School Improvement and Governance Network

Community

School and community partnerships

A key strategy is to bring together the resources of a school - or a cluster of primary and secondary schools or a larger network of schools - with local family, community and business resources. While it is relatively easy to make informal links, building strong, formal links is obviously more difficult. What are the practical steps schools and organisations such as local government use to to bring this about?

Step 1 - Consider which partners

A small group (e.g., a school council team such as a school-family-community partnerships team or a team representing several schools or a local government education committee) is formed to begin to explore what may be done. The team involves, ideally, school leaders, parents, teachers, and students, and plans for, and improves, partnerships over time. The team identifies other stakeholders. The list that follows can help identify your school's or organisation's current and potential partners:

  • Other schools – including being part of a P-12 cluster of primary and secondary schools
  • Universities, colleges and kindergartens
  • Local and regional businesses and business organisations
  • Local government
  • LLENs
  • Health agencies
  • Student support services including psychologists, social workers, youth workers, speech pathologists and visiting teachers
  • Early identification, intervention and prevention programs
  • Libraries and museums
  • Specialist schools
  • Community organisations
  • Sporting, recreation and outdoor activities groups
  • Cultural and community languages groups
  • Educational non-profit organisations
  • Government departments and agencies
  • Service organisations
  • Environmental groups
  • Arts organisations.

Step 2 - Build trust and ownership

With other partners invited to take part, the larger group meets and sets ground rules for working together. The partners share information about each other and the needs of students and families in the community. They build a culture of respect and acceptance for the contributions of each person and group in the evolving partnership. Essential in this regard is a good chairperson (or, better, co-chairs) who understand partnerships and communicate well. During meetings, the chair/co-chairs will:

  • Listen actively and well, with genuine interest and an openness to others' ideas
  • Act warmly, positively and enthusiastically
  • Help participants feel comfortable, welcome, and included
  • Involve everyone - and balance the group’s participation
  • Act non-judgmentally - treat group members' ideas without bias (positive or negative)
  • Stay on schedule and ensure high priority tasks are met.

These meetings also provide an opportunity to share information about what is already happening and what needs to improve or change in relation to broader school-family-community partnerships.

Step 3 - Develop a practical plan

Using the shared information, the partners begin to create a shared vision and to develop some shared goals. They explore further what they want to focus on. Someone may write a brief paper that begins to work out what will be worked on together. It may be a set of ‘talking points’ or a draft action plan.

To further identify the issues and options for action as well as other partners to become involved, they may propose a forum or roundtable discussion that draws participants from as many parts of the community as possible. Following this, the action plan may be finalised and may obviously include:

  • Why we want to do this. Explain 'why' a plan is needed. This may contain or refer to background materials or explanations regarding any issues or challenges that support a plan being developed.
  • What we want to achieve. A brief statement of 'what' the plan is intended to accomplish. May only be one or two sentences describing the goals, targets or outcomes.
  • How we will do it. Detail 'how' the goals will be achieved and outline who will be responsible for various parts of the implementation and by when.

Talk & Action is a useful online conversations resource for helping to develop such plans.

Community-building - a training program

In our school council training program, see the section entitled 'Your Community' that outlines many issues relating to building school-family-community community partnerships and participation.

Schools Connect Australia - education, business and philanthropy links

Schools Connect Australia (formerly known as Business Working with Education Foundation) is an independent organisation focused on facilitating partnerships between education, business and philanthropy to enhance the learning of students in government schools.

Important role of local government in education

See the It Takes a Village to Raise a Child report. Published in 2003 by the Victorian Local Governance Association, it remains a very useful discussion of the roles that local governments play in relation to education and schooling and learning communities and partnerships. The VLGA report identified five distinct roles including the work of local governments as community capacity builders.

As well, see the Creating synergies: Local government facilitating learning and development through partnerships report. Published in 2006, this report documents the evolution and development of four ‘learning communities’ in Victoria where local government has been involved. It investigates the challenges and complexities faced in getting these communities off the ground and the role that the vocational education and training (VET) sector has played.

Local government engagement with schools - a checklist

Introduction

This checklist can be used by local government personnel in meetings with school principals and other school community members. The questions are prompts to facilitate discussion and explore practical possibilities for collaboration. Depending on the time available during meetings, obviously not all of these questions may be used. Responses to these questions can also help identity the key issues around which a local council may want to focus on in working with schools and related stakeholders.

1. Key educational challenges

What are the most important developments at your school in the past few years? Where would you like to see your school in five years from now? What needs to be developed to achieve your school's vision?

What are the key educational issues and challenges facing your school, and how is your school addressing these issues? In developing 21st century teaching and learning, how is your school:

What may be the broader community role of local council in supporting and promoting some of these initiatives? Are you aware of council's current work that may be relevant to the above?

2. Engaging parents and families

How does your school engage parents and families of socially, culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds? What types of parent participation and partnerships exist within your school? What would you like to see develop? Does your school have a parent club?

Is there good communication between families and school? How often do teachers and parents (and students) talk together about how improvements in learning can be made?

Are families engaged in conversations to set future directions for the school? Are they able to participate in various forms of planning?

How can local government assist broadly with work around parents, families and schools as partners?

3. School community partnerships

What broader links and partnerships are important for your school, and how are they being developed and by whom? What are the specific challenges with building and sustaining these partnerships? What are your school’s current and potential links and partnerships with:

  • Other schools – including being part of a P-12 cluster of primary and secondary schools
  • Universities, colleges and kindergartens
  • Local and regional businesses and business organisations
  • Local government
  • LLENs
  • Health agencies
  • Student support services including psychologists, social workers, youth workers, speech pathologists and visiting teachers
  • Early identification, intervention and prevention programs
  • Specialist schools
  • Community organisations
  • Sporting, recreation and outdoor activities groups
  • Cultural and community languages groups
  • Educational non-profit organisations
  • Government departments and agencies
  • Service organisations
  • Environmental groups
  • Arts organisations.

How can local government help support partnerships? What improved services and opportunities for students could be explored in partnership with community stakeholders including your local council?

4. School governance

Given the emphasis on school autonomy, in what ways is your school council/board likely to evolve? What do you see as the key areas for improvement in the work of your school council/board?

Is the school's strategic plan owned by the school community? Are there shared school-family-community goals? How does the the school council add value?

What existing networks enable school council members to share good ideas and good practices? Would it be useful for local government to be involved in networking around governance in education?

5. Student participation and well-being

To what extent are students at your school involved in:

  • Local leadership, civics and active citizenship initiatives?
  • Community-based and workplace learning programs?
  • Community improvement such as student action teams?

What are the examples? Are only some or are all or most students involved in local leadership initiatives? In what ways can local government assist broadly with further developing this work?

What strategies ensure that student participation is more than tokenistic (young people’s views do not have any impact on major decisions) and elitist (a select few students represent all students)?

Local governments in partnership with schools have also been involved in programs that build and enable students' school leadership capacity. To what extent is there on-going student input into:

  • School and broader community decision-making processes (including via school councils)?
  • Further personalising their learning experiences including through community partnerships?

What strategies and programs are in place to promote student well-being?

How are student mental health issues addressed?

Is there a preventative, whole school approach to student welfare?

Can local government broadly assist?

6. Professional networking

Have staff at your school been involved in local community professional learning and broader networking such as with LLENs, local government, health agencies, cultural groups, and local businesses and industry? Would your school be interested in local professional networking among, for example, women who are school principals, teachers, parents, and members of local community organisations?

7. Resources and facilities

What specific resources, support and facilities does your school require? What facilities are shared with other schools and community organisations such as sporting clubs? Can local government help with this? How could local government assist in supporting shared community resources?

Valuing Australia's community groups

Community Manifesto: Valuing Australia's Community Groups, Our Community

Further discussion and reading

For further discussion and reading, see the school-family-community partnerships section.