We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be – this is the interrelated structure of reality. -Martin Luther King, Jr.
A primary key to strong partnerships is examining and truly understanding what it is like to function in a role different than one’s own where expectations and priorities may differ. Recently, at the Institution for Educational Learning’s (IEL’s) National Family and Community Engagement Conference, The U.S. Department of Education Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (ED CBNFP) created the space for such an opportunity where CBOs, families, and educators gathered to understand how to 1) become more sympathetic and empathetic regarding another’s needs, requests, and concerns in the educational sphere and 2) foster an atmosphere more conducive to initiating and maintaining long lasting relationships and partnerships that benefit students and promote high academic success.
The workshop entitled, Together for Tomorrow: Connecting the Dots, included education advocates and employees from various backgrounds who demonstrated how educational improvement is everyone’s responsibility – including students, principals, teachers, school staff, families, CBOs and volunteers. The workshop provided its attendees a) specific examples of where communities and schools have connected the dots and b) general guidelines for successful partnerships.
Dr. William Truesdale, Principal of Taylor Elementary School in Chicago, spoke about his role in integrating families into the school to participate in advancing the school’s mission. He mentioned how he framed the engagement around six fundamental human needs as expressed by Steven Covey and Tony Robbins. Ms. Jamillah Rashad, Elev8 Director who serves as a community liaison and parent/student advocate for the Marquette School of Excellence, voiced how the power of one-on-one relationships can strengthen efforts in raising school achievement. As an example of how these relationships work, Ms. Rashad directed the audience to engage in a brief conversation with someone with whom they were not familiar as a demonstration of the role and importance relationship building plays in helping schools and students thrive. Becoming a Man (BAM), an organization which currently serves over 2,400 young males in 20 schools in the Chicago area in an effort to “develop social-cognitive skills strongly correlated with reductions in violent and anti-social behavior” in “at-risk male students,” also presented in the workshop. Led by Youth Counselor, Zachary Strother, who expounded upon how BAM’s six core values positively impacted its students, four BAM youth expressed how the organization has helped to improve their success in the classroom and changed their lives for the better.
One of the most important takeaways from the workshop was that parents and extended family members can serve as bridge builders between schools and community groups. They often serve as leaders or members of CBO’s that can partner with schools. The session allowed both its participants and audience members to leave with a greater confidence in their own ability to encourage and support school, family, and CBO partnerships that support student success.
Eddie Martin is a special assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships