Family, community, and professional partnerships in a diverse society
Educators should view their students’ families as partners in their work. They should understand that children’s academic success is fostered by strong communication, shared goals, and mutually reinforcing practices, and that children’s motivation and sense of well-being in the classroom is supported by the setting’s affirmation of the child’s home and culture. Educators should define their professional responsibilities to include a commitment to their colleagues, their settings, their profession, and their communities. They should be familiar with legal, ethical, and policy issues, and understand the importance of advocating for children, families, and themselves in a variety of professional, political, and policymaking contexts.
Family, community, and professional partnerships in a diverse society tells me that teachers and parents need to work together to promote the academic growth of each student. Partnership with families is key to making sure that each student feels the connection between learning in the classroom and learning at home. An educator should show a commitment to the growth of their colleagues, profession, and community. A good educator is also well versed in policy and shows a dedication for advocating for students and families.
This standard is important because it reminds teachers that the learning that goes on in their classroom is not contained in a bubble. The education process is intertwined with the child’s home life and culture; this is not something that any educator should forget. By creating partnerships with families, teachers are fostering good educational practices outside of the classroom. Students will feel the encouragement from both teachers and parents, and will be more motivated to succeed.
It is also important that teachers are aware of educational law and policy, because as educators we are occasionally the child’s first advocates. Some parents may not be aware of the laws that protect or assist them when their child needs to be evaluated. A child won’t know what to do if his parents are abusing him. As educators, it is our job to speak for those children and their families.
Strong partnerships with families has been a large part of the success at Ferguson Elementary School. Despite its location in the inner-city of North Philadelphia, the school has a very high parental involvement rate due to the vast amount of programs they offer to parents and the strategies they have implemented in recent years. Teachers meet with parents in the morning during drop-off times and each educator has a 45 minute planning block that they use to contact parents and reach out to the homes. Teachers are encouraged to call home for more than discipline issues so they can share student success with the families. The Ferguson School holds an annual “Parents Make a Difference Day” that invites parents into the classroom so they can interact with their children in learning, and the school also holds multiple parent workshops over the course of the school year. As a result, student reading rates have gone up and the amount of discipline problems at the school has dramatically decreased.
I have been very lucky over the course of my practica to see great examples of family involvement. Teachers at the Joseph Lee go downstairs to breakfast every morning and converse with the parents that are dropping their children off. Teachers at the Lawrence School send home monthly newsletters updating parents on the curriculum and what’s coming up next. These newsletters also included different strategies that we were using in the classroom to help students master material. I found these newsletters very helpful, especially during my first month of student teaching. My first day at the Lawrence School, my supervising practitioner had me and the full-time student teacher sit down and write a little bio about ourselves. These bios were included in the January newsletter so the parents would know that there were new interns in the class and a little about us. While I do not have a copy of the full newsletter, Artifact 7.2 is a copy of the bio that I included in the newsletter. At the end of the section, our bios were included and our email addresses were listed so parents could contact us with questions specific to the homework assigned for lessons that we had taught.
My classroom at the Lawrence School also held monthly parent breakfasts. On these days, parents and students were invited into the classroom a half an hour before school opened that day. Food was provided, but the main focus was the students’ work. Each child’s portfolio was at their seat and displayed around the classroom. Parents could look through the portfolio to see what their child had been doing and take a walk around the classroom to see pictures of different learning experiences. Students loved to show their parents what they had been doing, and even what the parents had helped them with. These breakfasts sometimes included a performance by the students. One time they put on a puppet show based on the book Anansi, which they had been reading. I attended all the breakfast that we hosted over the semester, even though none of them were held on days when I was scheduled to go to practicum. These breakfasts gave me the opportunity to talk with parents and connect with them in ways that would otherwise have been unavailable to me.
The Meeting Diverse Learning Needs course offered at Wheelock (and required for all full-time practicum students) demonstrates the importance of the family, community, and professional partnerships standard beautifully. I had not taken a Special Education course prior to this class, and it really opened up my eyes. The professional responsibilities we hold as teachers were always in the back of my mind, but I did not have any concrete examples in my mind that would explain them to me. Professor Shainker connected these responsibilities to her own life: her son has a learning disability. Over the course of the semester, she outlined the importance of updating IEPs, knowing educational policy so you could explain it to parents, and advocating for students even when it went against the administration. I was able to use what I learned in her class throughout my practicum at the Joseph Lee Elementary School, and I feel that her class is invaluable to all education majors.
My first day of practicum I came in early and helped my supervising practitioner collect all the cumulative files for my students. I sat there filing them as she went through and told me a little bit about each student. I was especially interested in the students that had IEPs because I wanted to know what accommodations I would need to make in my lessons. I took some time after filing the cumulative records to talk to the resource room teacher about the students’ IEPs, and then I got to go through them myself. Due to the extra time and effort I put into reviewing students’ IEPs, I was able to make the accommodations my students needed during the lessons I planned and during my leadership week.
Professor Shainker’s class also resonated for me during the month of November of my full-time practicum. Due to a family emergency, my supervising practitioner was not in school for two weeks. Although I had the resource room teacher to help me, and a substitute in the room at all times, I found myself planning all the lessons for both the fourth and fifth grade reading classes as well as teaching many of them. It was during this period of time that I noticed a change in the behavior of one of my fourth grade students. While never one to sit still, this student had been bouncing off the walls and completely unable to focus during her lessons. I talked to her other teachers and they had all observed the same thing. When I talked to the student herself, she informed me that her mother had stopped giving her the medication that she normally took because she believed she was all better. After hearing this, I went to the nurse and told her what I had found out. The nurse gave me behavior checklists that needed to be completed by myself as well as the other teachers in the pod. After turning those forms in, the nurse scheduled a meeting with the mother and the child went back on the medication that she needed. Artifact 7.6 is a blank copy of the form that was completed for the child.
While I feel as though I have a basic grasp of this standard, I really want to learn more about educational policy, especially as it relates to special education. I am very good at using the resources that I have (specialists, the nurse, etc.), but I feel that it is very important that I learn this information for myself. To further my own knowledge, I am enrolling in the Master’s of Science Degree in Integrated Elementary and Special Education here at Wheelock College. This program will give me the Special Education background I feel I need to best serve my students. With more and more classrooms moving to the inclusive model of education it is important that I know all the laws that help and protect these children.
(1997, Oct.). Ferguson Elementary School: Restructuring an Inner-City School to Support Family Involvement. Family Involvement in Children’s Education, p. 1-5.