#SAVMP Prompt 1: Connecting with Community

The SAVMP collaborative has issued its first prompt for discussion between mentor & mentee, as well as blogging:

What are some ways you connect with your school community?

I guess there are a few ways to read this prompt.  If we’re talking about the community of people within the district – the students and employees – then there are a few ways I have tried to make these connections as an administrator:

  • Be visible in person.  I am an instructional supervisor with staff in seven buildings across our district.  Although our buildings are (mercifully) all within a few miles of one another, it can still be challenging for me to get out to each one on a regular basis, given the “desk jockey” portion of my job.  I do try, however, to touch base with folks in all buildings across the K-12 spectrum at least once a week.  I may not see everybody every week, but I try to get into each building once a week.  I won’t always achieve this goal, depending on how my responsibilities and obligations ebb and flow over the course of a month, but it’s always something I’m shooting for.
  • Be visible online.  As I make my rounds, I (and many of my admin colleagues) do our best to document the great work our staff is doing by snapping pics and/or Tweeting about what we’re seeing or doing.  When we tag our tweets with our district hashtag #LTPS, anyone searching the hashtag (as many of our staff and community members do) can get a snapshot of what’s happening around the district.  This helps close some of the geographic gaps that separate us, and also do at least a little bit to break down the silos in which we often work in education.
  • Make time for people.  When people reach out to me with questions, concerns, or for any other reason, more often than not, I will drop what I’m doing and make time to speak with them.  This isn’t necessarily the most time-efficient thing for me to do, but I do feel that it has helped me to build relationships and trust with my staff members.  Not that I necessarily do everything that is asked of me at that moment, but I hope this sends a message that my staff and their needs are more important to me than paperwork.
  • Shut up and listen.  Super hard for me to do, but super essential.  When my staff does come to me, I close my mouth and listen to what they have to say.  My natural inclination is to immediately want to start talking and problem-solve; while I freely admit I’m not always successful in suppressing that urge, it is something I have worked on and continue to work on.  I never want my people to feel that I’m de-centering their needs or feelings and making anything about me.  Once I’ve heard everything and made sure I understand, I can then ask clarifying questions and start to brainstorm solutions with their input.  Sometimes asking, “Well, what do you think we should do?” is all it takes – more often than not, folks have a sense of what needs to be done; they just want to know that the admin trusts them to implement their solution.

If we’re talking about engaging with the community in which the school system exists – parents, businesses, organizations, etc. – then there are some other strategies you can use.  What follows is not necessarily a list of things I have done in my position, but that leaders in my district have done:

  • Community Conversations:  In the run-up to developing our five-year strategic plan, the district hosted a series of evening Community Conversations, in which we invited all stakeholders in the community to share their concerns and thoughts about the direction of the district.  We did this in a structured way, in breakout sessions, and distilled major themes from all the feedback received in the various sessions.  From these, we developed not only our four-point strategic plan goals, but also many of the objectives and actions needed to achieve them.  Through this process, the community had a voice in the movement of the district.
  • Take it to the streets: Sometimes it’s difficult for the community to come to us.  Work obligations, child care issues, and any number of other barriers exist that prevent some members of our community from coming to our evening Community Conversations.  In an effort to increase outreach to more of our community, our superintendent recently began taking our show on the road.  She has scheduled a series of Conversations in the Community: opportunities for community members to speak with her in relatively informal settings like local businesses and private residences.  She also conducts these events during “non-traditional” school event hours, e.g., 1pm on a Sunday afternoon.  Our Board of Education has begun to follow suit, holding meetings in remote locations.

Re-reading this post, nothing in the top section seems particularly groundbreaking to me; however, I think the difficult part is not necessarily knowing what to do, but rather figuring out how to do it while balancing the myriad other responsibilities of an administrator.

How you engage with your school community can – and probably will – look different depending on the role you play within a school district.  Regardless of position, however, connecting with the community – within the school and without – is a crucial part of building a positive, inclusive culture in your building and district.

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