If I could change one thing in education: community schools…
(MENAFN – The Conversation)
Students thrive in environments where they are seen and valued as full members of classroom communities.
A major aspect of social development in education is the formation of student identities. From an early age, students are encouraged to make connections between what they are learning, their lives and the world around them.
It’s not just about their sense of self. In the classroom, they seek to foster a sense of belonging and acceptance within their school and community, and learn to negotiate their place in society.
But what happens when learners don’t see themselves reflected in what is being taught or don’t feel a sense of belonging? Very early on, there is disengagement and disconnection. Both can have a lasting negative impact on student achievement and well-being.
I am a researcher focused on the school experiences of African, Afro-Caribbean and Black youth and families. If I could do one thing to change elementary education in Canada, I would ask school staff to understand the importance of the school-family-community partnership in improving outcomes for all students.
There is an African proverb that says if you want to go fast, go alone and if you want to go far, go together. How a community, including a school community, prioritizes the needs of students is critical to their success.
When schools, families and communities work together as partners, students benefit. Benefits include safer school environments, strengthening parenting skills, encouraging community service, improving academic skills, and achieving other desired goals that benefit students.
So how do we do this partnership?
When schools, families and communities work together as partners, students benefit. (AP Photo/Brittany Newman) Learn
As the late cultural theorist and educator Bell Hooks tells us:
Teachers are also learners. The effectiveness of their learning is profoundly influenced by the daily interactions between their students and themselves.
By taking the time to learn about students in the classroom, teachers gain a better sense of students’ strengths and needs. It also means identifying barriers that may hinder learning and participation.
Teachers have the opportunity to discover students’ interests, what they are passionate about, and what is important to them and their families. Teachers who are lifelong learners understand that family and community are essential to student growth and development.
Affirm student identity
Culturally relevant and responsive teaching provides the framework for creating learning environments that are inclusive and honor the lived experiences of learners and their families.
The idea of inclusive education begins with affirming students’ identity and intersectionalities – the whole of who they are and all facets of their lives. It is about being concerned with what and how students learn. This simple yet transformative approach can help teachers rethink student engagement.
Teachers have the opportunity to discover what students are passionate about and what is important to them and their families. (AP Photo/Brittany Newman) The knowledge holders are here
All families and communities are full of resources and knowledge holders that could support learning in the classroom.
Their contributions not only build the capacity of schools, but meet the needs of students, especially families of Black, Indigenous and racialized students. Schools can do this by building relationships, incorporating families’ interests into the classroom and curriculum, and then taking steps with them to solve problems together .
When teachers and school staff consider ‘family’ as part of a child’s education, they need to consider how definitions of family vary across time and cultural contexts. This includes recognizing caregivers such as siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and even community members as parents who often step in to care for children.
Families want to get involved and partner with school staff to ensure the success of children and youth. This requires reciprocity and coordination of relationships between teachers to build a bridge between home and school cultures. The development of such a relationship is based on interdependence, understanding and shared decision-making.
Collaborations with families – especially people often positioned as passive or absent – will foster supportive and trusting relationships.
Engaging families in only one way presupposes a limited image of their realities. (Shutterstock) Reduce barriers
Families do not present themselves in the same way in schools. Engaging them in only one way presupposes a limited image of their realities. For example, 2SLGBTQ+ families and newcomers encounter barriers and discrimination.
How could schools make “parent council meetings” more accessible and inclusive? Start with a name change to make them more inclusive to represent the widest range of families and kinship in real-world communities.
These spaces allow community members to gain a better understanding of what is happening within the school. However, the meetings of the “parents’ council” are often poorly attended, for various reasons – time, lack of childcare services, limited links with the school community, fight against racism and discrimination, etc.
Invest in awareness
Learn which days, times and methods of communication are preferred. The pandemic has opened our eyes to many possibilities and creative ways to communicate. Learn which strategies work best. Schools must be ready to change.
Read more: 5 ways school boards can fight racial injustice
Ask questions and listen actively. Discuss values and develop an understanding of how experiences of racism, power and classism play out in a school setting and affect communication and interaction.
To better understand the school climate and the concerns of families and students, schools or school boards need to provide opportunities for people to share their ideas. For example, how might surveys, information materials available in multiple languages and media, and even a commitment to auditing curricula interrogate what is maintained as a normative culture in our schools?
Often there is a lack of common vision on how to support students. But the impact on the family as a whole is greater when the family is seen as an important partner in supporting the overall development of their child.
Arianna Lambert, a passionate elementary school teacher and educator, co-authored this article.
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