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5 Steps to Better School/Community Collaboration

Brendan O'Keefe

Facilitating the education revolution and alternative learning environments
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As the old African proverb says, "It takes a village to raise a child." One could imagine then that it would take a community to raise a school. We can't rely on local, state, or federal governments to take ownership of the issues we face locally. We need to work as a community to nurture our schools for our particular community needs.

I believe the answer to real education/school transformation is strong, authentic community connections and actions. When families, community groups, business and schools band together to support learning, young people achieve more in school, stay in school longer, and enjoy the experience more.

Great examples of school/community partnerships are happening all over the world. We need more of them, and we need to ensure they are healthy and relevant to the needs of 21st century learners.

Throughout my journey setting up the Reinventing School Challenge, I did a significant amount of research to ensure I had a thorough understanding of what existed already, what worked, and what was possible.

The more I searched, the themes for successful school transformation emerged:

  • Community/business school partnerships
  • Parental collaboration
  • Curriculum connected to real world experiences
  • Student voice
  • Cross generation learning
  • Locals designing solutions to local problems

Whole Community Engagement Is Key

To lift up and raise our schools to a place that suits all 21st century learners, help needs to come from many parts of the community. The leading roles should be alternated according to the need and focus of the particular aspect of the transformation project.

If we respect each other and acknowledge our unique contribution, we can move forward quickly in a positive environment where we can all be teachers and learners.

I'm approaching this post from an inclusive, design-focused view, and I put to you ideas that target and engage the four main players I believe can make all the difference in transforming our schools and curriculum today: students, parents, seniors/grandparents and local businesses.

Step 1: Expand Your Vision of School to Include Community

Ryan Bretag writes, "Educators shouldn't be the only ones contributing. The community should be creating questions, puzzles, quotes, mind benders, trivia, philosophical and ethical challenges, thought provoking videos, "graffiti walls," brainstorming spaces, and play areas."

There are so many opportunities for experiential learning to happen out in the community surrounding the school. We just need to find ways to connect core curriculum beyond the classroom by attracting the right people and asking the right questions.

Step 2: Reach Out to All Stakeholders

One of the best ways to connect and create an authentic bond is to go to the people who matter most, and meet them on their own turf. A series of community walks are a great way to start.

Get your teachers, some local businesses on board and go and knock on people's doors, visit local businesses and senior homes and talk with them. Try the same approach with groups of students. This time let the students communicate what they hope and wish for their school and encourage them to ask for mentoring and support.

Share your dreams for enhanced community-school partnerships, ask people what matters to them, ask them how they might help, and show them your passion. Deliver them an open invitation to reconnect, collaborate and share their experience, skills and time to make a difference.

Step 3: Create a Community Resource Map

A visual representation of your community and the various skills people have to offer is a super way to understand what community resources are available. If you build one, also point out the materials people can supply at cost or for free, the time they can invest in projects, and how they can connect to curriculum, and classroom activities. Include the networks they can utilize to raise awareness of the needs of local children and families, and always promote and foster resource-sharing and collaboration.

Use libraries to advocate for school-community partnerships and student learning. Libraries are important hubs and can provide meaningful connection points outside the school gates.

A community resource map can come in the form of a hand-drawn map (use a graphic facilitator), Google Map, Mind Map or even a spreadsheet with some visual outputs.

Step 4: Connect with Curriculum

Much of what we learn as children and adults happens outside the classroom through real world experiences and from our peers, mentors or on the job.

How might we connect today's core curriculum with the real world? That is an important question that is in urgent need of answers. Kids today are asking far to often for relevance in what they are learning. "Why am I learning this? I'll never use this!" is a response far too often heard form the mouths of young people today.

Let's find ways to work with local businesses and subject matter experts to connect core curriculum to the outside world and design engaging learning experiences in and out of the classroom. Check out Chapter 4 "Asking the Experts" from Kathleen Cushman's wonderful book Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery.

Please consider using project-based learning. Try using a matching technique to match students with subject matter experts, businesses and community organisations. Here is a great book on the subject by Suzie Boss. Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age.

Let's not forget the largely untapped wealth of experience and knowledge that resides with retires, grandparents and millions of socially isolated senior citizens in aged care facilities.

Step 5: A Design Challenge for the Community

Here is an example of a community challenge to reinvent the school experience. I created the Reinventing School Challenge earlier this year to encourage discussion, empower youth, teachers and communities to design and facilitate change locally.

Reinventing school can mean lots of things such as redesigning classrooms, creating a community garden, creating an open and shared learning space, designing a course, changing the way students participate in decision making, you name it!

Using Stanford's K12 lab Design Thinking for Educators a methodology, or process leading product and service designers use everyday, participants collaborate to come up with ideas and learning experiences and then share them online for all to benefit from.

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Comments (5) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Alayna Wagner's picture
Alayna Wagner
First grade teacher from Ada, MN

This article was very interesting. Usually when I think of collaboration in education I think of just within the school itself. I agree that there needs to be collaboration between a school and community. I really like the part that said, "It takes a community to raise a school." This is a fantastic point that is often forgotten about. We need to show students that communities and schools are supportive of each other, and we all want the best for the students. A community can be a great resource when completing projects and connecting them to real-life situations. Working together will only enhance the concept of teamwork and thinking beyond the classroom.

Becky Fisher's picture
Becky Fisher
Education Consultant

One way to achieve school/community integration and collaboration is using the Reggio Emilia approach. I'm a big fan. The methodology focuses on the environment that the students are exposed to including their community. The approach comes from the town of Reggio Emilia in Italy, where the entire community participates in the education of their children. There are great resources about it on Edutopia:

Overall, no matter what approach you use, incorporating community into a child's education can do wonders. It opens up more formal/informal learning overlaps and can offer a child more opportunities to learn by doing/exploring!

Dr. (Mrs.) NEERU JOSHI, Principal, BBPS, Modinagar's picture


What we are is God's Gift to us.What we become is our gift to God. Being a school we can train our students to develop positive thought eventually leading them to become effective citizens to serve the Nation. Connection of schools with community is the foundation of CONSTRUCTIVISM. We can engage our community with the school by inviting them in different heritage and cultural programmes in the school & have their valuable feedback about the working of the school. Schools must be open for any criticism or suggestions for development in true sense. Technology has been playing a vital role in connectivism that saves time as well.

Amy Hiller's picture

School/Community collaboration is key to being able to educate students and keep the school running. It is paramount to carve out the time to meet with community organizations and assist in their endeavors as they will be an integral part of maintaining the school as community focus. Businesses will help fund school needs, parents will help raise money and volunteer in classrooms and around school. Organizations will reward grants and volunteer to help in schools. PTO's will help maintain grounds, fund raise, and be a voice for parents so they may have input into school plans.
The truth is, schools cannot exist on funding and resources from the state and federal governments alone. There just is not enough to go around. The school needs the community to support its needs and the community needs the school to remain strong to educated its future citizens. Collaboration between school and community is a win-win.

Gabbie Alvarado's picture

This article was a good one to read and gave me a lot of more understandings on how to communicate within a classroom. Communication is what keeps a school running and for it to be the best it can be. Getting the community on board can also expand the communication and allows everyone else to help each other.

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