Cultural Relevance and Community-School Relationships

“Cultural relevance, Building partnerships with families…finding common ground with parents…family involvement will need to include options that accommodate family circumstances, provide choices, validate the family’s culture and values, and explicitly emphasize the importance of family support of the student’s learning” (Nine Characteristics, 120).

Throughout the discussion cultural relevance came up often as an integral element in serving all students and their families. Many ideas were mentioned to promote a more cohesive relationship between schools and culturally diverse communities. Providing various venues for families to attend parent/teacher/student conferences such as gymnasiums, community centers or parks could alleviate any pressure parents may feel toward government institutions; the idea of meeting on common ground.

“When this partnership is extended to include the larger community, the benefits are greater yet. Perhaps most important is that when responsibility for children’s learning is shared by the school, home, and community, children have more opportunities for meaningful, engaged learning. Students are able to see the connection between the curriculum in the school and the skills that are required in the real world” (http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/envrnmnt/famncomm/pa400.htm).   Developing culturally integrated educational opportunities such as the development of story poles which occurred on the Tulalip Indian Reservation a couple years ago and this year! This provides students, families, community and school members an opportunity to collaborate and work together on a complex and culturally meaningful project that inspires pride and confidence in one’s self and culture.

“This vision of school improvement compels us to create a new conception of the appropriate relationship between the school and its community, parents, and families. Pedagogically, as we have come to know the importance of rooting learning in children’s real lives, we can no longer tolerate the artificial boundaries between the classroom and the home. Politically, as we move the authority for decision making down to those closest to children, we cannot afford to exclude parents and community members from the process of crafting new schools. Nor can we avoid being held more directly accountable to the immediate community constituency for decisions made at the school site. Practically, schools have no chance of enacting the fundamental changes on the reform agenda in the absence of whole-hearted support from the entire community–parents, citizens, and business” (http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/envrnmnt/famncomm/pa400.htm).

As the above website mentioned, it is when we begin leading the students to middle and high school that parent involvement seems to drop. This is the time where we need to be most adamant but also begin developing the student’s independence by developing programs that support business, school and student relationships. The Council for Corporate and School Partnerships not only gives ideas for mentorships and apprenticeships but also on how to engage the local businesses in educating our youth. In my experience, local businesses and service industries such as the police department, Home Depot and the PUD are all extremely engaging and educational opportunities to involve our community members in our children’s educations and a great way to build an expanded community relationship!

Advertisements

Distributed and Shared Leadership

Everyone learns. Everyone leads. Everyone contributes.

I can’t remember who wrote this statement or when I read it. Once I read it; however,  it has been the banner on my work computer and on my cell phone!  I also believe this statement to sum up the main ideas of this week. Distributed and shared leadership. “Distributed leadership is characterized as a form of collective leadership in which teachers develop expertise by working together” (2004).

Coaching of many types were addressed in this week’s reading. The gradual release of responsibility was mentioned in regards to coaching, which matches perfectly with the statement above. Everyone is learning when both the coach and the teacher get the opportunity to observe each other; leading and contributing through planning lessons,  teaching and reflecting upon decisions and student learning outcomes. The knowledge that comes from these coaching cycles can then be brought to a larger group such as professional development studio work to further contribute to the teaching practice.

I would like to continue my reflection by switching gears, just a bit, and move toward a focus on district coaching as there was an intriguing discussion about whether district coaches are meant to advance system goals or individuals’ goals.

I believe that coaching is distributing leadership simply by empowering the teacher by aiding in filling the gap between theory and practice. Both coaches and classroom teachers have the ‘big picture’ district goals that they must adhere to, and for good reason, as many intelligent people are behind those system goals. So, the answer is to whether the coaches are meant to advance system goals or individuals’ goals? My answer is, “Yes!” Coaches have a big job. They, like gen. ed. teachers (all educators) have the responsibility to keep those system goals  on a pedestal while the coach coaches the classroom teacher in achieving his/her individual goals (that is, at the same time, making sure that the individual’s goals match the system’s goals.)

Harris, Alma. (2004). Distributed leadership and school improvement: Leading or misleading? Educational Management Administration Leadership, 32 (11).

A Clear and Shared Focus

Tom wrote in the discussion during this model, “When I look over the characteristics, I just can’t see any of them really taking hold until the staff comes together and buys into the work that needs to be done.” I agree. The other eight characteristics of high-performing schools could be put into place but would not be effective unless everyone was on board. Teachers can be fragile when the winds of education blow in a different direction and they may feel as though they must defend themselves and their current practices; quite understandably so. However, we do need to buck up and realize that researchers and other educators are always going to be learning new and perhaps better ways to educate our youth and we must be willing to bend and try new things. Having everyone willing to bend and sway is hard enough but a staff must also have continuity and trust in order for vulnerability to become the absolute best times to learn from one another. This trust begins and ends with strong leadership. The person at the helm must ignite a desire to learn in students and educators and gain respect and confidence with the entire staff so people are more willing and able to make themselves vulnerable.

A piece of continuity that I see lacking from many schools (also mentioned in the discussion, I believe from Heather) is the divide that seems to occur. The divide may occur in many places but in my experience it splits (in elementary schools) between primary and intermediate grades. I have seen this divide begin to converge through my school’s development of School Improvement Plan (SIP) teams. The SIP is comprised of at least two representatives from both primary and intermediate levels as well as a district coach (if available as there is not a coach for science or cultural competency).This has brought not only the school closer but individual teachers closer as well. The most important aspect, I feel, is the learning that occurs when we all begin talking about the curriculum. I learn so much when I hear about how a concept is taught from a Kindergarten teacher then hear about that same concept from a third and a fifth grade teacher’s point of view. To see how the curriculum builds upon each grade and discuss this with my colleagues is so beneficial to my teaching, the students’ learning, and the school as a whole. To achieve the desired ‘clear and shared focus’ the SIP teams will certainly aid in that development.