At the same time that successful partnerships share accountability, specific stakeholders must assume individual responsibility in order for partnerships to work. Above all, schools, under the leadership of principals, possess the primary responsibility for initiating school-family partnerships. Schools can invest heavily in professional development that supports family involvement, create time for staff to work with parents, supply necessary resources, design innovative strategies to meet the needs of diverse families, and provide useful information to families on how they can contribute to their children's learning.
Once schools initiate the dialogue and bring parents in as full partners, families are typically ready and willing to assume an equal responsibility for the success of their children. Ideally, this partnership takes place in a context where policymakers, community groups, and employers share the goals of the school and actively contribute to the attainment of those goals. In sum, a broad-based coalition of like-minded stakeholders is the foundation of any successful partnership. When community members work together, all stakeholders--and especially children--stand to win.
Although the most appropriate strategies for a particular community will depend on local interests, needs, and resources, successful approaches to promoting family involvement in the education of their children share an emphasis on innovation and flexibility. The experiences of the local schools and districts included here suggest the following guidelines for effective home-school partnerships:
There is no "one size fits all'' approach to partnerships. Build on what works well locally. Begin the school-family partnership by identifying, with families, the strengths, interests, and needs of families, students, and school staff, and design strategies that respond to identified strengths, interests, and needs.
Training and staff development is an essential investment. Strengthen the school-family partnership with professional development and training for all school staff as well as parents and other family members. Both school staff and families need the knowledge and skills that enable them to work with one another and with the larger community to support children's learning.
Communication is the foundation of effective partnerships. Plan strategies that accommodate the varied language and cultural needs as well as lifestyles and work schedules of school staff and families. Even the best planned school-family partnerships will fail if the participants cannot communicate effectively.
Flexibility and diversity are key. Recognize that effective parent involvement takes many forms that may not necessarily require parents' presence at a workshop, meeting, or school. The emphasis should be on parents helping children learn, and this can happen in schools, homes, or elsewhere in a community.
Projects need to take advantage of the training, assistance, and funding offered by sources external to schools. These can include school districts, community organizations and public agencies, local colleges and universities, state education agencies, and Comprehensive Regional Assistance Centers.4 While Title I program funds support the parent involvement activities of many programs featured here, several have increased the resources available for parent involvement activities by looking beyond school walls.
Change takes time. Recognize that developing a successful school-family partnership requires continued effort over time, and that solving one problem often creates new challenges. Further, a successful partnership requires the involvement of many stakeholders, not just a few.
Projects need to regularly assess the effects of the partnership using multiple indicators.These may include indicators of family, school staff, and community participation in and satisfaction with school-related activities. They may also include measures of the quality of school-family interactions; and varied indicators of student educational progress.
Although success in school-family partnerships rarely comes easily, the pay-offs to children and their educational success can be well worth the hard work required to forge and sustain the partnerships.