STRATEGY: Ensure that all audiences have a voice and are part of the process, being conscious of various cultural, racial, and socioeconomic differences.
Schools must contend with the cultural dynamics of its internal stakeholders (e.g., students, families, teachers, etc.) in addition to external stakeholders (e.g., policymakers, business and community leaders, etc.) that impact teaching and learning. Being inclusive of all constituents is not a simple task. To ensure that all audiences have a voice and are part of the decisionmaking process—and to be fully conscious of various cultural, racial, and socioeconomic differences—is vital to developing a strategic plan that is supported by all constituents and meets the needs of every student. Stakeholders are more likely to cooperate if they understand the rationale for decisions that impact their children. Leaders must ensure that all stakeholders are represented; they must develop a deep understanding of the needs of their students based on ethnicity, race, and class; and they must ensure that during the strategic planning process, there is alignment between the school vision, practices, and resource allocation.
Parent and community involvement in schools need not be adversarial; it should include all interested stakeholders working in collaboration to improve school-wide outcomes. This is not merely about inviting stakeholders to a school-wide event; it is about ongoing collaboration focused on student learning and based on transparent, honest dialogue. To begin this collaboration, effective school leaders must establish a culture based on common values and a common vision for student achievement. This coherence can be achieved through thoughtful information sharing, with a lack of educational jargon and a desire to achieve back-and-forth communication. Staff must consider the cultural, racial, and socioeconomic differences that influence how the school communicates with parents and the community about student achievement. Efforts must be collaborative and genuine, and partnership activities must be directly aligned with student achievement goals. For example, families can assist staff with interpretation and issues of cultural and linguistic differences that can lead to more culturally competent teaching. There are meaningful roles for each party to play, and these roles are more clearly articulated when there is openness, honesty, and collaboration.
First Steps to Consider
- From the beginning, school leaders must take the initiative in forming strong partnerships. This begins with identifying what constituents want and need to know about the work and the results to date and articulating what they can do to achieve and sustain improved results.
- The school and its personnel can also develop a more in-depth understanding of a community of interest by gathering information about its social diversity, history, existing networks, and overall socioeconomic characteristics.
- Students can be important partners in this work; they can serve as an important resource to overcoming language and cultural barriers for other students and their parents. Staff can also benefit through assistance from students with interpretation and issues of cultural competency.
- Effective schools use parents and community leaders to serve as advocates for higher district-wide student achievement.
- Effective schools also recruit interested community members to form a corps of volunteers who can serve as effective partners and advocates.
Complexities & Pitfalls
- One pitfall for this strategy is not accessing effective communication strategies and adapting them for increased effectiveness. Not all schools are alike; not all effective communications strategies are alike.
- While it is easier to work with like-minded people, it’s important to entertain differing perspectives and viewpoints, to ensure a clear understanding of the issue. Working with constituents who represent different stakeholder groups, and therefore different perspectives and viewpoints, is vital.
- There is always a need for more in-depth understanding of the larger school community by deepening understanding about its social diversity, history, existing networks, and overall socioeconomic characteristics.
- Because of factors that can impact performance over time (such as staff attrition), improved outcomes can fade over time. For this reason, support from external stakeholders can also help moderate the effects of staff turnover and eliminate mission drift.
- Who are the stakeholders necessary in the endeavor to improve student outcomes?
- To whom does it matter that more students learn and succeed in school—and that improved outcomes hold up over time?
- Who has a long-term vested interest in the success of the school and students?
- What variables can influence or make a difference in student outcomes?
- What strategies are being used to identify and engage community stakeholders?
- How is the school including parent, community, and student voices in the decisionmaking process?
- What partnership activities is the school already implementing? How effective are they?
- What system of communication is in place to advance stakeholder voice in school improvement?