4 Tips for Building A Relationship Between School and Community
Educators work hard to develop a sense of community inside classrooms and buildings. A strong classroom culture, established on day one, sets the tone for the rest of the year. The same spirit applies to the neighborhood and larger community around your school, an area which can unintentionally get neglected once the school year begins. You can play a deciding role in expanding the vision of your school to include the larger community. Here are four ways to help build a relationship between school and community.
1. Be a Joiner and a Connector
Anyone who has ever read or discussed Robert Putnam's turn-of-the-millennium classic Bowling Alone knows that concerns persist over declining social capital and civic engagement in America. You can help reverse this trend. Organizations that have traditionally served as civic backbones in your community—Rotary, Kiwanis, and more—desperately need fresh blood, and they need educators!
Here are just a few examples of how "joining" or being peripherally involved in community organizations has come back to benefit my school:
- Providing support for the local Rotary 4-Way Test Speech Contest came back to us tenfold when they donated $1,500 to help sponsor a major student and community event
- Attending a few Kiwanis meetings per year and volunteering for the bi-annual pancake breakfast resulted in donations and support for several school activities and scholarships
- Joining PTA allowed me to help connect that organization with local law enforcement to put on a major drug awareness program open to multiple local communities
Admittedly, the above examples may seem purely transactional, but these interactions become transformational when relationships carry over into the mission and vision of the school and/or district and lead to increased collaboration. "Joining" and collaboration tends to build upon itself until you can't imagine a time when it didn't occur, which will contribute to the strength of the relationship between school and community.
2. Build Community Around Classrooms and the Curriculum
Community building activities in the classroom, such as buddy/mentoring programs, culture-building class meetings, and more, naturally link to external community building, from interview assignments for students to conduct with family members or larger school-community events. These opportunities stem directly from the curriculum.
For example, a social studies teacher could bring in a guest speaker from the city council to speak with students about a current issue facing their community. Students could then complete a project geared toward solving that issue and present their findings to an open session of the council.
A middle school at which I worked created an annual anti-bullying and harassment kickoff cookout complete with free food, games, face painting, and family fun activities. The kickoff event was linked to the explicit anti-bullying curriculum taught at the school. Over the years, it truly became like an annual block party. The entire neighborhood always dropped by for food and good conversation.
Teachers should also be encouraged to grow their own personal learning networks (PLNs), whether through the district's learning management system (LMS) or via social media. Following other educators on Twitter and sharing information and resources on Twitter chats demonstrate an open and engaged school. Welcome your neighborhood and community to share their ideas and you may be pleasantly surprised.
3. Internet Safety Takes a Village
According to Schoology's 2018 State of Digital Learning Study, a third of respondents cited internet safety as their top digital citizenship concern but the same number also stated that they do not have a formal digital citizenship program at their schools. Again, you can play a deciding role in changing this trend.
Chances are your local law enforcement agency employs or knows people—detectives, social workers, etc.—who specialize in cybercrime and/or internet crimes against children. They are invaluable resources as guest speakers, professionals with whom to share ideas about school/district technology policies, and for when illegal activity threatens one of your students. At my high school, when a freshman girl was being groomed by a twenty-something creeper via a popular multimedia messaging app, we knew exactly who to turn to to help her and her family and stop the bad guy. Do you?
Additionally, your local law enforcement agency probably partners with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program (ICAC). ICAC provides a wealth of videos and resources for educators, parents, and children alike on their website, resources which you can share with your staff, families, and community partners on a regular basis via your communication plan and your school's learning management system. As ICAC says: "The best tool we have to prevent internet crimes against children is education." When your entire community is invested in that education, you'll have a better chance of keeping kids safe.
4. You've Gotta Have Faith
Do neighborhood churches meet at your school? Do you know which Boy Scout troops meet at the church down the street? Have you ever spoken with a faith leader at a local mosque or synagogue about the unique needs and cultural expectations of the families attending there? If not, go for it! Conversation builds connection and connection helps kids. You are not violating the constitution by learning about and serving your population of students, and your neighborhood will notice your openness and goodwill.
Start Simple and Get Involved
You don't have to be elected mayor to start bringing people together. It can be as simple as a September cookout or as extravagant as a major new volunteerism and mentoring program. The key is to develop and run with a shared vision, and the only way to do that is to share yourself with others.
Do you have any tips to share about building a strong relationship between school and community? Let us know on Twitter @Schoology