The Family-School Partnership: An Opportunity to Promote the Learning Competence of All Students

By Christenson, Sandra L. | School Psychology Review, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

The Family-School Partnership: An Opportunity to Promote the Learning Competence of All Students


Christenson, Sandra L., School Psychology Review


Abstract. In this article, family--school partnerships are discussed as a viable and essential way to increase the opportunities and supports for all students to enhance their learning progress and meet the recent demands of schooling inherent in accountability systems and most notably of Title I No Child Left Behind legislation. School psychologists are encouraged to make the family--school partnership a priority by collaborating with school personnel to (a) apply principles from systems-ecological theory to children's learning; (b) maintain an opportunity-oriented, persistent focus when working with youth and families living in challenging situations; and (c) attend to the process of partnering with families. Example opportunities for school psychologists to make this partnership a priority for children's academic, social, and emotional learning are delineated.

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As I reflect on the past two decades of research and practices with respect to family involvement in education, I am reminded of a Charles Dickens (1859) phrase from A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ..." (p. 1). The "best of times" is reflected in an increased awareness of the (a) effect of family influences on and contributions by families to children's educational outcomes; (b) conceptual models for family involvement; (c) importance of establishing shared goals and monitoring child success; (d) characteristics of constructive, collaborative relationships; and (e) variety of home- and school-based activities to engage families in education (Chen, 2001; Christenson & Sheridan, 2001; Comer, Haynes, Joyner, & Ben-Avie, 1996; Epstein, 1995; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Nord & West, 2001; Sheridan, Kratochwill, & Bergan, 1996; Swap, 1993). It is noteworthy that previous efforts to examine school psychological service delivery at invited conferences (Brown, Cardon, Coulter, & Meyers, 1982; Ysseldyke & Weinberg, 1981) and publications (Talley, Kubiszyn, Brassard, & Short, 1996) have highlighted the seminal role of parents for students' school success. At the beginning of the 21st century, our myriad efforts as a discipline--researchers, trainers, and practitioners--have resulted in the family--school partnership being recognized as salient for positive developmental and learning outcomes of children and youth. (1)

The "worst of times" is evident in the disconnect of the two primary socializing agents for educational success. This disconnect is seen daily across our schools in (a) predominant use of the school-to-home transmission model (Swap, 1993); (b) the extreme social and physical distance between some educators and families; (c) diminished resources for implementing family--school programs; (d) challenges reaching all families; (e) challenges related to addressing the needs of non-English speaking families and children identified as English Language Learners (ELL); and (f) too little focus on the interaction process that yields a strong relationship as various interventions are implemented (Christenson & Sheridan, 2001; Liontos, 1992). Although shared responsibility across home and school for educational outcomes is the rhetoric, school policies and practices are not always aligned with this notion. I suspect an analysis of current assessment and intervention practices would reveal infrequent use of those that focus on home and school as contexts for children's development and learning.

Our Challenge as a Discipline

Educators often ask: How can schools get families to support their values and practices? Coincidentally, families often ask: How can families get schools to be responsive to their needs and aspirations for their children? Less often educators and families ask: How can we work together to promote the educational experiences and performance of students or this student? …

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