With nearly 10 years facilitating community engagement for public school districts, CCR is gaining new insights into the role of all stakeholders in delivering the best education possible. This page explores a few recent insights, with more to come.
In one district, we learned the hard way that leadership's relationship with the public will mirror its relationship with the teachers and staff that actually deliver student education. By initially foregoing a parallel staff-engagement process when we began engaging the community, we deepened the divide between "central office" and "the buildings", never a good thing when front-line professionals need to co-create any change in order to really support it. So when it came time to hire a new superintendent, we began with staff and extended the process to include community and parents, leading to passionate support for the new leader!
Students deepen the conversation
Today's students have access to an infinite amount of information, an early global perspective, and a clear point of view -- which gives them an insight into their own education that no prior generation can boast.
In Lakota, we seek the student voice more and more because of what we learn from them: that they want to learn resilience from failure; that they see teachers as partners in their educational journey, not a source of information; and that they see empathy as the single greatest skill for both personal and global prosperity. Students crafted more powerful mission statements than parents; suggested that students play a central role in their peers' emotional health; and know what works to help them learn.
But most importantly, having students in the room changes how the adults behave -- with less cynicism and more hope, fewer complaints and more suggestions, and a bias to action rather than apathy.
We plan on incorporating students more broadly and intimately as the district experiments with ways to provide the collaborative, real-life experiences that will drive student and community success.
Be a convener, accomplish more
akota Local Schools has been engaging community stakeholders for over five years. A key benefit of that consistency is the discovery of new issues and possibilities that can only come from hearing diverse perspectives. Over the course of the '16-'17 school year, stakeholders kept mentioning the need to provide more services for middle school students -- especially to address social and emotional issues before they become problems in high school.
But with district resources already stretched thin, Lakota board member Lynda O'Connor suggested that the Caring Community Collaborative (which she co-founded) host a conversation at Edge Teen Center that included Lakota Schools and the area's other providers of teen services.
The 25 in attendance broke into small groups to discuss their mutual challenges, unique gifts, and what they might do together that they can't do alone. Possibilities included increasing student service leadership, coordinating 24/7 services for the whole family, and building community and business partnerships among many others).
Several insights emerged upon reflection: how little they knew about each others' work despite their common playing field; how quickly new partnerships can form that meet mutual needs; and how important more dialog would be to improving the overall level of service for students -- integrating services from churches, townships, school districts, and traditional human service organizations.
This year we are continuing the conversation on a quarterly basis to move from ideas to action, hosted by the Caring Community Collaborative but with a key role still played by the district (a pro bono professional facilitator and administrator). Importantly, district leaders have learned that they don't need to DO everything to make a difference; by becoming a convener of community partners, the district can facilitate collective action in ways no single entity could imagine -- or implement -- on their own.
New missions inspire change
Most missions are some variation of "to prepare students for success". But what kind of success? What about the success of our communities, from local to global? How is success achieved now versus 50 years ago? There are many possible answers (https://www.nifi.org/es/issue-guide/what-21st-century-mission-our-public-schools), but we know two things: 1) rarely is this question asked in a way that peels back the educational onion, and 2) everyone needs to be involved in the mission-building process for those words to become reality.
At Lakota East and Springboro Schools, we found that parents, teachers and students agree that today's public education should provide skills that transcend time and place (especially empathetic communication and group collaboration) so that students can not only support a family, but serve their community -- both during school and as adults. No longer does sitting at a desk work for most; experiential, project-based learning is essential to creating durable skills, as is student exploration and discovery.
And because they co-created the mission, students asked to lead the implementation process. Imagine the energy students can bring to a culture-change process, inspiring teachers, parents and community members to experiment and take risks that stretch education beyond state mandates.
In the end, asking "what is our mission" provides the district leadership with the moral authority and stakeholder energy to "go big" and pursue a new paradigm for American education.