4 Strategies to Enhance Family Partnerships

There is a continuous evolution in how U.S. education agencies and personnel interact with families, both in concept and in practice. Increasingly, the focus is on a partnership model where families and professionals collaborate throughout a child’s education.

Traditionally, education leadership in state agencies, districts, schools, and classrooms has been responsible for coordinating family engagement in education. This has prompted teachers and administrators to ponder, “How can we achieve this?”

Back in 2011, while working as the primary writer for WestEd, an agency specializing in research, development, and services, I aided the California Department of Education in launching the Family Engagement Framework: A Tool for California School Districts. The shift in the educational community from mere “parental involvement” to more inclusive terms and practices aimed at fostering mutual interaction and participation reflects this evolution.

For those in the realm of special education, the concept of collaborative family–professional partnerships is not novel. Understanding “How can we do this?” is a realm where we can contribute significantly. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates parental involvement at all stages, including planning for individual children and representation in advisory groups at local and state levels for input on fiscal and policy matters.

Navigating the intricate landscape of family–professional partnerships in education is crucial. As a parent of a child with disabilities and a special education professional, I propose four essential actions to enhance collaboration between parents and professionals.

What Educators and Parents Can Do

1. Get prepared for partnership intentionally. It’s important to acknowledge that neither professionals nor families are adequately prepared for such partnerships. While educational programs may touch upon engagement requirements and resources, practical experience in family–professional engagement is often lacking. Families, unless educators themselves, may not have the necessary skills for active educational involvement.

New partners, whether parents or educators, can leverage valuable resources for guidance and inspiration:

  • “Leading by Convening” offers a framework for leaders to engage stakeholders and training modules for implementing engagement activities, available on the NCSI resource library.
  • Serving on Groups provides a guidebook and training modules for parents interested in engagement.

2. Recognize mutual competence. This principle underscores the equal importance of knowledge and experience from both professionals and families. While professionals bring expertise in educational systems, families contribute specific insights into their children and communities.

The principle of mutual competence is exemplified in resources like “Three Circles of Evidence-Based Decision Making in Early Childhood” and “Three Circles of Evidence-Based Decision Making to Support Students with Disabilities,” developed by the NCSI, which value the perspectives of families and professionals in decision-making.

3. Assume positive intent. Encouraging potential partners to acknowledge that both families and professionals have the best interests of children at heart.

  • Both parties naturally want what’s best for the children.
  • Both can discern effective strategies, often with support.
  • Given the chance for real understanding, both will choose the best path.

4. Transition partnership and responsibility mindfully to the next generation. While families are a strong influence in a child’s life, collaboration during the middle and high school years can prepare youth for independent navigation of education. Acting as supportive guides, both families and professionals play key roles in this transition.

Observing respectful partnerships can help youth develop essential communication and collaboration skills, fostering trust and problem-solving abilities. The following actions can be instrumental in this process.

  • Education professionals should respect the family’s role and aid in the transition to the child’s independence.
  • Families can support understanding and decision-making between professionals and youth, bridging information gaps.
  • Together, families and professionals can guide young adults towards independence by staying involved and fostering communication.

Parenting and educating children present challenges and rewards. Effective collaboration between families and professionals is key to ensuring child development and success.

Share your strategies for building robust family-professional partnerships in the comments below.

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