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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

Terms of Use ▼

Joel Nitzberg
Cambridge College

Students who are currently working or preparing to work in the fields of education and human services will be engaged through interactive learning experiences to understand the development of partnerships with schools to reach, engage, and support families. The model for community success includes building partnerships and providing supports and opportunities that promote active and positive working relationships. School personnel, families, students, service providers, and other community members must see one another as allies.

Supporting parents as they are involved in their children's education can include providing them with hands-on activities, learning events, and information that not only are comfortable and familiar, but provide them with a genuine experience of what can be done beyond the school walls. It is critically important that educators and service providers develop the understanding and skills to work with a cross-section of families, and to move beyond the more traditional principles and practices that maintain barriers.

The discussions, assignments, and in-class activities will provide students with a vision and practical knowledge of what effective partnerships look like and how to strategize ways of tapping into community resources. Throughout the course, students will learn from one another through small group discussions, exercises, and simulations. Reading material will support classroom discussions. By the end of the course, each student will have designed and submitted a plan to promote school and community partnerships.

This course is geared towards undergraduate students in Human Services and in the Multi-Disciplinary program.

Scheduling: 14 weeks, 2 hours and 20 minutes, Mondays, 6:10 to 8:20

Level: Intermediate to advanced (students should have some experience working in the field and recognizing the need for collaboration. They also should have skills in making assessments, predicting outcomes, and analyzing situations. Experience working in the community and understanding the challenges of reform would be useful.)


  • Students will be able to define key concepts, and the benefits and challenges when forming collaborations between schools and the community.
  • Students will be able to describe a system of community partnerships to support families.
  • Student will describe how specific cases support the need for schools and community organizations working together.
  • Students will have developed a specific plan to create a collaborative program or project between schools and community organizations.
  • Students will apply concepts learned through the course to one's own personal and professional lives.

The grade will be based on:

  1. A paper based on the process of collecting data about your community. The data you are collecting should provide you with information that will allow you to make some analysis on potential successes and problems.
  2. End of course presentation—five to six students presenting to the class an individual project depicting a specific collaboration selected. (The last couple of classes will be used for each group to have a half hour for their presentations)
  3. Each student needs to have attended a school council or school committee meeting. A paper will be written to describe the experience and what was discovered in terms of the group's relationship with family and community involvement.
  4. A brief assessment on the progress of the presentation group, including what they are learning regarding their own collaborative efforts.
  5. Weekly assessments in journals. Journals will be collected during the semester.
  6. Class participation
  7. Attendance
  8. Final paper describing what a collaboration would look like between schools, the community, and families. The paper includes information regarding the benefits to families and partners, the process for establishment, challenges, who needs to be involved, and specific programs that could emerge. The paper must include references to class discussions and to readings.

Teaching Methods: A variety of instructional styles and methods will be used in this course including large and small group activities and discussion, lecture, case presentations, and audiovisual materials.

Required Readings:

Conard, C., & Novick, R. (1996). The ecology of the family: A background paper for a family-centered approach to education and social service delivery. Northwest Regional Education Laboratory.

Excerpts from: Hooper-Briar, K., & Lawson, H. A. (Eds.). (1996). Expanding partnerships for vulnerable children, youth, and families. Alexandria, VA: Council on Social Work Education.

Handouts provided by the instructor from: Melaville, A. I., & Blank, M. J. (1993). Together we can: A guide for crafting a profamily system of education and human services. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.


I. Introduction to the course and the importance of dialogue
The introductory exercises will provide students with an understanding of their connections to the subject areas being studied. Small groups of students describe a strength or interest that may be a resource for building a collaboration.

II. Definition of a community
A community is a set of people bound together by common interests, goals, problems, or practices on a shared channel system. Because the issues in each community are unique, the activities set up for them will differ. There may be individual, group, and/or community interventions. Available resources will affect outcomes. Discussion will include definitions of “community.” Students will develop a list of the needs and challenges of a community and determine how a “school community” contrasts with other definitions.

III. Families: The challenges, hopes, and potentials
“In fundamental and far-reaching ways parents affect the strength of our communities, the capacity of our economy, and the validity of our democracy. We demean and devalue these precious parental energies at our peril. Which brings us to the main thrust of the book: what can this society do to revalue and revitalize the art and practice of parenting and thus replenish our children and renew our nation?” Hewlett, S. A., & West, C. (1998). The war against parents: What we can do for America's beleaguered moms and dads. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Discussion of roles, demographics, lifestyles, mobility, the challenges families face, and the strengths that they possess. Impact of community and schools on families and implications in terms of developing partnerships and policies.

IV. Understanding strengths and barriers
What prevents people from achieving goals? Looking at families, schools, and the community in terms of the obstacles involved in forming partnerships.

V. Introduction to collaboration
The elements of a successful collaboration, the “6 R's” of participation, possible pitfalls, benefits from collaborating. Keys to success, the potential players, what groups bring to an issue. Small group exercises on the collaborative process.

VI. Collaboration continued

VII. Crafting a vision and practice of parent involvement
Generating ideas about programs/activities tapping into resources and the groups in the community. Identifying stakeholders, values, roles in the community, current realities, the critical forces in our systems, influential trends, the major losses, and the gains.

VIII. Supporting families
Changing direction toward a pro-family system requires expanding the capacity of helping institutions. The characteristics of a pro-family system: comprehensive; preventive; family-centered and family-driven; integrated; flexible; sensitive to cultural, gender, and racial concerns; outcomes-oriented, school-linked; rooted in the community; closely connected to state government; data-driven; provides leadership development; engages communities in decisions about social and economic well-being of children and families; and able to balance the political and technical dimensions of system change.

IX. Linking schools with the home
Students will describe how specific supports can be offered to families by schools. Discussion on what family involvement in education looks like and practical ways to create family involvement culture in schools. Discussion on school environments with students sharing their own experiences as a way of determining how a vision of linking schools with families, and ultimately with human services might work.

X. Linking schools with the home continued

XI. Informal and formal systems in the community
Each family creates its own set of relationships with informal and formal systems that are available within a community. A family's informal social resources grown naturally out of interactions with others through extended family, religious and social groups, hobbies, or work. Informal support networks provide emotional support, guidance, and assistance. This support is often more available and culturally appropriate than support offered by formal support organizations. Both systems provide resources to be tapped. When families are connected to support in the community, risk is reduced, and strength is promoted. This session focuses on how to strengthen families by helping them connect to the different informal and formal resources in their communities.

XII. Strategies for engaging the community
Former US Assistant Secretary of Education David Seeley has written that, in American education, there are two underlying concepts at the heart of the successful reforms now underway: (1) a shift to much higher standards and expectations for children's learning, and (2) a shift to a collaborative model to achieve these expectations. The shift to a collaborative model has involved dramatic changes in school, family, and community relations in the United States. These changes may be organized in the following: School-Family Relations, Parenting and Parent Education, School-Family Communication, Parent Involvement in Education, Parent Empowerment, School-Community Relations, and School-Linked Services.

Strategies will be discussed regarding family and community involvement in curriculum, support services such as mentoring and tutoring, use of agencies to support the work going on in schools, enlisting the aid of media and businesses, service learning, and other initiatives that require collaborative processes.

XIII. Group presentations

XIV. Group presentations, evaluation, and course review


Recommended books for further reading:

Evans, R. (1996). The human side of school change: Reform, resistance, and the real-life problems of innovation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gray, B. (1989). Collaborating: Finding common ground for multiparty problems. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Maeroff, G. I. (1998). Altered destinies: Making life better for school children in need. New York: St. Martin's.

Hewlett, S. A., & West, C. (1998). The war against parents: What we can do for America's beleaguered moms and dads. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Other material:

Levy, J. E. (1993). A funder's perspective on school-linked services. Family Resource Coalition.

Melaville, A., & Blank, M. (1992). What it takes: Structuring interagency partnerships to connect children and families with comprehensive services [Booklet]. Education and Human Services Consortium.

Coltoff, P. (1998). Community schools: Education reform and partnership with our nation's social service agencies. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.

Kagan, S. L., & Neville, P. R. (1993). Family support and school-linked services: Variations on a theme. Family Resource Coalition.

Farrow, F., Watson, S., & Schoor, L. (1993). A framework for improving outcomes for children and families. Family Resource Coalition.

Levy, J. E. (1993). A funder's perspective on school-linked services. Family Resource Coalition.

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Published by Harvard Family Research Project