Building inclusive community partnerships
The value of school-community engagement is well established. All states and territories in Australia have frameworks in place to guide schools and communities through the process of building and nurturing successful, sustainable relationships. It will probably come as no surprise that similar frameworks exist internationally in New Zealand, the US, Canada, Brazil, and anywhere else you can think of. This makes sense. Studies have consistently shown that successful partnerships allow schools to create an environment that will maximise student learning. But the benefits of a successful partnership extend out across the whole school and into the community. This week, we are taking a look at the benefits, tips and lessons learned when creating an inclusive school community.
We know you’re busy. Click here to see how School Stream can help you build community partnerships, or read on for the benefits of an inclusive school community.
Community building is important for students
Why is building an inclusive, participatory culture at school so important? For students, research shows that a sense of belonging is indicative of educational success and long-term health and wellbeing, as well as encouraging a positive attitude towards student learning and engagement. Growing research shows that these outcomes are also long-lasting.
Students in schools with a strong sense of community are more likely to be academically motivated (Solomon, Battistich, Watson, Schaps, & Lewis, 2000); to act ethically and altruistically (Schaps, Battistich, & Solomon, 1997); to develop social and emotional competencies (Solomon et al., 2000); and to avoid a number of problem behaviours, including drug use and violence (Resnick et al., 1997).
Teachers benefit from an engaged school community
Working towards a common goal is a great way to bridge the parent-teacher divide. Teachers are happier if they feel supported by parents. They are also more enthusiastic and more satisfied with their jobs. Teachers are empowered by getting to know their students’ families and can work towards supporting students in an even more meaningful way when they have a big-picture context for their family situation.
Team work makes the dream work
True engagement is a two-way street. A University of Queensland research study describes it as:
“Effective engagement creates authentic relationships considered valuable and valued by each partner.”
As part of the planning process, schools need to consider how they can contribute to the community, as well as how the community can help the school with their priorities and goals.
School-community partnerships in action
There are loads of case studies online that show how parent/community engagement has worked in a variety of contexts. You can see many of them on the Australian Government Education website. One of the featured case studies is from Holy Cross College in NSW, which has 650 students, with more than 40% from a language background other than English. The college wanted to engage parents and deepen their understanding of how boys learned and build their confidence and capacity to support their children’s education and wellbeing. The project comprised two parts:
∙ ‘Target setting’ for students to determine and work towards personal learning targets
∙ Active engagement of parents in their son’s learning and target setting.
Parent engagement initiatives to support the ‘target setting’ process included:
∙ Horizons Night to explain the target setting process
∙ Target Setting Meetings with parents, student and homeroom teacher
∙ Parent–Student–Teacher Interviews with a focus on targets
∙ Mid-year meetings with each student to discuss aids and roadblocks to achieving targets
∙ Regular ‘Parents in Touch’ evenings to discuss learning and wellbeing issues
∙ Family School Partnership Group– established around topics of interest: Learning, Wellbeing, Social and Community Connections, Faith Development and Home School Communication
∙ Parent Online Portal—including individual student attendance and performance data, and information on assessment tasks
∙ Use of technology to enhance communication with families.
The outcomes of this process have been positive for all parties, with students, teachers and parents giving feedback that reflects how transformative the project has been.
‘The language has definitely changed in my house. It’s gone from, “Have you done your homework?” to “Are you on track to achieving your target? What can we do to support you, to help you to achieve this target?’’.’
You can read more about this project, including how the school responded to challenges and barriers here.
Planning your way to a school – community partnership
Community engagement doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It takes time and planning. In many respects it’s similar to the family road trip: you must have a destination before you get behind the wheel. We all know what happens when you jump in the car with hopes of ‘winging it’. So while developing a goal or vision your school wants to work towards with the community can take time, the hard work has only just begun.
Barriers to community engagement & how to address them
As you will know from your own experiences, the most common barriers to getting people and organisations onside and actively involved in the school community are previous negative experiences, alongside cultural and language differences. (There is some great advice about engaging diverse communities on the University of Minnesota website). Gaps in professional development are another barrier that can prevent community engagement plans reaching their full potential. The best approach is to acknowledge possible challenges and any gaps in knowledge that will affect your plan and address them early. Bring in translators, spend time repairing any broken relationships and bring in experts who can upskill staff to ensure everyone is on the same page. The earlier you identify barriers to community involvement, the better prepared you will be to address them. After all, the aim is to engage the community, so plan, plan and then plan again so that everyone feels included from the get-go.
Last but by no means least, advice from the ‘Community and Family Engagement, Principals share what works’ report, underlines the importance of staying on course and ensuring the vision and plan for the school remains at the core of partnerships. The importance of regularly monitoring progress and measuring results through informal focus groups and conversations is also emphasised. But don’t be afraid to embrace any tech-driven tools you have to identify areas for improvement and the most effective strategies.
Do you have any experiences or insights you’d like to share about your own school community partnerships? Get in touch.