Home School Partnerships:
Framework for Family Involvement
Dr Josephine Bleach
Early Learning Initiative, National College of Ireland
Dublin, Ireland, 2019
You can find this text as a PDF here: MLM Home-School Partnership Framework for Family Involvement
Central to young children’s learning is high quality adult interactions and a challenging and stimulating learning environment, both at home and school. This paper will explore how teacher can, in the best interests of the children, work with and listen to all families regardless of their culture, social class, race and composition. It is part of the Making Literacy Meaningful project, funded by the European Union under the ERASMUS+ Programme, which is developing practically-oriented knowledge in the area of language and literacy development, with a specific focus on addressing the needs, challenges and opportunities resulting from multilingual and multicultural classrooms. More information is provided in our MOOCs http://literacymooc.eu/courses/teaching-in-multilingual-classrooms/; http://literacymooc.eu/lessons/reading-comprehension/ and website http://euliteracy.eu/.
Cultural concepts like partnership and family involvement are powerful as they define the boundaries of normality and meaningful human interactions. Partnership can be defined as supporting and planning for the best possible care and education for children both at home and in school (Bleach 2010, 2014). However, human diversity, social norms, and organisational complexities may make it difficult for families and schools to translate partnership into practice. Home-school relationships are influenced by wider forces such as migration, employment, globalisation, social norms, and views of what is ‘right and proper’ (Williams, 2004). Quality schools acknowledge the pivotal role families play in the children’s learning and proactively encourage partnership with families. However, for some teachers, family involvement, particularly to the point of partnership where parents have an equal say in decisions, can be a threat to their professional status and competence (Bleach, 2010; 2014). Lacking confidence and concerned that their authority might be questioned, teachers can choose to limit the extent of family involvement in their classroom.
Understanding Family Culture
Just as each child is different, each family has its own identity and characteristics. A family’s educational, economic, and cultural capital will influence their relationship with their children and the school. Social stability, according to Hunt (2002), rests on a shared morality, which enforces a value consensus. While differences in beliefs and cultures are acknowledged, they tend to be incorporated into the views of the majority. The degree to which families adhere to the ethos and culture of the school will influence their feelings of belonging (Bleach, 2010). Euphemistic language, such as good, bad, disadvantaged, marginalised, may be used to describe families (Lynch and Lodge, 2002). Some families, particularly those with low educational capital (Bleach 2010), may not feel that they have the knowledge, culture or language to engage on an equal basis with teachers. Others, because of their social, cultural, and economic capital, can take advantage of all the partnership opportunities provide by the service (Bourdieu, 1974). To ensure that all children and families feel equally valued, teachers need to consider and adapt to the personal, interpersonal and cultural traits of all families.
There are many different models of partnership between schools and families (Epstein, 1992; Bleach, 2010) with each emphasising different aspects. Table 1 presents a framework for family involvement, which summarises the key elements in the research literature. Supported by open, caring, respectful relationships, it acknowledges how partnership involves ‘processes of progressively more complex reciprocal interactions’ (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998) between home, school and community.
|High Quality Family-School Relationships
Where both practitioners and families are open, caring and respectful towards each other
The basic responsibilities of schools towards families which primarily revolve around home-service communications. These include children’s learning and progress; Events and activities; Policies and Procedures
|Family Involvement in Schools
This includes family involvement in schools as volunteers and audiences as well as participation in decision-making, governance and advocacy
|Family Involvement in the Home and Community Curriculum
This includes the basic responsibilities of families, which include creating a positive home learning environment; involvement in learning activities at home and in the community along with networking and community engagement
Table 1: Framework for Family-School Involvement, adapted from Bleach 2010
This section examines each aspect of the framework beginning with the establishment of family-service relationships, which underpin the other three categories. Practical ways in which services can engage families are considered in each category. These vary from informal conversations to scheduled formal events.
High Quality Family – School Relationships
For most family members, their first reading of a school is in terms of how they are treated with their initial impressions determining the quality of the relationship. The architecture (gates, buzzers, reception area), regulations (parking, access to staff, Code of Behaviour) (Ritzer, 2004) and systems of communication (Giddens, 2001) confirm to families the role they are expected to play in their children’s lives and the school. Teachers need to ensure that all families are greeted with a smile and feel welcome whenever they visit.
Schools have a basic responsibility to communicate with families (Bleach, 2010). This includes keeping them informed of their children’s learning, events, and policies. Most families want regular, reliable and accessible information about what the school is doing and how it affects their children. However, information may be limited to the visible, image-based organisational structures with personal contact focusing on problems rather than continuous, positive interactions with families. It is important that teachers proactively and continuously communicate, both formally and informally to families that they are valued partners in supporting children’s development and learning.
Family Involvement in Schools
Family involvement can be seen as a continuum. It starts with the totally uninvolved who never go near the school to the families who are active partners in the governance and decision-making processes. Meetings, concerts, sports days, fundraising, trips, and school maintenance are typical activities. Simple, informal, non-threatening fun activities work best. This feedback highlights the positive benefits of inviting families to participate in school activities.
We had a numeracy event which consisted of stations in the hall and the children got to play a large connect 4 game, snakes and ladders, play shop, skittles and make numbers from play dough. They really enjoyed this event …. Parents came to help with the numeracy event and enjoyed this as a chance to see the children learning through fun activities. Those who participated in the Friday activities gained from seeing the types of activities the children learn from and enjoyed being directly involved. They also got to play games/ sing songs with their child that they might not have done before.
Docklands Numeracy Week - Evaluation Form (Bleach, 2015)
For teachers, shared learning between children, parents and themselves that let them to get to know the parents and their needs (ELI, 2017) was important; while for parents, using the same language in school and at home helped develop children’s understanding (ELI, 2016).
Explaining the connection between the school activities and children's learning is important (Bleach, 2014) as is acknowledging the contribution families can make to assessment practices (NCCA, 2009). Not only can learning stories, portfolios and displays keep families informed of their children’s development but they can be a means of encouraging families to discuss their children’s home learning. Involving families in assessment practices in this way gives them the language, knowledge and skills to discuss their children with other professionals, thereby enabling smoother transitions for their children when they attend other services.
Family Involvement in the Home and Community Curriculum
The final element in the framework is family involvement in the home and community curriculum (Table 1). With research highlighting the influence of the home learning environment on children’s educational development (Melhuish, 2011), society’s expectations have increased with families now required to do a lot of ‘educational’ work (David, 2004). This home curriculum consists of the activities and conversations that families and children engage in from birth onwards. It involves not only the social, cultural, and intellectual development of children but the formulation and transmission of values, including their attitudes towards education, learning, and career aspirations (Bourdieu, 1974).
Much, if not most, of children’s learning takes place outside school, in the home, in sports clubs, and in the wider community (Illich, 1973; Bourdieu & De Saint-Martin, 1974). Non-structured activities such as family outings, events, and holidays, all contribute to the children’s development. On a daily basis, families informally educate their children about nutrition, hygiene, society, work, and relationships. This inevitable and constant home learning includes learning from mass media, the neighbourhood, and local community organisations (Macbeth & Ravn, 1994). Teachers need to understand and appreciate how children’s learning is a shared responsibility with family and how they can assist families to support children’s learning outside school. Home learning activities that complement those being used in school help improve outcomes for children, including child-family-service relationships and the home learning environment (ELI, 2017).
For many schools, family involvement can be a ‘floating and empty signifier’ (Burgos, 2004), a universal value, espoused rather than a policy in use. Most teachers will feel that they have a very good relationship with the children’s families. However, there are usually some impenetrable factors (Cullingford, 1996) which may limit family involvement to clearly defined partnership rituals (Durkheim, 1971) and prevent families from feeling comfortable about raising issues.
Using the four categories outlined in the framework for family involvement (Table 1), teachers can reflect on their relationships and communications with families. They also can consider how they can involve families in supporting children’s learning both in the school and at home. Different activities suit different families and teachers need to respect the choices family make. Understanding the families’ characteristics and motivation is important. Actively listening to and working with families will not only enhance the home-school relationship but also ensure that children’s learning needs are being met in a holistic way.
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