Home-School-Community Partnership through the lens of Community Development and transformative praxis

The cause of democracy is the moral cause of the dignity and the worth of the individual.

John Dewey, 1946

In this blog post I would like to introduce to the debate the brilliant work of Margaret Ledwith, Emeritus Professor of Community Development and Social Justice at the University of Cumbria. Ledwith’s work is largely inspired by that of Paulo Freire (1921-97) and Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937). Freire emphasised and demonstrated the power of transformative praxis (a unity of theory and practice capable of social change). Ledwith’s work and ideas unfold through stories of everyday life experiences (narratives). Narrative is so defined:

People’s personal stories contribute to collective narratives, which express the hopes and fears, needs and strengths that are the basis of community development and practice.

I am hoping that we may be open to sharing our own personal narratives with regard to home-school-community partnerships and determine where praxis sits. Hence the questions put forward. In a previous blog post I offered a guiding definition for relational power as defined by Warren and Mapp (2011):

If unilateral power emphasises power “over”, relational power emphasises power “with” others, or building the power to accomplish common aims.

Neil Thompson (2007) extends this further in offering a model of four types of power.

  1. power to
  2. power over
  3. power with
  4. power within

‘Power to’ can be understood as personal power to achieve our potential in life. Self-esteem and self-belief are fundamental to it. It also helps us understand how domination leads to a ‘culture of silence’ by diminishing self-esteem and pathologising poverty, that is, convincing people that their social status is due to their own failings.

‘Power over’ is related to relations of dominance and subordination that get acted out at structural, cultural and personal levels. Change has to take place at all levels before empowerment and equality will be cultural norms that replace disempowerment and inequality.

‘Power with’ is particularly important to the power of change. It implies not only solidarity among groups of people who identify with each other, but also alliances across difference in mutual commitment to change for the greater good of everyone.

‘Power within’ is a personal resilience that connects the individual to the collective. ‘It is the basis of self-worth, dignity and self-respect, the very foundation of integrity, of mutual respect and equality, a dislocating of ‘better than’ or ‘worse than’ in order to create a world that is fair, just and equal.’

Q1. Reflecting on the home-school-community dynamic that defines your particular community, where and with whom would you say power lies? How so and why so?

Q2. As an individual in that relationship, do you feel connected to the collective? If indeed a collective exists.

Why my focus on community development? Put simply, I think the power of ideas associated with it offer up a lens through which we might usefully view and analyse home-school-community partnership. Ledwith says it is critical pedagogy (a form of popular education based on people’s life experience) that gives community development the potential to bring about change for social justice. The process begins by simply questioning everyday life’s taken-for-grantedness to see the contradictions we live by more starkly. This leads us to seeing the world through a new lens – seeing power in action and co-creating new knowledge, a new story of the world that forms the basis of action for change. As said in my first blog, I contend that the mood of the country so far as the UK is concerned, and, arguably, further afield, is such that a challenging of the status-quo is in train and burgeoning.

Ledwith highlights the values that are fundamental to community development, thinking from a human rights perspective. Everyone has the right to trust, dignity and respect formed out of experiences that are equal, reciprocal and mutual. Ledwith says that this is built into cooperative relationships that work together to connect people in ways that build towards participatory democracy. This leads to people perceiving that they are part of a greater unity, a more coherent whole, rather than alienated fragments without the power to change the issues that are effecting their lives.

I discussed in my last blog social interactions across the school community and how the building of relational trust might address issues around relational power. Bryk and Schneider (1996) task leaders with taking actions that reduce parents’ sense of vulnerability in social interactions that take place in and around school. They see trust very much as a precondition for authentic participation in partnerships. Relational trust is based on perceived respect, competence, integrity, and personal regard for others, and depends on reciprocity.

I trust this is all making some sense and there is a coherence to the threads I am pulling on. What I know for sure is that it is incumbent upon school leaders to think on relational power and how that impacts social justice and democracy in and across the school community. I strongly suggest that we despatch the notion that some parents are ‘hard to reach’ to Room 101 and work on fostering a climate that sits at or towards the end of the spectrum recognised and defined by Warren and Mapp as “power with” and by Thompson as “power with” or even “power within”. Empowerment involves a form of critical education that encourages people to question their reality: this is the basis of collective action and is built on principles of participatory democracy.

After all…

The evidence is convincing; families have a major influence on children’s achievement in school and through life. When schools, families and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more.

(Henderson and Mapp 2002: 16)

Q3. Thinking on the content of this blog and the definitions provided by Warren and Mapp, and Thompson, is there something that has struck a chord with you, something that you intend exploring in your school community? If you are happy to do so, please share.

 

REFERENCES

Henderson, A. and Mapp, K. (2002), A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student Achievement. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.

Ledwith, M. (2011) Community Development: A critical approach, Bristol: Policy Press.

Ledwith, M. (2016) Community Development in Action: Putting Freire into Practice, Bristol: Policy Press.

Warren, M. R. and Mapp, K. L. (2011) A Match on Dry Grass: Community Organising as a Catalyst for School Reform, Oxford: OUP.

7 thoughts on “Home-School-Community Partnership through the lens of Community Development and transformative praxis

  1. Hi Simon,

    A very thoughtful blog, which I would always expect from you. I believe you ask some very good questions.

    In working with schools, I find that there are leaders who say they want to have power with, but through their actions have power over. As leaders, we need to gain evidence of how our actions and words are perceived by those who we are talking to. Are we meeting people where they are in conversations (taking into account their understanding and knowledge of a subject), or are we meeting them where our own biases lead us to believe where they are because we are too deep into our own perspective?

    I believe this is especially true when working with families. Many times, we seem to want families to support us by attending sporting events, music concerts and parent-teacher conferences, but we don’t often support them when they come at us with a problem. I wonder if we engage in one-sided monologue and not true dialogue?

    You are correct to say that families have a major influence. In Hattie’s work the expectations parents have for their children has an enormous effect size. Unfortunately, when the beliefs of parents do not coincide with the beliefs of the school, there becomes an issue. Might schools learn from parents with high expectations of their children even if they have outlier beliefs from our own?

    I have long been a fan of servant leadership by Greenleaf. I believe the role of the leader is to take time and understand the current reality of the people they work with, and then help them improve. Leadership is about helping others become better because at the same time we do that we become better as leaders.

    Thanks for such a great blog.

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    1. simonmfeasey

      Thank you for such a thoughtful reply, Peter. As always, I greatly value your feedback. Meeting people where they are and truly listening so that we understand home and community reality is something that has to and must be worked at. I venture into that in blog post 3. Smyth et al. talk of seeing school through an anthropological lens of how people make sense of their school lives. Community organiser, Saul Alinsky, was wholly appreciative of local traditions and values. He immersed himself in them when he organised. He thought the only way to communicate with people was within their experience and you could not do that if you did not learn how they thought or talked, or the stories they told. Alinsky thought that the best ally of the powerless was the hypocrisy and arrogance of the powerful. Equally, that “apathy” was often a misnomer. That “apathy” is the label put on people who won’t come to your meeting. I recall you challenging me (January 2016, World Visible Learning Conference) with the question, Are you the kind of person who walks into a staff (faculty) meeting with one idea, leaving with the same? Always a good question and widely applicable. Not the least to meetings with parents/carers.
      Thanks again.

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  2. In 1988 or thereabouts, authors Glenn and Nelson wrote a really wonderful book entitled “Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World.” Among many of the ideas shared, they argue that there is a commonality between all families, regardless of their background or station in life. That common thread is their strong desire for their children to exceed them in their quality of life. I’ve written about this in two books and use this important idea as a foundational principle of why the very notion of family engagement is absolutely essential to learning success for every student.

    In many respects, Simon’s synthesis of ideas has me pondering the power that emerges from within this very strong bond that all families share and the degree it becomes a catalyst for “power with.” Simply put- we all, schools, families and the communities that nurture them, want the same thing. The collective impact of all can harness great power to ensure success for all. I try to make the point in my model that empowerment is efficacy and efficacy is empowerment. I’m thinking that this commonality produces both internal and external power and that power fuels the kind of relational trust necessary in this very important work.

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    1. simonmfeasey

      Absolutely, Steve. As Desforges and Abouchar found…

      ‘The most important finding from the point of view of this review is that parental involvement in the form of ‘at-home good parenting’ has a significant positive effect on children’s achievement and adjustment even after all other factors shaping attainment have been taken out of the equation. In the primary age range the impact caused by different levels of parental involvement is much bigger than differences associated with variations in the quality of schools. The scale of the impact is evident across all social classes and all ethnic groups.’

      The impact of parental involvement, parental support and family education on pupil achievement and adjustment: A literature review

      Professor Charles Desforges & Alberto Abouchaar

      Thank you, Steve. As always, your feedback is greatly appreciated.

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  3. Ste Marsay

    Hi Simon, thanks for sending the link to your blog.

    Have just read through in reverse the three posts and already have my own handle on what you and others are edging towards, are getting towards, reaching for.

    For anyone else reading this post understand that i am a self employed decorator and a parent (amongst myriad other attributes) i am also a reader but i am not a researcher nor a good speller and treat grammer as a hammer does a nail. i speak and write predominantly in TSE (Teesside Standard English} an tha.

    To carry on, i live in a fractured, disconnected and untrusting community (I do not consider this a special situation). This situation stems not only from the isolation we as a people are encouraged to participate in (Did you see that on TV? Did you hear that on the radio? Did you read about that in the paper? Send me the link i’ll Google it etc but also from abusive backgrounds where the people you have to rely upon, can only rely upon, turn out to be reliable enough in the long run (Youve been fed, watered, sheltered, enjoyed birthdays and christmas) but who are unable to give the consistant and respectful attention children benefit from.

    having lived here all my life bar a few years military service i see and know a lot of the backgrounds around here. people my age doing what was done to them, almost blind and indifferent to the non-conscious poison they pass back on and its tricky to navigate. its hard to watch it happening, the cycles being perfectly piss poorly repeated. its even harder to imaginge doing anything about it without sparking a reactionary response that only escalates the pain.

    This is where i think schools can come in and i have witnessed the benefits of our local school engaging parents in topics of discussion outside of the tawdry He said, She said and the neighborhood highlights. From my perspective i have been invited in along with other parents and teachers to discussions that engage our opinions (Where would you like to see the school go, what is important about education etc) and to have your opinion listened to, recorded, considered and debated feels so empowering.

    i have my own non-conscious predjudices past on from the mist of childhood. i engage in conversation with anybody if i feel like it, otherwise fuckoff and leave me alone. it sounds cold and hard and yet its comonplace around here. we seem to me to be like lots of isolated cells aware of one another and occasionally cooperative but in general its a good day if you give a nod and get one back in return. some days i dont nod or nod back.

    Back to the empowering element. a hell of a lot of my half baked interpratations of people based upon nothing became very quickly shattered during these discussions, these talks. i wonder if the reverse occured to others? anyway, i soon found myself immersed in peoples ideas and thoughts and feelings and hopes and fears and the similarities and differences were a wonder to behold. The nods and good mornings and chit-chats outside school and within the school grounds grew exponentially. the main thing i noted about this was that Simon was pretty much always there, anchoring the school as a hub of discussion and debate by his very presence, his approachability and his considered responses.

    the above mentioned attributes relating to simon constitute nothing less than trust to me, he was encouraging trust. trust is the foundation of all communication and integration. without it we cannot function.

    and so, when the school adopts and displays and practices trusting attitudes and behaviors then all who enter that environment, repeatedly, come to a realisation that i can be trusted here. i can trust this place.

    WOW!!!

    Now here comes what i consider the magic element. there are few of us who enjoy being told what to do. if anyone tries to tell you how to bring up your child then instantly (in my case for sure) a reaction occurrs that we are barely able to contain, if at all.
    when we have discussions within a neutral environment like the school and ask questions like “What do you think would benefit your child the most?” all of a sudden we are thinking outside, away from ourselves and genuinly thinking of others, of the kids. its in moments like this that “Could we do more as parents at home?” type of questions can be delivered and recieved considerately by us many disenfranchised, angry and hurting folk. Rather than being told, we are asked to consider.

    genuine magic!

    therein lies the wonder and the empowerment and the hope, engaging folk to the point wherby they are so engaged as to be energised, to be realised as actualised individuauls within a whole.

    “At home good parenting has a significant positive effect on childrens achievement and adjustment even after all other factors shaping attainment have been taken out of the equation” etc.

    experienctially true to me the above and so…

    i think school can bring people in with severly messed up backgrounds or on-going situations and get them outside of themselves, via open and honest discussions with other community folk. i have witnessed this. schools cannot provide a full and well rounded perspective for a child to grow up in alone, anymore than parents can. we all tire at some point of our parents advice, or of rules at school. thats where the significant ‘other’ adult, be it teacher, headmaster, uncle or your best mates dad or mam comes in and tells you exactly the same thing, but in another way, sometimes way down the line.

    we hear when we can, what we have to hear as individuals, and schools and parents have differences to offer, as well as continuity. working together in trust and mutual respect opens a world any child can enter and leave fully aware of doing so, on thier own uniqe terms.

    ste

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  4. simonmfeasey

    Ste,

    Thank you so much for this. I could not have asked for a more insightful and intelligently put viewpoint from a member of the school community I proudly consider myself to be a friend of. You are so right to highlight the issue of trust. I have had so many fantastic conversations with you on this and we would do well to remember that trust is not ours to give, rather it should be a given. For me, in school communities, the same applies to power. That is, exercise “power with”, as opposed to “power over”. I urge you to read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire sets out to help people identify and challenge the sources of their oppression. Freire says that the pedagogy of the oppressed is an instrument for critical discovery – by both oppressor and oppressed – that both are manifestations of dehumanisation. He likens liberation to a childbirth, and a painful one. The oppressor-oppressed contradiction is superseded by the humanisation of all people. Food for thought as we continue to challenge current ‘reality’?

    Thank you, too, for your kind words. Over the years I learned so much from simply ‘being there’, truly being there, with and for, all school community members. To all those bearing the privilege that is school leadership, I urge you to go beyond servant leadership and place yourself in and with your school community. Always remembering, as Saul Alinsky said’ “You organise with your ears, not your mouth”.

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  5. Ste Marsay

    Hello there friend of this community, and friend of mine for i consider you so.

    My kind words simply reflect my reality, my perspective and being aware that it is the only reality in which i can have any possible chance of making sense, leastways to myself. Not neccesarilly to others at all points but as a favourite auther of mine states, “Every perception is a gamble” and so i enjoy absorbing information without buying into the truth or lack thereof. i mention this only in relation to your ‘challenge current reality’ comment. i agree challenging has to happen and i am experiencing it happening now, this interchange of ideas and thoughts being a case in point but far from being the only one.

    Consensus reality appears a deeply disenfranchised affair. I recently had a very bizzare exchange with a friend of mine whom is about to turn thirty and whom was absolutly devastated at the recent election result on the morning following the election. He actually spoke aloud the cliche “this countrys going to the dogs and i want to leave”. i councilled him laughingly that that particular cliche is reserved for those over sixty only who have become severly dissinterested.

    Anyway, as the morning wore on he was still amidst the gloomings and we spoke some more. he has studied polotics and been a young conservative etc and he says “i really would like to enter polotics to do some good but the thing is ste i dont like lying”

    It was only whilst driving home hours later that the full significance of this comment came to the fore for me. On the one hand he was stating that polotics was about lying and poloticians lie and on the other he was upset by the fact that the liars he wanted to tell him the lies he wanted to hear did not get the majority vote he was hoping for!!!

    Thats a classic case of cognitive dissonence, the idea of holding two incompatible notions or concepts together. of course if he understood that every perception is a gamble he would not have bought into any notion one hundered percent and could have possibly have achieved some slack in his reckonings. he’s fine by the way and a good soul.

    I relate this tale to emphasise that its not only folk from underprivalaged backgrounds that can get messed up (my last post emphasising the fractured, disonnected and untrusting community) but to highlight that those from privalaged ones can and do find themselves in the same holes. Lonely, isolated holes well outside of the ‘Wholes’ that we are envisaging, are part of and are working towards regaining through community.

    To carry on, i loved reading the “Power with” as opposed to “Power over” statement and have ordered the book this evening and am absolutly dying to figure out and find out what the **** the word Pedagogy may mean. sounds Welsh to me and i had to look back to see if i spelt it right. Also, after completing my order suggestions popped up and there was Ivan Illich :- Deschooling society, which i have and read years ago. may well revisit sometime soon.

    thats me for now, a final thought.

    “In life you have to carry with you with a big bag of trust so that if some gets broken or lost, you’ve got some left”

    Ste

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