Community Engagement: The Courtship to Marriage Continuum

Posted by Dr. C.J. Huff on October 12, 2016
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In the late 1990’s when I first started taking classes in school administration, one of the required courses was titled, “School Community Relations.” The class included a textbook by the same name with content including media strategies, theories and practice on parent/community involvement, legal issues, etc. The unfortunate truth is this graduate class did little to prepare me for the complexities of community relations. Certainly, experience is a great teacher, but there have been many “I wish I had only known…” moments in my attempts to build stronger partnerships between my school and community.

The best analogy I can use is the courtship to marriage (and beyond) continuum. Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship knows how hard it is to not just maintain, but to grow that relationship over time. In this blog, I will share a few of the common mistakes made by school leaders…basically what wasn’t in the textbook.

1. Don’t pop the question too soon.

A common mistake made by school leaders at both the building and district level is making a “big ask” of community partners before there is an established relationship. In my analogy, that is the equivalent of asking for a hand in marriage before phone numbers are exchanged. Not a good method of building a relationship that leads to a long-term commitment. The best approach is to start by dating first…get to know each other and determine where the win-win will be in the relationship long term.

2. Ask for permission.

Before we were married, I asked my future mother-in-law and father-in-law for permission before I asked for my wife’s hand in marriage. In essence, I wanted to make sure everyone was “on board” with my intentions. Likewise, school leaders need to understand that all parties that may be impacted by the union between the school and community are supportive of the impending proposal. Parent organizations, faculty and staff, school boards, and other members of the “school family” need to sign off and indicate initial support of the partnerships you are trying to create.

3. Remember your anniversary.

Anniversaries are important milestones that are not to be forgotten. Anniversaries also serve as an opportunity to reflect, celebrate, and establish future goals for the relationship. School leaders need to remember that celebrating partnership milestones, not only strengthens the relationship, but it builds momentum and provides a golden opportunity to help the relationship continue to mature.

So as you think about school community relations, just remember that it is not about what you can get from the community. It’s about how deeply you can build, maintain, and sustain those relationships. Like any relationship, it is hard work. I take that back…it is actually VERY hard work, but if you are not thoughtful and intentional, you may find yourself awkwardly standing alone at the alter.

Topics: Community Engagement