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Training Parents and Educators to Function in Teams
Efforts to form and train teams of parents and educators offer the most direct route to the ultimate goal of using such partnerships to increase student achievement. Several of the highlighted PIRCs have established programs to create and train these school-based teams to focus on parent involvement and student achievement. These teams either supplement the efforts of already established school-based teams (e.g., school improvement teams, school site councils) or, if no other teams exist, become the main vehicle for partnership at a school site.
At the heart of the National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS) model, which Maryland's Family Works adopted as a core program to promote, is the school-based action team for partnerships, described earlier on p. 44. The team, which is intended to be an arm of a school site council or school improvement team, develops an annual action plan that reflects its family- and community-involvement goals for the year and that ties directly to the school improvement plan and the parent involvement policy. School teams are supposed to meet at least once a month.
In early 2000, the Family Works was focusing on the topics of early childhood education, parent leadership, and communication when its director realized that the parent-school partnership piece seemed a logical extension of these foci. She contacted NNPS to seek training for her staff in program implementation and in preparation to serve as NNPS trainers themselves for participating Maryland schools. Thereafter, the Family Works staff began offering NNPS's one-day professional development workshops at which school representatives learn how to:
- Establish an action team for partnership;
- Write an annual action plan for partnerships linked to their school improvement plan;
- Use NNPS's framework (i.e., six types of involvement, located on p. 44) to include activities that will engage all families in many different ways, all linked to school improvement goals; and
- Evaluate and then work to improve the partnership program each year.15
To entice schools and districts to join the partnership, the Family Works began to cover their initial fees for joining NNPS, provide training sessions for interested district staff, pay for two substitute teachers per school for teachers on the action team to attend training, and convene periodic meetings with district NNPS members across the state to share ideas and sustain progress. The Utah Family Center, while not quite so far along in its implementation, has begun working with some schools across the state to promote the NNPS model, and it also infuses the NNPS philosophy into many of its own materials and trainings.
Pursuing goals similar to those of NNPS, ADI developed its Solid Foundation program to generate and support more effective parent involvement, particularly in communities with high poverty and children living in risky environments. ADI considers the Solid Foundation less as a program and more as a "blueprint," a highly flexible model for building school communities with components that can be tailored to support the unique needs and goals of any school or district while respecting the context of the lives of the parents, students, and educators who live there. As with the NNPS model, a major piece of the Solid Foundation model is the creation of a school community council that will guide school efforts to involve parents in meaningful ways in everything from helping their children at home to decision-making at the school policy level. The council also makes recommendations for strengthening the school improvement plan’s emphasis on school-family connections. Additionally, for schools that do not already have a school-parent compact in place, the council develops one, detailing some of the basic responsibilities of parents, teachers, and students for achieving the school community’s learning goals.
Once a school decides to implement the Solid Foundation model, ADI's PIRC staff work with the principal to identify 1) a teacher or other education professional at the school to serve as a facilitator for parent education activities and 2) a group of parent leaders to coordinate parent-involvement efforts in the school. This group forms the nucleus of the school community council, and these members will recommend and recruit other parents, educators, and community members to fill key roles and positions and carry out essential community-building activities as specified in Solid Foundation's materials. These activities include, for example, providing school-home communication tools for teachers and holding workshops for teachers and parents on how to work together to support student success.
Tips for Training Parents and Educators to Team Up for School Achievement
Solid Foundation staff work with individual schools for two years. Their goal is to train and support school leaders well enough so the school community council will be able to sustain itself and grow on its own once Solid Foundation staff move to the next school.