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Community engagement is good, but is collaboration better?

Let’s be real: What passes as community engagement in many school districts is more akin to the morning announcements—a lot of talk, without real interaction.

This one-way communication, repackaged as engagement, often leads frustrated parents and staff in search of something more genuine. In Colorado, that search has led school leaders to an entirely new concept. Forget community engagement, they say. What your school or district needs is full-on community collaboration.

The best part? There’s a toolkit for it!

Looking to help parents and school leaders work better together, a consortium of learning organizations, including the Colorado Department of Education, the Colorado Education Initiative, and The Learning Accelerator, recently launched the Community Collaboration for School Innovation framework.

In an article in Getting Smart, Colorado state official Christina Jean and education consultant Lisa Duty had this to say about the initiative:

“The model aspires to bring a wide variety of community stakeholders to the table in order to challenge old notions of perceived expertise, and reshape education change processes and the ways districts and communities operate.”

The shift towards community collaboration from community engagement includes four distinct steps:

Create a forum
Give stakeholders from every segment of your community an opportunity to weigh in on critical issues facing your school or district. Allow ample time to consider questions and voice informed, reasoned points-of-view.

Set your strategy
Now that you’ve set up a system to listen to your community’s priorities, make those priorities central to all that you do. That could mean staying the course, modifying your strategy, or entirely re-thinking your approach. Either way, your community’s voice needs to be at the core of every decision you make.

Report back
Make sure your community knows the plan, step for step. Use their feedback as guidance. And explain your decisions in different ways and on different platforms. To put it simply, be everywhere your community is.

Repeat, repeat, repeat
Community collaboration is not a week-long or month-long process. As you move forward, ask repeatedly for feedback, and use that information to make smarter decisions on behalf of your students and their families.

Whether you call it community engagement or community collaboration hardly matters. What does matter is that you give your entire community a voice in how their schools are run.

How do you invite community participation in your decision-making? Tell us in the comments.

Want to give your community a voice when it counts? Your next conversation starts here.