School counselors' roles in developing partnerships with families and communities for student success.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Student counselors (Practice)
Student counselors (Social aspects)
Educational programs (Social aspects)
Academic achievement (Management)
Academic achievement (Social aspects)
Authors: Epstein, Joyce L.
Van Voorhis, Frances L.
Pub Date: 10/01/2010
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
Accession Number: 241277777
Full Text: 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.


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.

Theoretical Perspective

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 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.

Research Summary

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.


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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Joyce L. Epstein, Ph.D., is the director of the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships, and Frances L. Van Voorhis, Ph.D., is a consultant, at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD. E-mail:
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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(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.

"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'

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
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

"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

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
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 in the section "Success
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.