Sunday / July 21

Engaging Students for a Healthy School Culture

A school’s culture is the result of how teachers, students, parents, and the local community embrace a school’s environment and support the school’s mandate to successfully nurture the students’ learning. When evaluating a school’s culture, one must consider the needs of the community and how effectively the school is meeting the individual student’s needs. For example, an urban school with limited community resources may be incredibly successful in engaging its students’ community by creating relevant and rewarding project-based learning experiences for all stakeholders. A school with a high performing student body and significant community partnerships may not successfully engage reluctant learners. After considering these examples, it becomes obvious that every student should feel that they have the potential and ability to participate in successful learning experiences.

Below are eight practices that school leaders can use to effectively engage students and improve their academic success:

    1. There are no surprises. Schools must publicize expectations for all students by grade level. Classroom teachers should explain classroom management procedures to students and follow their described procedures.
    2. Schools can incorporate an ongoing review of student success indicators. Some schools use restorative assessment surveys and student reflective discussions to identify how to successfully approach a problem to achieve academic success (i.e. see Restorative Assessment by Laura Greenstein) while others use a schoolwide Positive Behavior Support System (PBIS). PBIS provides strategies that define and support positive behavior among all of a school’s stakeholders (see
    3. Teachers should collaborate and coordinate their curricular units to support holistic and comprehensive project-based learning units of study. These units of study can include community service activities, multi-grade performing arts and historical research projects.
    4. Families and community partners can become engaged in the school community by supporting the school’s community service activities (e.g. see Developing Community-Empowered Schools by Mary Ann Burke and Lawrence O. Picus).
    5. Students must be encouraged to fully engage in an ongoing restorative assessment process to ensure that they have an influence in continuous school improvement and can help identify emerging needs.
    6. By becoming an active participant with the school community, parents can reinforce expanded learning experiences for their children outside of the school day.
    7. Community partners can provide opportunities that support STEAM project-based learning experiences within the community. These activities can help students explore and prepare for future careers and college preparation courses by providing exposure to real world applications.
    8. Colleges and universities should partner with secondary schools to provide college and career planning guidance as well as early college experiences. Such a partnership could allow students to gain college credits beginning in their middle and high school years to reduce college costs and be better prepared to be successful in college.

When students are fully engaged in their school and classroom learning experiences, they become better leaders in their school. Trained and engaged student leaders have the insight and ability to identify problem-solving solutions that will support a healthy school culture and the academic success for all of a school’s students. These engaged students develop the confidence to explore various careers with key community stakeholders and help leverage essential resources that support students’ academic successes. Essentially, engaged and successful students ensure the economic and overall success of the community that they serve.

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Mary Ann Burke has served as a credentialed parent educator and adjunct professor for over thirty years in California’s schools. Dr. Burke has presented effective parenting and school engagement strategies at numerous state and national parent engagement events. She recently authored a twin book series that includes Yikes! Brandon Has Twin Sisters, Yikes! Brandon and His Sisters Play at the Park, and Yikes Brandon and His Twin Sisters Go to School. Mary Ann is the co-author of Effective Parenting! Capable Kids! She is also the author of four Corwin Press books on parent and community engagement in schools. Mary Ann Burke previously led the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Parent Engagement Initiative that serves as a state model for best practices in parent engagement for culturally diverse families. She creates Common Core State Standards kits for parents to use at home and in their child’s classroom to support children’s literacy and academic readiness skills. Mary Ann is an active grandmother of five grandchildren. She shares this expertise with educators and school leaders as a trainer, author, and curriculum developer.

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