School counselors' roles in developing partnerships with families and communities for student success.
Student counselors (Social aspects)
Educational programs (Social aspects)
Academic achievement (Management)
Academic achievement (Social aspects)
Epstein, Joyce L.
Van Voorhis, Frances L.
|Publication:||Name: Professional School Counseling Publisher: American School Counselor Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Family and marriage; Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 American School Counselor Association ISSN: 1096-2409|
|Issue:||Date: Oct, 2010 Source Volume: 14 Source Issue: 1|
|Topic:||Event Code: 200 Management dynamics; 290 Public affairs Computer Subject: Company business management|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States|
This article discusses a theoretical perspective, research results,
and practical examples that support new roles for school counselors in
strengthening school programs of family and community involvement. A
modest proposal is offered for school counselors to spend 20% of their
time on strengthening teamwork for partnerships by working with other
educators, parents, and community partners to plan, implement, and
evaluate goal-linked partnership programs for their schools. This
investment of school counselors" time and talent should improve the
quality of outreach and involvement activities, the number of parents
who remain knowledgeable partners in their children's education
across the grades, and results for students. The new direction also
should reduce the number of students with serious academic and
behavioral problems that school counselors presently try to solve alone.
Research suggests that school counselors have important roles to play in helping elementary, middle, and high schools establish and sustain effective programs of family and community involvement that contribute to student success in school. Currently, in preparing for their professional work, school counselors take courses and receive guidance from their professional organization that should propel them toward leadership on partnership program development. However, once placed in a school, most school counselors are assigned traditional activities to schedule classes, administer tests, address individual students' academic or behavioral problems, connect with selected families when students have difficulties, make referrals for student services in the community, and assist individual students with plans for college and careers. This work is valuable in its own right, but does not apply counselors' skills and training for leadership on partnerships.
It is challenging to discuss new work for school counselors because they already bear large case loads of students in need of assistance (Graham, 2009). Schools, understanding this dilemma, may take one of two paths: (a) protect school counselors' positions in traditional tasks and add no new responsibilities, or (b) redirect school counselors' tasks to include time for leadership activities in partnership programs in conjunction with reduced traditional tasks. This article discusses a theoretical perspective, research results, and practical examples that support the latter path in taking new directions to promote partnership programs. These programs, in which teachers, administrators, school counselors, parents, and community partners collaborate, help schools to involve more families, assist more students, and prevent or reduce the problems that school counselors, presently, try to solve alone.
UNDERSTANDING PARTNERSHIP PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT
Research on partnerships not only is growing in scope and rigor, but also is changing how family and community involvement is viewed in schools. Most dramatically, studies indicate that school, family, and community partnerships must be understood as an official component of school organization to promote student learning--rather than as an accidental set of activities for a small number of parents (Epstein, 2001; Epstein & Sheldon, 2006). As part of school organization, it is the responsibility of district leaders and school administrators, faculty, staff, parents, and other partners to organize effective and equitable structures, processes, and plans for partnership programs that involve all families in ways that support student success in school.
The theory of overlapping spheres of influence asserts that students learn more when parents, educators, and others in the community recognize their shared goals and responsibilities for student learning and work together, rather than alone (Epstein, 1987, 2001). In this model, three contexts--home, school, and community--"overlap" to some extent, thereby identifying areas of separate and combined influences on children. The external structure of the model shows that these contexts may be pulled together or pushed apart by the philosophies, policies, and selected activities that are operating in each context. The internal structure of the model identifies the interpersonal relationships and connections between and among parents, children, educators, and others in the community that may affect student success in school. The goal is to develop positive and productive interactions of home, school, and community to produce the best results for students. This means that organizational structures and processes and the quality of plans, activities, implementations, and results must be measured, monitored, and continually improved to engage families and to benefit students.
Within the areas of "overlap," studies at the elementary, middle, and high school levels identified a framework of six types of involvement: parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision making, and collaborating with the community (Epstein, 1995; Epstein et al., 2009). The types of involvement are broad, separable categories of practices that involve parents with teachers, students, and community partners in different locations and for specific purposes, all contributing to student learning and success. In brief, the six types of involvement are as follows:
Type 1: Parenting--helping all families understand child and adolescent development and establishing home environments that support children as students.
Type 2: Communicating--designing and conducting effective forms of two-way communications about school programs and children's progress.
Type 3: Volunteering--recruiting and organizing help at school, home, or in other locations to support the school and students' activities.
Type 4: Learning at home--providing information and ideas to families about how to help students with homework and curriculum-related activities and decisions.
Type 5: Decision-making--having parents from all backgrounds serve as representatives and leaders on school committees and, with their leadership, obtaining input from all parents on school decisions.
Type 6: Collaborating with the community--identifying and integrating resources and services from the community to strengthen and support schools, students, and their families, and organizing activities to benefit the community and increase students' learning opportunities.
The framework of six types of involvement has helped researchers and educators think systematically about the different ways to involve parents, without criticizing those who cannot come often to the school building. The six types, alone, do not ensure an effective program of partnerships. Challenges arise that must be solved to involve all families, and activities must be selected that lead, purposely, to a welcoming climate at school and that help all students achieve at high levels.
Activate the types of involvement. There are hundreds of practices for each type of involvement that increase positive interactions of parents, educators, students, and others in the community (Epstein et al., 2009). For example, there are many ways to use traditional and new technologies for teachers and parents to communicate with each other (Type 2); many ways to organize volunteers to assist educators, students, and families (Type 3); and so on. Each type of involvement requires two-way communications, so that educators and families exchange information and ideas with each other and honor their shared responsibilities for children's education. (Explore more than 700 activities, classified by type, at www.partnershipschools.org in the section "Success Stories" in annual collections of Promising Partnership Practices.)
Identify challenges. Each type of involvement poses clear challenges that must be addressed to reach all families (Epstein et al., 2009). For example, many schools across the country work with parents who do not speak or read English. Teams of educators and parents must meet this challenge by translating materials into languages that parents understand, organizing interpreters, and developing other creative and welcoming approaches to engage all families. Other challenges include providing information to families who cannot attend school meetings; sending parents positive communications about children's work and accomplishments, not only about students' problems; creating channels for communications to flow from school to home and from home to school; developing opportunities for parents to volunteer at school or in other locations; preparing teachers to guide families to monitor and interact with their children about homework; ensuring that families from diverse neighborhoods are represented on school committees; and identifying community resources that help meet school improvement goals (Epstein et al.). By addressing these and other local challenges that emerge, schools can involve parents across racial, educational, and socioeconomic groups to support theft children's education.
Produce results. Each type of involvement leads to different kinds of results. That is, not every type of involvement directly affects student learning. Yet, all types of involvement can be designed to contribute, directly or indirectly, to specific results. For example, to help increase students' reading skills and attitudes, schools may provide information to all families on grade-level reading standards (Type 2), organize effective reading-buddy volunteers for students who need extra help (Type 3), systematize age-appropriate and family-engaged reading and writing homework (Type 4), and garner business partners' support for books that students can take home (Type 6). Similarly, activities may focus on the school climate of partnerships or student attitudes, behaviors, and achievement in math, science, or specific subjects.
Two sets of studies will help school counselors understand how the theory of overlapping spheres of influence and the framework of six types of involvement are applied in practice: studies of program development and studies of results for students.
Program development. The results of many studies revealed eight "essential elements" for effective school and district programs of school, family, and community partnerships: leadership, teamwork, action plans, implementation of plans, funding, collegial support, evaluation, and networking. When these elements were nurtured, partnership programs were sustained and continued to improve from year to year.
At the school level, longitudinal studies of several hundred schools showed that schools improved the quality of their work on partnerships, regardless of their starting points in the prior school year, by forming effective teams for partnerships, writing detailed plans to schedule activities linking the six types of involvement to specific school improvement goals, adjusting for changes in principals, implementing planned activities, and evaluating the quality of their efforts. The basic components increased the quality and sustainability of programs in elementary, middle, and high schools (Epstein, 2001; Sanders, 1999, 2005; Sanders & Lewis, 2005; Sanders & Simon, 2002; Sheldon, 2003, 2005, 2008; Sheldon & Van Voorhis, 2004; Van Voorhis & Sheldon, 2004). Schools with basic structures in place and those that reported receiving support from district leaders for work on partnerships addressed more challenges to involve parents and reported that more families were involved in their children's education. These schools also increased outreach by teachers through homework designed to encourage parent-child interactions.
At the district level, data from more than 100 districts showed how the essential elements also determined the quality of district-level leadership and partnership programs. Experienced district leaders were more likely to write annual district-level leadership plans, identify a budget, conduct training workshops for school teams and other colleagues, offer grants or other funding to schools, recognize excellence in school programs, help schools share best practices, and conduct other leadership actions for partnerships. Well-organized district leaders assisted teams more often, helped schools conduct end-of-year evaluations to assess progress, and conducted other evaluations (Epstein, 2008; Epstein, Galindo, & Sheldon, 2010; Sanders, Sheldon, & Epstein, 2005). These data, combined with the results of intensive studies of selected urban, suburban, and rural districts (Sanders, 2008), identified common factors that helped district leaders strengthen their leadership and improve the quality of their schools' partnership programs: (a) years of experience and sustained time on partnership, (b) intentional use of planning and evaluation tools and training, (c) the use of data to improve plans and practices, and (d) time invested in direct assistance to schools.
Results for students. The most common question from researchers, reporters, and educators about school, family, and community partnerships is, "What are the effects of family and community involvement on student achievement?" This question is too narrow, as good partnerships affect many different outcomes by creating a welcoming and collaborative school climate, by increasing parents' confidence about guiding their children's schoolwork and curricular decisions, and by improving students' attitudes about school, motivation to learn, behavior, homework completion, and many kinds of achievements--not just test scores. The question also is too broad, as research shows that it is necessary to examine theoretically linked and subject-specific involvement activities to find the strongest results for students and to guide school practice.
Many studies have reported general, positive connections of family involvement with student success through high school (Catsambis, 2001; Catsambis & Beveridge, 2001; Desimone, 1999; Ho & Willms, 1996; Keith et al., 1993; Lee & Croninger, 1994; Parcel & Dufur, 2001; Patrikakou, Weissberg, Redding, & Walberg, 2005; Sanders & Epstein, 2000; Simon, 2004). These studies provide an important base on which to build, but most used limited measures of family and community involvement. Few analyzed longitudinal data that account for students' starting points on the outcome of interest to isolate the impact of family involvement in a defined period of time. Some studies provide clearer pictures of the effects of family and community involvement on attendance, behavior, and achievement in specific subjects (Sheldon, 2009).
Student attendance. Practices that informed and involved families to help students attend school every day and on time measurably increased schools' average daily attendance (ADA) and reduced chronic absenteeism from one year to the next (Chang & Romero, 2008; Epstein & Sheldon, 2002; Licht, Gard, & Guardino, 1991; Roderick et al., 1997; Sheldon & Epstein, 2004, 2005b). Another study showed that, over one year, schools receiving guidance on partnership program development improved attendance rates compared to a matched sample of schools that did not have this assistance (Sheldon, 2007).
Student behavior. Educators have guided families to reinforce behavioral interventions that are used in schools to reduce disruptive behavior, referrals to the principal's office, and suspensions from school (Davalos, Chavez, & Guardiola, 2005; Noguera, 1995; Taylor & Adelman, 2000). When educators communicated effectively with families and involved them in activities focused on student behavior, schools reported fewer disciplinary actions from one year to the next (Epstein, 2005b; Sheldon & Epstein, 2002). Studies also showed that specific practices to involve parents (e.g., mentoring, safety patrols, business partnerships) improved student behavior and reduced schools' disciplinary actions (Sanders, 2005).
Achievement in specific subjects: reading. Many studies on family involvement in reading confirmed positive results on young students' reading readiness and early reading skills (Baker, Gersten, & Keating, 2000; Epstein, 2001; Lonigan & Whitehurst, 1998; Paratore, Hindin, Krol-Sinclair, & Duran, 1999; Senehal & LeFevre, 2002; Shaver & Walls, 1998). Across the grades, subject-specific interventions to involve families in reading and language arts positively affected students' reading skills and scores (Sheldon & Epstein, 2005b). Although more studies are needed at the middle and high school levels, interactive homework in language arts in the middle grades showed promise. When they discussed their work and ideas with a family partner, students improved their writing skills and report card grades in language arts (Epstein, Simon, & Salinas, 1997; Epstein & Van Voorhis, 2001) and increased their language arts achievement test scores (Van Voorhis, 2008a, 2009a, 2009b).
Math. Studies confirm that family and community factors and conditions influenced children's math achievement (Catsambis & Beveridge, 2001; Desimone, 1999; Friedel, Cortina, Turner, & Midgley, 2007; Hong & Ho, 2005; Ma, 1999; Yan & Lin, 2005). Despite challenges to participation due to parents' discomfort with math, schools' outreach to involve families in family math nights, interactive homework, and other math-related activities helped more parents talk with their children about math, promoted positive attitudes about math, and increased students' math achievement (Balli, Demo, & Wedman, 1998; Sheldon & Epstein, 2005a; Sheldon, Epstein, & Galindo, 2010; Van Voorhis, 2007, 2009a, 2009b, in press).
Science. There are fewer studies of the effects of school, family, and community partnerships on science achievement than on reading and math, but they point in the same direction. Researchers found parents' education and home conditions compensated, in part, for low science achievement for low-income, minority students in grades 4, 8, and 12 (Von Seeker, 2004). An earlier study found that family and community involvement in science-related activities affected students' attitudes about science and, in turn, students' achievement (George & Kaplan, 1998). Two quasi-experimental studies reported that families of students assigned TIPS-Science interactive homework were significantly more involved with their middle-grade students on science and students had higher science achievement test scores, compared to the non-TIPS control group (Van Voorhis, 2003, 2008b, 2009b).
Program development and results for student success in school are related. That is, the nature and quality of goal-linked programs must be implemented and measured in order to study the effects of family involvement on student outcomes. The studies summarized above also suggest that there should be a close connection between the design and purpose of an involvement activity with the outcome of interest (e.g., an activity to involve families with students in reading may, in fact, increase parent and student interactions about reading and may affect students' reading attitudes or achievement). The logical question: How can schools and districts develop excellent partnership programs that will, in fact, have positive effects on family engagement and on student outcomes? And, what are counselors' roles in developing and conducting these programs?
Improving Leadership and Partnership Programs: National Network of Partnership Schools at Johns Hopkins University
Over the past 14 years, researchers and development experts at Johns Hopkins University have been conducting studies and field tests to learn how district and school leaders can develop effective partnership programs. The project, National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS), based on the theory of overlapping spheres of influence, provides research-based handbooks, training, materials, and tools to guide district and school leaders to build their knowledge and capacities to organize, staff, plan, implement, evaluate, and continually improve goal-linked programs of school, family, and community partnerships for student success (Epstein et al., 2009; Sanders, 2005; Sanders & Sheldon, 2009).
At the school level, leadership for partnerships takes the form of an Action Team for Partnerships (ATP), consisting of teachers, administrators, counselors, parents, and other family or community partners, and students at the high school level. The ATP is, officially, a committee of the School Improvement Team (or School Council), making its work on partnership central to school organization and school reform. The ATP writes an annual, one-year action plan for partnerships for family and community involvement activities linked to the School Improvement Plan and to specific, measurable goals for a positive school climate and for student attendance, behavior, and achievement. Each year, the team evaluates its work and progress, and continues to improve its plans, activities, outreach, and program results over time as a normal and expected component of school organization.
At the district level, a designated full-time district facilitator for partnerships works with 20-30 schools' ATPs, with part-time assignments in smaller districts. District leaders for partnerships write annual plans to organize (a) district-level leadership activities that establish the importance of family and community involvement, and (b) school-based facilitation to assist each elementary, middle, and high school to strengthen, evaluate, and sustain its own program of school, family, and community partnerships, linked to its school- and district-level improvement goals for student success.
These features help districts and schools strengthen the essential elements of excellent partnership programs. Although common guidelines, tools, and training are provided, each district and each school in NNPS must tailor or customize its partnership program and selected practices to match its goals for student success. This approach purposely mixes formal theory and proven tools with flexible options that enable individual schools and districts to develop and take pride in their local programs. In addition, NNPS guides districts and schools to evaluate their programs and progress every year, recognizes excellent work, and enables members to share best practices on a national stage.
School Counselors' Roles and Actions in Partnerships
Roles. Some teachers think that they, alone, are responsible for children's learning and success in school. They discuss "my children" as if there were no teachers before them and no parents engaged for the long term in students' lives and education. Similarly, some school counselors think that they, alone, are responsible for solving students' problems, as if neither teachers nor parents were critical partners for students in trouble. The theory, research, and field work described above indicates that all partners who care about students have roles to play in both prevention and treatment interventions. It is important to outline the various roles that school counselors may play in building good partnerships.
Many have discussed the need for school counselors to be more active in helping their schools organize, conduct, and sustain programs of school, family, and community partnerships to increase student success (Adelman, 2002; Christenson & Sheridan, 2001; Epstein, 1992; Graham-Clay, 1999; Taylor & Adelman, 2000). The call for new directions for school counselors' leadership on partnerships is supported by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA, 2009), which states that school counselors are "vital members of the education team." ASCA defines counselors as leaders, advocates, and collaborators in schools, who no longer just deliver services to individual students and families, but also collaborate with other educators, share leadership in developing school programs, and involve all parents in their children's learning and development. Indeed, ASCA asks school counselors to "rise to the challenge to improve parental involvement" (Taylor & Davis, 2009).
These views not only are consistent with the research summarized above, but also set attainable goals for counselors. The following examples describe how school counselors can meet the ideals described by ASCA by working with an ATP and by activating the six types of involvement (see Table 1).
There are realistic ways for educators and parents to develop effective programs (Epstein et al., 2009). In the NNPS model, there are important roles for school counselors on schools' ATPs as a member, team leader, committee or activity leader, or district representative.
Member. As an active member of the ATP (along with teachers, principal, parents, and community partners), a school counselor participates at monthly team meetings, assists in writing and implementing annual plans, and helps conduct scheduled activities linked to school goals.
Team leader. As chair or co-chair of an ATP, a school counselor organizes monthly meeting agendas, guides evaluations of activities implemented in the last month, and leads discussions to plan and schedule activities in the next month. The team leader also guides the team to discuss challenges that need to be addressed, evaluate its work at the end of each year, and write the next plan for the following school year. Team leaders have responsibility to bring the team together, delegate tasks to share leadership, and encourage ongoing effort.
Committee or activity leader. A school counselor may take responsibility for a specialty area. For example, a school counselor can oversee the effective implementation of all activities on one page of the one-year action plan for partnerships, such as the activities to engage parents and the community to improve student behavior. Or, a school counselor may take responsibility for leading one activity in the plan, such as organizing family and community involvement linked to the school's character development program.
Advisor to a school's ATE. Some counselors are assigned to more than one school and have limited time for active participation on the ATE They may serve as a member of the ATP or as an advisor to one or more school's ATP(s) to assist the co-chairs in planning and conducting meetings and implementing planned activities.
District advisory committee on partnerships. A counselor on a school's ATP may serve as the school's representative on a district advisory team that meets monthly with the district's leader for partnerships. In this role, a counselor brings ideas and concerns from the school to the group of advisors from all schools, and collects information that could, in turn, help strengthen the school's partnership program. The district leader for partnerships may or may not also be the director of counseling, but these leaders should work together to encourage all counselors to take new roles in advancing partnership programs in their schools.
Actions. In any of the roles, school counselors' training and professional standards and guidelines should lead to actions that strengthen schools' programs, plans, and practices of partnerships (Epstein, 1992). The following are a few actions that apply school counselors' varied talents to school-based partnership program development.
Communicate. All educators are communicators, but many counselors have honed their talents to talk with parents and to make presentations to parent groups and community organizations about the school's work on partnerships.
Disseminate. Counselors may have skills in high-and low-tech strategies to summarize and distribute information on child and adolescent development to families at each grade level.
Coordinate. Even if not the team leader, school counselors may use their skills in group dynamics to ensure that all members of the ATP participate and to see that the school's one-year action plan for partnerships includes activities that engage parents and community groups on critical issues for student success (e.g., student attendance, behavior, homework completion, postsecondary plans). Counselors have skills and talents to organize and schedule volunteers, arrange career days, supervise a family room or parent center, and coordinate other aspects of a strong partnership program.
Facilitate. School counselors may conduct workshops and forums for parents at specific grade levels on child and adolescent development and school programs, attend training sessions to become experts in partnerships, and share that knowledge or conduct on-site training for the school's ATE
Evaluate. Counselors may take leadership or support roles in helping an ATP conduct annual evaluations of the quality and progress of their programs, and help the ATP focus on continuous improvement in each year's action plan for partnerships.
EVIDENCE FROM THE FIELD
Presently, many schools in NNPS include school counselors on their ATPs. Annual data collected in 2008 from more than 750 schools' action teams for partnerships indicated that elementary schools reported significantly stronger support for partnerships from school counselors than did middle schools. At any school level, strong support from the principal on partnerships was associated with strong support from school counselors (r = .318, p < .001).
School counselors' support for partnerships also was significantly correlated with the quality of schools' partnership programs (r = .237, p < .001), the percentage of involved families (r = .167, p < .001), the percentage of teachers who conduct various involvement activities (r = .200, p < .001), and whether the school attained AYP the prior year (r = .126, p < .01). These significant relationships nearly doubled in strength when school counselors' support for partnerships was combined with the support for partnerships by other colleagues (e.g., principal, teachers, parents, other administrators, community members, and parent association). There was stronger support for partnerships by school counselors and by other leaders in schools with fewer students who received free or reduced-price lunches, indicating that there still is work to do by school teams to increase support for partnerships in schools in economically distressed communities.
A survey of more than 200 school counselors in ASCA showed that these professionals were more involved with partnership program development if they were in schools where the staff worked collaboratively on other topics and if the counselor, personally, believed partnerships were important and felt confident about taking steps to build partnership programs (Bryan & Holcomb-McCoy, 2004, 2007). Related studies show that school psychologists' attitudes about teamwork and partnerships improved with professional development on the topic (Manz, Mautone, & Martin, 2009).
Correlations cannot prove causation. Research is needed with detailed longitudinal data to learn whether and how school counselors' support for partnerships and membership on action teams for partnerships in elementary, middle, and high schools affect the quality of schools' partnership programs, rates of involvement by diverse parents, and student achievement test scores. Evidence that this question is a fruitful one comes from practitioners.
School counselors are presently working in diverse communities to help their schools improve their programs of family and community involvement. In NNPS, many schools at all levels include school counselors (and related professionals, including school psychologists, social workers, and nurses) on their action teams for partnerships. The following are a few examples of how school counselors took different roles in helping their ATPs plan and implement family and community involvement activities to help students improve homework habits, behavior, skills in specific subjects, plans for college and careers, and finding summer jobs and programs (see Table 2).
Focus on Middle and High Schools
School counselors may be team leaders or members of ATPs at all school levels, but are especially helpful in middle and high schools, where counselors' attention to students and families balance teachers' attention to specific subjects, and where counselors' training in systems approaches and prevention interventions could guide school ATPs in needed ways. For example, as a leader or member of a high school's ATP, counselors would ensure that more activities are written into the school's one-year action plan for partnerships for informing and engaging all parents about adolescent development, high school course choices, required credits for graduation, scheduled tests, college and career planning, and other information on schoolwork and future plans. By increasing the number of students and parents who are knowledgeable about requirements for graduation and postsecondary education and career planning, counselors can measurably reduce the confusion that propels many students to the school counselors' offices.
There are, clearly, many good ideas of how school counselors can connect with families and the community, but it is important to stress that counselors need to work on a team of educators, parents, and others to organize a sustainable partnership program. Teamwork is needed to select topics, evaluate outcomes, and continually improve the school's outreach to engage more and diverse families in productive ways. This is true even as school counselors, individual teachers, parent organizations, and business partners conduct their own, signature activities that are part of the full, comprehensive program. School counselors do not have to work alone on workshops for parents on student growth and development, student behavior, school policies, attendance, dropout prevention, credits required for graduation from high school, homework completion, academic programs, college and career planning, parent education classes, or other topics of importance for student success. These and other topics, including those summarized in Tables 1 and 2, are more effectively planned and conducted with other teachers, parents, and community partners on an ATP, even as one or more team members take leadership roles in implementing the activity. School counselors may be particularly helpful to an ATP by identifying mental health professionals, career counselors, and adult educators in the community. The important point is that teamwork is at the heart of excellent and sustainable partnership programs, resulting in stronger activities that can be sustained even if the school counselor or other school personnel move and change.
School Counselors' Preservice and In-Service Education
It would be easier to develop excellent partnership programs in all districts and schools if all educators-teachers, principals, school counselors, and other professionals--came into their positions prepared to work productively with families and communities. In addition to the strong preparation in traditional guidance skills that school counselors presently obtain, college courses and classes are needed for school counselors to learn about current research on partnerships, the importance of teamwork, and the research-based structures, processes, and strategies for developing effective partnership programs that engage all families and benefit all students (Epstein, 2001).
Presently, most future school counselors (like most future teachers and administrators) are not required to take a course on partnership program development. Instead, they may have one or two classes on parents or on how to "deal with" problems raised by parents. A national survey of 161 deans, chairs, and others in colleges of education revealed that over 85% of these leaders believed that it was very important for all school counselors to know how to work collaboratively with families and community partners, but only 27% reported that their graduates were, in fact, prepared with this competency (Epstein & Sanders, 2006). The gap between recognized importance and the lack of preparedness is, itself, a message for colleges and universities to incorporate the new directions for partnership program development into required curricula for every school counselor (Epstein, 2001).
Even if every new school counselor was well prepared on partnerships, in-service education and ongoing technical assistance still would be needed because family and community involvement plans and practices must be customized for each school's population and goals for student success (Epstein, 2005a). College and university courses could, of course, correct the gaps in training new counselors, but most counselors are experienced, practicing professionals in schools. They, too, need guidance in taking new directions as team members to develop more effective partnership programs. In well-organized programs, in-service education and ongoing technical assistance will be provided by district leaders for partnerships who, also, are prepared (in advanced courses or in collaboration with organizations such as NNPS) to guide all schools to develop, evaluate, and continually improve their outreach to involve all families and to support student success in school.
There are many good questions for future research on the impact of preservice, advanced, and in-service education on the attitudes and actions of school counselors on partnerships, and, over time, on the impact of their work on the quality of school-based partnership programs.
A Prevention-Intervention Schedule for School Counselors
The theory, research, and evidence from the field suggest that it is possible and beneficial for school counselors to take new directions in helping their schools develop stronger and more productive programs of family and community involvement. A modest proposal is for each school counselor to reserve one day per week (20% FTE) to work with the school's ATPs to ensure that prevention interventions will strengthen the school's program of family and community involvement, increase the number of different families involved at school and at home, and increase student success. In order to redirect school counselor time toward prevention, principals must recognize the importance of partnerships and devote time, resources, and directives toward partnership planning and development (Mautone, Manz, Martin, & White, 2009). This new allocation of school counselor work time would require, as a reasonable starting point:
* Less time providing services to individual children, testing, scheduling; focusing on individual families; and working alone.
* More time implementing activities that create a welcoming school climate; informing and engaging many parents in age- and grade-appropriate meetings, forums, and activities; focusing on developing all families' strengths to guide their children as students; and working with other teachers, administrators, and parents on planned partnership activities focused on school improvement goals.
In this way, a school counselor would continue current and common tasks 80% of the time, but take the lead or participate in new directions for strengthening partnerships 20% of the time. In a school year of about 180 days, this would result in school counselors dedicating the equivalent of 36 days--or one day per week--on preventative partnership program development and implementation with and for the school's ATP to engage all ramifies in ways that support student success in school. If school counselors serve two (or more) schools, the time would be proportionally distributed for teamwork on partnerships in each location. It is, of course, necessary for a school counselor to discuss the rationale for the reschedule with the district supervisor for school counselors and the school principal.
The new distribution of responsibilities would solve several problems that presently limit schools progress on partnerships. School counselors could help ATPs become well-functioning teams using their training in interpersonal relations and systems approaches for problem solving. Many school teams struggle to meet regularly, to listen to the ideas of all members, to obtain input from other teachers and parents who are not on the ATP, and to evaluate their work. With school counselors' active participation, more ATPs could become effective and sustainable school improvement units. A well-functioning team that completes and implements annual plans for family and community involvement will increase the number of teachers and parents who are knowledgeable partners in helping students succeed in school at every grade level, thereby preventing serious academic, attitudinal, and behavioral problems that would, otherwise, require individual attention by counselors. Data at the school or district level must be collected and analyzed to determine if the new approach results in more parents who remain partners in their children's education; in more teachers who report better student attendance, motivation to learn, completion of homework, and achievement scores; and in reduced referrals to school counselors.
Every educator's professional life--from the first day in their first school placement--requires them to communicate and work with students' families. Their professional success and personal job satisfaction are affected by how effectively they conduct these interactions. However, educators need not work alone. Rather, teamwork and shared responsibilities are key for organizing effective partnership programs. It is clear that school counselors play an important role in whether and how well such programs are developed.
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Table 1. Contrasting School Counselors' Prevention and Treatment Activities for the Six Types of Involvement Type of Involvement Sample Topics (a) Type 1: Parenting Meet family needs for information on child or adolescent development, and discuss concerns, such as preventing drug or alcohol abuse, early sexual behavior, peer pressure, and discipline problems. Type 2: Communicating Help parents understand report cards, prepare for parent-teacher conferences, and know grade-level curricular requirements, graduation requirements, and school policies on attendance and behavior. Type 3: Volunteering Organize parent volunteers to assist at the school, in classrooms, or in other locations; encourage families to serve as audiences for student activities, presentations, and assemblies. Type 4: Learning at Help all families understand home how to help on homework, select a high school program, choose courses, and discuss other program and curricular- related decisions with their child. Type 5: Decision- Inform and engage all families making in school decisions that affect them, their child, and all children; bring parents' opinions and voices to bear on topics at PTA/PTO and school council meetings. Type 6: Collaborating Identify and coordinate with the community community resources to assist students, families, teachers, and school programs. What Would School Counselors Do in Type of Involvement "Prevention Mode"? Type 1: Parenting Work with ATP to plan and implement workshops for parents and related messages on topics of interest to parents at various grade levels; conduct parent-to-parent forums to help diverse families meet other parents and discuss common questions and interests. Type 2: Communicating Conduct workshops and prepare printed materials or website information to help all parents understand report card grading systems and graduation requirements; help teachers organize responsive parent-teacher conference schedules; work with teachers and principals on helping parents understand achievement test score reports. Type 3: Volunteering Schedule parents to make presentations on career day to share their occupations with students; help ATP create a computerized talent pool of parent volunteers; welcome parent audiences as volunteers. Type 4: Learning at Work with teachers to create home culturally responsive learning activities for students in class and for interactive homework; guide students and families on improving study skills, grades, homework completion, and makeup work following absences. Type 5: Decision- Establish regular making communications with parents via e-mail, weekly folders, or other technologies for their ideas, suggestions, and questions for teachers, principal, and school counselor. Type 6: Collaborating Work with the ATP to with the community produce a directory of community resources, programs, services, summer job opportunities for students, etc. What Would School Counselors Do in Type of Involvement "Treatment Mode"? Type 1: Parenting Conduct crisis intervention when problems arise with these and related growth and development topics. Type 2: Communicating Meet with individual students who fail courses or are at risk of failure to prevent future failure; guide students to make up needed work and credits; meet with students and parents about low test scores and tutoring services. Type 3: Volunteering Meet with parents of students with problems to conduct home reinforcement activities with their child to support other treatment interventions. Type 4: Learning at Conduct individual meetings home with students and parents on needed improvements in homework and study skills; recommend tutoring services, based on teachers' referrals. Type 5: Decision- Serve as advocate or making ombudsman for families with specific concerns or complaints about school programs and services for their child. Type 6: Collaborating Refer individual families to with the community needed medical, mental health, and social services, as needed. (a) These are a few of many ideas of how the six types of involvement enable school counselors to conduct activities that meet families' needs and prevent students' problems. Also see chapter 1 in Epstein et al., 2009. Table 2. Examples of Involvement Activities and School Counselors' Roles on Elementary and Secondary Schools' Action Teams for Partnerships Activity Goal Description Elementary Level Community outreach: As a service for all schools, district Forum at the mosque leaders for partnerships conducted a 1- hour information session and Q&A Increase involvement period following a Saturday prayer of Muslim families session at the local mosque. Leaders in the schools and were respectful of customs by removing in students' shoes and using separate doors for education males and females. Topics included district expectations and policies, school attendance on religious holidays, requests for early dismissal, and helpful communication systems. Fill your child's An evening workshop for parents was basket with learning organized to provide ideas of how to tools help students with homework. It included dinner, presentations on developing Improve students' good homework habits, and teachers' homework habits suggestions for parents. Each family took home a basket of homework related items, such as math flash cards, books, rulers, and educational games. Friendship breakfasts Parents came to breakfast with their child's teacher. Volunteer parents made Enable parents, the invitations. Following breakfast, teachers, and school students presented information to counselors to meet parents about their schoolwork in their and improve own classes. Seventy percent of students' family-school parents attended. communications "R&R" (resource and Families need easy-to-read, current, referral) booklet and relevant information on resources available in their district and community. Help families find The R&R booklet included information community services and contacts on clothing assistance, and resources counseling, education programs, food assistance, hotlines, legal aid, parent education, support groups, and other sources of assistance. Right Stuff Kids The school's partnership team developed Right Stuff Kids-a character education Improve student program. One year, four behaviors behavior, reduce (friendship, patience, honesty, and deter- suspensions, and link mination) were featured in students' family and community skits and discussions. At the end of each involvement to quarter, each teacher (K-5) chose up to character education five students who exemplified the character trait. There were Right Stuff buttons, celebrations, recognition in the school newsletter in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, and personal congratulatory notes to students' families. The number of suspensions decreased, positive behavior increased, and the school climate improved. Activity Goal Description High School Level After-school tutoring To increase ninth-grade students' passing rate on the Ohio proficiency test, Increase promotion the high school recruited community rates for ninth-grade volunteers and teachers to tutor students students in math after school. Sessions were conducted three times a week from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., September through May. Each ninth grader had a tutor. About 100 (of 500) ninth graders received tutoring. Math scores rose 18%. Family connection The family connection subcommittee identified families who were struggling Provide support to during difficult economic times. Based families in need on referrals from the schools' service professionals, the committee provided food, fuel, clothing, or other assistance that a family needed. About 40 families received Thanksgiving dinners, 47 were served at Christmas, and 53 families received additional aid. About 180 families volunteered to join or donate to the team's work. Financial aid School counselors and local college workshop for parents financial aid advisors designed and and students conducted a workshop for parents and students on how to complete the Free Review forms for Application for Federal Student Aid. In federal aid for this community of high unemployment, college attendance many parents had difficulty navigating the complex financial aid form. To encourage students' attendance, the ATP gave students one "tardy pass" that could be used once before the end of the school year. In all, 56 students and 76 parents participated in the workshop. Home connection: To prepare students for postsecondary Career academy/ education, this talent development high pathway interest school wanted students to talk with their families about their career interests Improve and the Holland Inventory codes that postsecondary students obtained on a survey. The planning ATP and ninth-grade Freshman Seminar teachers developed an interactive homework assignment to encourage students and families to discuss career plans. More than 200 students and families (80%) of the freshman class completed the assignment. Sophomore advisory Students entered this school as period sophomores in grade 10 and needed to adjust to high school. The ATP Improve students' developed the advisory period and, adjustment to high after researching the issue, provided a school and increase similar time period for all grade levels homework completion (10-12) to include guidance and and achievement tutorial activities. Time for the extra period was created by shortening the walk-time between classes. One result was that more students' homework was completed on time. Summer expo Students and parents explored local opportunities for students to work or Describe options for volunteer on useful projects during the students' summer work summer. The school's partnership team and volunteering sponsored the event, and 75 parents and 75 students attended. Activity Goal School Counselor's Role Elementary Level Community outreach: School counselors, teachers, a school Forum at the mosque nurse, and a translator attended the session to answer families' questions. Increase involvement of Muslim families in the schools and in students' education Fill your child's The school counselor worked with the basket with learning partnership coordinator, teachers, and tools parents on the ATP to develop the program. Improve students' homework habits Friendship breakfasts School counselors sent the invitations home and coordinated RSVPs. They and Enable parents, other support staff covered classrooms teachers, and school when teachers met with parents. counselors to meet and improve family-school communications "R&R" (resource and School counselors, social workers, and referral) booklet psychologists recommended services, agencies, and professionals to list in the Help families find booklet. Home-school liaisons in community services elementary schools and school and resources counselors in middle and high schools distributed the booklets to families. Right Stuff Kids The school psychologist and nurse worked with teachers, parents, and Improve student specialists to plan and implement the behavior, reduce activities. suspensions, and link family and community involvement to character education Activity Goal School Counselor's Role High School Level After-school tutoring School counselors, teachers, college students, and interested parents served Increase promotion as tutors. rates for ninth-grade students Family connection School counselors, teachers, the school nurse, a social worker, and community Provide support to partners identified families in need families in need throughout the year. Financial aid School counselors connected with local workshop for parents colleges to plan the workshop. School and students counselors visited classrooms to personally invite all junior and senior Review forms for students and their parents to attend. federal aid for college attendance Home connection: School counselors used the information Career academy/ from this assignment to help place pathway interest students in a career academy for grades 10-12 that best suited their interests. Improve Teachers noted that this was the first postsecondary time parents received advanced planning information on the career academy that their teen could select. Sophomore advisory School counselors and teachers period conducted the advisory and guidance activities. Improve students' adjustment to high school and increase homework completion and achievement Summer expo School counselors and coaches collected and presented information on summer Describe options for academic and athletic activities. students' summer work and volunteering Note. These activities were developed and conducted by schools and districts in the National Network of Partnership Schools in Danbury, CT, Naperville, IL, Hagerstown, MD, Grand Blanc, MI, Bridgeton, NJ, Akron, OH, Cleveland, OH, Lansdale, PA, Mullins, SC, and Layton, UT. See full descriptions and many other activities in the annual collections of Promising Partnership Practices, at www.partnershipschools.org in the section "Success Stories."
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