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FINE Newsletter, Volume III, Issue 1
Issue Topic: Preparing Teachers for Family Engagement

Book Review

Beth Schueler is a graduate research assistant at Harvard Family Research Project and is currently studying education policy in the doctoral program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The Power of Family–School Partnering (FSP): A Practical Guide for School Mental Health Professionals and Educators,1 by Cathy Lines, Gloria E. Miller, and Amanda Arthur-Stanley, provides school-based practitioners with a user-friendly handbook for developing and implementing a sustainable and effective Family–School Partnering (FSP) strategy. Although the book covers a wide range of topics, this review focuses on its implications for school leaders who are planning ongoing professional development around family engagement, and for higher education instructors who train future practitioners.

FSP FRAMEWORK
The Power of Family–School Partnering outlines a compelling FSP framework and provides practical implementation advice. This framework eschews traditional notions of unidirectional “parent involvement” in favor of evidence-based, collaborative, family–school partnering2 that involves shared responsibility for student success. Within the framework, FSP planning and evaluation are data-driven to ensure effectiveness and allow tailoring to school and community contexts. The framework relies on a three-tiered strategy that includes universal, targeted, and intensive components. The authors envision a universal tier of welcoming practices that effectively serves 80–90% of the school community, but recommend the more targeted and intensive approaches for smaller subsets of students in need of higher levels of academic, emotional, or behavioral supports, and for families and staff members resistant to FSP. The book also outlines a four-step action-planning cycle to facilitate implementation and the smooth integration of FSP into existing school reform initiatives.

STAFF DEVELOPMENT
This book provides valuable strategies for a diverse range of readers including current and future practitioners such as teachers, mental health professionals, school leaders, and higher education instructors, in the interests of developing a common FSP vocabulary and encouraging transparency among all partners. At the heart of the book’s framework is an understanding of the unique roles that a range of partners play in FSP efforts. While school leaders set school-wide expectations and policies, frontline administrative staff members ensure that families feel welcomed and have access to important information. Instructional staff members frequently communicate with students and families regarding learning goals, while families themselves communicate with staff and support student learning in the home. Community-based organizations further support partnership efforts.

The book also argues that mental health professionals (school psychologists, social workers, and counselors) play a valuable consultative role given their training in working with families, the use of data, and mediation, and the flexibility of their schedules relative to most instructional staff. Mental health professionals are described as key actors in developing the focused tiers of intervention for the 1–15% percent subset of the school population in need of targeted and intensive attention. Individualized strategies might focus on academically, behaviorally, or emotionally at-risk students, and include interventions ranging from intensive academic assistance to anger management support, referrals to family-serving community resources, or support in the grieving process that commonly accompanies a child’s diagnosis with disability or mental illness.

Importantly, the book highlights that this intensive tier of intervention is intended to serve not only students and families, but school staff members as well. Mental health professionals are in a key position to reach out to specific colleagues hesitant about FSP; build trusting relationships; mediate conflicts between families and staff; help stabilize a student, family member, or colleague after a crisis or challenging experience; or assist colleagues in overcoming hurdles to partnering with specific families. For these reasons, the book suggests that school leaders should consider including non-instructional staff in their ongoing partnering strategies.

The Power of Family–School Partnering further suggests providing joint opportunities for family and staff learning, embedding FSP role expectations into job descriptions to ensure they are embraced by staff members, and other creative approaches to developing staff capacity and buy-in. At its core, the book makes a powerful case for breaking down barriers between adults in the interest of student success and provides clear guidance for school-based staff interested in making effective family–school partnering a reality.

The book is accompanied by a CD of adaptable tools developed with educator and family input; an FAQ section for educators, families, and mental health professionals; a description of a working FSP school; and a number of stories from the field that help to illustrate how the authors’ visions of FSP play out in practice.

About the book’s authors:

Cathy Lines, PhD is a consultant to the Colorado Department of Education regarding the family–school partnership component of their Response to Intervention model, and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Denver.

Gloria E. Miller, PhD is Professor and Director of the Child, Family, and School Psychology graduate program at the University of Denver.

Amanda Arthur-Stanley, PhD is a practicing school psychologist in the Cherry Creek School District in Greenwood Village, CO.

 

This resource is part of the March 2011 FINE Newsletter. The FINE Newsletter shares the newest and best family involvement research and resources from Harvard Family Research Project and other field leaders. To access the FINE Newsletter Archive, visit www.hfrp.org/FINENewsletter.


1. Lines, C., Miller, G.E., and Arthur-Stanley, A. (2011). The power of family-school partnering (FSP): A practical guide for school mental health professionals and educators. New York: Routledge.

2. The authors use the verb “partnering” to communicate an ongoing, dynamic process.

 

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