How Do We Build Effective Parent-School Partnerships in Inclusive Schools?

Parents meeting with teacher

Our question for today is how do we build effective parent-school partnerships in inclusive schools. There’s an enormous body of research and studies on the positive impact of parent partnerships and student success not just in school but throughout life. We cannot educate our children without reaching out to their parents. When schools and families work together, children have a far better chance of not only being successful in school but being successful in life as well. I like to say there are three R’s to effective partnerships. I call those respect, responsibility and relationships. Inclusive schools who are successful in their parent partner and school partnerships share these three qualities.

Let’s take a look at respect. In building respect both the parent and the school are valued, they are trusted and they are respected. The needs of the child come first and the child’s needs form the basis of all interactions. Both recognize that the family perspective is invaluable in providing insight and information as to what a child needs to be successful in school. The parents are full partners in the decision making process because that information is so important and there is what we call an open door policy at school. Open door in that there is a climate that welcomes parents and that expresses concern for their needs, the parent’s needs as well as the child’s needs. There is also what we call the recognition of limits. Parents have limits, they have other responsibilities as well so schools provide access to services, supports, resources and meetings at times and places that work for their parents. I guess you might say that in the whole area of respect that there’s the underlying belief that both the school and the parent really want what’s best for that child. If both want what’s best for that child then both are willing to share responsibility for the success of the child.

That brings us to our second R in effective school-parent partnerships and that’s responsibility. Neither the school nor the parent blames the other for what’s not working but instead they claim responsibility for school success. I like to say it’s kind of what Joyce Epsteen, the director for The Center of Parent School and Community Partnerships at John Hopskins University says. She says “Our charge is to create parent-friendly schools and school-friendly homes”. When we talk about parent-friendly schools we’re talking about schools that are all inclusive that welcome all children that value their differences. When we talk about school-friendly homes, we’re looking at homes that re-enforce education, that help with homework, that make sure that they re-enforce at home the importance of school. That also means that schools have the responsibility to stay connected and parents have the responsibility to stay connected. Parents need to educate the school about their child. They need to share their journey with that child and schools need to connect and have a responsibility to connect with families. We often say that communication needs to be regular, on-going, two-way, including feedback and meaningful. Meaning communication provides information, lets us know about goals, about the scope and sequence of the curriculum and lets us know about homework responsibilities. In other words, successful and responsible partnerships accept the need to stay informed, not only about the child’s disability, but also about the IEP process about IDEA. There’s a wonderful website, our Stetson and Associates website, which provides valuable tools and resources on inclusive practices as well as Inclusive Schools Network. There’s a wonderful section that focuses on parent needs. There’s a parent blog and there’s a parent perspective. Responsibility means staying connected and staying informed.

With respect and responsibility we open the door to what is called meaningful relationships, the third R in our successful school-parent partnerships. Relationships build trust and trust sustains those quality partnerships. The keys to building relationships with partnerships are the same as building relationships in the classroom. We need to feel like we belong, we need to trust and we need to believe that we are valued. Relationships nurture the collaboration that is so necessary for partnerships to survive and to help kids succeed in school.

In closing, as we look at these three R’s, Respect, Responsibility and Relationships, parents are the first teachers of their children. They have the responsibility to interact positively with their children, to build healthy relationships, to serve as their role models and to provide guidance. Parents are also partners in the educational process. They can exchange information and they can share in that decision making. They can help at the school and their collaboration helps us to form those partnerships that help us meet the needs of all the kids. The role of parents promoting inclusive education and best practice in inclusive education is of paramount importance, in fact it’s the most accurate predictor of a child’s success in school. The three R’s, Respect, Responsibility, and Relationships help us to form those partnerships that truly make a lasting difference to all kids. Thank you.

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