All adult members of the school community influence the character development of young people.
Successful character education initiatives engage families and community members as partners in the character building effort.
Schools that reach out to families and community members and include them as partners in the character building effort benefits not only the school, but also the well-being of the entire community. These schools understand the value of communicating the purpose and plan for character education, and work to engage families and community members in conversation about the school’s character education effort. Schools of Character recognize that all adult members of the school community influence the character development of young people, and they actively recruit the help of the wider community (e.g., businesses, service organizations, municipalities, and the media) in supporting the character building effort. Principle 10 shows that schools advance their character education initiatives by forging partnerships with their families and the wider community.
Forging partnerships with parents and community requires three parts:
Engagement goes beyond newsletters, social media, and one way communication to empowering parents and families to serve in leadership roles. Through workshops and parent training, it also involves equipping families to serve as leaders both at home and in the school in the development of character. Where engagement and parental leadership is strong, the school becomes a welcoming place, and parents recognize that the school partners with them in the educational process.
Communication seems simple enough, but true communication works both ways. In Schools of Character, schools communicate the character education efforts in report cards, notes, emails, phone calls, newsletters, parent-teacher conferences, group meetings, workshops, and websites. Parents not only receive information from the school, but also provide input, guidance, and evaluation data to the school regarding the effectiveness of the initiative and how it might be improved. Not only are parents who have been actively involved welcome at the school, but processes are in place to welcome and assist new parents and families.
Too often, schools pursue partnerships with the community for businesses, leaders, and organizations to provide a simple service to the school. However, in Schools of Character, the community is recruited to serve in leadership roles in the character initiative. They are made aware of and are supportive of the character initiative. They serve as ambassadors of the great work in the school, and contribute to that work.
Virgil Grissom in Old Bridge, New Jersey works diligently to engage families and community members as partners in the character education initiatives in conjunction with a district committed to serving the community. Communication strengthens those partnerships through open houses, PTA, Grissom Gazette (the school newspaper), Parent Universities, the school website, instant alert system, parent portal, virtual backpack and Class DoJo which keeps teachers, parent and students connected at all times. The school has seen an eighty-eight percent increase in parental support.
Pryor Junior High School
Any school in Pryor, Oklahoma, but especially, Pryor Junior High School, you can hear the common language in city council meetings as the mayor and city government has encouraged the participation of Pryor students. You can hear it in churches as faith leaders mention the “7 Habits” during their youth programs to reinforce what students are learning in the school. Volunteer organizations, local businesses, and local leaders use the language of core values and 7 Habits in a variety of ways. It is evident that the community serves the school and the school serves the community.
Harrison Elementary School
Harrison Elementary School in Roselle, New Jersey involves parents and the community at-large in bigger ways every school year. The iLead program is an excellent example. There are many facets to the program, but iLead mentors (some of whom are parents, some community volunteers) line the driveway every morning for student drop-off and greet them face-to-face; a wonderful start to the day. These volunteers also take on various roles including individually mentoring students who need a little extra attention, teaching lessons with small groups of students or whole classes, and helping students coordinate service learning projects.
Districts engage the spectrum of the community with particular focus on involvement of appropriate local government agencies, youth-serving organizations, and the business community.
Mantua Township Public Schools in Mantua, New Jersey uses a variety of methods to engage the entire community. Dr. Robert Fisciaro and his team are particularly fond of the Parents as Partner events. At the Parents as Partners events, two-way collaboration occurs. Insight and strategies that will help support the social and emotional growth of children
are presented and discussed at these well-attended gatherings. The virtue lessons are shared to help them guide their children through difficult life situations while adhering to our core values. Some helpful parenting strategies included in these meetings are Collaborative Proactive Solutions, the Nurtured Heart Approach, and the Jesse Lewis Foundation “Choose Love” lessons.
How involved are the parents in your school? Do they feel welcome? How do you individually and as a school communicate with students’ families and vice versa? What strategies and activities involve families in character education? What other ways might you consider trying to involve families?
What efforts are already under way to involve community members in your character initiative and in your school? What resources might your community members offer? What obstacles do you face engaging community members in your work and how can they be overcome?