Everything now, we must assume,
is in our hands;
we have no right to assume otherwise.
If we do not falter in our duty now,
we may be able, handful that we are,
to end the racial nightmare,
and achieve our country,
and change the history of the world.

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, NY: Dial Press, 1963

Building Family-School Alliances for Effective Parent Engagement

A Training Manual by Parents for Teachers


Overview

This manual is to be used by family coordinators, teachers, parent leaders, and other interested people in schools in the effort to build positive relationships between schools, families, and communities. We hope this serves as a guide for self-reflection, planning, organizing and action.

About the Parent Action Committee

The New Settlement Parent Action Committee (PAC) is a multicultural group of concerned parents, guardians and community members dedicated to improving the quality of education for all children in New York City, with an emphasis on District 9 in the Bronx. Over the past two years, PAC leaders have discussed, planned, and facilitated workshops around developing meaningful relationships between families and schools as part of a partnership with the New Teacher Center. This partnership had its origin in a report PAC released in 2013 calling for a comprehensive system for mentoring new teachers to reduce high teacher turnover. Advocacy efforts by PAC and the New Teacher Center led the Department of Education to invest in a district-wide initiative to help retain teachers by training new teacher mentors at every elementary and middle school. In 2015, the initiative was expanded to Bronx Community School District 12. Mentors participated in eight full days of training on instructional mentoring and four half-day forums.

PAC parent leaders partnered with NTC to develop an original training curriculum on parent engagement for teacher mentors. Feedback for the first training was overwhelmingly positive, leading parent leaders to create a second curriculum centered on parent teacher conferences that was offered in Fall 2015 for both mentors and their new teacher mentees. Many participants asked if it was possible for PAC to conduct a professional development session in their school. As a result, PAC leaders envisioned a manual that could serve as a practical and effective guide to planning and facilitating family-led trainings in diverse school communities.

Goals

PAC identified the following goals:

  • Generate open communication between teachers, families, and everyone in schools to create a better understanding between schools and families and a welcoming school community.
  • Ensure that teachers develop an understanding of diverse cultures and histories.
  • Teach mentors concrete skills and strategies to share in their schools.
  • Build and establish trust by recognizing the multiplicity of experiences of both teachers and families.
  • Encourage new teachers coming into the neighborhood to be open to the community where they will be working.
  • Advocate for schools to provide interpreters consistently.
  • Support the work of building alliances between teachers, families and students.

Purpose

The main purpose of this manual is to provide strategies for schools to build meaningful relationships between families and schools. Because New Settlement is located in the South Bronx, the content and materials parents have developed reflects the challenges schools and families face in their own community. However, the manual has been created so that it can be used for various educational settings and communities to match the needs of the respective schools and families.

How To Use

There are many issues addressed within in this manual, including Parent Engagement, Family-School Alliance, Best Practices, Parent-Teacher conferences, Student-Led conferences, Homework, Communication, and Cultural Competency, among others. Some of these ideas may resonate with you, while others may not. While there are a variety of stakeholders that influence the family-school relationships (such as health organizations, local community colleges, cultural institutions, etc.), this serves as a beginning to facilitate an on-going self, educator, and community reflection. Ultimately, we hope you (as an educator mediating these relationships) will begin a conversation around the important questions:

1. What kind of relationship do we want to create between families and schools?

2. How do we begin building an alliance between families and schools?

As you read through each of the sections and plan your workshop, think about the approach you want to take. You may choose to use a sample agenda or adapt it to your community needs. Also, as you establish stronger relationships between families and schools, you may be able to develop your own role-plays based on the specific issues occurring in your community.