Learning to build partnerships with families
Schwartz, Stacy Lynn
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The purpose of this qualitative case study was to examine what happens when educators in an elementary school come together to build toward more reciprocal relationships with families. A university-based researcher facilitated and documented efforts of a study group of three teachers and a school counselor that spanned 10 months. The study is informed by critical theory and the literature on family-school partnerships, and the critical stance of the researcher was to explore the possibilities within and through the study group for understanding self, honoring voices of teachers and families, and disrupting power relations. Findings focus on participants’ perspectives on their experiences in the study group and the projects that resulted from their efforts. Data include participants’ journals (approximately 20 per participant), a minimum of three taped and transcribed interviews with each participant, observations of and copies of teachers’ projects with families, and field notes from the bi monthly study-group meetings. Analysis was based on individual cases of participants in the study group as well as cross-case analysis. The research report describes how the teachers designed and implemented their own projects to reach out to families, and what they learned from those efforts. Although there were challenges, teachers found the study group engaging, informative, and supportive. They valued study-group readings which provided a conceptual framework and shared language for their discussions and found that some readings helped them overcome their own stereotypes about families. They also valued their visit to a school which had built exemplary partnerships with families. Teachers identified a range of both positive and negative emotions surrounding teacher-family relationships. Through the study group activities and support, participants believed that they were able to identify and overcome many of their own psychological barriers to teacher-family partnerships and felt that they were better able to listen to and learn from families in more reciprocal ways.