Author: Lara Smith
Education Thought Leader
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed. It is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
When it comes to creating the best educational experience for students, most educators can agree that it takes a village. Committed teachers, administrators, parents, community members, students, and others, work together to build a well-rounded educational experience and support the whole student in their learning.
Education does not exist in a vacuum.
One tool we as educators have to enhance our students’ experience is to leverage partnerships between schools and community-based organizations.
What is a Community-Based Organization
Community-based organizations (CBOs) are entities that work at a local level to respond to community needs. CBOs include nonprofit organizations, social service agencies, and community groups such as neighborhood groups or recreation clubs.
How it Works
In school-community partnerships, CBOs are often able to enhance the students’ experience in ways that schools are not able to, either because of funding restrictions or personnel ratios.
Some examples of school-community partnerships include:
- A chess team offering lunchtime chess lessons at a middle school.
- Local chapters of a large CBO like the YMCA or Boys & Girls Club running after school childcare programs at an elementary school.
- The neighborhood garden club working with a biology class to create a community garden with high school students.
These partnerships can be sought out by either the schools or the CBOs. Typically local organizations have a ‘menu’ of offerings they can provide, and contract with local schools or districts to implement them.
The CBOs are often referred to as ‘service providers,’ which is an umbrella term to cover the organizations, staff, and volunteers.
Why Work Together
There are many reasons that school-community partnerships are beneficial. Taking some of the load off classroom teachers while also exposing students to new viewpoints and personalities are at the top of the list.
Other benefits of these partnerships include:
- Opportunities for very specific offerings – while there may not be enough students at one school to justify hiring a chess teacher, a CBO that specializes in chess education can work at multiple schools, serving small groups. Spreading the cost out among a few schools allows everyone to access these specialized resources.
- Opportunities for creative programming – often CBOs can provide students access to subjects that are otherwise unavailable. Knitting clubs, lacrosse teams, coding, gardening, robotics, bicycling, music, performance arts…the list goes on and on. These are activities that are proven to help students achieve higher academically, yet do not always fit into the standard school curriculum.
What it Means for Teachers
As a classroom teacher, partnering with a CBO can be both exciting and stressful. It is exciting because someone with subject-matter expertise will be coming in and supporting our students, engaging with them in ways we might not have the skills or capacity to do, and opening them up to amazing new experiences.
Challenges like balancing our expectations, letting go of control of our classroom, and communicating with partners whose time with us is limited, can all be stressful aspects of these partnerships.
Here are three tips for teachers to help ensure a school-community partnership is successful:
Trust – As long as the organization and its staff are vetted and, when applicable, licenced, teachers can trust that they are there with best intentions and to support the students. They will not know exactly how you run your classroom or manage behavior, but they will have expertise that you do not.
It is best to divvy up responsibilities ahead of time. For example, the service provider is responsible for leading the activities and setting-up/breaking-down the supplies while the teacher is responsible for getting the students to the location on time and managing student behavior.
Be realistic – Just as teachers do not know every student’s name and their individual needs on the first day, service providers will not either. They often have the added challenge of joining a classroom or school community when it is already formed, and navigating the norms and culture. Expecting them to know how things operate is unrealistic.
If there is time, introduce new service providers to the community before the partnership begins. Often the time constraints of service providers and teachers mean there is not time for that, which means you should prepare for some bumps along the way. Knowing they may happen will make you prepared to handle them.
Respect – This is a big one. School staff can be wary of service providers. They may not be trained educators; they may have a very different approach to youth development; or they may have a different relationship to the students.
It is important to remember that just as you are there to serve the needs of the students, so are they. If you do not like the way something is being done, approach the service provider the same way you would a colleague or teammate. Clear, honest communication will go a long way in the success of a school-community partnership.
School-community partnerships can be amazing ways to enhance a student’s educational journey. They can also enhance teachers’ experience and open our communities up to amazing things. As long as both parties enter into the partnership with open minds and ready to communicate, these partnerships can be very powerful because, as the saying goes, the whole really can be greater than the sum of its parts.
Foqas is founded, in 2014, with the VISION to help educators experience greater success to have a stronger impact on student achievement. We have three objectives: 1) Build supportive communities for teachers to connect with each other. 2) Promote a culture to share knowledge and experiences with others. 3) Guide teachers to become leaders in their fields of interest.
To learn more about Foqas and how we support teachers: visit www.foqas.org
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