Theory of Action

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The Role of P-3 Community Partnerships

A Theory of Action and 7 Principles for P-3 Community Partnerships

Community partnerships of elementary schools, community-based preschools, and other organizations serving young children and their families have great potential for addressing achievement gaps. When these organizations take concerted action around a common set of goals and strategies, they are among the most effective and powerful ways of improving educational outcomes for lower income children.

I refer to these partnerships as P-3 Community Partnerships, where “P-3” stands for aligning and coordinating services across organizations beginning with prenatal care and extending through third grade. The graphic above shows how P-3 Partnerships can best support schools and community-based organizations in improving early learning outcomes. It is one of two graphics that together illustrate a theory of action for P-3 Partnerships.

theory of action tells a story about how a series of strategies are expected to lead to positive outcomes, creating what some have called a “causal story line.” As depicted in the graphic above, P-3 Partnerships implement a set of strategies to support P-3 organizations in attaining high levels of quality. Through these strategies, P-3 Partnerships help their member organizations master a set of essential organizational competencies. In a second graphic, below, the theory of action further outlines how states and communities can support these efforts, all in service of thriving children and families. The following principles, listed in the dark blue boxes in the two graphics, explain the theory of action in more detail.

Embedded in the theory of action and the associated principles are an emphasis on organizational capacity-building, on both vertical (e.g., transitions) and horizontal (e.g., wrap-around services) alignment, and on place-based initiatives that concentrate on defined geographic areas.

7 Principles of Effective P-3 Community Partnerships

  1. Implement Whole Child Approaches Systematically. Support elementary schools, preschools, and other P-3 organizations in improving cognitive and linguistic learning while deepening supports for social-emotional learning, character development, and physical and mental health as core components of their mission.
  2. Deepen Family Partnerships. Support elementary schools, preschools, and other P-3 organizations in developing strong partnerships with families with three goals in mind: 1) positive parent-child relationships, 2) families as educators, learners, advocates, and leaders, and 3) family connections to peers and community (summarized from the highly-regarded Head Start Parent, Family, and Community Engagement Framework).
  3. Master Essential Organizational Competencies. Support P-3 organizations—driven by leadership—in mastering three distinct, yet mutually-reinforcing competencies:
  • Teaching, Learning, and Care Fundamentals[1]
  • Family Partnerships, Support, and Social Ties
  • Community Connections and Aligned Services
  1. Build Capacity through Core Partnership Strategies. Build the capacity of member P-3 organizations to master the essential organizational competencies by organizing collaboration on quality improvement, improving alignment and transitions, coordinating comprehensive wrap-around services, and sponsoring community outreach and family support activities.
  2. Strengthen Neighborhoods and Communities. Design P-3 initiatives to have mutually-reinforcing impacts within defined geographic areas and link P-3 initiatives to broader cradle-to-career and community development initiatives where they exist.
  3. Build Knowledge and Capacity across Communities. Build knowledge and capacity across P-3 Partnerships within states and across networks through exchange, technical assistance, knowledge development, and knowledge dissemination activities.
  4. Practice Strategic Leadership and Data-Driven Continuous Improvement. Support leadership development and data-driven continuous improvement at every level of the P-3 system.
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Supporting P-3 Community Partnerships

For additional explanation of the theory of action and 7 principles, see this post.


[1] Developing the organizational capacity to sustain high-quality teaching, learning, and care requires well-defined supports (e.g., curricula, formative assessments, agreed-upon instructional approaches, and effective use of data), professional capacity (recruitment, retention, and collaborative professional learning) and student-centered learning climate and environments.


11 thoughts on “Theory of Action”

  1. This is such important and needed work. I caution to not forget community based childcare centers and family providers as KEY partners in this mission. Too often the focus is on the school and the principal being the know all for ece when in fact there are many well-educated and knowledgeable ece providers in the field. Because of the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership’s 30 year history of focusing on administrative and instructional leadership, I encourage you to expand your partnerships so ece providers are fairly represented in this work.

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