School Partnerships and Learning Communities

School Partnerships and Learning Communities

SCHOOL PATNERSHIPS AND LEARNING COMMUNITIES 1

School Partnerships And Learning Communities

Pedagogy and learning are continually evolving. One of the best waysof refining this is evaluating the current situation and factoring inelements of improvement, such as scholarly research and stakeholderpartnerships. In many countries, dissatisfaction with the quality ofeducation and need to pass education in the ever-dynamic learningenvironment has necessitated the improvement of pedagogy. Whilecoming up with solutions, scholars have identified schoolpartnerships and learning communities as some of the most viablesolutions to this problem. The schools have expanded their reach intothe community while taking into consideration the dynamic nature oflearning as influenced by health, social service, family and thecommunity at large. According to Epstein (2001), one of the majorobjectives of partnerships is seeking to improve the overallwell-being of the learners, while at the same time, empowering themat personal and social levels. This paper looks at schoolpartnerships and learning communities by assessing their development,rationale and pillars that support their functioning.

The main function of partnerships and collaborations is to createleadership opportunities and set a platform for learning that isobjective oriented. The current pedagogical strategies thatstakeholders in the educational sector employ are a product of yearsof international educational research. While some recommendationshave worked well for certain areas and localities, there has beencontinuous harmonization of the practice to produce a setting thatworks best for all. Epstein (2001) asserts that while it isimpossible to have a universally agreed strategy to tackle issues ineducation, research facilitates improvements. The intention of thesestudies is to embolden teaching staffs by experimenting withdifferent designs and monitoring of their functioning. In the modernapplication, there are different types of partnerships that enablethe stakeholders to overcome obstacles that hinder them fromaccomplishing their goals. The bottom line, however, is having acomprehensive understanding of the concepts of school partnershipsand learning communities, evaluating factors that influence thesuccess of the same, and implementing effective partnershipstrategies.

Theoriesand principles of pedagogy associated with school partnerships andlearning communities

Constructivismtheory

The constructivist theory is based on observation and study.Therefore, it focuses on the ideologies on how people learn newmaterial. According to Fosnot (2013), this theory holds that peopleare most likely to hold their understanding and knowledge of theworld through experience, and later on making a judgment after theexperiences. In the practical world, when people meet something new,they tend to reconcile it with what they have already experienced,and in the process, develop new meanings on the same. Therefore, itmeans that the learners have the freedom to create their knowledgeout of the experience. In the modern classroom setting, some pedagogyapproaches derive from this theory. In most cases, the teachersencourage the learners to use different techniques to achieve certainresults.

By doing this, the teachers are encouraging the learners tounderstand the underlying conceptions, and take them up as guides toaddress new experiences. Consequently, it creates a platform wherethe teachers can help different learners to process information indifferent ways. This theory, according to Fosnot (2013), aids thedesign of school partnerships and learning communities. Schoolpartnerships encourage the learners to continuously assess howdifferent activities are most likely to help them gain a betterunderstanding of the things they are thought. This continuousreflection of experiences, on the other hand, supports theconstruction fo learning communities, where the new experiences areprocessed and used by the learners to add to their knowledge base.

Structuralismtheory

Culler (2007) says that the structuralism approach is a theory thatelements of human culture, such as socialization and family, have tobe understood in terms of their association with a larger structure.In pedagogy, a structuralism paradigm is one that involves sometheories and methodologies. In deeper meaning, the structuralismtheory holds that a pedagogical phenomenon, in this scope, is rootedin a structure that is influenced by external factors. The structure,in the setting of teaching and learning, is shaped by factors such asmotivation, ambition, goals, cultural norms, conditions and manymore. Educational specialists have held the idea that this paradigmhas little to do with rationality, and instead, structured opinionmaking. Some scholars have made an effort to explain this approach topedagogy. For instance, Culler (2007) asserted that developing asystematic structuralism theory would provide the education giverswith a way of effectively handling elements that are related to thepassing of education. This is because in doing so, the teachers andother stakeholders in the educational sector get ways of creatingdifferent meaning in the society, hence fast-tracking the process ofdesigning better educational systems.

Holisticapproach

Perhaps the most applicable theory to school partnership and learningcommunities is the holistic approach. According to this approach,education does not exist in a single and consistent form (Korthagen,2004). Instead, education is described independently as a set ofbeliefs and principles that share a family of resemblance. Thetheory, therefore, addresses the development of education structuresby putting emphasis on the development of the students beyond theconfines of a rigid system. A rigid system, in this light, can be aclassroom, school or similar facility for education, which doeslittle to embrace change in style. According to Sell (2003), theholistic approach to education moves the concept of child-centerededucation to that of a more radical design of education programs. Oneof the main strengths of this approach is that it focuses on thefullest possible development of the learners. In reality, thiseducation reforms this without stretching the limits of the systemthat is set prior to the beginning of teaching. The holistic approachencourages the learners to become the best they can be. As such, itgives room for personal development and encourages the learners toapproach education from all possible angles for the full achievementof their objectives.

Asapplicable to school partnerships and learning communities, there arecertain features of holistic education that make the paradigmsuitable. According to Korthagen (2004), the aim of holisticeducation is to encompass every aspect of personal learning, byputting emphasis on the development of active relationships with allstakeholders at every level. In community learning and schoolpartnership, one of the characteristics of holistic education is thatit nurtures the development of the students. This is through focusingon their intellectual, creative and spiritual potentials, among someother things. Some highly successful school partnership programsacross the globe have used this approach. For instance, learninginstitutions from around the globe come together to form partnershipswith other organizations, especially those that promote talent, tonurture the abilities of some learners. Coca-cola, in partnershipwith schools from Africa and South America, has offered scholarshipsto learners with special soccer talents by sponsoring their education(Sell, 2003). While these students continue with their education,they are encouraged to develop their talents and put them to use asprofessional athletes once they are done with schooling.

Thesecond characteristic of a holistic approach to education is that itemphasized on life experiences. This is by taking learning beyond theconfines of the classroom and formal education. By setting up suchand environment, the learners can grow and discover beyond horizons.According to Korthagen (2004), in this light, the holistic approachto education encourages the desire within the learners to understandthe world more and to engage it for their benefit. Many schools inthe United States have taken the approach of taking their students toplaces where they can have a personal reflection about their future.For instance, the schools take their students to NASA, where they caninteract with the astronauts and get a taste of what the career isall about, which is not included in the syllabus. However, byemploying the holistic approach, the teachers become fruitful intheir endeavor to encourage the learners to take realize and expandtheir potential.

Thethird characteristic of a holistic approach to education, asapplicable to school partnerships and learning communities, isempowering the learner to examine their individuality critically.This is by facilitating self-evaluation of culture, morality andpolitical ideology, which are part of the social fabric. Thelearners, in this context, are put in a situation where they canactively challenge the dynamic cultural values, which arefacilitators of human wants. Using the holistic approach, educationaland pedagogical experts designed school exchange programs (Korthagen,2004). In this particular setting, learners from one school are takento another school in a geographically and culturally differentsetting. For instance, high school learners from Japan are taken toAustralia to continue their studies in a certain school for a shortwhile. While doing this, the programs expose the learners to adifferent cultural setting. Spending some time with other studentsfrom the new setting opens up their minds to different cultures. Bydoing this, they can have a better understanding of how differentpeople from different backgrounds can come together and exist in acommon setting. According to Sell (2003), this not only opens uptheir minds to the outside world but helps them to learn new thingsin a better way.

Community-BasedParticipatory Research approach

One of the strongest tools for mass learning is Community-BasedParticipatory Research (CBPR). Katz (2003) defines CBPR as a“collaborative approach to research that equitably involves allpartners in the research process and recognizes the unique strengthsthat each brings”. The first step of developing a CBPR program isthe identification of areas of research that are most important to aparticular community. After doing this, the stakeholders identify thepossible outcomes of combining education knowledge by taking actionsto spearhead social change. The main objective of this approach,according to Minkler &amp Wallerstein (2011) is to improve thesituation of the social status, for instance, improving healthstatus. Over the past few years, many organizations have collaboratedwith schools to fund research, which calls for an approach toimproving the social status through education. While at it,partnerships between schools and other affiliated bodies come up withsolutions, through qualitative and quantitative research, to addresscomplex issues through education. The result of the participatorymodel that is the product of the CBPR approach affects the entirecommunity. Through engagement with specific institutions ofeducations, communities can take the central position of determiningthe well-being of their members.

Inthe past few years, there has been increased investment in CBPRprograms. Some public and private initiatives have invested in CBPRresearch for the benefit of entire communities. For instance, theInstitute of Medicine and the Centers for the Disease Control andPrevention (CDC) have collaborated with other organizations to engagecommunities in mass education for a number of social issues, such ashealth and family. Through procedural and continuous engagement ofthe members of the society, these institutions have created learningcommunities that benefit mutually. The results have been improvedhealthcare, increased awareness of social issues and participatoryresearch. Besides carrying out their initiatives, organizations thatengage the community through the CBPR approach fund proposals thathave the potential of benefiting the communities (Minkler &ampWallerstein, 2011). Approved proposals often contain detailedinformation, such as the rationale behind the projects, priorresearch to conducting the same and the possible contributions to thesociety at the end.

Communityengaged pedagogy

School partnerships and learning communities share the feature ofmass learning. The function of community-based teaching is to passeducation to a larger target, more than on the traditional classroomsetting. This method is an experiential one, which puts emphasis onaction, reflection and engagement based on the real-world experience.According to Rubin et al. (2012), proponents of community-basedpedagogy draw their methodologies from holistic and Community-basedparticipatory research approaches. To clarify the structure, Rubin etal. (2012) says that community-based learning is more thanvolunteerism. In practice, this pedagogical paradigm supports thestudents’ skill development and civic citizenship within thecontext of community learning. The goal of such projects if toencourage the learners to participate in the community services thathelp them to create a linkage between academic studies and real-worldexperiences. By doing this, the learners get in a position of gaininga better understanding of the social mechanisms that run the society,hence, helping them to improve in their roles as responsiblecitizens.

Thereare some models of community-based pedagogy. These modelsindependently define the structure of community-based learning, asthey are unique in their ways. Perhaps the most widely appliedparadigm of community-based learning is discipline-based. While usingthis model, the education facilitators expect the learners to beproactive in community engagement throughout the learning period(Rubin et al., 2012). During this time, the learners reflect on theirexperiences, regularly recording and delivering reports. Theproblem-based model has also been widely used. While applying thisparadigm, the students relate to the community on a client-consultantbasis. They engage the community with the purpose of understandingparticular problems or needs, after which they, under their capacityas educated individuals, propose solutions, while at the same time,gaining experience from the process. This highlights the element ofconstructivism theory. For instance, students studying law may selecta community and learn about their legal needs, after which, they canprovide free legal advice. This way, the students help the communityto solve their legal matters, while at the same time, gainingexperience in law themselves.

The discipline-based Learning model is similar to the serviceinternship model, where the learners work for a certain periodwithout expecting to be paid. Under the capstone course model, thestudents in final year apply what they have learnt in their previousyears to help a certain community. The Capstone course is almostsimilar to the undergrad community –based research however, thelatter involves intensive training and management. Finally, thedirected study additional model needs the learner to register forcommunity work by making special arrangements with their instructors.While the options offered by these models are equally helpful, Rubinet al. (2013) suggest some recommendations to make each workoptimally. These include specifying requirements for participation ineach, taking necessary actions to foster positive relationshipsbetween the learners and the community, upholding discipline andimportantly, focusing on laid down objectives.

Currentmodels of school-community partnerships

According to Auerbach (2012), education reformers mean some thingswhen they speak about full-service schools and school-communitypartnerships. This is because the reform ideas do not share the sanestructures and intent. Additionally, by applying different theoriesin education reforms, it is inevitable that the education designersare set to come up with different models of school-communitypartnerships. Regardless of the model that the reformers deliberateupon, the bottom line is how the stakeholders will view thepartnership. The most common styles of partnerships arecollaborations and formation of entirely new set-ups, which, however,have measurable impacts on the learning process. There are four majortypes of school-community partnerships that education reformers use.Reformers classify these into two main categories, which areschool-based partnerships and placed-based (Auerbach, 2012).School-based partnerships include family collaboration, full-serviceschools, and full-service community schools. Community developmentmodel falls under placed-based.

Family,or inter-agency collaboration, is the simplest model among these. Theprimary purpose of this kind of partnership is to increase theinvolve men of the family and community in development. The mainmotivation of this model is the coordination of community servicessuch as health and relationships. Supporters of this model value itsstrength in strengthening families, mainly because it draws upon thecollaborative effort of each family members. One of the best ways ofapplying this model is after school. During this time, the teachersshould use pedagogical methodologies that promote growth anddevelopment. Auerbach (2012) supports this school of thought,asserting that the knowledge that the learners receive covers socialmatters such as health and family.

Thesecond model of school-community partnership is full-service schools.Despite the fact that this model is similar to that described above,it seeks a fruitful partnership with select community agencies. Themain objective is to identify and service the needs of the learners.Having major similarities with the inter-agency partnerships, thefocus of this particular model is serving the families throughengaging them in the school setting. However, Booth &amp Dunn (2013)argued out that the implementers should consider the services thatthe programs offer under this model, such as academic and socialservices, as a wrap-up services. This is because the program offersthem within the educational time and space dimension of the schools.

Full-servicecommunity schools are a model of school-community collaboration thatpushes the objective towards strengthening the entire network. Underthis model, the stakeholders promote equality, as they advocate forcoordination amongst them. Booth &amp Dunn (2013) said that undersuch as setting, the partners prioritize democratic decision-makingin the community. Additionally, this model strongly draws upon theteaching of the holistic approach. By not drawing upon themselves tothe community only, the schools use their resources to enhance thegrowth of the community that they are collaborating with. Given thismodel’s uniqueness, education experts have considered it as a newparadigm in community partnership, as far as education is concerned.

Community development is another major model for school-communitypartnerships. This model is comprehensive, as it goes beyondaccessibility to service. The focus of this particular model is toenhance organizational change by creating family and interagencycollaborations. Some organizations have applied this model, and ithas turned out to be quite fruitful. For instance, some Marylandschools designed a school-community collaboration using the communitydevelopment model, based on the belief that lack of a support networkhinders the learners’ growth (Auerbach, 2012). Using their example,this researcher concludes that community development, as a paradigmof school-community partnership, is broad and helps the educationreformers to implement change more conveniently.

Whileevaluating the effect of the models described above, the researcherconsiders two main elements. The firs one is the student and familyoutcome. All four models have to ensure that academic achievement isreflected in the main subjects that they study and that the family issatisfied with their members’ performance. On the community level,an effective model is one that promotes the literacy improvement, andabove all, social integration. Secondly, the researcher considerscapacity and infrastructure outcomes. Besides the underlyingobjectives of applying these models to school partnerships andlearning communities, a model has to address some student and familyneeds, as per the available infrastructure resources. As such, whileevaluating the performance of a model, education reformers need toassess the extent of full-service community collaboration inmeasuring the societal impact.

Factors influencing the success of school partnerships andlearning communities

Using the principles in the theories of pedagogy, together with themodels of school-community partnerships reviewed above, the authornotes some factors influence the success of school partnerships andlearning communities. These are a common vision for teaching andlearning, common leadership and governance, mutually beneficialpartnerships, effective communication, continuous sharing ofinformation that pertains to education and collaborative staffingprototypes.

  1. Common vision for teaching and learning

This factor draws upon the teaching of productive communityengagement. Regardless of the person who handles certain tasks, themembers must ensure that they collaborate to realize the maximumopportunity for growth. For education reformers, the first isidentifying institutions of learning that demonstrate value fornon-school education support. This, therefore, influences the extentto which the partners engage each other. In doing so, they can comeup with pedagogical methodologies that are not only collaborative butalso mutually beneficial.

  1. Common leadership and governance

For school partnerships and learning communities to success, the mainstakeholders must come together and have a common understanding asregards to the division of power for control. Scholars haveattributed the failure of most school-community collaborations topower wrangles, as the stakeholders do not satisfactorily address theissue of leadership and governance. At the same time, the leaders ofthe partnerships have to handle the implementation of thepartnership’s philosophy and vision, besides demonstrating theability to address the difference between the members logically.

  1. Mutually beneficial partnerships

While forming a team, Booth &amp Dunn (2013) assert that the membershave to expect support from each other, and equally, give the samesupport. Education involves coming together of minds to devise waysof solving differences and looking for solutions, without anydiscriminations. In school partnerships and community learningcenters, the members exchange by sharing their distinct informationand resources. Additionally, to enhance mutually beneficialrelationships, the team members deliberate of strategies of outreachto expand their potential, and put to maximum use the resources thatthe program provides. The paper discusses some of these strategieslater on.

  1. Effective communication

In virtually all fields, effective communication is key to aproductive partnership. This is because effective communicationfosters coordination by making the flow of information and ideassmooth. Some of the strategies that education reformers have used inpromoting effective communication in school partnerships and learningcommunities are outreach and informal correspondence. Thus, thishelps them to establish open and flexible lines of communication.

  1. Continuous sharing of information

While sharing the information about the partnerships, should focus onsharing information that touches on the learners’ well-being andbest strategies to adopt. There are three major purposes ofinformation sharing under this context. The first objective is toassess the learning settings and attempt to gain a betterunderstanding of the members’ contributions. Secondly, whilesharing information, the information should help the stakeholders toassess the services that they are providing. Finally, sharedinformation helps the managers of the school-community collaborationsto enhance accountability.

  1. Collaborative staffing prototypes

These are models where the stakeholder in the school partnershipscomes together to form collaborative staffs. The collaborativestaffing structures bring together a plethora of talents and skillsfrom the partners so that the entire unit can benefit adequately andsupport each other as appropriate. Given the holistic approach toeducation, collaborative staffing models help the stakeholders tobenefit mutually and achieve the teaching objectives in thecommunity.

According to the factors described above, it is evident thatsuccessful partnerships draw upon unity. In these partnerships, themembers are both investors and assets, whose overall objective isdevelopment in education. Additionally, it is important that thestakeholders come together occasionally, to deliberate on theirprogress and cultivate keys to problems that they may be facing.Using these factors as guidelines, the next section addresseseffective partnership strategies that education reformers canimplement.

Effectivepartnership strategies

Themost critical factor in school collaborations is a success. Withouthaving a general direction towards achieving success, any partnershipis tantamount to failure. As Auerbach (2012) asserts, schoolpartnerships and learning communities are for building one-to-onerelationships between the stakeholders, who are the teachers,learners, and families, who come together to form communities. Whilethese stakeholders engage in the collaborations, the main objectiveis to improve where they are weak and to discover more opportunitieswhere they can grow together. This section of the paper identifiesthe main strategies that the stakeholders, mainly the educationreformers, can adopt to realize success in the school collaborationsand learning communities.

  1. Deliberation of the core values of the engagement

While creating a partnership or designing a learning community, thestakeholders should come together to deliberate on the core valuesthat the engagement stands for. As such, during the early stages ofthe collaboration, the stakeholders should come together to meet thebeneficiaries of the engagement and discuss core issues with them.For instance, if setting up a learning community in a given locality,the education reformers should engage the parents and learn from themmatters that affect their children’s’ education. While doingthis, the partners will agree on the core values that should guidethe partnership and as such, be on the way to forming an effectivepartnership.

  1. Listening to the community

Community consensus is key to the development of an effectivepartnership. As such, education reformers should give the community achance to explain themselves. During this, the reformers will have anidea of what they should do, and in what sequence. This strategy hashelped some partnerships to realize success in their engagement withthe community. For instance, the Putnam City West High school engagedthe Hispanic community where the parents were given a chance to giventheir opinions on community learning (“Holding communityconversations with Hispanic families”, n.d). It was through thisthat the implementers of the partnerships agreed to have bilingualstaff members, who greatly helped the learners to gain maximumknowledge from the engagement.

  1. Using research information to set priorities

In education reform, all key action plans depend on research data,which the implementers use to take informed decisions. Thepartnerships’ designers are supposed to take note of thesignificant trends and use the key indicators to address areas ofweakness. One of the means of undertaking this is providing astructure for the parents to meet with the teachers and fellowparents, as they discuss the way forward about the solutions thatthey need to take. By doing this, they will have a chance ofdesigning models that teachers can use to teach the learners. Thisstrategy offers the stakeholders a chance to initiate activities thathave significant short-term and long-term results.

  1. Onsite professional development

Effective school partnerships are ones that value professionaldevelopment of the learners. Similarly, learning communities shouldembrace the idea that continuous professional development is key tocommunity education success. For instance, for a medical school toenhance the quality of health services that the students offer, itshould use hands-on activities and information in the sense ofcontinuous professional development. This is in line with theteaching of the holistic approach to education.

  1. Collaborations with community partners

In learning communities, there is dire need to have strategicrelationships with the partners. These relationships may involvedialogues among college lecturers, business leaders, public officialsand faith organizations to deliberate on matters that affect thelearners’ experiences. These partnerships, besides helping thecollaborators to identify areas of weaknesses, give them anopportunity to expand their reach into other potential areas oflearning such as health education. The parents and learners learn howto use the information that the programs make available to them tomake personal progress, which is to the benefit of everyone.

  1. Putting focus on high-need entities

In partnerships and learning communities, there are areas ofeducation that need more attention than the rest do. As such, thepartners are supposed to identify groups that need to be specifiedattention, and address their needs adequately. One of the examples ofthis is a learning partnership that the collaborators initiate tohelp learners with certain disabilities. In a community, there aredifferent levels of social classes. As such, the collaborators haveto identify the individuals in the community that cannot afford thespecial equipment to serve their disabilities, and as such, helpeveryone to gain equally from the partnership.

  1. Building personal relationships

In this context, personal relationships describe those occurringbetween individuals and groups of members. The participants can takethe time to discuss matters that affect them at personal levels, anduse the information from the same to develop themselves. A goodexample of this strategy is the creation of special open-forumlessons, where the learners take the opportunity to learn others’strengths, and weaknesses as well. By doing this, the members of agiven partnership can learn from one another and build stronger unitsin the end.

  1. Setting up rigorous communication strategies

The paper identified effective communication as one of the factors tobuilding a successful partnership. In designing a potentiallysuccessful school partnership, community members should form astrategic organization group, which includes parents and educators.This group shall be in constant communication to help them identifyareas to take action. At the same time, this strategy helps theimplementers of the partnerships to develop communication strategiesthat are for mutual benefit. Additionally, communication helps thepartners to evaluate the performance of the partnerships and to settargets for success in the coming academic calendars.

Conclusionand recommendations

PedagogyMethodologies are always changing. Implementers of education reformhave the responsibility of evaluating the appropriate teachingmethods, which they can recommend to schools and teachers. This paperhas looked at education from the perspective of school partnershipsand learning communities. Using selected theories and principles ineducation, specifically the constructivist theory, structuralismtheory, holistic approach and community-based participatory research.Using this, the paper has evaluated the factors and strategies thatapply to school partnerships and community learning. However, themain elements of partnerships that professionals identify includecommunication strategies, mutual relationships and result-basedapproach to education. While the factors that influence the successof school partnerships and learning communities are dynamic, thefocusing on the elements mentioned above is the best approach toachieving success.

The paper proposes some recommendations to achieve success in schoolpartnerships and learning communities. Based on the research, one ofthe most important actions for education reformers in partnershipscontexts to take is building capacity at the local level. This helpsthe professionals to identify region-specific elements and work onthem to deliver successful programs. Secondly, the stakeholdersshould work collaboratively to develop practice and policies tosupport education partnerships. This is not limited to outsourcingprofessional assistance. Finally, the partners are encouraged topromote research-based strategies. It is only through such actionsthat they can place everyone’s need on the table while deciding thenext lines of action to take.

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