Mary Ewart's bPortfolio

EDAD 6589 – Engaging Communities – Meta Reflection – Standard 6

on May 31, 2015

Standard 6 – Teacher leaders communicate and collaborate with a variety of stakeholders.

“This journey that we are about to embark upon together is about the children, their families, and communities that we both will serve” (Haddix, 2014).

If I were to be completely truthful, I have to say that my experience and effort with engaging the community around my school has varied greatly depending on the school and my position. As a teacher in a small, rural, K-8 school where each grade level had between 50 and 65 students, I was very active and engaged in the community, and worked hard to provide opportunities for the community to come in to our school and feel comfortable in participating in their child’s school experience. However, as a secondary teacher in a high school building that has almost 2000 students enrolled, I have not reached out in any measurable active way. Beyond myself, I think this is something that many of my colleagues fall short on as well. With a school as large as it is, it becomes difficult to come up with ways to help connect families with the school; combine that with the fact that many families choose high school as the time to start disengaging with their children’s school to prepare them for college and what you end up with is a school full of teachers who aren’t engaged with the community around the school in any meaningful way. Entering into this course, my previous energy in this position has been put into being a leader within my school community and specifically my content department rather than connecting and engaging the community outside my classroom door.

One of the first understandings this course brought to light is what it must feel like to interact with a school where the teachers and administration looks so totally different from the majority of the student body. Our school population does have approximately 65% of students who are Caucasian, but that means that the other 35% of students do not match the majority of teachers in the school. Many of our students come to our school every year after moving to the country from other countries due to a parent’s job opportunity (for many this opportunity is in the technology field). The differences and expectations in the school culture are dramatic in instances like these, and it is the job of the school leaders and teachers to create a school community that is opening and engaging to the communities outside of it.

Moving from this understanding came the focus on what teachers can do to reach out to parents and to create opportunities for parents to come in to schools. Some key take away points from this are that it is important for teachers to connect with parents whenever, and however, they can. There are many families where families work during the traditional school day and they cannot take time off to interact in the school. There are many families that have one or more members who did not have a positive school experience so they are reluctant to try to engage in the school as a parent. Finally, there are many families who do not know how to be a part of the school community. One of the most powerful things a teacher or administer can do is to be aware of those hurdles and provide opportunities for families to engage. This can be as simple as meeting parents outside when they are dropping off their children to say hello and check in on progress, or coming up with events to invite the community to that will not interfere with traditional working hours.

It is important to not lose sight of the importance of forming relationships within the school community as well. It is very important for teachers to work together to create relationships with students, parents, and community members. An example of this with teachers working together with administration and parents to create a welcoming community is the ELL Parent Night that Redmond High Schools sponsors. At this event, all families are invited who have recently moved into the community from another country. Teachers, administrators, the attendance secretary, and a member of the counseling staff attend, along with interpreters in as many languages as possible. Parents and family members sit with the appropriate interpreter, and the staff members rotate through the tables, welcoming them to our school and inviting them to ask as many questions as they need to ask in the given amount of time. Childcare and transportation for families without are provided free of charge, and food is also provided. This is an example of an event where all stakeholders are working together to create a school community.

In the process of this learning, I created a community engagement plan. This was created by looking at the current work of the administration and teachers at the school, and considering what types of activities are working to engage the community around the school. An important difference to consider here is the difference between simply involving the community and actively engaging the community in the quest to provide a positive learning experience for every student and their families. It is necessary to not just let the community know what is going on and invite them to participate, but rather to engage them in the process of creating an extended school community with the intentional goal of creating the best learning experience and environment for all students.

I also considered a situation that has recently occurred at our school. In my case study I focused on the most recently administered Smarter Balanced Assessment, and how many students actually attended to take the test. I looked at this through the lens of a teacher leader, or administrator tasked with improving what happened. This year, only approximately 40 students completed all four days of testing. I analyzed the way the testing was handled by the school this year and worked to come up with a plan that would generate a better outcome in the years to come.

In the future, as a teacher and teacher leader, I have a few ideas to implement that can improve my school community. To begin with, I am going to make a conscious effort to reach out to each of my student’s families at the beginning of each year. If I need to use an interpreter, I will do so. Secondly I will survey my parents and families at multiple points in the year to determine if their needs are being met. Third, I will continue to participate in events like the ELL parent night to make myself available and approachable by the community. Lastly, I will encourage my colleagues to do the same. In an ideal world, all teachers would participate in these types of activities regularly, but it is so easy to get lost in the day-to-day work of the classroom and forget about the world outside. Our job as teachers and teacher leaders is to serve our students, and that means more than just the 54 minutes they are in our classrooms.

Resources

Agbo, S. A. (2007). Addressing School-Community Relations in a Cross-Cultural Context: A Collaborative Action to Bridge the Gap Between First Nations and the School. Journal of Research in Rural Educatoin, 22(8), 1-14.

Castagno, A. E. (2013). Multicultural Education and the Protection of Whiteness. American Journal of Education, 120(1), 101-128. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/673121.

Elias, M. (2013). The School-to-Prison Pipeline. Teaching Tolerance, 39-43.

Haddix, M. (2015). Preparing Community-Engaged Teachers. Theory Into Practice, 54:1, 63-70, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00405841.2015.977664

Madsen, J. & Mabokela, R. (2014). Leadership Challenges in Addressing Changing Demographics in Schools. NASSP Bulletin, 98(1), 75-96, http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0192636513514110

Robbins, C. & Searby, L. (2013). Exploring Parental involvement Strategies Utilized by Middle School Interdisciplinary Teams, School Community Journal, 23(2), 113-136.

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