Teacher Leader Standard 6: Communicates and Collaborates with a Variety of Stakeholders was met during the course EDAD 6589 – Engaging Communities. Entering this course I knew that there were many voices and perspectives (stakeholders) which desired and needed input into school decisions, yet, I was unclear as to how to successfully navigate the flood of input which would be coming my way as the principal of a school. This course helped me to chart my course and secure a plan to not only involve, but engage all stakeholders all for the benefit of our students.
Washington Principal Evaluation Criteria 7 Partnering with the school community to promote student learning
An effective leader engages with the community in sensitive and skillful ways such that the community understands the work of the school and is proud to claim the school as their own. An effective leader understands the greater community to be a valuable resource and works to establish a genuine partnership model between home and school. An effective leader understands that aligning school and community efforts and values is an ongoing work in progress that must be nurtured, sustained, and monitored, and is able to influence others to adopt the same understanding.
As I read this standard, I recognized that this is a high calling. At the start of this course I asked myself, “ How will accomplish this? How will I meet this standard?” The first step on my journey was to read the many articles Dr. Bond provided us. One of the main ideas that struck me as I read the Madsen and Mabokela article was what makes a “culturally proficient” leader. From the examples given in the article I didn’t feel that either group, the European American or African American group, were culturally proficient or as we learned last quarter the higher standard would be culturally responsive. On page 85, the authors quoted the European American principals as they commented on their thoughts about teacher differences (between European American and African American teachers). They stated that white teachers had the mindset of “you must respect me because I am the teacher”, where black teachers were more interactive with kids, more relational, and white teachers would get frustrated and jealous of that. My response to that was, “Where is the mindset of kids first?” and “being relational and building connections is just best practice and should not be a matter of black vs. white”.
I found myself wondering where this study took place. Was it in the South? Midwest? Chicago? East Coast? Surely it couldn’t be on the West Coast! My experience living on the West Coast most of my life and then moving to the Midwest and having family in Chicago made me understand that my West Coast mentality of race and culture was a sheltered one. I found this article sad and hard to relate to as I don’t see these cultural stereotypes in the way they are presented, yet, I know that they are still present today and that saddened me. How could parents question why diversity in schools would be a good thing? (p. 87) My connection was that parents in our school question the allocation of school space and funds to our two learning center classrooms. Yes, these classrooms have only 8-10 students who all have very impactful special needs, but they represent a population who equally deserves public education. On page 98, the authors voice the parent’s concerns over hiring African American teachers and having to justify their qualifications to said parents. That is appalling to me! I cannot understand this mentality, yet I know that it is one I must not just understand but dissect in order to bring about the change necessary to ensure a quality school experience for all our students.
Referring back to the main idea of being a “culturally proficient” teacher or principal. I see that this study had one key component which needs to be recognized. All of these teachers and principals were part of a desegregation program where inner city African American students were bused into white suburbs. This was not a culturally diverse group by nature, but one by design. I feel that perhaps this was the reason for so many issues and problems with culturally responsive teaching and leadership. It was a contrived situation, not a natural one. These were not neighbors with common ground, living experiences, and culture. They were two worlds colliding in the school yard. Although this article presented very different demographics and challenges than those at my current school, one thing that I am able to apply is the need for all stakeholders to be involved in decisions and there to be a shared mission and vision for the school. We do have diversity and it is those common elements and goals which unite us.
Another article that resonated with me was one emphasizing the use of the Epstein model. I have wondered if using the Epstein Model (http://pebsaf.org/page47.html) would increase parent involvement, especially in our ever-increasing ELL population. After reading this article I realize that while the Epstein model is a good starting place it is clearly not the “fix all” remedy that the Hawk school was looking for and therefore I can make the assertion that it would not be a fool proof solution for my school either.
Some key elements that stuck out to me in the reading were that the Hawk school was primarily African American. The text stated that, “This model also fails to address the form of advocacy demonstrated by African American families and their church involvement (Fields-Smith, 2009), which is their primary form of community collaboration among African Americans (Bradley, Johnson, Rawls, & Dodson-Sims, 2005; Day-Vines & Day Hairston, 2005) Coming from a multi-cultural background growing up in San Diego around a high Mexican-American population and then moving here and attending a “black” church for many years. Even as a “white girl” I have learned that these cultures see the world and function in very different ways than the white culture. We cannot assume that our way is the “right” way. Their way is equally “right”, just different. Even in the reading where the primary culture was African-American, it is from a European American perspective that I read. I would be interested to read a study from a differing perspective to better understand what another culture’s take is on school involvement.
Another key take-away I had from our readings was that –
“lower socioeconomic backgrounds expending considerable effort, including more informal conversations and unscheduled visits, to demonstrate their involvement to teachers and the school at large (Freeman, 2010); however, these less structured approaches are often viewed as obtrusive by schools and teachers (Fields-Smith, 2007)
What hit me was that these families are trying to relate, trying to connect, and we need to get over it! Yes, we can educate them eventually as to what is most preferred for communication, but really, if they are reaching out we need to embrace them! When we are too formal in our requests for prearranged communication, our unintended message is that we are unwilling or unable to be a partner. We need to bridge this communication gap and do whatever it takes to ensure student and family success.
The one thing my school does that I feel has made a huge impact is our multi-cultural night. This event has the greatest turn out of any event at our school. We have a cultural potluck where families bring a dish from their culture. They can wear their traditional clothing. There are student and family performers from many cultures and the Lakeview choir performs a medley of different cultural songs. This one event brings out more families than I see any other time of the year. We have the greatest diversity and it really is standing room only. I believe that the key to that is we celebrate who each child and family is. We don’t ask them to conform to a “norm” or certain way to interact at school.
Another article spoke to the ways that schools can successfully integrate parents into the education of their children. The Robbins and Searby article analyzed the work of three different middle school interdisciplinary teams in engaging parental involvement in their schools. All teams involved expressed that “communication with parents as (is) an organizational practice most likely to result in achievement gains and viewed the middle school interdisciplinary team as an effective tool to engage parents.” (Robbins and Searby, p. 116) There are many ideas to take away from this reading and a few key points I will want to remember and reflect on in my practice. One key point to remember in all our work with families of all cultures and socio-economic backgrounds is, “researchers have repeatedly documented that parents with low income, limited education, or minority status are just as likely to help their children with homework as other parents.” As educators, we need to have this frame of reference as we interact and work in our schools.
The most influential piece of research that emerged from the article was the four themes that all three schools found in common. Those were that effective middle school interdisciplinary teams all:
- Believe that parental involvement is essential to student success
- Are open and approachable to parents
- Serve as a resource to the parents of adolescents
- Approach problem-solving opportunities with parents as a team instead of individuals.
The following is a list of applicable strategies that the teams used with success.
What do effective middle school teams do to involve parents?
- Are persistent in making contact.
- Conduct regular face-to face conferences.
- Require strugglers to maintain school– home parental contact.
- Establish a clear open door policy.
- Are welcoming and friendly with their words and actions.
- Meet regularly as a team.
- Develop team approaches to problem-solving issues.
- Create team procedures, policies, and expectations and communicate them to students and parents.
- Conduct all conferences as a team.
- Exhibit a clear understanding of adolescent development and effective at- home strategies.
- Clarify the role of the parent in facilitating student success
(Robbins and Searby, p. 128)
The article also highlights implications for us as teachers and administrators, key items that we can implement into our schools which may aid us in engaging our parents.
Another article that enhanced my learning was by Agbo. The article by Agbo was very interesting to me because I had a personal connection in that my niece was a volunteer in AmeriCorps and they were stationed for part of their year on an “Indian” reservation in South Dakota. Her experience there dealing first hand with the tribe and the “band” made this article even more real and true to modern day schooling for me. I was struck right away by the quote, “the education and training of teachers for First Nations students should be firmly divorced from any association with the idea of Eurocentric schools.” Wow, that is clear and somewhat harsh. Basically, I take that as they want nothing to do with us, but want their culture preserved.
A teacher once told a friend of mine that, “you know your child at home and I know your child at school, and somewhere in the middle is who they really are.” This quote has stuck with me and is echoed in this reading. Agbo states, “Rogovin also believes that when teachers establish close working relationships with a family, little by little, we get to know the whole child. Families’ observations and insights about children inform our teaching and help us better understand children’s behavior.” (p. 2) The text goes on to state however that while it is known that a close parent/teacher relationship is key, that “teachers can be resentful of parent participation.” I find this to be true in my own school. We value parent participation, yet resent it all at the same time. We have to plan for parent involvement and educate them on how to work with students and not just focus on their own child. Sometimes, it would be better if they just worked at home on homework and projects and left the day-to-day work in the classroom to us. Yet, we know that a parent presence is not only desired, but also needed. So there in lies our dilemma.
This study like many others involving culturally diversity has the discussion of differing viewpoint of the community. It questions whether parents direct involvement in the school is necessary for student success and “how much involvement is appropriate or desirable”. In this study it was further clouded by the “Band” which consisted of its own governing council which usually had “one chief and several council members”.
A key take-away I had was a quote on p. 7 that stated, “the main problem of schooling in this community is lack of communication between parents and teachers. A Band office worker stated it best –
All the teachers are new to our way of life. They don’t know what we do with our kids at home. Ask the teachers, how many of them have ever attempted to visit a parent and spent a weekend with him and perhaps, go on the trap-line together and see what children and parents do over there. They are teaching children whose way of life they don’t understand. They are just teaching them what they think (the students) should know. It is only when teachers know about the home environment of the children that they can teach them well. Parents and teachers have to work together. (p. 8)
Finally, my learning was solidified through the completion of two course assignments, the case study and Community Improvement Plan – CIP 2014. Developing these two products for this course enabled me to take what I had learned and apply it to my own building. I was able to synthesize that learning into a comprehensive plan which would enable me to communicate and collaborate with all stakeholders in my building.
As a future principal I know that this is a key standard for me to master. I have seen first-hand the problems which arise when key stakeholders are not engaged. When the community is not on board with the mission and vision of the school it will soon be derailed. At the end of the day we are educating “the band’s” children, whatever band that might be. It is my duty to learn, serve, and engage that community to envelope them in the learning and growth of their children, my students, for the ultimate goal of growth for all of us.
Agbo, S. A. (2007). Addressing school-community relations in a cross-cultural context: A collaborative action to bridge the gap between First Nations and the school. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 22(8), 1-14.
Castagno, A. E. (2013). Multicultural Education and the Protection of Whiteness. American Journal of Education, 120 (1), 101-128.
Elias, M. (2013). The School-to-Prison Pipeline. Teaching Tolerance, 52 (43), 39-40.
“Harvard Family Research Project.” Harvard Family Research Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2015.
Madsen, J. & Mabokela, R., (2014). Leadership Challenges in Addressing Changing Demographics in Schools. NASSP Bulletin, 98, 75-96. Doi: 10.1177/0192636513514110
Robbins, C., & Searby, L. (2013). Exploring Parental Involvement Strategies Utilized by Middle School Interdisciplinary Teams. School Community Journal, 113-136.
Westmoreland, H., Bouffard, S., & O’Carroll, K. (2009). Data collection instruments for evaluating family involvement. … Project Cambridge, 1-19.