20 November 2008 09:59 AM

Collaboration for Education

by Dr. Rick

(To wrap up our American Education Week posts, we have another guest blogger today! Darla Strouse from the Maryland State Department of Education shares her thoughts below on working together to better children's education. As always, we would love to hear your feedback. -Dr. Rick)

How often have you heard the expression, “It takes a village to raise a child?”  Unfortunately, too many of us pay only lip service to these words, but when it comes to education, they are powerful and critical to success.  Students, parents, teachers, tutors, and others are too often working in silos when it comes to student achievement and growth.  Collaboration is the key, but frequently the simple act of communicating with those outside one’s particular environment is overlooked.  Reaching out and sharing all you know about a student may mean going beyond one’s comfort zone, but conversations about a student’s strengths and weaknesses with others who work with that individual, is a well documented way to effectively teach the whole child.  Often, the message is quite simple: “you don’t have to be afraid of us or our observations because we’re all in this together.”

Also important is the fact that children do not all learn the same information in the same ways and at the same time.  I’m sometimes amazed to hear the variety of answers students give to a question about a topic addressed in class. Students bring their own interpretive skills and interests to a learning situation. A collaborative environment allows for important perspectives from a number of people who know and work with a student.  This collaborative instructional environment is far more enlightened when it comes to assessing and developing instructional programs.

So what can we do to support the collaborative “village” concept?  Parents, on a daily basis, should try to keep lines of communication open between them and their children.  They should, for example, ask in a non-threatening way about how their child felt about his or her school day.  Children of all ages should be trained to share their experiences –good and bad.  A day should not go by without these conversations. Teachers need to frequently reach out to parents and expect that the information they have will be well-received and discussed in an open manner.  And wouldn’t it be great, if students felt comfortable discussing with their teachers what they enjoyed and didn’t enjoy about a class?  Parents can encourage those communications and explain to the teachers that this process is in place in their home.  Teachers and support personnel also should be included in this equation in order to build a true instructional team.  Tutors need to share their insights with a student’s teachers and vice versa.  Therefore, the “village” concept includes the following communication pathways:

  • Parents to student
  • Student to parents
  • Parents to teachers
  • Teachers to parents
  • Student to teachers
  • Teachers to student
  • Tutor and other stakeholders to students, parents and teachers

Instructional support specialists have a great deal to contribute and they should find time to communicate with a student’s teachers, giving them their important insights.  State-mandated school reforms of the past several years have greatly increased the expectations that educators do more to ensure that all students better meet standards of learning performance, particularly as measured by standardized testing procedures.  Ongoing collaboration among all involved will pay off and increase the achievement and well-being of students and the family as a whole.

-Darla Strouse, Ed.D., Executive Director, Maryland State Department of Education


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