The value of school-community engagement is such that all states and territories in Australia have a framework dedicated to guiding schools, and communities, through the steps to ensure successful partnerships. It will probably come as no surprise that these frameworks exist in New Zealand, the US, Canada, Brazil, and virtually anywhere else you care to name. This makes sense. After all we, as educators, want the very best for our students in the classroom, and studies have shown time and time again that successful partnerships allow schools to tap into an environment that will maximise student learning and outcomes.
Today we are going to look at a very successful Australian project and then, taking a big-picture approach, we are also going to identify some of the key factors that make community engagement projects work, no matter where you are based. We are also going to look at how to deal with any challenges (Hint: identify them early in the planning stage).
Read on for more or download the School Communication Report to see how other schools are communicating with their community.
Identify your goals
A successful community engagement project is a little bit like a family road trip: you have to know where you’re going before you get behind the wheel. Northern Bay College’s very successful Koorie Education Program is available to download on the Victorian Government’s Education and Training website. The case study identifies clear goals which determined how the College structured and eventually rolled out their project, as well as giving indicators by which to measure their success:
- Purpose – to create a positive, inclusive learning culture through improved engagement, attendance and learning outcomes for Koorie students
- Audience – Koorie Education Coordinators, Koorie Engagement Support Officers, School Leadership Teams, Student Wellbeing Coordinators, teachers
- Dimensions – Building communities; Empowering students and building school pride; Setting expectations and promoting inclusion
Some of the project outcomes include:
- Attendance levels have increased and outcomes have improved for all students. In 2012, the average attendance rate for Indigenous students at the school was 73 per cent and the average retention rate for students in Years 9–12 was 66 per cent. In 2015, the average attendance rate for Indigenous students was 86 per cent and the retention rate for students in Years 9–12 was 90 per cent.
- Students report they feel proud to identify as Aboriginal, with many becoming more connected to their cultures and communities. The senior campus features a Koorie Common Room, and each campus has two elected Aboriginal student leaders.
All details from this case study sourced via the Victoria State Government Education and Training website.
More detail of this fantastic project and Other case studies featuring schools in Victoria are available to download here.
If you type “School Community Engagement” into a search engine, instantly you have examples from all over the world at your fingertips. It really is a hot topic for educators globally. Here are some of the key takeaways:
Stay on track
A report coming out of the US, ‘Community and Family Engagement, Principals share what works’ talks about staying on course and ensuring the vision and plan for the school remains at the core of partnerships. The importance of regularly assessing progress and measuring results in an informal way – such as focus groups and conversations – is emphasised, as is making use of any data driven tools to help you identify areas that need improvement and focus on the strategies that are most effective.
Community engagement is a two-way street
True engagement is a two-way street. A University of Queensland research study describes it as:
“Effective engagement creates authentic relationships considered valuable and valued by each partner.”
Essentially, schools need to think about what they can contribute to help the community, as well as how the community can help the school with their priorities and goals.
Identify barriers in the planning stage
The earlier you identify barriers to community involvement, the better prepared you will be to address them and ensure there are processes built into your plan to so everyone feels included from the get-go. As you will know from your own experiences, common barriers to getting people and organisations onside and actively involved in the school community are previous negative experiences, alongside cultural and language differences. Gaps in professional development is another barrier that can prevent community engagement plans reaching their full potential. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room; acknowledge the challenges and if necessary, bring in translators, spend time re-building any bridges, and bring in experts who can upskill staff to ensure everyone is on the same page.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our round-up. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts.