Seven elements for effective community-school partnerships

Partnerships for learning require that all partners involved understand and stick to strategies that encourage collaboration.

The phrase “It takes a village” is at the heart of a school reform movement called partnerships for learning, which aims to integrate community resources with local schools to educate the “whole child.” Now, a new report reveals the keys to successful community-school partnerships.

According to the Harvard Family Research Project report, “Partnerships for Learning: Community Support for Youth Success,” data collected from a community schools initiative called Elev8 show what successful partnerships for learning look like—and the effects these can have on learning.

Many educators are shifting away from the “traditional education model in which schools focus primarily on providing youth with a solid foundation in academics,” explains the report. “Instead, they are moving toward a more comprehensive approach that supports youths’ physical, social, and emotional needs in addition to their academic achievement.”

When partners work together to combine resources strategically, aligning their goals with the curriculum, a “seamless web of supports” is created that provides children with a “holistic learning experience,” says the report.

(Next page: Conditions that youth need to succeed, and seven elements of successful partnerships for learning)

These partnerships are especially important in inner cities and low-income communities, where children’s lack of access to needed services (such as mental health care) can interfere with learning.

Overall, a good partnership for learning offers high-quality education, youth development, physical and mental health support, family support, family and community engagement, and community development.

According to the report, by offering an array of combined services, community schools are able to create five “conditions” that research indicates are necessary for youth to succeed:

  • A core instructional program that includes qualified teachers, a challenging curriculum, and high standards and expectations for youth;
  • Youth who are motivated and engaged in learning in and out of school;
  • Services that address youth’s and families’ physical, mental, and emotional health needs;
  • Mutual respect and effective collaboration among families and school staff; and
  • Community engagement that promotes a safe, supportive, and respectful school climate and connects youth to a broader learning community.

Elements of successful partnerships for learning

Partnerships for learning require that all partners involved—including school staff, community providers and members, and families—understand and stick to strategies that encourage collaboration, says the report.

Seven elements are particularly important in establishing successful and sustainable partnerships:

1. A shared vision of learning: Partners share a common understanding of the goals and resources needed to support children’s learning.

2. Shared leadership and governance: Partners have an equal say in leading efforts to support children and families.

3. Complementary partnerships: Partners share complementary skills and areas of expertise to create a seamless and comprehensive set of learning supports for children.

4. Effective communication: Partners communicate effectively and frequently to ensure they are aligning their activities and are working in harmony with one another.

5. Regular and consistent sharing of information about youth progress: Partners have access to crucial data that help them better understand the youth they serve.

6. Family engagement: Families serve as key partners to help address the complex conditions and varied environments where children learn and grow.

7. Collaborative staffing models: Schools and community organizations create staffing structures that intentionally blend roles across partners, so that staff work in multiple settings to provide adult support spanning school and non-school hours.

The report further describes these elements by offering specific examples within Elev8 schools, based on evaluations that several research organizations have conducted since the beginning of the initiative.

In forthcoming papers and reports, researchers will reveal the social, emotional, and academic outcomes of Elev8 youth and their families.

Follow Assistant Editor Meris Stansbury on Twitter: @eSN_Meris

For more news and opinion about school reform, see:

Why schools must move beyond ‘one-to-one computing’

Gates Foundation: Test scores not enough for teacher evaluation

Will longer school year help or hurt U.S. students?


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