Lessons Learned: Bridging the Gap Between a School and a Community

Guest post by Eddie Gleason

Meaningful family-community engagement and principal leadership are two essential components for effective school improvement. Yet, these two elements often operate separately from each other, and collaboration between school leaders and the community can be a challenge.

October is National Principals Month, which presents an opportunity for communities to recognize the important work principals do for our students across the country. In recognition of this annual celebration, I’m going to share with you how my local Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and our elementary school principal worked together to unite a community in educating our students.

Recently, as a PTA officer and the only male on the executive committee at my local elementary school, I was assigned to connect with the new school principal. I smiled at the gesture and opportunity. I met him a few weeks into the school year, and my initial impression was that he did not recognize that a local PTA can be a valuable resource to our school. I began to talk about our challenges and successes with the previous principal, and after talking with the new principal, I realized that both of us were strong believers in the power of family-community engagement. I also spoke about opportunities in the neighborhood to increase local business engagement within the school and PTA.

PTA-Principal.jpgAt a subsequent meeting, the principal outlined strategies to target local businesses. He placed more emphasis on an action-based approach where students and teachers partner with businesses to define a problem and find a solution. The PTA—along with teachers—spoke with businesses and asked for financial contributions but also, as the principal outlined, asked them to work with students in the classroom. All of the businesses agreed to participate, resulting in our PTA receiving significant financial contributions and the school receiving a few months’ supply of free paper.

With input from local business leaders, the principal developed an innovative program to have them interact with students in the classroom. The business leaders came in and spoke about their work and problems they experienced in their business. The students were then asked to help solve those problems. In some cases, the teachers made it an interactive homework assignment. The owners returned to the class and listened to the students present their ideas on how to solve the proposed issues.

This program was well received by all. The students felt their opinions mattered, which created a better learning experience. Teachers learned more about their students’ abilities to communicate and solve problems. And in some cases, the business owner learned something new or something he or she did not recognize about their own business.

As a result of that successful teaming, the new principal’s opinion about the value of our PTA changed. I believe he now sees the PTA as an important partner in education as opposed to just a fundraising group.

I also learned a few valuable lessons in this project that can help local PTA leaders work with talented principals across the country to help educate our children:

  1. Start by working together on one You will begin to make connections and watch how it pays off. From there, you can build on those relationships.
  2. Utilize the past experience of others.
  3. Place a priority on your community partners and reach out to them.
  4. Make it a win/win solution.
  5. Communicate—this is simple but often overlooked.

I wish you a happy celebration of National Principals Month and I hope you can use our story to help bridge the gap between your school and community.

Eddie Gleason is member of the PTA at Glenn Dale Elementary School in Maryland and serves as the federal legislative chair for the Maryland PTA.

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