School Climate & Safety Opinion

Family and Community Engagement: The Critical But Often Missing Ingredient!

By Learning First Alliance — January 09, 2013 3 min read
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By Dr. Nancy Bolz, Director of the Kansas Learning First Alliance (KLFA)

As an educator for more than 30 years, mostly at the
secondary level, in recent years I’ve acquired a new appreciation for family
and community engagement! Not only have I recently become a parent, but my
professional service has led me to better understand the need for both.

I adopted two beautiful little girls five years ago who are
now in Kindergarten and 3rd grade. As a former high school
principal, I thought we did a pretty nice job communicating with parents and
the community...but then I began getting messages, notes, newsletters, emails,
etc. From first the pre-school and now my girls’ elementary school! Initially,
I felt bombarded and overwhelmed just trying to keep up with all of it.
However, now that I’ve been in this mom role for a little longer, I’ve come to
not only appreciate but EXPECT good communication. I’ve only had a couple of
incidents where I felt caught off guard by a lack of communication, and I
immediately went about the business of finding out answers! So if there are bumps along the road for ME,
both an informed educator/administrator and committed mom, you can imagine that
lack of communication will create all sorts of chaos where there’s less understanding
of, and commitment to, the school system. That said, the school also faces a
challenge in finding the right balance for effective communication! Gather
information about how stakeholders prefer communication, and then create
messaging that is understandable and not overwhelming.

When I served as a high school principal before the turn of
the century (that really wasn’t that long ago), we were really pressing for
authentic learning experiences and innovation, so we partnered with High
Schools That Work and NCA (North Central Association, now renamed AdvancED) to
provide a framework for our work. After their review of our efforts, one of their
recommendations was to do a better job telling the public about all of the wonderful
programs and initiatives we had in our school. After so many hours spent on coordination
and implementation, my initial response was “Isn’t
it enough that we’re doing all this with our students??”
And after gaining
some perspective, the answer to that was clearly “NO!”

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I’ve only discussed
communication thus far and the title includes the word “engagement.” What we
know now is that just talking at/to people is helpful primarily to ensure
they’re informed, but to create a truly authentic educational environment for
our students, both parents and the community must get directly involved. Here
again the challenge is for the school to find a good balance. How do you
mobilize beyond your Site Council or the core members of PTO who typically do
the lion’s share of the work? How do you encourage businesses to open their
doors for students to shadow or come share their expertise and/or knowledge
with your students? The answer is and has always been... Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Transforming Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.