4 ways to re-energize your community engagement strategy

November 17, 2017 ACSA Writer

Is your district maximizing its investment in its relationships with parents, local businesses, and leaders? If you can’t think of any returns, successes, and positive changes that have resulted from your district’s recent community outreach, the answer is “probably not.” Here’s how you might refresh your focus to achieve your goals.

1. Take community engagement off the backburner

If no one is held accountable for benchmark goals, a project will not get done. Make sure that you have staff appointed to community engagement. Leadership expertise comes in handy here as your team rallies parents and helps them become allies and advocates. When district leaders, stakeholders, and the community come together, they can achieve massive change.

Your district could start a positive, clearly-defined campaign like this one, where a district wrote a list of ways to achieve a 100% graduation rate. Over 100 businesses and organizations joined them, and school board member George Giles said the initiative "brought in a lot of people who didn't have children, who in some cases felt like they didn't have a stake [in the local schools]."

It shouldn’t take a major crisis for a district to establish a plan with formal structure, engage local media in their concerns, and mobilize efforts.

2. Allow parents easy access to information

Research has established positive correlations between parental involvement and student achievement, both independently and within engagement programs. Administrators can let parents know that three of the most effective ways that parents encourage academic success are setting high but reasonable expectations for grades, talking about the school day, and encouraging shared reading. Hanover Research writes that

“systemic organization and implementation is needed for programs to have true and lasting effects... teacher training is essential for the competent and committed delivery of parental involvement programs.”

Involve parents in the decision-making process, hear about what they think students need, and respond in as personal and timely a fashion as possible. Transparency builds trust and turns parents into advocates. Many districts let parents access online portals to see grades, attendance, and other info. Some even offer classes for parents on topics like job hunting, ESL, and helping children study for tests. In communities recovering from disasters, initiatives inviting community members to schools are a crucial part of rebuilding and keeping students on track.

Family oriented activities like parent workshops, counseling sessions, and home visits improve students’ long-term school readiness, grades, test scores, and social-emotional competence. The most successful students have access to this type of outreach, a safe, nurturing home, as well as effective afterschool programs.

3. Adopt a customer service mentality

Great customer service representatives are expert communicators who build long-lasting, beneficial relationships with clients. Their communication is clear, optimistic, future-oriented, and succinct. The best school leaders are aware of their students’ background, demographics, dreams, and obstacles because this knowledge allows for targeted solutions. Poorly organized, last-minute and impersonal programs, policies, and approaches are doomed to fail.

The best community engagement programs measure success in numbers instead of just hoping for the best, so make sure that you are doing what works.

How quickly and well does your district respond to questions from the community? Since your problems are also the problems of parents, students, and stakeholders, share the message that you are all in this together and make people feel that you appreciate their time and effort. In order to get parents to advocate for your initiatives, you must address topics they are concerned about, so ask what these are. Analyze and track answers and key performance indicators using marketing analytics software so that you are not only working off of anecdotal evidence of success.

Watch out for one-way communication that informs but includes no actions a parent can take to respond or help the district change. Hold meetings where everyone can speak and represent the community; post minutes online, offer Spanish translation, free food, or other incentives.

4. Invest in personal development

Investing in personal development training makes you happier, gives you valuable marketable skills, provides some of the best networking opportunities out there, and teaches you more about newer, better approaches to difficult problems.

If your staff is not trained, they will not be able to take on new leadership roles on a community engagement team or bring to the table new visions picked from other leaders’ proven success. Personal development is the key to taking your idealistic community engagement strategy from the planning stage into action.

You can learn more about school climate and other modern education administration topics, as well as reach out to other leaders regarding best practices, at ACSA’s conferences, professional development programs, and training sessions. We even offer a mentorship program that is free to members.

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