School districts are often at the physical center of their neighborhoods.
Parents expect their schools to educate and care for their children, while offering the best of where they live, so it’s a perfect marriage when the extended community is involved in the life and needs of the school.
The red pickup truck pulled onto the south lawn of the school, towing the dunk tank behind it. The principal came out to meet the gentleman who jumped down from the cab. Jake was one of the older farmers who lived near the school. He had called Mr.
Thompson, the principal, to offer the fire hall’s dunk tank when he saw flyers for the elementary school’s spring carnival. He had also brought his hundred-foot hose to fill it and promised he would drain the tank and return it when the carnival was over. Jake remembered the Junior Honor Society members who voluntarily shoveled his driveway last winter when he had surgery and could not do it himself. This was his way of thanking the students for their unsolicited help.This example is a simple one and illustrates how many stakeholders have an interest in the schools their local children attend. Each group within a neighborhood brings their own unique influence and connection to the school community.
Often, it’s as simple as a school neighbor who reaches out to return a favor.Students are at the center of circles of involvement. They are the focus and reason why the school exists and teachers teach. However, neither learning nor teaching happens in isolation and without moral and financial support.
Districts are undeniably limited in what can be provided when the neighbors and citizens aren’t supportive of the neighborhood school. For this reason, it’s important to remember that supporters come from a variety of public and private sectors. School personnel are wise to always be facing outward when meeting and greeting the public.
Since anyone can access testing data, district improvement metrics, and Board of Education minutes to develop a personal, fact-based opinion, strong and positive personal connections become the lifeblood to the school. If the school fails to work at positive self-promotion, many important opportunities for interaction, extracurricular activities, and financial support are lost.
The Different Connection Levels
The first and most integral level of involvement in schools are those closest to the students: family, teachers, administrators, and personal friends. These are people who have the largest vested interest in the future and direction of both the children and the school. However, even though they’ll come to study, work, pick up or drop off the students, do schools make sure they are connected enough to return for other reasons? A movement to support higher involvement is essential to attracting more community members and strengthening the school community.
How can the first level of students, teachers, and parents be drawn closer to the school? What activities should the school offer for these first tier connections? Parent teacher groups are prominent in schools and are found at the national, state, and local levels and offer membership benefits and a planned structure.
In the absence of these formalized groups, schools can provide their own structured committees with representation from teaching staff, administrators, and family members.Contemporary families involve grandparents raising grandchildren, foster parents, and both same-sex spouses and single parent family members, all of whom should not be overlooked. Conduct online surveys to identify skills and availability, then set yearly and monthly goals, develop a calendar, and brainstorm to select priorities for funding and membership drives.Some ideas for those closest to the school would be activities which directly benefit and engage students and teachers.
Think book fairs, Santa’s Workshop sales, things like popcorn or snow cone days, teacher appreciation events, and more. Students need to be included in the planning of these positive activities, much as they were when they helped shovel out Jake in the opening scenario.
School spirit and pride is critical to reaching out to the second level of stakeholders: family friends, physical neighbors to the school, local civic organizations, and the town’s Chamber of Commerce. Although consistent messaging is critical to all stakeholders at every tier, the second tier benefits from connections that reach out and often result in unique mutual activities. The Internet provides many promotional tools to create engaging newsletters, informational flyers, updated website information, and social media messaging. Add in personal phone calls and email lists, plus an external sign board at the school which is updated weekly and the school has provided a multi-faceted and visual invitation to involvement. The more these stakeholders are included, the more reason they have to connect.
In addition, it’s good practice to open the school buildings to meaningful local events and to sponsor free seminars and workshops on topics of interest that stretch beyond the school such as bullying, CPR training, blood drives, and block watch meetings. Whatever brings people into the school building will foster deeper connection and trust. While the baseline reason might be the hope for financial support, this is much more likely to happen if the school delivers a reason for generosity. Don’t be afraid to ask for support, but in the same vein, remember to reach out and offer something tangible in return.
The final level of involvement, or tier three, comes from the school’s larger audience: corporations and large civic groups such as Rotary and Kiwanis. Their interaction with the school does not always carry a dollar sign, but can come in the form of literacy tutors, sponsored student recognition, and donations in kind.
Many philanthropic organizations are lobbying for additional financial commitment, so schools need to be proactive in maintaining a positive relationship with this tier.Offer as much to them as you hope they’ll provide for you. Schools cannot give money, but certificates of recognition, unsolicited student thank-you letters, tours of the school, and genuine requests to the corporations for participation in teaching units which tie into the industries they represent are all excellent examples of reaching outward. The goodwill this fosters strengthens and promotes beneficial and positive commitment.
The lines are often blurred between tiers. School parents own businesses, corporations take on certain school districts as their philanthropic focus, grants provide unexpected but welcomed funding, and unique networks are formed.
The 21st century has seen greater transparency in many areas between schools and their communities. Undergirding that transparency should be affirming, face-to-face connections with every level of stakeholder to build a positive bridge of support. People cannot get behind what they cannot see or understand. At the heart of every school are the students and their teaching staff, and the greater the positive exposure, the more the interaction will occur.Ultimately, a positive and consistently welcoming school environment will draw in the various stakeholders with whom school personnel should connect.
When all stakeholders become better connected and, hopefully, interconnected, positive things happen, which is a plus for the center of it all: the students.