Creating Welcoming Schools: A Practical Guide to Home‐School Partnerships with Diverse Families

Robert Clark (California State University, Dominguez Hills, Carson, California, USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 9 May 2008

505

Citation

Clark, R. (2008), "Creating Welcoming Schools: A Practical Guide to Home‐School Partnerships with Diverse Families", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 46 No. 3, pp. 422-425. https://doi.org/10.1108/09578230810869338

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


In her book, Creating Welcoming Schools: A Practical Guide to Home‐School Partnerships with Diverse Families, Allen provides a thoughtful, research‐based approach to building positive school‐community relationships. Through action research and compelling stories, Allen (p. 3), “encourages building partnerships between home and school that support each child's learning and development, whether he is 3 and leaving the nest for the first time, or she is 18 and leaving it for good”. Specific emphasis is placed on engaging diverse families who may be unfamiliar with or frustrated by their school environment. The book goes beyond the conventional approach of implementing school‐wide “programs” and advocates deeper and more deliberate “partnerships” resonating from mutual respect, trust, and a focus on children's academic learning. Throughout the book are “Action Opportunities” that provide excellent focusing questions and activities for school administrators, teachers, families, or community members wishing to implement the strategies presented in the book.

The book contains 12 chapters that include the latest research on school‐community partnerships interwoven with stories and real‐world examples of partnerships that work. Chapter one sets the stage for the book by challenging the reader to explore his or her own memories of school. One teacher shares how she (p. 14) “made a conscious effort to see the lives of her students with deeper, more personal understandings by looking for parallel experiences among her family and her students' families”. The chapter goes on to provide practical advice to establish an inclusive school tone by structuring dialogues at school‐open house nights or through parent‐teacher chats. The chapter also includes specific tips on considering cultural differences in order to set such activities up for success. Chapter two introduces a teaching and learning tool the author calls “writing cultural memoirs”. This reflective assignment answers the question (p. 24) “Who am I as a cultural being, and what are the influences in my life that have made me who I am?” This becomes a collaborative experience as teachers and students both reflect on their answers and find common threads that form stronger relationships within the school community. The chapter concludes with an in‐depth exploration of various processes for writing cultural memoirs including the use of photographs and ways to share the powerful learning experiences associated with such activities.

Chapter three introduces another series of strategies for teachers and educators to connect on a deeper level with their students through experiences such as “family funds of knowledge”. The author shares research where teachers study the history and culture of families in the communities they serve as a way of bridging the gap between school and home life. Chapter four continues these themes with practical pedagogical examples using photographs to reveal the cultural richness of students' family lives and examples of how these experiences can transform school communities.

Chapter five explores how teachers establish meaningful connections with parents through the use of dialogue. This chapter builds on the work of Lawrence‐Lightfoot (2003) and her book The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other. This study looked at ten teachers whom colleagues and parents regard as “skilled”, “empathic”, and “caring” in their communication with families. Practical examples of how to structure effective teacher‐parent interactions are included in the chapter. The author advocates for the provision of more meaningful structured schools activities such as open house nights that move beyond (pp. 70‐1) “ritualized events with little genuine dialogue”. The author further offers an antidote to such sterile events through the use of “hand‐off chats” where teachers and parents have opportunities to communicate informally and other more structured interactions such as letter writing, getting‐to‐know‐you conferences, and weekly communications. The chapter concludes with advice on how to avoid damaging or destroying dialogue with parents. Of particular interest are the authors' comments on communicating across social class and special‐education referral.

Chapter six focuses on effective dialogue during parent‐teacher conferences. Issues can potentially arise that complicate the messages sent by teachers or how those messages are received by families. One strategy is to invite the child to attend the conference. This way, the learner is an active participant in receiving feedback and developing solutions to foster greater learning. Another strategy to increase dialogue is for teachers to use concrete evidence of the students' work to initiate the conversation. This could include a formal portfolio or a variety of student work spread out on the table (p. 87). The chapter concludes with a discussion on evidence through the use of student portfolios and collaborative parent‐teacher conferences that include multiple teachers if the child is receiving instruction from other specialists in areas such as learning disabilities or hearing impairment.

Chapter seven opens with an examination of what can happen when the language that principals use during open house addresses can backfire and end up alienating the families in attendance. The chapter continues with positive examples of how constructive dialogue can be managed throughout the year with school‐based family involvement projects (e.g., parents leading reading discussions in the classroom) and ways to structure communication with parents about student learning.

Chapters eight and nine present strategies to engage families in classroom activities and strengthen the connection between families and their children's school experience. One such strategy involves a classroom assignment called “Tell Me about Your Child.” In this homework assignment teachers receive information about their students from the parents' perspective. Parents are asked to write a letter describing their child to the teacher. This introductory activity initiates dialogue that takes place all year through journaling assignments, oral and written family stories, and learning albums. All of these activities form a strong bond between the family, teachers, and children's learning environment. Chapter nine takes this theme further and provides step‐by‐step examples of how teachers can engage families in specific classroom projects. These include: having students and families explore their heritage, creating family “keepsakes,” and a powerful activity taken from the book Authors in the Classroom (Ada and Campoy, 2004) where student, families, and teachers become joint “authors” and empower one another in students' learning.

Chapter ten introduces a framework for collaboration between teachers, students, and families to promote democratic ideas, creative problem solving, and a more just society. The author asserts that (p. 127) “teachers have a responsibility to teach in ways that promote a fair and equitable society, ways that equip students to be active citizens in moving the United States toward democracy in those areas in which we, as adults, have failed”. Allen proves her point with numerous examples of teachers, students, and families collaborating to bring both awareness and action to address needs in their local communities while simultaneously bringing the curriculum to life in creative and thought provoking ways. Chapter 11 builds on the idea of teacher‐student‐family collaborations. This chapter provides additional examples of programs intended to advocate specific needs of local school communities. The chapter concludes with an example of a progressive program in Arizona focused on math achievement. In this partnership, parents work together with other parents to help children with their math homework. This becomes a win‐win situation as teacher's help parents learn new strategies to teach and support their children's development in math and kids benefit from the focused attention.

Chapter 12 pulls together the book's evidence on effective home‐school partnerships with diverse families and provides resources for current school leaders and families to implement the ideas. Allen summarizes and critiques the best practices of home‐school partnerships from experts in the field and provides a series of thought provoking questions for readers to ponder. The book concludes with an inspired call to action for today's families, educators, community members, and students to envision learning communities that are more inclusive and welcoming for years to come.

This book, Creating Welcoming School: A Practical Guide to Home‐School Partnerships with Diverse Families is a highly practical, insightful, and recommended text, presented in an articulate and research‐based approach. It is especially recommended for school leaders, teachers, families, and community members aspiring to create a sense of community focused around learning, respect, and student achievement. Scattered throughout the book are numerous “Action Opportunity” boxes that include focusing questions around specific themes from each chapter. School leaders may want to assign this book to their constituents and organize dialogue sessions to implement the ideas from the text and create positive change in their school communities.

References

Ada, A.F. and Campoy, F.I. (2004), Authors in the Classroom: A Transformative Education Process, Pearson, Boston, MA.

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