While at the Partnership for Global Learning's annual conference last month, I had the chance to attend Joyce Epstein's presentation, "Multicultural Partnerships: Working with Diverse Families and Communities."
I've been a fan of Joyce Epstein's work for more then two decades. During the session, I found myself thinking, "what is the relationship between strong community partnerships and strong professional learning communities?" In schools where both exist, there are high levels of success for both teachers and students. So what fundamental beliefs and structures do both priorities share?
Team structures and processes are valued. People need regularly scheduled time for convening. They need to know their time will be respected and the focus will be on the work. Just placing people on teams doesn't ensure productive work. Team leaders must be prepared to lead the process, which demonstrates respect for the time of team members.
Action plans with measurable outcomes guide work. These plans ensure everyone knows what is expected of them and how their progress will be mentored. Plans detail evidence of progress and provide opportunities to access whether changes in plans are reflected. They are evidence of a commitment to continuous improvement.
An appreciation and respect for collaboration is key. Both community partnerships and learning communities demand the support, understanding, and respect of a variety of stakeholders. Educators working alongside parents and community partners are able to demonstrate the importance of an issue, be it community and family involvement or professional learning for educators.
Diversity strengthens results. Both successful community partnerships and learning communities believe in tapping the "funds of knowledge, histories, and cultures" of team members. Professional learning is strengthened when it includes parents and community members in school widelearning. The process brings new perspectives and instills greater respect for district and school investment in professional learning.
Communication is essential. Families and communities draw and share opinions based on a variety of factors. While principals and teacher leaders may view both professional learning and community/parent involvement as important, without communicating their reasons, they will not get the level of support they need to sustain both.
People want a voice. Both agenda are most successful when voice is offered to those who are participating. In each case individuals want to be involved from the beginning and want to know that what they're doing is in the best interests of students.
Focus on "subjects" that matter. In neither case do people want to be forced to study something they view as irrelevant to their needs. Professional learning and parent engagement require careful attention to the needs of students and then the adults who are equally committed to seeing all students successful.
So as school teams work over the summer building plans for next year, perhaps these ideas may help you in explaining to colleagues and community members some of the reasons you are adopting these two priorities.
Executive Director, Learning Forward