Comprehensive Exam Question: School, Family, and Community Partnerships
School, family, and community interaction has changed significantly over the past century. Schools were once seen as pillars of the community, with high levels of parent interaction and community support. However, in the early 20th century, education shifted to be more closed-off and private before returning again to the idea of family and community partnership as a central tenant of a quality education. This shift back to high levels of family and community involvement was the result of both political and social changes. While involvement has returned to the forefront as a critical issue in education, it is now important to draw a distinction between family and community involvement and family and community engagement as schools scale-up their authentic partnerships (Auerbach, 2012).
Family and community involvement, engagement, and partnerships are often used interchangeably in the education arena. For most, partnership evokes ideas of shared roles, responsibilities, and decision-making power as well as a sharing of the benefits from the outcome of the partnership. The root of partnership is equality. Likewise, partnership also requires a set of organizational underpinnings in schools – parents and educators are equal; parent contributions are valuable. These beliefs often have to be cultivated in schools and do not exist automatically. Using the word partnership might not truly capture differing opinions on school-community involvement as factors like culture and socioeconomic status impact how families view their role in education. As such, schools should look beyond simple involvement or cursory partnerships to develop meaningful, authentic relationships with stakeholders (Auerbach, 2012).
Quezada (2016) further delineates the difference between parent involvement and parental engagement, representing a shift in understanding the role of parents that helps schools achieve the more meaningful and authentic partnerships discussed by Auerbach. Engaging parents places the focus on their interests, their opinions, and their priorities to strengthen both the school and the community in which the school is situated. Additionally, engagement requires schools to empower families to be independent by linking them to needed resources and solving both school and community problems together. This definition is in stark contrast to traditional ideas about family and community involvement. In these traditional views, schools focus on their own self-interests, dictate solutions to parents, pour energy only into school programs, and lead parents to complete pre-determined tasks (like attending a family fun night). A “paradigm shift” (Quezada, 2016, p. 29) is needed to begin seeing parents as leaders, assisting with the procurement of leadership skills, and providing opportunities for “parent leaders” (p.30) to flourish. The difference between involvement and engagement, then, lies in beliefs about what parents are capable of doing (Quezada, 2016).
The benefits (for all involved) of school, community, and family partnerships are well established, but the theories behind creating effective and authentic partnerships vary greatly. School, family, and community engagement has ties to educational theorist Urie Bronfenbrenner. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory posited that child learning and development is impacted by relationships that exist in the child’s life. This ecological model of development is theorized as concentric circles with the child at the center (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). In this model, it is the connections between actors at every level in a child’s life that strengthen learning and development. For many children, the parent-child relationship is “the child’s first, lasting, and most influential relationship (Ohio Department of Education [ODE], 2016),” lending credence to the idea that it is beneficial to all stakeholders for families to be deeply invested co-constructors of their child’s education. Relationships that most fully benefit the individual child, then, are not limited to parent-teacher interactions, but also recognize the critical importance of community connections (ODE, 2016).
Building on Bronfenbrenner’s foundation, Epstein (2010) outlined a framework for conceptualizing school, community, and family engagement. This framework, known as overlapping spheres of influence, demonstrates how the spheres of school, community, and family work together. Like in Bronfenbrenner’s model, the child is theorized at the center of the framework. In the external model of overlapping spheres, the three spheres “may be drawn together or pushed apart” based on external factors geared toward child learning and development (Epstein, 2010, p. 82). Those factors may be endeavors that schools, communities, or families undertake separately or jointly. Consequently, the internal model contextualizes the spheres by demonstrating social relationships, or connections, between the spheres. Those connections might be at the institutional level (school-wide communication) or more individualized. Epstein (2010) also outlines six types of involvement and practices that contribute to each of those types. Additionally, “redefinitions” (p. 86) –adjustments that push beliefs beyond traditional ideas about parental involvement – accompany each practice. Epstein (2010) stresses that while the six practices form a framework, schools will have unique strengths and challenges that inform their school, community, and family partnership endeavors.
The first type of involvement is parenting, where the goal is to assist families in providing supportive home environments for students. This type of involvement can be supported by conducting home visits, offering classes, connecting families to other support services, or providing developmentally appropriate strategies for learning and development at home. The redefinition of this practice encourages schools to push beyond simply holding meetings at school and make information available in different ways, at different levels, and at different times. The second form of involvement is communication with the goal of creating effective bidirectional communicative channels. Practices in this type of involvement go beyond traditional parent-teacher conferences to include phone calls, memos, newsletters, and other types of communication that are appropriately created based on parent need. The redefinition of this involvement type requires communication to be multi-directional, including back and forth communication between parents, students, school personnel, and the community. The third form of involvement is volunteering with the goal of organizing help and support for the school. This type of involvement can be achieved by recruiting volunteers, creating a space for volunteers and parents in the school, annually surveying to determine interests and availability, and effectively disseminating information. The redefinition of this type of involvement challenges traditional notions of volunteerism by stretching the definition to include anyone who supports student achievement at any time or in any location. The fourth type of involvement is learning at home. This type of involvement includes providing families with strategies to work toward instructional goals at home by educating families on grade level expectations, following consistent homework policies and routines, providing calendars, scheduling academically-focused activities at school, providing ideas for summer enrichment, and setting student goals together. For this involvement type, redefinition includes expanding the definition of homework to include interactive school or community activities and expecting parents to encourage and monitor, instead of reteach, concepts learned at school. The fifth type of involvement is decision-making, which includes both formally and informally including families in decisions. This process may include parent-teaching organizations, councils, school board elections, or inter-parent networking. Redefinition for this involvement type requires a shift to seeing parents as leaders and involving these parent-leaders in the foundational stages of school governance. Finally, the sixth type of involvement is collaborating with the community. This type of involvement is accomplished by integrating community assets and available supports to strengthen schools and families. This type of involvement may include providing information, engaging in community service, and providing opportunities for school alumni. The redefinition of this type of involvement includes broadening the definition of community to include all members of the community, even those from marginalized groups and those who do not have children who attend the school (Epstein, 2010).
While Epstein’s work has been at the core of the school, family, and community movement, questions have arisen about the applicability of her model to schools with more nuanced needs. Bower and Griffin (2011) studied the effectiveness of the Epstein model in an elementary school with high populations of minority students and students living in poverty. As a result, Bower and Griffin (2011) identified several limitations of the Epstein approach. Perhaps most notable is related to shared decision-making. In Epstein’s model, parents are still beholden to school leaders to create the framework for participation and to invite participation. In this way, decision-making is shared in name only, with schools dictating how decision-making is structured. Opportunities for engagement in this realm are often too school-directed and school-centered. The Epstein model also misses an important point of collaboration (faith-based organizations) for families of color.
While Epstein acknowledges the need for individualization in general terms, concrete examples for work with families of differing races, ethnicities, socioeconomic status, or cultures are inadequate or missing. As a result, the Epstein model seems narrowly focused on white, middle class norms. Making adjustments based on the contextual factors of schools is important for effective school, family, and community partnerships. In the Bower and Griffin (2011) study, parent involvement was studied at a high-minority, high-poverty elementary school. Parent involvement efforts were mostly traditional, parent involvement was low, and teachers were frustrated. As a result, teachers expended less effort on engaging parents and their attitudes about parental engagement declined. Based on this case study, Bower and Griffin (2011) conclude that Epstein’s model “may not fully capture how parents are or want to be involved in their children’s education” (p. 84). Non-traditional strategies that are culturally, racially, ethnically, and economically sensitive as designed and implemented by a school counselor may provide a well-rounded and responsive addition to the Epstein model. These strategies include explicit relationship building, raising family efficacy, and encouraging parents to become advocates.
Stefanski, Valli, and Jacobson (2016) also argue for a distinction between involvement and engagement, but caution that a shift in vernacular does not automatically mean a shift in research focus or actual practice. Additionally, Stefanski et al. (2016) argue that even historical models of family engagement (like the Epstein model) coupled with a shift in language to the term engagement fail to effectively describe and inform true partnership efforts. Instead, Stefanski et al. (2016) outline types of school-community partnerships and their accompanying family roles.
In their study, types of school-community partnership are graduated based on how comprehensive they are and how much commitment and change is necessary during implementation. Stefanski, et al. (2016) pinpoint Family and Interagency Collaboration as the most elementary school-community partnership. In this model, schools aim to coordinate services in a variety of arenas for families and students. This requires organizational commitment from the school but no real organizational change. This type of partnership is reminiscent of Epstein’s sixth type of family involvement, collaborating with the community. In Family and Interagency Collaboration, the mission of the partnership is to serve parents by providing resources and services and building relationships through open communication.
In the Stefanski et al. (2016) model, each typology builds on the previous typology; thus, practices from previous typologies are expected to be included in later typologies. The next step of this framework is Full Service Schools. In addition to providing resources and services and building relationships, schools in this type of partnership encourage and enhance family participation in schools and begin to include parents or family members in decision-making roles. In this type of partnership, schools go beyond offering a few basic resources or services to delivering services at the school for both families and students in a more comprehensive and coordinated manner based on family need instead of solely on school priority. Rather than serve parents, the goal of Full Service Schools is to include parents. Because this type of partnership is more comprehensive, it requires both organizational commitment and change.
The Stefanski et al. (2016) model offers two additional partnership types that continue to be more comprehensive, require greater levels of commitment and change, and that are more parent-centered. Because of these characteristics, the final two partnership types will be discussed later as solutions to common challenges with school, family, and community partnerships.
The benefits and importance of strong family, school, and community partnerships are well documented in educational research (Epstein, 2010; Quezada, 2016; Semke & Sheridan, 2012). However, the theory-to-practice gap in creating effective partnerships is expansive and difficult to overcome. The identification of common challenges and the proposal of viable solutions for these challenges can assist school personnel in establishing and maintaining more positive and effective partnerships. Challenges fall into two main categories: typical or common challenges that nearly all schools face and challenges that are more unique to schools with marginalized groups of people, including those from rural areas, families of color, and families living in poverty. These challenges are often coupled with a stereotypical understanding of parent involvement, which further strains school, family, and community partnerships.
Hayakawa and Reynolds (2016) identify low parent turnout as a primary barrier in building school, community, and family partnerships, and Epstein (2010) outlines some additional challenges. Generally, family participation decreases as students move through grades to middle and high school. Across settings, single parents, working parents, fathers, and parents who commute considerable distances to the school are less likely to actively engage with the school. Baker, Wise, Kelly, and Skiba (2016) also added to general barriers and challenges by interviewing 50 parents and 76 school personnel. Parents identified these barriers in the interview process: lack of consideration for siblings or other family members, work schedules, lack of pre-planned or proactive communication, scheduling conflicts, and comfort level and feeling of being welcomed into the school. This feeling was especially tied to interactions with office staff. School personnel identified the following barriers: successfully reaching parents for communication, language, prior negative school experiences, apathy, uncertainty, transportation, and willingness to submit to a background check. School staff mentioned Internet-based platforms for communicating with parents, but no staff identified a lack of Internet access as a potential barrier, further demonstrating school staff’s inability to successfully identify important barriers. Throughout the interviews, staff perceived that parents do not wish to be involved with the school, but parent interviews suggest otherwise, which is consistent with one of Epstein’s (2010) core beliefs – that almost all parents want to be actively engaged in their child’s school (Baker et al., 2016). Other possible challenges include lack of funding or resources.
Solutions for overcoming many of these general challenges are straightforward and practical. Epstein (2010) suggests connecting partnerships to instructional goals, using professional development to increase staff members’ skills relative to building partnerships, using professional development time and resources to focus on collaboration, and enriching pre-service education programs to include courses focused on school, community, and family partnerships. Baker et al. (2016) additionally suggests increasing the frequency of communication, using multiple and varied channels for communication, conducting home visits or hosting events outside of the physical school building, and providing food at events to assist with scheduling issues.
While the aforementioned problems and solutions can certainly be applied universally, perhaps the more profound and deeply rooted challenges to developing partnerships lie with historically marginalized communities. Different strategies are needed because diverse populations engage schools and view involvement in different ways. When school staff maintains a stereotypical view of school, family, and community partnerships, engagement efforts by families are often overlooked. For example, in African American households, parents tend to engage in activities at home with their children, a non-traditional form of parent involvement that is often missed by educators and administrators (Bower & Griffin, 2011). Additionally, African American parents may have had negative past experiences with schools or distrust the system (Auerbach, 2012). Encouraging participation in parent groups is an evidenced-based strategy for increasing African American parent involvement because it allows for the accurate dissemination of information, supports collective advocacy, and provides a built-in support network for parents who are learning to navigate school and community partnerships (Bower & Griffin, 2011).
Latino families may avoid contacting the school because of their native language or because of a deeply held respect for schools and teachers. Translation services, beyond only translating written documents, should be utilized. Linguistic and cultural translation may be best achieved by a group of parent-leaders. This allows parents to use their strengths and talents to engage with the school and allows them to empower other parents in their community to participate as well. Schools should also be careful in how they perceive a lack of parent or caregiver initiative, as it is probably a display of respect rather than a show of apathy (Bower & Griffin, 2011).
Parents from low socioeconomic backgrounds often engage in involvement opportunistically, meaning they visit the school unannounced for conversations or informal visits. Teachers and administrators should strive to view this type of participation as any other type of participation instead of viewing it as burdensome. Again, impromptu participation should not be misconstrued as apathy, and schools should be careful not to alienate parents who use this method. Schools can also work to address some of the reasons that impromptu visits are necessary. By taking work schedules, childcare opportunities and cost, and transportation availability into account, schools can design opportunities that better meet the basic needs of parents so they can become more actively engaged (Bower & Griffin, 2011).
Rural communities often contain a variety of marginalized populations, including families from low socioeconomic backgrounds, single-parent households, and transient populations (Semke & Sheridan, 2012). Rural schools and communities face a variety of additional challenges, including securing qualified and experienced teachers and offering competitive salaries. Rural areas are also geographically isolated, meaning that teachers are more isolated from professional networks (Williams, 2003). Rural schools often have high teacher turnover, limited resources, and older or failing facilities. Finally, needed family resources and services are often unavailable, thwarting even the most basic family engagement efforts (Semke & Sheridan, 2012).
Because of the added challenges associated with rural life and because of the preponderance of families from historically marginalized populations living in rural areas, rural parent engagement in traditional school involvement efforts is low. In fact, rural families discuss school, attend meetings, and talk with teachers less frequently than parents in urban or suburban settings. Rural challenges to creating partnerships include the avoidance of professional assistance either for fear of being judged or because of a culturally based mistrust of professionals, concerns regarding privacy that exist in close-knit, small communities, geographic isolation coupled with a lack of public transportation making traveling to school difficult, and time or scheduling conflicts associated with work schedules or time spent traveling to work. An additional challenge for educators and administrators is a lack of research regarding partnerships in rural schools and evidence-based strategies for engaging and empowering rural parents (Semke & Sheridan, 2012).
Because the challenges associated with partnerships in rural schools (and with other marginalized communities) are so complex, a reconceptualization of parent involvement by combatting traditional notions of involvement and offering larger, more systemic change is necessary. Many of the previously mentioned challenges can be addressed by incorporating asset mapping, strengthened horizontal and vertical ties, boundary spanning, place-based education, and full-service or university-assisted community schools.
One solution for creating strong family, community, and school partnerships is to move away from deficit thinking by asset mapping. Deficit thinking, especially in lower-income cities, is often the norm. These communities are defined by their problems or deficits, and as a result, a message that deficits can only be solved by outside agencies or services prevails. The alternative to this paradigm is focusing on a community’s capabilities as outline by the process of asset mapping. This shift is important because grassroots level movements are critical for community development (McKnight & Kretzman, 1997). Individuals engaged in asset mapping utilize several tools to discover resources available within a community. They might conduct individual visits with community members to uncover talents, research local businesses, nonprofits, or other organizations, or consider physical assets such as parks and museums (Stoecker, 2005).
Asset mapping allows communities to identify resources and prioritize those resources based on their location. Casto (2016) offers a method to categorize partnerships based on the location of their connection. Horizontal ties are those connections that exist within the immediate school community. Vertical ties, conversely, exist within the school district, but are not located within the immediate community. Horizontal ties might include local non-profits or partners in education, while vertical ties might represent university partnerships or other opportunities that are located geographically farther from the school and require transportation (Casto, 2016). This concept is consistent with McKnight and Kretzman’s (1997) method, where community assets are divided into primary, secondary, or potential building blocks. Primary building blocks are assets that are located and controlled by the school’s immediate community (McKnight & Kretzman, 1997). The process of asset mapping and denoting primary building blocks (or horizontal ties) helps to combat the notion that communities need assistance from outside.
Building connections within the community is intricately linked to the concepts of collective efficacy and social capital. Collective efficacy is the “extent to which community residents intervene on behalf of children’s welfare” (Lawson, Lawson, & Richards, 2016, p. 5). In communities with high collective efficacy, parents and other adults are observant, they take action based on what they observe, and they attempt to minimize undesirable circumstances and maximize desirable circumstances for children. On the other hand, in communities with low collective efficacy, adults are unaware of potentially dangerous or damaging situations and often fail to take action if they are aware. These practices make professionals’ jobs more difficult and without the support of the community, students come to school with more academic, emotional, or developmental difficulties. Collective efficacy is related to the idea of social capital. The development of social capital is critical for student achievement. Strong school, family, and community partnerships can assist with establishing a more equal distribution of social capital. Partnerships that build and shift social capital, then, can impact collective efficacy and eventually, outcomes for children (Lawson et al., 2016).
The ideas of asset mapping, collective efficacy and social capital are brought together in place-based education and community schools. Place-based education and community schools embody a shift in mindset about strengthening family, school, and community partnerships instead of offering a simple, prescribed solution. Place-based education is one form of community, family, and school partnership that can benefit communities, especially rural communities. Place-based education is learning rooted in the context of the local community, including all aspects of that community. Place-based education develops a sense of place, allowing students to connect more deeply with their community. Smith and Sobel (2010) discuss this concept as “Querencia,” or “…an abiding love for a place that leads to its care and stewardship as well as a desire to assure its beauty and integrity for generations to come” (p. 27). This process strengthens partnerships by deepening cultural roots, instilling civic responsibility, and teaching self-reliance. Place-based education achieves the aim of developing a sense of place by utilizing a variety of instructional methods including authentic instruction, problem-based learning, and service learning (Casto, 2016). While service learning offers a valuable experience for students, it is important that it is embedded in the curriculum instead of being an added, unrelated requirement (Smith & Sobel, 2010). Place-based education focuses on identifying and leveraging community resources and assets to help teachers and administrators meet instructional goals while developing a love of and deference to local history, talents, and culture (Casto, 2016). Place-based education is appropriate and beneficial for all academic disciplines, but each teacher must embrace community members as partners whose expertise can be leveraged. Not all instruction should come from the teacher and community members should also take responsibility for educating the community’s children (Smith & Sobel, 2010).
Smith and Sobel (2012) contend that a school’s willingness and readiness for change is paramount in the successful adoption of place-based education. As part of a conceptual model, they adapted Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to a Hierarchy of School Needs. School leaders can use this hierarchy to move toward full implementation of place-based education. Foundational levels focus on developing effective school facilities, building a respectful and responsible social contract, and ensuring collaboration between leadership and staff. Only then can schools begin to move into high-order needs, including curricular redesign, a focus on place and community, and the inclusion of individual student, staff, and community members’ unique talents, interests, and needs (Smith & Sobel, 2012).
In the same way that place-based education initiatives strengthen partnerships while supporting the local community, community schools are another option for building and shifting collective efficacy and social capital. In fact, many community schools are entwined with place-based education initiatives. Community schools can be beneficial in a variety of community types including both rural and urban schools (Potapchuk, 2013). The community school movement orients local schools as the core of the community and theorizes the school as a central place for gathering people and resources dedicated to increasing outcomes for students, families, and the community. Community schools “focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families, and healthier communities” (Coalition for Community Schools [CCS], n.d., p.1).
As a result of this mission, community schools necessarily focus on the whole child instead of solely on academic achievement. Community schools, though vastly different based on contextual factors, have several common principles. Community schools establish a shared vision, build collaborative partnerships, develop and maintain high expectations, use an assets-based approach, respect diversity, and create opportunities for local, shared decision making. Like impacting collective efficacy and social capital and place-based education, the community school movement goes far beyond traditional parent involvement practices and requires parents and community members as equal partners and as leaders who know best what the community needs (Potapchuk, 2013).
Lawson et al. (2016) conducted research on a university-assisted partnership program in Alabama, which integrates another valuable community resource – higher education. As part of this program, Collective Parent Engagement (CPE) was pinpointed as a way to empower parents and shift social capital. In one CPE initiative called the Assets Exchange Program, parents offered training programs to other parents. Programs focused on a wide range of skills including cooking, budgeting, and fitness (Lawson et al., 2016). Programs like this focus on growing capacity, connecting parents, and empowering parent-leaders to make change in the community, which helps engender change in schools.
Positive results from community schools are noted in schools across the United States. Overall, students in community schools showed improved attitudes about school in relation to feeling supported. Community schools also demonstrate improved grades, test scores, attendance rates, and graduation rates. Finally, community schools often report a good return on investment (CCS, n.d.).
Creating stronger partnerships and engaging parents by adopting place-based education or community schools and directly impacting collective efficacy and shifting social capital requires dedicated and knowledgeable individuals who can bring people together. These individuals, known as boundary spanners, are instrumental in school, family, and community partnership efforts. Boundary spanners engage in a variety of practices that strengthen partnerships. First, they represent their organization to other organizations, allowing for understandings and collaboration to develop. This give-and-take process is beneficial to all parties involved. Boundary spanners also locate and secure resources (Riehl, 2012). Boundaries can be conceptualized as any event or factor causing separation or preventing collaboration between groups, including economic, social, or political divides. Boundary-spanners, then, are individuals dedicated to bridging these gaps. Boundary spanners buffer when necessary and work to translate requests, ideas, and concerns across contextual groups (Wakeham, 2014). Boundary spanners use the relationships they create to solidify connections between organizations and people that would not otherwise exist. They achieve this process by using “boundary spanning objects or tools, such as common languages or technologies and by engaging in boundary–spanning social practices or routines” (Riehl, 2012, p. 21). The process of boundary spanning is also sometimes called brokering and boundary spanners are sometimes called brokers. Like a boundary spanner, brokers are individuals with a particular set of knowledge and skills who serve as mediators, assisting other stakeholders in achieving meaningful participation. Brokers can serve in a variety of functions and mediate between varied circumstances. For example, individuals may serve as language or cultural brokers. In these circumstances especially, parent-leaders could easily serve as brokers (WiDA, n.d.).
The concept of boundary spanning can easily be applied to educational leaders in an attempt to redefine their involvement and role in school, family, and community partnerships. Educational leaders should assume the role of boundary spanners in order to strengthen partnerships and more fully engage parents and community members. Bureaucratic structures like hierarchical organizational charts can become an easy excuse for central office administration and principals to be under-involved in strengthening partnerships. However, if they re-conceptualize their role to that of being a boundary spanner, with a concentrated effort to transcend such boundaries, educational leaders can avoid allowing this excuse to affect their work with families and communities. Through boundary spanning, educational leaders can engage in a variety of much-needed practices including administering, making meaning, creating conditions, and transforming. Of particular importance are making meaning, which engages the educational leader in the practice of interpreting and comprehending, successfully communicating, and exchanging information, and creating conditions, which engages the educational leader in the practice of growing an open and collaborative relationship marked by respect and trust and creating a space for those relationships to thrive (Wakeham, 2014).
Epstein, Galindo, and Sheldon (2011) assert that district leaders’ emphasis on strong school, family, and community partnership is directly and positively related to the number and quality of partnership activities that occur. Because district support is important to partnership efforts and because boundary spanning helps deepen partnerships, central office administrators in collaboration with principals are poised to act as boundary spanners to create strong contingencies for improving partnerships and, ultimately, improving outcomes.
While the administrator-as-boundary spanner idea is relatively new, the idea seems logical in that it honors the Pareto Principle. Lawson et al. (2016) apply this principle to demonstrate that most outcomes or outputs are often caused by a small number of inputs. This principle is useful for outlining the role of school leaders engaged in school, family, and community partnerships. School leaders should spend time, energy, and money on a small number of highly effective inputs that will lead to the most significant and wide-reaching outcomes (Lawson et al., 2016). Applying this principle might also assist school leaders with balancing responsibilities, as educational leaders already struggle to balance managerial and instructional duties.
Educational leaders need a well-developed skillset, created by a combination of leadership styles, to engage in strengthening family, school, and community partnerships. Three educational leadership theories, servant leadership, transformational leadership, and authentic leadership, directly apply to the work of strengthening partnerships. First, servant leaders place the collective good over their own-self interests and demonstrate moral and ethical behavior both to those within the organization and to other stakeholders (Northouse, 2013). These characteristics suggest that servant leaders would engage in an asset-mapping approach and needs assessments to develop an understanding of the collective good. It also suggests that servant leaders might feel compelled through a moral or ethical obligation to address community and family needs. Servant leaders are empathetic and agree to steward organizations carefully with reverence to the leadership position and to the followers engaged with the organization (Northouse, 2013). This sense of humility could ensure that servant leaders understand their potential to positively impact families and communities and appreciate that awesome responsibility. Finally, servant leaders also submit to having a social responsibility to work toward equality and truly shared governance with the ultimate goal of having a larger societal impact (Northouse, 2013). The concepts of social capital and collective efficacy through practices such as community schools or place-based education fit neatly with this characteristic of servant leadership. Next, transformational leaders are dedicated to helping followers and stakeholders improve themselves, and that change is bidirectional, meaning that both the leader and the followers are impacted, and improved, by the process. Transformational leaders raise followers’ awareness of organizational goals and encourage those followers to attend to these group needs over their own (Northouse, 2013). These characteristics suggest that transformational leaders could set organizational goals around school, family, and community partnerships and use their knowledge and skills to establish buy-in and raise awareness about the importance of such partnerships. Transformational leaders also engage in modeling and outline a vision in collaboration with stakeholders that provides a point around which transformation can occur (Northouse, 2013). In a school, this vision could very well relate to growing and sustaining meaningful partnerships. Finally, authentic leadership is important in growing partnerships because it can be developed over time. Authentic leaders use their life experiences to shape their leadership ability. Authentic leaders are passionate, have conviction, articulate their own beliefs, reflect on those beliefs, and apply them in leadership. The relationship between leaders, followers, and stakeholders further helps to develop authentic leadership and as that relationship deepens, authentic leadership grows. Authentic leadership is very contextual because it relies on the leaders experiences before and during the leadership process (Northouse, 2013). Building strong family, community, and school partnerships is also very contextual, and a leader who appreciates the value of contextual factors and acts based on them, could leverage community assets and talents to grow effective partnerships.
While some literature focuses on partnerships directly connected to student achievement, partnership can be “viewed as a way to improve the conditions in the lives of students, families, or the school so the work of educators can occur with fewer obstacles; therefore, improved student achievement becomes a byproduct rather than a focus of many partnerships” (Casto, 2016, p. 141). With this shift in mind, educational leaders, equipped with skills from a combination of leadership styles, are in a prime position to begin engaging in truly meaningful school, family, and community partnerships. Vehicles for that engagement include impacting social capital and collective efficacy through strengthening horizontal and vertical ties, asset mapping, boundary spanning, place-based education, and community schools. These tools, when used by a dedicated educational leader and paired with a re-conceptualization of what parent involvement is, have the potential to connect and engage schools, families, and community members for the greater good of all involved.
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Comprehensive Exam Question: School, Family, and Community Partnerships