Dr. Donna Velliaris shares her expertise on family-school-community partnerships

Family-School-Community: Overlapping Chains of Influence

By Donna Velliaris on Nov 15, 2017
teacher helping student
The potential for children’s success in school may be framed in ecological terms that encompass: (1) the system of the family [parents]; and (2) the system of the school; within (3) the system of the community. Changes to one or more of these systems or spheres can involve adjustments in the overlap possibilities with the other spheres that exert powerful forces in steering the course of the social and educational development of children. Here, ‘child/children’ refers to the beneficiaries of parental involvement; a heterogeneous population of predominantly school-aged individuals who include preschoolers and adolescents between the ages of 2-18 years. Understandably, within this population, children may vary in how they are affected by changes in their social and educational ecologies, their understanding of those changes and their capacity to respond adaptively.

A human ecological perspective recognizes the possibility of differing, interacting or overlapping influences from the three ‘systems’ or environments in which children develop. ‘Partnerships’ is the most appropriate term of reference for interaction among the spheres as it presupposes ‘shared’ interests that reinforce and support one another, and produce outcomes that should signify an improvement in the social and educational development of children. The goal of effective partnerships is not simply to get everyone involved, but to connect important contexts for strengthening the developmental ecology of children. The assumption that mere contact among this three-way partnership reduces the occurrence of conflict, therefore, is grossly misleading. An ecological framework encourages those in each sphere to think in terms of ‘family and school and community’ rather than ‘family or school or community’. It takes into account that families and schools are embedded in communities, and that the quality of their partnerships create effective/affective chains of influence on the children.

Per a recent article in Education Week, "Innovative learning practices that smear the boundary between ‘school’ and ‘world’ are increasingly a hallmark of deeper learning in the 21st century. They create scaffolds around which students learn critical content within the context of personal relevance and interest that generate intrinsic motivation, deeper understanding and longer retention."
Emotional stability, a strong identity and general resilience in children are promoted when the resources of the family, school and community are ‘dedicated’ to their social and educational wellbeing. Notably, the behavior(s) and attitude(s) of one of the triad are considered no less important or intrinsically valuable than the others. Thus, when these spheres are viewed as portraying dynamic three-dimensional processes and not static entities, one can better understand the unparalleled ways in which different children may be influenced:

1. System of the Family: As the first educators, parents communicate the many aspects of their culture to children in different ways, but no matter what their income or background, students with involved families tend to have higher grades and test scores, better attendance and elevated rates of homework completion. In addition, they enroll in more challenging classes, have better social skills and behavior and are more likely to graduate and pursue tertiary-level studies.

2. System of the School: Schooling is an integral part of a typical child’s environment from infancy through to late adolescence. The term ‘school’ includes the buildings, the academic and administrative staff, and the other children who together with their families establish contact. School culture involves the tangible and intangible qualities of the school structure and its personnel i.e., the stream of norms, values, beliefs, traditions and rituals that have built up over time. These influences affect everything that goes into them such as staff attire, how members converse and their practice of instruction. Children do not develop in a cultural vacuum and so, schools, staff, curriculum and how teaching and learning are enacted also reflects cultural values and beliefs.

3. System of the Community: The two major uses of the term ‘community’ are the geographical notion i.e., the neighborhood, and the relational notion i.e., the interpersonal relationships without reference to location. These two usages refer to the upholding of common values such as a feeling that members have of belonging, that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together.

Developing alliances that honor the dynamic, multiple, and complementary ways children learn and grow, is not an easy task given the time and energy needed to get them off the ground. Authentic and purposeful partnerships—involving bridge-building and gap-closing—are critical for students to realize their full potential. An enduring ‘web-of-influence’ occurs when the partnerships are strengths-focused, which happens when they are centered around on identifying, using, and enhancing strengths within their ‘family-school-community’, and continue to recognize that they each have a significant role to play in enabling their children/students to thrive.

"These three learning partnerships are a win-win-win for students, teachers, families, and business leaders. The examples are all around us. We just have to find the will to launch," according to Education Week.
When healthy partnership-building is presented as a core element of education provision and a tenet for the promotion of family and community involvement, it is likely that children will have access to what they need—not only within the school but outside of it, as well as success beyond graduation—in order to flourish emotionally, intellectually, socially and spiritually. Unsurprisingly, therefore, select schools are working purposefully to foster such meaningful collaborations, because they accept from theory, research and practice that they will most successfully and holistically educate their students, at all ages and stages, with the help and support of families and the local community. Quoting Henry Ford, "Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success."

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of IGI Global.
References
Velliaris, D. M. (2016). Culturally responsive pathway pedagogues: Respecting the intricacies of student diversity in the classroom. In K. Gonzalez & R. Frumkin (Eds.), Handbook of research on effective communication in culturally diverse classrooms (Chapter 2, pp. 18-38). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Velliaris, D. M. (2015). International family configurations in Tokyo and their cross-cultural approaches to language socialisation. In P. Smith & A. Kumi-Yeboah (Eds.), Handbook of research on cross-cultural approaches to language and literacy development (Chapter 3, pp. 56-86). Hershey, PA: IGI Global
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