We need to build community capacity (a.k.a. Agreeing with Jeff Utecht)

Earlier this week I disagreed with Jeff Utecht. Today I’m going to heartily agree with him. Over at the SchoolFinder blog, Jeff said:

It was interesting yesterday at a parent coffee we held where Kim Cofino and I showed the parents Karl Fisch’s Did You Know video. We had one parent ask “What is the school doing to prepare my child for this future?” That’s what we need. We need the parents to start asking those questions of our school. We need to educate our school boards, our parents, and then we will see change…..hopefully.

I’m absolutely delighted that the parent asked one of the questions from the end of Did You Know? 2.0. That’s exactly why Karl, xplane, and I included those questions – to prompt some parental and community pressure on school organizations and policymakers.

Many of us spend a lot of time working with educators, trying to help them envision what a change to a 21st century teaching-learning model might look like. But usually we don’t spend nearly enough time working with parents and community members – creating the vision, answering questions, and addressing concerns.

We need to be better communicators with our local folks, and by that I mean our entire community, not just the school board. We need to take every opportunity we can to have group conversations with parents and community supporters. They need to understand how our personal and professional lives are changing dramatically because of these digital technologies. Even if they’re not living it themselves at home or at work, they’re feeling the effects through their children, their employer, or their friends and family. But they may not understand exactly the depth of what’s occurring…

Help them understand. A side chat at a school event or over the back fence can pay dividends later when the school system asks for the community’s suppport. E-mailing a couple of videos can spark a conversation when you bump into someone at the grocery store, soccer game, or band concert. Invite a few people over for snacks and, while the kids play in the backyard or you play bridge, bring up a couple of issues for them to think about.

We need to invest more in our communities’ capacity to understand and to assist.

What are some successes that you’ve had with your local community? What are some good strategies that you can share for facilitating local stakeholder buy-in for 21st century-related change initiatives?

9 Responses to “We need to build community capacity (a.k.a. Agreeing with Jeff Utecht)”

  1. In a world where “professional learning communities” is the language du jour in professional development, has anybody tried applying the model to parents? I’m thinking “beyond PTA” or something.

  2. Scott,
    You hit the nail on the head with this one. This is what I was trying to say in last week’s thread when I wrote: “I think the question of “What is the purpose of our schools?” is a great one and easier to answer than you think. The answer: Whatever the local community wants it to do.”

    Thank you for saying it better than I could.

  3. Scott,

    We have learned that if we are going to be successful and have change sustain over time we must focus on what Fullan calls coherence. Because we use jargon, we need to create opportunities so that all of us have the same understanding of what the terms mean.

    Our change effort is focused on what we call Classroom 10. (http://www.tahoma.wednet.edu/about/technology/classroom10.htm)

    We need to ensure that all of us have common understanding of what it is and why we must move in this direction. We are creating video for use on our website, at school events, and with community groups such as Chamber and Rotary. Our goal for the year is to have EVERY district employee, regardless of job function, answer the questions why and what of Classroom 10 correctly when asked by someone in the community.

  4. It’s in the calendar once a month to hold a technology parent coffee where Kim Cofino and I are doing just that…educating and empowering our parent community. After our first meeting they told us some topics they want to learn about. Of course the first one on their list is safety. So we plan to show them some ideas using the school laptops, but also teach them how to be a better searcher with Google. They help their children at home look up things all the time for projects, so we plan on teaching the parents how they can use Google better to find the results they need. Now if only we were given the same time with teachers, we’d be golden!

  5. I think the best practice here that’s not leveraged enough is to work the effort for community outreach through the school board. I hear what you’re saying; that it’s not enough for school leaders to limit their local community advocacy to the school board. But really about the only thing school boards can do effectively as a group is take the message about their district to the community. Unfortunately too often school boards get bogged down in micro-managing their districts and spending time on topics outside their governance boundaries. I would suggest the best school boards focus most of their energy on building public trust, and board members have a unique position in the community to do this. It’s one thing for a Superintendent to be telling the public about good things going on in the schools. It’s far better to have that same message come from an elected board member. Bravo to school leaders that are able to develop this relationship with their school boards and can get their school boards to look outside the district to the community with the same passion they look inside at district operations.

  6. Scott-

    Very well said! How do we as educators make our curriculum relevant to the real world if we don’t ask the real world what is important?

    For administrators looking for help with this, the person who articulates this best is Karen Mapp, who has spoken at SAI the past couple of years. She mentions the missed opportunities educators have to draw in parents and the community as a supportive partner. Locally in Iowa, Ed Redalen has done the most work with community involvement.

  7. How do we help them understand? As a “school board” type I ask myself this question everyday.

    The district in which I govern has a superintendent who “gets it” and technology mentors who “live and breathe it” and I see more and more teachers “experimenting with it” and liking the results. But I meet very few parents who are “demanding it” of the system.

    Governance is a difficult job. We need to explore what the community wants in our system (the big picture), but it is often the community that wants to get lost in the details – they have a hard time getting past “the way it used to be”.

    Any suggestions you have for us governance types on creating the vision are most welcomed!

  8. School Boards work to learn the community’s vision for the school all the time. They use community forums, district improvement teams, focus groups, etc. to do this. But why not set up a model where the board uses parent involvement as a mechanism to collect feedback about the community’s vision for the school?

  9. Scott,

    I’m one of those local folks you described (not a teacher or parent) and I couldn’t agree with you more about including the broader community. I have served as an adviser to technology programs at several schools over the last seven years and the reason was always the same: personal connection. Someone, a teacher, asked me to help.

    Without kids in the system I have no reason to connect with the school system and as a greater percentage of the population falls into the category, the more difficult it will be for schools to maintain the status quo, let alone change.

    You can see a much longer post at my Advisory Bored blog.

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