Tools for Action
Strong public schools build strong communities, and vice versa. Engaging with parents, schools and universities is an important investment in the future of our young people and will have a lasting positive impact on communities. Even though the process of forming partnerships through engagement can be challenging, doing so can yield significant results for all stakeholders in the education system.
A Snapshot of What IDRA is Doing
Developing Leaders – IDRA defines a parent leader as one who listens deeply to his or her peers, who accepts responsibility for advocating the rights of all children, who is assertive but also accepts rotating responsibility, who values collective action more than personal recognition, and who trains other parents to be leaders. Parents are partners in IDRA’s work, such as the Bilingual Parent Leadership Academies. During these leadership academies, parents take an active role in having excellent schools for all children. Because of this active role, and perhaps for the first time in their children’s educational life, parents understand that they are a catalyst for their children’s academic success.
Conducting Research – InterAction was an IDRA initiative supported by Houston Endowment, Inc., that included a series of three policy action forums leading into a statewide seminar that presented the policy solutions generated from the forum participants who represented three communities of interest – the border, urban, and rural areas of Texas. A policy brief, InterAction – The Initiative: A Call to Action, presents the research and the 31 policy solutions that are aimed at changing the status quo for Latino students and their communities. The policy solutions are listed online at: http://www.idra.org/education_policy/interaction/.
Informing Policy – One of the ways IDRA has leveraged an engaged community for informing policy is by spearheading information dissemination during this past spring’s special legislative session. After analyzing policy proposals based on a set of principles for fair funding for the common good, IDRA kept the community of stakeholders informed of these policies through e-mail alerts, web site postings, small group presentations and teleconferencing. More information about IDRA’s analyses is available in the article entitled “Perspectives on the Texas Legislature’s Latest School Funding Plan.”
Engaging Communities – IDRA has developed a community engagement toolkit to support and encourage engagement with parents and families. IDRA offers these resources, workshops, materials and technical assistance tools for schools, universities, community groups and parents. The toolkit includes seven publications and a video. One of the publications, Improving Educational Impact Through Family Engagement – A Review and Planning Guide, helps to foster meaningful and lasting educational impact through mechanisms for engagement with parents and families. It provides helpful ideas to address the most significant barriers to parent involvement that have been reported in the literature in K-12 programs. The guide is available free online in either English or Spanish.
Get informed. Research indicates that when schools actively engage families and community to improve neighborhood public schools and when there is mutual respect, positive changes result. In the 1990s, the University of Texas at Austin Dana Center studied successful schools in Texas that have a high number of minority students and a high concentration of low-income families. They found that one of the marks of a good school is how well it informs and involves families. The benefits are clear. Familiarize yourself with the wealth of research on collaborative partnerships, even private foundations wanting to maximize the impact of their gifts in the area of education require community collaborations. One useful resource is, A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, and Community Connections on Student Achievement, which is available online at: http://www.sedl.org/connections/resources/evidence.pdf.
What You Can Do
Get involved. Identify the issues around which you are going to engage parents, students and other members of the community. Find allies – friends in education reform are everywhere. As a leader in education, you must be in tune with the questions and concerns of your community. Build on assets – everyone is equipped with a talent that can be shared. An abundance of resources can be found in your own backyard. Sustain the effort – success does not occur from one day to the next automatically.
Get results. Every community and every school campus is unique and requires your vigilance and rapid response. To begin:
Create a plan to begin the school year with clear, measurable goals and objectives.
Involve your key stakeholders early and often.
Measure your progress.
Where you have successes, celebrate them and acknowledge your partners.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation has a link that is useful for evaluating programs at http://www.aecf.org/publications/evaluation/index.htm.
Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2006, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]