school approach. Make sure to leave your thoughts after you’ve finished reading. Enjoy.
I believe there are two tensions in our education system that are embedded as deeply as the founding educational philosophies that help to shape the evolving nature of education itself; family (parent verse school perception) and community engagement. Neither issues is of more or less importance as each play a distinct role in education and the school setting. Parents and community members have social constructs that guide their assumptions of a school setting and in some cases their perceptions of how a school decision is made is contrary to what they believe should be taking place.
The reality of a parent verse school mentality became evident during my first year as a teacher. The first year of teaching I participated in the lost communication practice of the fifteen-minute one on one student-parent-teacher conference. During these encounters parents are granted an open forum in which to share their educational concerns and most often backing their concern is a story of a past teacher and how their concerns went unattended. Any breakdown in communication between school and parent can have disastrous effects on the working relationship between parent, teacher and school. Anytime a parent gets the feeling that their child’s teacher or school is not serving the best interest of their child, that parent will follow though in various ways. A parent will most often start with the teacher, as the teacher is the immediate connection between parent and school, however; many parents don’t understand the limited ability of classroom teachers to affect a school climate or institutional perspective change. This act carrying an assumed inaction can work to further the divide between parent and teacher as the parent expects the teacher to act and affect change. The parent, if not satisfied with the actions or perceived inaction of the teacher, may continue conversations with school administration or school board members depending on how well they can navigate the educational political landscape. I am of the opinion community schools are designed with the ability to engage this type of parent based concern at an earlier point. Community school parents are allowed a voice during decision-making processes and several positive outcomes may emerge from this collaboration. The first step is to address parent and family needs within the community setting. Parents need to feel connected to the school setting and through the acknowledgement of parent concerns school administration can reduce the quantity of negative reaction based concerns. The second step is to support parents by way of partnership programs offered at the school. Programs such as; tutoring, nutrition, health care, dental, and parent education classes can gain parent support for the school. As schools foster a greater investment from parents the school and the community will develop a shared perspective created through the support. Most often collaboration helps parents to feel more connected and valued by the school and therefore can reduce the amount of parent verse school conversations.
If its not broke why fix it? Someone ought to say something. Engaging people to take action is difficult when those whom we wish to inspire into action may not see a motivating factor from which to rationalize their action. The field of education is in constant growth, we are life long learners and to change an educational approach or philosophy can be nearly impossible. Educational decisions can be quite difficult to make, as they require a multitude of perspectives to be considered before a decision is made. To get community involvement during decision-making is one of two aspects to consider while planning on a decision-making timeline. For the most part if a school is performing at an appropriate level in relation to community standards parents and other members of the community may have no desire to revamp or initiate new programs at the school level. Nevertheless schools can always perform better through the adjustment in perception of the needs of the students. The issue is how does a school attain greater community involvement? The process of engagement through perspective aggregation involves community members in the problem solving and decision making process. Using the gathered information from the community to make clearly defined decisions that will impact those members living in the community requires for projects to be clearly articulated as well as the engagement goals set and allocate resources confirmed. Engagement is more than meetings and consultations with the public, as it should work to illicit an emotional reaction that can translate into direct action from the community. Common barriers to community participation are visibility of the organizational leaders and time. An ongoing engagement process with community members will improve transparency and increase participation through ownership and accountability. If the education system wants action from community members it needs to engage motivating factors within the individual in order to gain access to the masses. Educational leaders should work to extinguish the excuses and justifications spouted by community members about their lack of involvement. As time is the most prevalent concern shared school leaders need to acknowledge all people have personal wants, needs and draws in their lives that act to remove the communal focus and replace it with the extrinsic concept of individualism. The projection of the each to their own attitude as echoed in “If I can just take care of my own children then my family will be okay” does not fit with community school philosophies and initiatives. The community school approach to education is a holistic perspective looking at what is best for the greater community. Community support mechanism need to be established in order for community members to see benefits. Essential services like health and educational support programs for both students and parents need to be addressed first before focus can be placed on abstract concepts covered in classrooms. The bulk of the community must be invested in the community school concept if it is going to survive. Participants also must commit to long-term service as the benefits of community schools are not easily measured nor are they immediate in observance. Community involvement in respect to time is a difficult balance. Teacher workdays, if properly planned and implemented as a community outreach day may offer an opportunity for community engagement as well as data gathering opportunities. Schools can also set up social media discussion forums on various issues and by doing so engage the busy 21st century parent.
The educational tensions discussed here are only two of many concerns in education today. I believe the tensions are a natural part of the relationship that exists between school and community. Parents want only the best for their child and schools want to serve their students with the best possible pedagogy. Communication and a positive working relationship between school and community members can reduce the impact of philosophical differences and ensure a more positive and engaging working relationship between parent, school and community members.