Keys to Community Engagement
KEY 2: Reach Out
“Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”
Knowing the community surrounding your school ‒ and encouraging your staff and parents to learn about and engage with the community ‒ is an essential component of an authentic community engagement strategy.
The essential challenge is to transform the isolation and self-interest within our communities into connectedness and caring for the whole. We begin by shifting our attention from the problems of community to the possibility of community.
Learn about your community ‒ Community Structure
A NLC team can turn to the Rules of Engagement outlined in Education and Community Building, Connecting Two Worlds,which encourage school staff to find out where students and families live, work and play. It recommends that educators ask some of the following questions:
- What banks, hospitals, community organizations, civic groups and businesses provide services or jobs?
- What local issues are people talking about on call-in shows and in the news?
- What committee structures already operate in the community? (i.e., early childhood, literacy, interagency, social development)
- What assets are available that might help the school?
- What school resources might be useful to other community groups?
Learn about your community ‒ Community Mosaic
There can be many diverse perspectives that exist in schools and communities. All differences connected with ethnicity, culture, language and socio-economic status need to be acknowledged and addressed when involved in community engagement. Consider the following ideas as ways to be in touch with the people who make up your community.
Create a community “hub” where all are welcome
Opening up the school for neighbourhood events ‒ for community meetings, arts-and-crafts shows, neighbourhood association meetings, birthday parties, African drumming classes, Bollywood dance classes, among other things ‒ provides an entry point for those community residents who might not have any other reason to visit the school.
Find out about your community via surveys
One way school leaders can find out about members of the community is to survey families, students and staff about specific issues or needs. This allows schools and school districts to gauge community opinions on specific questions and get feedback from members who may not feel comfortable attending or contributing at a town-hall meeting. The other advantage to surveys is that the costs are minimal.
Many school leaders engage in the work of the community at gatherings, such as track meets, family dances or art shows. Community engagement is often done in unstructured settings and ways.
Leaders and teams who prefer more structured settings can hold focus group or town-hall meetings to engage stakeholders. Meeting formally can be used initially to invite the community to learn about NLCs and be a part of an NLC. Place ads in newspapers and on your website and invite the community to find out about how they can participate.
Engage with your Aboriginal Community
Fifty one school districts have signed an Education Enhancement Agreement. These communities have worked hard to establish honest and effective consultation processes. Use these relationships that are established to begin a dialogue about NLCs in your community. Refer to the Aboriginal Community Engagement Guide for additional hints on how to successfully engage your Aboriginal community.
Engage with Students
NLCs are a vehicle to assist schools and districts to bring services and programs to schools that support student achievement, student health and student well being. Students, usually those at the secondary school level, can bring their unique knowledge, ideas and perspective to school and district discussions about NLCs, sharing how they see their school being used beyond the school day. Student engagement in the NLC development process creates opportunities for student involvement, social responsibility and leadership. Refer to the Student Engagement Guide for additional information on how to successfully engage students.
Encourage an ongoing dialogue about education
Create and maintain an open dialogue with the public through newsletters, public meetings, informal conversations in the community and other vehicles. Begin to pave the way toward public awareness, helping community members see that they are part of a network of responsibility for student success and that their involvement in an NLC can positively impact students. When ideas about education are placed in the public forum, the public becomes more accountable for implementing the programs and ideas they believe will help students achieve desired outcomes.