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Virginia Journal of Education

Joining Together


Effective partnerships among families, schools and communities are a thing of beauty. Here’s how you can make the most of one.

Educators and families both know they need each other if young people are going to come out of our public schools ready to take on and conquer the challenges of work or higher education. When schools, families and community organizations pull together, all kinds of progress is possible: achievement gaps can get smaller, struggling students can learn to succeed in school, struggling schools can effectively reach more students, attendance rates can rise, student engagement and work habits can improve, discipline problems can be reduced, and graduation rates can climb. All in all, the working relationship between a school and its community can be completely transformed. And all this has been documented in the research.

What’s not to like?

To help partnerships between schools and families get off the ground and then to accomplish these kinds of great things, the National Education Association studied 16 successful partnerships across the country and attempted to distill the factors that made them effective. In order to be included in the study, the partnerships had to meet several criteria, including a track record of at least two to five years, successful engagement of families and community organizations, reasonable costs, and an evaluation measurement tied to student outcomes.

Here’s some of what NEA concluded, found in the Association publication Family-School-Community Partnerships 2.0:

Ten Key Strategies for Effective Partnerships

Across these programs, the NEA team identified 10 major strategies and approaches that define the direction of program efforts and appear to be critical to their success.

Strategy 1 - Agreeing on core values: Taking time at the beginning to think deeply and reflect about what participants believe, and why they think the efforts will work.

Strategy 2 - Listening to the community: Identifying priorities and developing an action plan in a collaborative way that creates community consensus around what needs to happen and in what sequence.

Strategy 3 - Using data to set priorities and focus strategies:  Looking closely at current achievement trends and addressing areas of weakness in students’ knowledge and skills.

Strategy 4 - Providing relevant, on-site professional development: Basing professional development on data and conversations among stakeholders, in a way that builds both educator-educator and educator-parent collaborations.

Strategy 5 - Building collaborations with community partners: Pulling in strategic partners and developing community buy-in—with colleges, social service agencies, community groups, faith-based organizations, local leaders, public officials and businesses—to improve student learning and other outcomes.

Strategy 6 - Using targeted outreach to focus on high-needs communities, schools and students: Identifying groups that need special attention, learning about their concerns and needs, and responding in culturally appropriate ways.

Strategy 7 - Building one-to-one relationships between families and educators that are linked to learning: Taking time to have conversations and reach agreement on how best to collaborate in order to improve student achievement.

Strategy 8 - Setting, communicating and supporting high and rigorous expectations: Making it clear that success is the norm by creating pathways to college, especially for students at risk and those at the margins, and providing students with support to succeed.

Strategy 9 - Addressing cultural differences: Providing support for teachers and education support professionals to bridge barriers of culture, class and language.

Strategy 10 - Connecting students to the community: Making learning hands-on and relevant to students’ lives while also showing that students and schools serve the community.

After identifying those strategies and collecting examples of family-school-community partnerships that were making significant headway, the NEA team also created recommendations, including the following ones for consideration at the local and school division levels:

At the local level: Build capacity in schools

  • Use professional development to enhance educators’ knowledge and skills in collaborating with families and community members.
  • Create Memorandums of Understanding that provide time, opportunities and reimbursement for teachers, as a way to support stronger and deeper teacher-parent connections. Work with the school district to support capacity-building for educators on family engagement, using district professional development days.
  • Provide technical assistance on appropriate use of Title I funds for teacher-parent collaborations to achieve the goals of the school improvement plan.
  • Provide technical assistance for educators to show parents how to use data to monitor and support their children’s progress.
  • Identify cultural brokers in the community who can help enhance communication between teachers and families and develop shared expectations around learning.

At the school district level: Work collaboratively on policies and practices

  • Support district-wide policies that promote effective family-school-community partnerships and commit resources such as funding and professional development to make them work.
  • Support wraparound community services to address the health and social needs of students, as well as their academic ones.
  • Ensure that needs of families from diverse cultures are addressed in a systemic way, and provide needed translation and interpretation services.
  • Give first priority to those sites with the greatest needs.
  • Create structures such as action teams and regular community conversations to ensure student progress.

You can access the entire Family-School-Community Partnerships 2.0 report at



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