Partnering With Families for Student Success
reviewed by Mikel W. Cole & Mihaela Salariu Gazioglu - June 27, 2019
Title: Partnering With Families for Student Success
Author(s): Patricia A. Edwards, Rand J. Spiro, Lisa M. Domke, Ann M. Castle, Kristen L. White, Marliese R. Peltier, & Tracy H. Donohue
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807761176, Pages: 224, Year: 2019
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School and family partnerships are critically important to more than the academic success of students; they are a fundamental building block of a healthy society. Consequently, teachers are frequently encouraged to foster relationships with families and communities (Van Roekel, 2008). However, they are rarely provided with the kind of concrete, flexible advice they need to actually build solid connections with the increasingly diverse families that comprise U.S. schools. Partnering with Families for Student Success, written by Patricia Edwards and colleagues, fills the gap between research and practice by presenting a series of step-by-step examples of how to restructure deficit orientations toward parents and families. Throughout the book, the authors honor the perspectives of culturally, linguistically, economically, and neurologically diverse families as resources with which to develop effective communication between schools and communities.
Rand Spiro contributes cognitive flexibility theory as the underlying orientation to the scenarios presented in later chapters. Quick to acknowledge that contexts vary considerably from site to site and that real-life situations are full of complexity and nuance, this approach undergirds a consistent effort to reject stereotypes and template approaches to problem-solving. Rather, the 24 scenarios presented in this book provide rich descriptions of actual situations from the authors collective research. The teaching experiences that are discussed and analyzed are meant to enable practicing teachers and administrators to identify relevant themes and approaches that can be tailored to their own unique situations.
Most chapters are presented as modules that are organized in a consistent fashion meant to structure a reflective, broad-minded approach to identifying underlying issues and reconsidering them from the perspectives of students and families. Each module begins with a scenario presented from the perspective of a K-12 classroom teacher in which key stakeholders and relevant factors are discussed with clarity and depth. Next, readers are encouraged to use Maslows Hierarchy to examine the needs of the various actors involved in the scenario. Third, a brief review of scholarly literature provides a research-based framework for reconsidering the perspectives of students and families from a strength-based orientation. Fourth, readers are invited to reflect on the power, prestige, positioning, and access of each actor in the scenario to better understand what underlying forces may be at work in the situation. Fifth, the authors provide concrete suggestions based on the research literature for dealing with similar circumstances. Finally, the real beauty of this book is the sixth section of each module in which the authors rebuild the case with nuanced descriptions of ways that teachers in these real-life situations actually improved problematic interactions using these asset-oriented suggestions.
While not every aspect of diversity could reasonably be addressed in a single book, the authors discuss a remarkable variety of family and situational contexts. Part One addresses various kinds of family diversity, including: caregivers experiencing homelessness, culturally and linguistically-diverse caregivers, caregivers who are immigrants or refugees, and families with incarcerated caregivers. Part Two considers several situations and topics that often complicate school-family partnerships, such as: discussing academic concerns, discussing discipline issues, advocating for a neurodiversity paradigm, and adversarial/confrontational caregivers. Finally, Part Three provides a few general suggestions to help educators reorient to the problems they will inevitably encounter. Throughout, the authors consistently encourage teachers to consider the complexity of perspectives and roles that multiple individuals contribute to situations, and rather than denigrate or minimize the part that families play, educators are encouraged to negotiate solutions that value the efforts and honor the limitations of caregivers.
For example, in Module Seven: Caregivers Who are Immigrants or Refugees, the authors direct educators to consider structural factors impacting caregiver involvement, then provide several research-based suggestions to overcome cultural and linguistic barriers to schooling for families new to the United States. Moreover, the authors offer fantastic advice for helping other teachers and administrators to move past deficit orientations:
Get to know caregivers individual situations. Dont assume anything.
Honor the ways in which caregivers already support their children, even if it differs from traditional U.S. methods. The emotional support and encouragement to achieve that families may provide is critical.
Treat caregivers and children with respect; maintain an asset-based perspective. (p .73)
To be clear, this book will NOT provide easy-to-follow recipes for cookie-cutter problems, and if that is what you are looking for, you will probably be disappointed to find that simplistic solutions rarely work for the kinds of deeply entrenched, complex problems presented in this book. On the other hand, if you and your school are looking for a clearly written, nuanced guide to making sense of local challenges in order to create an environment where all families feel welcome and empowered to participate in the schooling of their children, then this may be the book you have been waiting for.
Van Roekel, N. P. D. (2008). Parent, family, community involvement in education. (Policy Brief).
Washington, DC: National Education Association.