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Mastering Community Engagement: 5 Ways for Schools to Excel

Do me a favor. Pull your strategic plan down off the shelf and flip to the section on community engagement. When you wrote this months ago, everything sounded so great. It still does. But is your district poised to make good on its promises in the new school year, or are these just words on a page?

Maybe you’re struggling to create a culture of engagement in your school district, or maybe you’re just looking for one last push to get you to a better place with parents and staff. Whatever your current predicament, there are five ways to tell whether your engagement strategy is worth the paper it’s printed on.

#1 Is community engagement in your district formal or informal?
Is there anyone in your district who has the phrase “customer service” in their title? There should be. If you’re truly serious about customer service and community engagement, you need to walk the walk–just like you do for academics, for health and nutrition, for transportation. Create a cabinet-level position and hire an experienced leader who understands the value of student and parent experiences. You can talk about community engagement all you want, but if no one owns that responsibility, if you don’t clear a seat at the table, you’re guaranteed to come up short.

#2. Is your community engagement siloed or systemic?
Conversations about your schools happen everywhere, all the time. Does your district have a system for actively monitoring and responding to feedback across departments? It isn’t good enough to have a responsive food services manager, or a prompt transportation chief. True community engagement requires a total organizational commitment to customer service-from the central office to the classroom. More important, you need a way to share all of that information. Enough with the silos already. Time to break out the sledgehammer and go with a systems approach.

#3 Is success anecdotal or is it based on real KPIs?
Compliments are awesome and superlatives make us feel all warm and fuzzy. But nicely worded letters do not provide an accurate picture of community engagement in your schools. Business owners make a big fuss about key performance indicators, or KPIs. The term sounds like it was ripped from a marketing textbook. But there’s a reason so many people get so worked up about measurement: It works. Do you know the average amount of time it takes your district to respond to parents? On a scale of one to 10 (10 being the best), where would your teachers and staff rate your district in terms of its responsiveness? If you can’t put numbers to your goals, how do you expect to improve? Want to get serious about community engagement? You absolutely need KPIs.

#4 Do you invest in professional development and training for staff?
You’ve got a plan for how to engage your community. There’s only one problem: Nobody outside of your cabinet knows what role to play. It’s easy to draft a mission statement and a vision for how you want to engage your community. It’s much harder to turn that vision into a practical application by which change actually happens. That’s because change doesn’t happen in a vacuum-not in schools. If you want your strategy to stick, everyone needs to understand their role-and know precisely how to accomplish it. If you’re not willing to invest in training and professional development, stop reading and put that strategic plan back on the shelf where you found it.

#5 Is your engagement strategy homegrown or expert-driven?
What’s the saying, “You don’t know, what you don’t know?” Well, that applies to community engagement too. If your school or district is committed to customer service, that’s great. But that doesn’t make you an expert. The good news: A handful of school leaders and experts have done much of the heavy lifting for you. Rather than waste time trying to figure things out on your own, team with someone who’s been where you are now. Find a colleague who’s run the gauntlet ten times over. Expertly pinpoint best practices and proven successes with as little experimentation as possible. And focus all that innovation where it will do the most good-in the classroom!

Ready to take community engagement from concept to practice this school year? Click the image below for a free evaluation of your school’s engagement strategy.