Becoming a Partner
What is a Partner?
The goal of school partnerships is to develop and cultivate lasting relationships between students, parents, community stakeholders, and schools. While many community groups have served schools in a variety of capacities for many years, we hope to raise the bar from “project-based” involvement to asset-based partnerships based on a long-term, personal relationship between stakeholder organizations and the administrators, teachers, staff, and parents of their partner school. There is a vast difference between this approach and a project-based partnership.
IS THERE ANYTHING WRONG WITH JUST DOING PROJECTS?
Most of the existing connections between community groups and schools are “project-based,” meaning the groups provide funds and volunteers to accomplish various projects at a school. In most cases, these projects are outside the school’s budget or could not be accomplished without outside assistance. Common projects include an annual school clean-up day, providing a crew of laborers for maintenance tasks, donating winter coats for underprivileged students, and raising funds for a cause promoted by the school. Yet, organizations participate in these one-time or even annual projects without ever developing a real relationship with school personnel or parents.
PROJECTS ARE GREAT, BUT COULDN'T THERE BE SOMETHING MORE?
We commend all groups serving their schools through projects. However, we believe any community stakeholder can be more effectively involved by establishing and cultivating a relationship with the school community. Friendships develop through spending time together regularly and keeping the lines of communication open. In the same way, community leaders should invest time and energy into forming relationships with school staff and administrators. We’ve seen the power of these relationship-based partnerships. Instead of a periodic resource, the community group becomes part of the fabric of the school community.
HOW DO YOU BUILD THAT TYPE OF PARTNERSHIP?
This kind of relationship doesn’t just happen; it has to be developed. To begin, a community or business leader or pastor might invite the school’s principal to have coffee or lunch. This might be followed by a meeting between key organizational leaders and representatives from the school. The group’s involvement in past and present projects will help build trust, but learning about the school’s vital needs straight from the source is crucial. As the organization is able to meet some of those needs – and follows through on their commitment to do so – the school community begins to view it as a real partner.
We can’t stress enough the need to “under-promise and over-deliver.” Many schools have been disappointed by the empty promises of community and faith-based groups in the past, often because of a group serving for a short time and then disappearing. Though short-term service is helpful, it can also prove disheartening and detrimental to building a relationship-based partnership. We believe it is better for an organization to do less, but do it consistently.
WHAT ARE THE MINIMAL REQUIREMENTS FOR A REAL PARTNERSHIP?
Communication is crucial in any relationship. We suggest a group wishing to develop a relationship-based partnership maintain at least a minimal level of contact (at least every other month) with the school administrators and staff. Stop by the school office to say hello, and ask if there is anything the organization can do to help. If you ask that question consistently, the school will begin to think of you as a resource when a need arises. As the relationship grows, communication should become even more frequent. This could be a mixture of phone calls, personal visits, and interacting with school personnel while serving or during school functions.
Another essential element is an attitude of service without a hidden agenda. Your organization is in the business of providing regular services to the larger community, and should do so freely on your property. However, we ask that when your group serves on school property they maintain the school’s agenda as paramount. This is especially sensitive for faith-based groups which must respect separation of church and state issues while otherwise supporting the school. Individuals and families served by faith communities may very well seek out spiritual direction from church members, but this should be done offsite at the church building or a neutral location. The school’s staff should feel confident that those serving from faith-based groups are not crossing that line.
WHAT IF WE CAN'T DO IT ALL?
While communication and serving without an agenda are requisites for any true partnership between a community group and a school, there are various levels of time and involvement that can actually define such partnerships. Based on available resources, the number of volunteers, needs at the school, and the partner’s commitment level, these partnerships can take on many forms. We have established a list of criteria to help an organization determine their own interest and commitment level:
- Frequency of involvement
- Number of volunteers involved
- Total number of volunteer hours annually
- Relational significance
- Financial commitment
WHAT'S THE BOTTOM LINE?
In the end, the success of a partnership between a community group and a school is based on the establishment of a mutually beneficial relationship. The school benefits as the partner helps addresses its needs. The partner benefits as its constituents get out of the building, serves the school in a meaningful way, and builds a bridge to families in the community that are not currently connected to a community resource. Trust is built over time, allowing these connections to grow. This, in essence, is the meaning of the word “community.”