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Engage Your Community as a School Leader

One of the most effective ways for principals and other school leaders to exhibit good leadership is by building relationships not only with the school's staff and parents but also with the community.

Benefits of Partnering With the Community

Connecting with nearby businesses, colleges, hospitals, social service agencies, youth organizations, government agencies, neighborhood associations and other organizations all count as partnering with the community. National Standards for Family-School Partnerships from the PTA states that collaborating with the community means "connecting the school with community resources."

The PTA says that family-school-community partnerships provide the following benefits:

  • Greater student success.
  • Higher teacher morale.
  • Increased parent involvement.

"How Family, School, and Community Engagement Can Improve Student Achievement and Influence School Reform" is a literature review that looks at many research studies and reports that involving community organizations improves school and student outcomes. It references a 2016 study by Manuelito Biag and Sebastian Castrechini published in Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk. This study found that family engagement programs improved attendance and math achievement scores.

In a longitudinal study published in 2016 by the Journal of Child and Family Studies, researchers Ming-E Chen, Jeffrey Alvin Anderson and Lara Watkins examined outcomes when four schools offered family literacy programs, health services, extended learning, family engagement and wraparound services. These initiatives led to a notable increase in parent-teacher communication, parental endorsement of the school, and parent-teacher and parent-school relationships.

How Engaging the Community Helped a Low-Performing School

Take the case of a struggling Title I school. It did not have the parents' trust, and its poor performance placed it on the takeover list of the state department of education.

The school's PTA identified the main reason for the lack of parental involvement -- poverty. Many of the parents felt incapable of partnering with the school because they were in survival mode, providing for their families' most basic needs.

The PTA enlisted the help of a community college and several nonprofit organizations to provide the families with resources.

Through these partnerships, the school could:

  • Help parents earn their GED.
  • Provide job-skills training.
  • Offer after-school programs.
  • Assist home buyers.

Since these activities occurred at the school, it became a hub for the community. These efforts improved communication between families, the principal and the teachers. Student achievement improved as did grades and test scores.

How School Leaders Can Engage the Community

The PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships: Implementation Guide proposes the following steps to help the school build a relationship with the community:

  • Find partners that can help the school achieve its goals.
  • Build trust with the partners and understand what each can contribute.
  • Work with the partners to create a shared vision on successful outcomes for the partnership.
  • Ensure that work with partners helps strengthen families and links to student learning.

"Tips to Help a New School Principal Survive the First Year" includes two tips that relate to the community. No doubt, the principal should introduce himself or herself to the parents and the students. But the article also recommends meeting members of the community.

The second tip is to learn about the traditions of the community and district. For instance, the celebration of a holiday may be a priority for a school district, and effective school leaders are judicious when they want to change longstanding traditions. They create a committee of parents, teachers, students and community members. The committee feels empowered to discuss the change and the school leader then has the opportunity to consider their input. The committee may find a compromise that works for everyone.

Here are a few simple strategies from ThoughtCo. to help school leaders engage families and the community:

  • Hold a monthly open house or game night that covers current topics.
  • Host a weekly lunch with 10 parents to discuss concerns about the school.
  • Have the staff vote monthly on people to recognize and thank with incentives like gift cards, a special parking space, an article in the school or PTA newsletter, or a mix.
  • Invite local businesses to a fair to give students the opportunity to learn what they do, how many employees they have, and what skills and education are needed for employment.
  • Start a reading program that offers community members opportunities to volunteer.

School leaders can also ask teachers, families and the community for ideas on how to partner with the community.

How to Learn to Engage the Community

Education leaders and teachers looking to move into school leadership roles can enroll in professional development or a graduate program that covers community engagement. Eastern Michigan University, for example, offers a Master of Art in Educational Leadership online program.

In the course Community Education and Community Relations, students learn how to engage the community and family in meaningful ways that benefit families, the school and the community. The course explores the principles and philosophy of community engagement and its effect on education.

"It takes a village to raise a child" is a popular saying that means the whole community has a role in a child's life. Family members, school leaders, teachers and the community all have an effect on the child's growth, and partnering with the community increases the chances of success for a school and its students.

Learn more about Eastern Michigan University's online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program.


Sources:

Nellie Mae Education Foundation: How Family, School, and Community Engagement Can Improve Student Achievement and Influence School Reform

National PTA: National Standards for Family-School Partnerships

PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships: An Implementation Guide

ThoughtCo.: Strategies for School Leaders That Promote School Improvement

ThoughtCo.: Tips to Help a New School Principal Survive the First Year

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