Engaging the Community through Communication, Consultation and Collaboration
Good schools reflect the values of their particular communities – students, parents, teachers – and each one will be different. Through their uniqueness they gain the connections between the stakeholders: families, teachers and students; a bonding that comes from the collective community with shared interests, values, purposes, ideas and ideals.
Many Aboriginal families face a number of conflicting pressures in attempting to communicate and establish a relationship with their children's school. Expectations of behaviour may make it likely that attempts by teachers to reach out and initiate interactions are misinterpreted as expressions of dominance.
[Larry Hamilton, Director Schools, Goldfields Education District]
Communicating a need and desire for school-community partnership involves time, effort and cultural sensitivity. Importantly it involves a high degree of understanding by the principal and staff.
Parental involvement is a key element in initiating home-school partnerships and communicating this to the school community may take several forms such as -
- Recognition – by the principal (and teachers) to recognise and communicate their respect for family and community. Even though family and community practices may vary from those which individual teachers believe appropriate, respect for differences is essential if positive partnerships are to be established.
- Communicating – a focus on designing effective forms of school-to-home and home-to-school programs and student progress. These could include mid/yearly parent conferences, new informative ways of reporting student achievement and clear information on student activities.
- Volunteering – aimed at recruiting and organising parent help and support after identifying (with AIEO assistance) parent interests and talents. AIEO's are a very important link between the school and the community. It is crucial to avoid seeing an AIEO as simply a person to 'sort out the fights'.
- Decision-making – covers parental involvement in school decisions and developing parent leaders and representatives. These include training for parents to play a decision-making role, and networks for families to connect with parent representatives.
- Collaborating with the community – aimed at identifying and integrating resources and services from the community to strengthen school programs and student learning and development. These include providing information for families on community health, cultural and recreational services.
Social, emotional, physical and academic growths are interlinked and are best addressed by the school through programs aimed at greater parental involvement.
[Denise Milliken, Principal, Cosmo Newberry School, WA]
Misunderstandings of culturally appropriate methods of communication may reinforce inappropriate images. In order to develop and communicate their own cultural awareness, principals should endeavour to:
- Examine their own values regarding racism, power and parent relationships.
- Demonstrate genuine concern for children and an acceptance that different outcomes are equally valuable for different children and families, as these are the first steps in establishing communication.
- Develop skills in intercultural communication. This includes:
- increasing awareness of culturally appropriate ways to approach families. For example, in some communities it may be more effective to ask others (Elders, AIEO's) to get permission from the family for the teacher to make contact.
- increasing awareness of culturally appropriate communication styles. This includes determining, for example, if it is appropriate to use personal names, to establish eye contact and to use touch. Whilst generalisations are often made on these issues, principals should be encouraged to seek out what is relevant for their particular community.
- understanding that the same words may carry not only different connotations for Aboriginal people, but on occasions may have completely different meanings.
As principals and staff become increasingly involved in cultural and community activities, positive signals are sent valuing cultural identity and community assets that may have been previously ignored.
[Stronger Smarter Institute, Queensland]
If the community is to become involved in the school, it must do so as an equal partner. The discourse of principals (and teachers) clearly indicates their attitudes and values to members of the Indigenous community. If the school communicates in an acceptable way and demonstrates sincerity and persistence in their efforts to secure a sound relationship with the community, they are likely to achieve success.
[Denise Milliken, Principal, Cosmo Newberry School WA]
- Good schools reflect the values of their particular communities – students, parents and teachers... and each community will be different.
- Engaging with the Aboriginal community isn't easy. Many Aboriginal families face a number of conflicting pressures in attempting to communicate and establish a relationship with their children's school.
- Communicating a need and desire for a school – community partnership involves time, effort and cultural sensitivity.
- It is critical that the Principal [and teachers] recognise and communicate their respect for family and community.
- AIEO's are a very important link between the school and the community.
- Decision – making requires parental involvement in school decisions and developing parent leaders and representatives.
- Collaboration with the community is essential for identifying and integrating resources and services from the community to strengthen school programs and student learning and development.
- A two-way approach to community engagement that results in the interaction of school and community in location both in and out of school, will build the social capital in the school community to enable authentic engagement and connection.