A Culture of Partnerships: Guest post by Arina Bokas

The entire education community must take a close look at the trends of the Post-Digital Era through the prism of how systems of education can meet the needs of our times. A different canvas for learning is necessary to align education to these needs, which is impossible without a broad-scale change.


Why Change is Difficult

For quite a while, America’s K–12 education system has been under heavy criticism from multiple sectors, including from the government, philanthropies, marketplace, and media, all calling for a transformational change. Just a quick search on Amazon identified 15,041 books on educational change, 12,136 on organizational change, and 564 on a change in educational culture. Yet no substantial broad-scale change has occurred. Why could this be the case?

Organizational change is inseparable from personal change. Both organizations and individuals function according to their mental models that are “deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures and images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action” (Senge, 2006, p.8).

Personal change is difficult. Organizational change is difficult. Educational change, requiring mental model shifts in various individuals (educators, parents, students, community members) and in organizations in charge of education, is probably even more difficult. Education doesn’t belong entirely to one organization. It brings together stakeholders, whose commitment to change cannot be mandated by school administrators; it can only be nurtured.

Thus, while changes do happen inside discrete classrooms and schools, the only way for them to become transformative for the entire community is through a shared culture—a culture where all individual stakeholders are open to learn from each other as partners.

To do so, schools must design intentional partnerships, wherein families, community members, and schools learn together, combine resources, and share decision-making power. This requires a substantial shift in how schools think of a learning environment, which traditionally been viewed as something that educators created and sustained inside their schools.

It is time to expand this understanding and to embrace families, communities, other learning institutions, and businesses—not as helpers, but as co-builders of a powerful learning environment. Schools have to take the first step in this direction by becoming the center of a new educational culture—a culture of partnerships.


The Three Stages of A Culture of Partnership Formation

There are three factors that drive families and local communities toward education-centered partnerships:

  • Efficacy: knowledge and confidence to contribute
  • Opportunities: openings to apply knowledge or skills
  • Influence: making a difference by affecting decision making in a particular classroom, school, or district.

Each of these factors can be engaged and continuously enriched at various levels of educational leadership during each stage of a culture of partnerships formation. Depending on the main goal of what is being accomplished, there are three distinct stages to this process, namely, Creating Awareness, Seeking Engagement, and Supporting Collaboration.

Stage One: Creating Awareness

Creating Awareness, or the passive stage, is first in the formation of a culture of partnerships within a school or a district. To some degree, this could be regarded as a preparatory stage. Its main goal is to create awareness through providing information and sharing ideas.

Creating Awareness is the stage for schools to nurture important understandings about changes in education, instruction, and curriculum and why they occur. As parents and community members become familiar with the direction the schools are taking, they are more likely to actively participate in learning-related tasks.

Stage Two: Seeking Engagement

Seeking Engagement, or the experiencing stage, brings around an action. It is important to note that the term engagement in this case refers to a wide scope of activities conducted at school, home, or community locations that include anything that contributes to improving a macro-learning environment of learners.

By making parents and other family members feel welcome at school, providing multiple opportunities for families to get involved in learning, and enabling participation, teachers and school leaders can achieve an ongoing engagement.

Stage Three: Supporting Collaboration

Supporting Collaboration is the partnership stage. When families, community organizations and agencies, and other stakeholders are aware of the learning that takes place in schools, the rational behind this learning, and how it looks like in implementation, they gain valuable insight. This insight allows them to realize schools’ needs to successfully continue in this direction.

At this stage, parents, parental and community organizations, and local businesses are ready to enter collaboration, either by invitation or their own initiative. The relationships among all of the stakeholders enter the collegial state, while sharing power, resources, and common goals are supported by schools’ infrastructure.

When working towards a culture of partnerships, it is important to remember that the stages of its formation are just landmarks on the same continuous journey; they are not separate destinations. Educators who nurture a culture of partnerships in their schools, in most cases, simultaneously create awareness, engage families, build supporting structures, and seek opportunities to collaborate.


The text for this blog post is taken from Chapter 3: A Culture of Partnerships in Building Powerful Learning Environments: From Schools to Communities by Arina Bokas. This book is available for a pre-order from Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (at checkout, take 35% off with promo code RLWEB3516 through 12/30/16). It is also available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.


Arina Bokas is the editor of Kids’ Standard Magazine and a faculty member at Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan. She has served her community both as a public school and district PTA president. Arina currently works on the Michigan PTA Leadership Development Committee and produces The Future of Learning public TV series with Independence Television. Visit Arina’s Cultures of Partnerships website.

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