In both roles – as a parent and as an educator – it can be difficult to understand why there are not stronger partnerships between those three entities – families, schools and communities – who all impact the same children’s lives and care deeply about their learning. In theory, it sounds right. We should work together, communicate with one another and coordinate for a more powerful impact on the development of our children. But the reality of making that happen is quite different. “Feeling voiceless and powerless is likely to resonate with many parents who tried to advocate for their children in schools,” writes Arina Bokas. And for educators, we are often told what we have to do without consideration for our own professional expertise and wisdom. Teachers and administrators can shy away from parents because of accusations and attacks they’ve received in the past. And frequently, community members are unclear whether or not they are welcome in schools and if they are, what roles they can play.
The newly released book, Building Powerful Learning Environments From Schools to Communities by Arina Bokas builds a solid case for a focus on creating true partnerships between schools, families, and communities and gives specific ways we can move toward collaboration no matter where our starting point may be. Our children’s experience of learning has changed drastically from the time we were in school. They are not only trying to understand their sense of self in relation to their school and neighborhood but now, because of our digital environment, they must also understand themselves and their relationship to the greater global community. Learning must then be supported by all of the adults involved in every environment in which children play and engage including their virtual spaces. And if learning isn’t reason enough, our current workforce demands social and emotional skills in order to function and grow. Empathy, communication, collaboration and creative problem-solving are at the top of the list for skills most required by today’s employers.
Though we may hold a desire to collaborate, the author paints a clear picture of the underlying beliefs that have become embedded in our assumptions of how education operates. She also tells the bigger story of American education in a global context. Whereas we typically see one data set showing other countries with higher performing students without the greater context of what measures were used and more importantly, what the education system looked like at all levels so we truly understand the best practices involved in promoting student learning. She shows how one country, for example, had the highest testing scores internationally but upon further examination, was providing intensive daily after school tutoring for all students to perform well specifically on the test. Yet we know “skill and drill” is not the highest form of learning and a sole focus on testing sets educators up for teaching in ways they know is not in the student’s best interest. Arina offers examples of using testing for accountability while also ensuring that the learning environment is supporting the whole child’s physical, social, emotional and academic development.
This book also shows how any partner – whether it’s a parent, teacher, administrator or community member – might practically go about raising awareness and taking steps toward building trusting relationships between those who impact children’s lives. From opening classroom doors to parents to asking questions about potential roles in education, there are numerous big and small steps suggested for brokering partnerships.
It was an honor to contribute my example to this book to showcase one small partnership between a parent and a teacher that made a significant difference in my child’s education and indeed, our family connection to his school community. Check out the following example from the book. And then, check out this outstanding contribution to thinking that is sure to spur action on strengthening school-family-community partnerships!
Check out my contribution – “Feedback That Matters; Using Self-Assessments to Connect Parents to Children’s Learning”