We talk a lot about collaboration these days… it is even identified as one of the 5 C’s required for all kids to succeed. We know it is important, we’ve been saying “two heads are better than one” for decades, but are we practicing what we preach? I bet that there are some fine examples going on in many districts: PLC’s, Administrative team problem solving, etc. More and more, teachers are included in the process…but the public? Although we ask for input- surveys, board hearings, etc. rarely do we bring the community into our actual problem-solving or decision-making sessions. After all, that seems like it would be rife with pitfalls, potholes, and problems.
Are we willing to let them see our vulnerabilities? How do we handle it if things don’t go their way? How do we handle emotional factors? Could the benefits of community engagement possibly outweigh the potential pitfalls?
Do you have the courage?
You don’t need courage if you have clear-cut process that you can trust. With a transparent road map participants know what their part is, what happens to their input and how it will be used, so you can get the best from their good thinking and avoid any potential pitfalls.
Recently, leaders at Ann Arbor Public Schools, with the support and guidance of Superintendent Jeanice Swift, invited community members in to help them determine exactly how best to spend the money received through a bond referendum. Bond Advisory Teams comprised of school personnel and community stakeholders examined specific spending areas –Classroom Environment, Athletic Fields, Security Entrance Upgrades, Busses, Performing Arts Auditoriums, Performing Arts Instruments. With a common clear-cut roadmap in hand, these committees were able to harness the good thinking of those involved and make the best recommendations for how the money should be spent.
Ann Arbor’s roadmap for each committee included these steps:
- Enlist and establish advisory committee – groups Established goals and expectations upfront
- Widen Community Engagement – Collected preference data from wide range of stakeholders
- Look at exemplars: Examined “lighthouse” schools and projects in other districts. Research standards and best practices.
- Use a common decision-making process- They used TregoED Decision Analysis Tool to evaluate options
- Make Recommendations – Shared a proposed, prioritized plan
Using this transparent process, Ann Arbor Schools were not only able to get the best thinking of members of the community, they built a culture of transparency, mutual trust and understanding that will benefit the district for years to come.