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The Three-Legged Stool: How We Define Our Educational Partnership

May 6, 2021 by Admin

by Soo Chang, Head of School 

Recess and RhetoricDuring my interview process for the head of school position, I was introduced to a number of key distinctives of Providence School. Among them was the high value our school placed in closely partnering with families to provide an exceptional Christian education. I have to admit, this was music to my ears, especially because it aligned perfectly with my own personal outlook on Christian education and with my philosophy of school leadership. 

This extraordinary partnership became very apparent to me last August when I was invited to come along with a couple of our Lower School teachers during their home visits prior to the start of the school year.  I had the pleasure of tagging alongside Miss Monson and Mrs. Jones. Each of them joyfully delivered a personalized “gift bag” and engaged in getting to know the students and parents. In my view, this was their first of many “partnership meetings” of the new school year. 

At the end of the visit, the teachers prayed for the student and for the upcoming school year—a year full of uncertainties due to the pandemic. Their prayers were like sweet aromas ascending before the throne of our heavenly Father. Those home visits truly demonstrated how much we treasure our partnership with families in their children’s education.

Soo Chang
Mr. Chang welcomes students back to the Canon Perdido campus in fall 2020.

PARTNERSHIP
“The particular role of a Christian school…is to partner with the parent(s) for a limited season in a child’s lifelong educational journey, by directing, guiding, and nurturing the process of the child’s development and flourishing with a view toward fulfilling God’s purpose for the child’s life.”

– from A Blueprint for a Distinctly Christian Education

Essential to academic achievement: parent-student-teacher engagement

The National Education Service has researched parent and family involvement in schools and its impact on student academic achievement. Their research indicates that the most accurate predictor of student academic achievement is not one’s socioeconomic status nor the prestige of the school he or she attends, but rather the extent to which parents encourage learning at home and involve themselves in their child’s education. The research data also seems to show that when parents are actively engaged in their children’s school life, not just involved, students not only reach higher academic achievement levels but also develop a lifelong love of learning.

Veteran educator Larry Ferlazzo discusses this family-school partnership in his article “Involvement or Engagement?”

“We need to relate to families not as clients, but as partners in school and community improvement…To create the kinds of school-family partnerships that raise student achievement,…we need to understand the difference between family involvement and family engagement. Involvement implies doing to; in contrast, engagement implies doing with.

…A school striving for family involvement often leads with its mouth—identifying projects, needs, and goals and then telling parents how they can contribute. A school striving for parent engagement, on the other hand, tends to lead with its ears—listening to what parents think, dream, and worry about. The goal of family engagement is not to serve clients but to gain partners.” 

Providence is committed to seeing our partnership with parents through the lens of engagement. And that means we are eager to listen with our ears as much as we are eager to speak with our mouths! We envision our students thriving and flourishing academically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually within this kind of organic ecosystem where our teachers/administrative staff, students, and parents are all in sync and aligned with one another. 

So, what exactly does this partnership look like at Providence? What are we doing right now, and what are our future plans for furthering our partnership, through engagement, in providing a Christ-centered education for our children that glorifies God and will be good for our society and communities? 

Providence 3-legged stool

A few examples of our partnership at work

There are multiple layers in how our teachers, students, and parents engage with one another as part of the proverbial three-legged stool. Here are just a few examples: 

  • We have a dedicated and joyful Parent Association (PA) on both campuses actively engaged in supporting the administration and faculty. Limited parent access to the campuses during the pandemic has made this year challenging, but our PA faithfully prayed for our staff and encouraged us by providing healthy snacks and delivering birthday treats.

  • We are blessed to have a unified board of directors, representing current and alumni parents, who partner with the administration in casting an exciting vision for the future direction of the school. 

  • Teachers communicate with families regularly to keep them abreast of what’s happening in their classroom and ensure there are no surprises when it comes to their child’s academic and social progress. Our division heads (Mrs. Larson, Mr. Knoles, Mr. Meadth) communicate weekly, and more often if needed, to keep our families informed about upcoming programs and events. 

  • We have an “open door” policy so parents can freely ask questions, communicate any concerns, or make suggestions. This past year, many of these dialogues were limited to emails, phone calls, or Zoom sessions, but we anticipate that in 2021–2022, we will be able to return to some semblance of normalcy and have these conversations face-to-face. 

When all three legs of the stool are aligned and engaged with one another in a symbiotic partnership for a common purpose and mission, academic achievement and personal growth will be the synergistic outcome that leads to intellectual preparation, spiritual formation, and consequently, strategic influence.

A look ahead

Safely addressing the pandemic has come at a cost, but our expectation for next year is remarkably different. In just a few weeks, the “pandemic school year” will be in our rear-view mirror and, hopefully, the trials of following the protocols will fade away. We are thankful Providence was able to reopen last fall. By God’s grace and our community’s safety practices, we stayed open throughout the year without skipping a beat.

But we recognize we’ve been deprived of the joy and pleasure of “doing life together” in person. Personally, it’s been good for my soul to welcome parents and students during carline on a regular basis, or to pop into a class ever so briefly, with my mask on, to greet our students and teachers.

Honestly, these limited engagements cannot replace the normal, meaningful, personal interactions we all long for. I can’t wait to reclaim much of what had to be placed on hold and return to those leisurely—unhurried, personal, and meaningful—conversations and engagements that boost our relationships and cement our partnership.

Through it all, our three-legged stool has served as balanced, steady support. Without it, we wouldn’t have a leg on which to stand!


Soo Chang joined Providence as head of school in July 2020. He began his career in Christian education in 2003 at The Cambridge School of Dallas, serving as admissions director and chaplain. He has been the head of school at three independent Christian schools, most recently in Portland, Oregon. Mr. Chang holds a bachelor of science degree in business administration and finance from USC and a master of divinity degree with an emphasis on Christian education from BIOLA University. 


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