In IT’S COMPLICATED: An Examination of the Complex Relationship Between School and Community, Lesley Fisher, Eklund Consultant, presented the inherent stressors that cause the school/community alliance to be strained.
As we continue our consideration of this relationship, we transition to taking steps toward building a solid foundation wherein the school and the community can work together for the betterment of all parties, especially their students.
You get what you get and you don’t get upset.
In the midst of her preschool student teaching assignment, my college roommate adopted this mantra. It seemed to work quite well for five year olds learning to wait their turn to speak, accepting that they must share the green Crayola, and recognizing that the most favorite, most cozy, most coveted bean bag chair in the room was not available to them every single second of every single day. These lessons are important. We are a small part of a bigger community, and we cannot always have what we want, right when we want it. At a very young age, we are taught to bite our tongue, accept the situation, and roll with it.
Does the same adage apply here? Should we simply accept that this is the way it is? That tensions will be high between school and home no matter what? That periods of blissful peace will give way to times of discontent and ire? That we need to brace ourselves to put out the next fire? That we should hold our breath, cross our fingers, and hope that our parents and community members are either too busy, too disenchanted, or worse yet, too apathetic to care?
The resounding answer is NO.
While there is no magic cure for this dis-ease that exists between the two parties, I offer practical suggestions for those committed to improving relations:
Prepare to engage
Assess where you currently are. How would you describe the current climate between your school and your community? Strained? Is there an air of mistrust? Perhaps morale is high? Consider if you are in the build, repair, or strengthen phase of the process.
Determine how and when administrators and teachers currently engage parents and community members, both formally and informally (Open House, conferences, BOE meetings, community forums, press releases, principal coffees, etc.). Have these practices proven to be successful at reaching your community? Recognize there are many opportunities, some traditional, others out of the box, you can employ to successfully engage your community. Prepare for these opportunities. Prepare teachers for these opportunities.
Seek and encourage input from all stakeholders. Identify parent leaders who champion your school as well as those in the community who overtly voice their displeasure and confusion regarding your policies and practices; engage them both.
Let’s be clear
While we cannot control the emotions and demands that enter into our school, we can control what gets pushed out. Schools desiring to benefit from an enhanced relationship with their public will be clear, concise, and consistent in their communication. While transparency reigns supreme and timeliness is important, ensure all messages are fully vetted. Once it’s out there, it’s out there.
You have not reached the finish line
You can celebrate as you have committed to this process, but accept and embrace that this is an ongoing conversation. As months and years pass, players and focuses will shift. The administration who once emphasized standardized tests scores at parents’ requests will be replaced by a team dedicated to the emotional wellness of students. We must remain flexible and dynamic as the needs and wants of our schools, their parents, and extended communities evolve. With the strong foundation set, though, there is strength in this union that will stand the test of time. Conversations become easier and more frequent, ideas are exchanged, and solutions are realized.
There will always be those you simply cannot reach, no matter how good your intentions are, no matter how well you plan, and no matter how clear the message. The sooner you accept this the better. But in time, as this relationship between school and home flourishes, those voices will be quieted by the many with whom you have sincerely become partners.
The next time we engage with the school/community relationship, we will discover the many benefits of taking the time and effort to strengthen this fragile relationship. Is this even a worthwhile endeavor?
The resounding answer is YES.
Lesley Fisher specializes in communications and community outreach. Her work positions Eklund Consulting clients to thrive in their relationships with their surrounding communities and constituents.