| Volume 68 | Number 8
Schools, Families, Communities
EL Study Guide
Schools can't educate students on their own. To be successful, they need the support of families and communities. The May issue of Educational Leadership explores how these three groups—schools, families, and communities—can work together to help students grow and succeed.
School leaders know that parents, guardians, and family members can do a great deal to help students learn. Often, however, schools don't take full advantage of what families can bring to the school-family relationship. Several articles in the May EL examine how schools and families can better work together.
- In "Involvement or Engagement?" (p. 10), Larry Ferlazzo says that instead of identifying a need and telling families how to contribute, schools should be asking parents what they want from schools. What kinds of activities do families participate in at your school? Make a list of all the activities you can think of, then read Ferlazzo's definitions of involvement and engagement (p. 12) and identify which category each activity fits in. If your focus is on involvement, what steps might you take to move toward engagement?
- In the online-only article, "Supply Parents, Demand Parents," Rudy Crew describes a socioeconomic gap in parent participation in schools. Parents with low incomes and limited education may not advocate as actively for their children as their more educated, middle-class counterparts. Think about the parents and caregivers of your students. Are certain groups more active in your school than others? Consider one family or group of families that fits Crew's definition of a supply parent. What do you see as the barriers to their participation? How might you help them surmount those barriers.
- Like Larry Ferlazzo, Jamie Vollmer, author of "Welcome to the Great Conversation" (p. 69) is skeptical about the value of involvement. His focus, however, is on the community, and his interest is in starting conversations that foster greater community support. How are schools perceived in your community? Who are some of the community members you would most like to reach? How effective do you think Vollmer's approach would be in reaching them?
- In his article, Vollmer writes about the informal track of the Great Conversation (p. 71), in which school staff members share stories of their work, focusing on the positive and avoiding the negative. Think about the things you've shared with friends and neighbors about your school. Are the stories celebrations or complaints? Try making a list of positive stories you could informally share with people in your community.
- Several articles in the May EL describe specific programs schools have implemented to increase family and community engagement. Choose one of these articles and discuss how your school might implement a similar program.
Too Much Pressure—or Not Enough?
In "The Overpressured Student" (p. 23), Richard Weissbourd writes of the emphasis some parents place upon academic achievement, to the exclusion of character and other concerns. In his "Principal Connection" column (p. 90), Tom Hoerr describes his faculty book group's reaction to Amy Chua's The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Although teachers agreed that Chua's high-pressure parenting tactics went too far, they wondered whether she might have a valid point about some students not being pushed hard enough.
- Do the parents at your school push students too hard—or not hard enough? What signs of parental pressure—or laxness—have you seen among your students? How might you work with parents to ensure that students feel encouraged, but not overwhelmed?
- What messages does your school send about the value of academic achievement? What kinds of abilities do you celebrate? Name some specific actions that can instill in students a healthy drive to succeed.
Taking Care of the Whole Child
Most educators know that students' lives outside the classroom affect their work inside the classroom. Students whose basic needs are not being met may struggle to focus on schoolwork, and their parents may not be able to provide as much support as they would like. Many schools are stepping forward to help families and students in need. The May EL articles "A Circle of Caring" (p. 64) by Susan Zimmerman-Orozco and "From Breakfasts to Backbacks" (online-only) by Jennifer Esler Reeves and Lino O. Rodriguez describe schools that are reaching out to help families in their communities.
- What role do you believe schools should have in taking care of students' nonacademic needs? How can schools balance concerns about students' overall well-being with the current emphasis on test scores and academic achievement, as well as families' desires for privacy and autonomy?
- What needs do you see in your community? How do these needs seem to affect your students? What is your school already doing to help meet these needs? What more could you be doing?
- One long-standing program in U.S. schools to meet students' nutritional needs is the National School Lunch Program, which Ann Cooper discusses in her article "Lunch Lessons" (p. 75). Cooper believes that many U.S. schools rely too much on processed foods instead of fresh foods prepared from scratch. What kind of food is available in your school cafeteria? Have you ever tried it for yourself? (One anonymous teacher, blogging at Fed Up with Lunch
ate school lunches for a year and became an impassioned advocate for improving school lunches.) If you've tried your school's lunches, what changes would you make? If you haven't, consider trying them for a week or two and seeing what you think.
Copyright © 2011 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development