What does community engagement mean to your school or district and how much focus does it have as you transition back from pandemic-driven priorities to something more normal?
Googling the term “community engagement” pulls up lots of definitions depending on which source you reference. If you take the time to look a little deeper, you realize that while there are a variety of meanings to pull from, they mostly fall into three categories.
Some organizations use the term community engagement to describe how they get the word out to parents, staff, subscribers and other community stakeholders. This type of engagement is informational in nature and focuses on providing timely or topical messaging on a targeted basis to your audience. While informing your community is crucial it doesn’t get to the depth of engagement that insures goodwill and positive impact for your schools and students.
A second category informs your community and adds the ability to gather feedback from your stakeholders. We’ve all seen services that incorporate surveying and question-and-answer features so your community can interact with district leadership and provide input into the decision making process. It is bi-directional and can help create goodwill on important issues like bond elections and other major fiscal undertakings by your district, but it still doesn’t get to the heart of engaging your community.
This third category creates the highest amount of goodwill and shared commitment to the mission of education. It centers around involvement by community stakeholders in your schools. This includes recruiting volunteers and local businesses and organizations to work with schools on activities and programs that directly benefit students, staff or campus operations. It also delivers no-cost resources, whether physical, financial or time-based that otherwise require unbudgeted funding, or are left unaddressed.
Districts need to engage their community now more than ever, to re-establish the bond of trust and alignment of interest that was strained by the pandemic. Engagement covers a lot of ground and if you’re not already, you should prioritize in a way that will give your district the greatest benefit both short and long term. So start a new narrative of hope to communicate out to your stakeholders. If you are planning future expansion and need funding, get community feedback. But most importantly, if your district is back to on-campus visits then consider getting your volunteers, partners and other stakeholders to start showing up again. You’ll be glad you did.