Applications to School Psychology Research and Practice

Taken together these theories and frameworks provide important information for school psychology practice and research. Guidelines for the practice of school psychology suggest that establishing and strengthening family-school partnerships is an essential activity that permeates across assessment, intervention, and consultation. Indeed, effective family—school partnerships represent a deliberate and coordinated way of doing business (Sheridan & Kratochwill, 2008). Assessment methods that go beyond simply asking families’ perspectives to integrate and seek out their input provide a richer understanding of youth’s learning and development. Consultation models that emphasize collaboration across home and school increase the resources and expertise available to support youth. Interventions that engage parents as active participants maximize impact.

The theoretical frameworks and empirical findings discussed throughout this chapter highlight three important components that undergird both the conceptualization and effective use of family-school partnerships. First, the theories and frameworks discussed clearly articulate that families are essential partners to promote youth’s learning and healthy development. Not only do families influence and shape youth’s development, but their interactions with schools and educators have a profound impact on youth’s behavior, social-emotional, and academic outcomes. In fact, many family—school partnership interventions seek to enhance this mesosystem by promoting quality and constructive relationships between families and educators. Indeed, considerable empirical support exists for interventions that operate through family-school relationships (e.g., Sheridan et al., 2012, 2017a, 2017b). In practice, school psychologists can create the conditions that support families as essential partners by engaging in productive dialogue with families, teachers, school leaders, and district leaders. By doing so, school psychologists highlight the essential value of family-school partnerships (McIntyre & Garbacz, 2014) and identify factors (e.g., family oppression by socio-political systems) that must be addressed in family—school interventions. Research has begun to uncover specific processes and practices that form the core of family—school partnership interventions. Results suggest that relational (e.g., bi-directional communication, trust) and structural (e.g., cross-system behavior intervention plans, coordinated learning experiences) activities comprise family— school partnerships (Sheridan & Kim, 2015), but it is necessary that school psychology research further discern the operative elements that are empirically related to learning, behavior, and social-emotional outcomes, as well as the ways in which family-school partnership interventions uniquely influence youth of various cultural and demographic backgrounds.

Second, the theories and frameworks explored in the present chapter also underscore that key stakeholders are integral to create the conditions that establish and strengthen family—school partnerships. Indeed, school leaders may promote school climates conducive to family—school partnerships and serve as gatekeepers for family-school initiatives and programs. Promising research indicates that particular principal practices and characteristics (i.e., collegial leadership) may help to create healthy school organizations that promote family-school partnerships (Smith & Holmes, 2019; Smith, Reinke, Herman, & Sebastian, 2020a). Further theory development in this area should consider school leaders’ role; aspects of collegial leadership may be appropriate to inform such an extension. As school psychologists receive broad training in school and family systems (Skalski et al., 2015), school psychologists can lead efforts in supporting school leaders to develop a collegial leadership style that is characterized by creating a sense of community and trusting relationships within schools. Additionally, school leaders are instrumental to developing and supporting family—school partnership programs within schools. For instance, principals can allocate sufficient resources to support partnership programs (Christenson & Sheridan, 2001). In addition, school psychologists can serve as educational or district consultants that provide information to school leaders about resources necessary to support family-school partnership activities (McIntyre & Garbacz, 2014). Beyond advocating for resources, school psychologists can also create local leadership teams focused on family—school partnerships that are inclusive of administration, teachers and parents/caregivers across all grade levels, other relevant school personnel, and community stakeholders. A school leadership team’s primary goal should be to create and support a culture of shared ownership and responsibility of school community procedures (McIntyre & Garbacz, 2014).

Finally, theories and frameworks highlight the importance of collaborative efforts that recognize that youth’s and families’ backgrounds create opportunities for continuities across environments that provide rich experiences and breadth of support for learning and development. Diversity in U.S. schools is increasing. By the year 2025, White students are predicted to comprise less than half of total student enrollment (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015). Still, much remains unknown about culturally responsive family-school partnerships. Simply providing opportunities for families of diverse backgrounds to be involved in youth’s education is insufficient given that there are likely cultural differences in expectations regarding roles and responsibilities, values, and student behavior (Hill, 2009; Ramirez, 2003; Trumbull, Rothstein-Fisch, & Hernandez, 2003; Yan & Lin, 2005). In fact, youth must navigate these differences across home and school. Within both family-school partnership practice and research, it is important to recognize the unique experiences and strengths that families bring to the table in order to effectively establish shared goals and joint practices across settings. Research is needed to uncover family-school partnership practices that are effective for diverse youth and to discern the training opportunities necessary to equip school personnel to effectively partner with families of different and various backgrounds. School psychologists can also reflect on their own practices and beliefs by assessing personal biases. Evaluating biases can help school psychologists to recognize shortcomings and identify areas for growth to improve family-school partnership practices. Further, school psychologists must consider how personal cultural differences between school personnel and families on education and child development influence opportunities for family-school partnership (Murphy, Smylie, Mayrowetz, & Seashore Louis, 2009). For example, a teacher may initially perceive a parent as disengaged from their child’s education if they are not physically present at school events. However, a parent could be absent for numerous reasons such as limited transportation, feeling intimidated by the teacher/school, or because they are working multiple jobs (King & Goodwin, 2002). To expand cultural understanding and dispel assumptions and biases among teachers and parents, school psychologists can take an active consultative role by creating a dialogue and problem solving with teachers and parents about their attitudes and approach to working with each other. Once information about attitudes and approaches is ascertained, school psychologists can use the information to build the capacity of teachers and parents for collaboration (Mapp & Bergman, 2019).

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