Family and community engagement by schools

Across Australia there is an increasing awareness of the importance of school–community partnerships and engaging families and the local community. I recently presented a workshop for teachers on community engagement as part of a Teachers’ Visit Day at the University of Newcastle. The following is based on this presentation and there are some notes from the day.

We started with quick introductions to the 22 people in the 50 minute workshop. Even though we didn’t have much time, relationships are at the heart of community engagement and so I think it is worth spending a few minutes finding out who is in the room. I asked people their name, school and (if they wanted) why they came to the workshop. This goes a little way towards building connections (e.g., it is easier to have a chat during the lunch break) and sometimes we discover that someone is from a school we want to know about.

Continue reading

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Blogging as an academic

Blogging is becoming a more important part of my life as an academic. I started blogging around August 2010 as a way of sharing interesting resources with students in online subjects I teach on community engagement and community capacity building. Given how I became an academic, I’m also interested in providing material that is relevant to practitioners working with communities.

The following are some of the ways I use blogging as an academic.

1. To collect community engagement resources for students and practitioners

As I come across useful or interesting resources on working with communities, I put them on the blog. I often try to add something that adds value to the original material.  For example, the Collaborative for Building After-School Systems has a video on 10 Ways to build school-community partnerships which I added to my blog with a list of their 10 ideas.  At other times I place an interesting resource in the context of concepts covered in courses I teach. For example, Angela Blanchard has a great TED talk (Building on the strengths of communities) which I placed in the context of asset-based community-driven development.

2. To write original content for students

I am increasingly writing original content for students to introduce concepts (e.g., What is community capacity building?) or to discuss useful strategies (e.g., Making parents feel welcome in schools). Because my teaching is nearly all online, providing material through my blog is a good way to make it easily available.

3. To raise environmental issues and to discuss ways we can contribute to a more sustainable world

We are facing major environmental challenges and need to explore ways of becoming more sustainable. My academic work focuses on community engagement, and I have a particular interest in how community engagement can help create alternatives that are more sustainable. Through my blog I try to encourage readers to think how we can contribute to a more sustainable future as individuals (e.g., Parenting for a better world) and as a community (What is the Transition Streets Challenge?).

4. To reflect on, and document, my work

I continue to be actively involved in the practice of community engagement and the blog is an opportunity to reflect on, and document, this work. In particular, I use it to document my work with Transition Newcastle (e.g., The Transition Streets Challenge: Potential and challenges). I’m also documenting the Kids’ Vegies on the Verge (a vegetable garden started by my partner and our children for kids in our street) which is helping to transform relationships in our street.

5. To help me develop my writing

Like many academics, I find writing challenging and the blog is a way to develop my writing. At times my posts are fairly informal (e.g., Turning off the taps) and at other times they are more formal (e.g., What are vertical and horizontal community engagement?)

6. To make my publications easily available

The blog is a good way to make my publications available to other people (e.g.,Supporting residents of caravan parks and Service-learning at retreats for children with special needs and their families).

7. To develop research ideas and publications

I sometimes use the blog to develop research ideas and publications  (e.g.,  Ethics and community engagement). Writing for the blog forces me to refine my thinking and helps me create material that can be used towards a publication.

8. To reach the audience I want to reach 

Finally, I’m particularly interested in writing for practitioners who often don’t have access to academic publications (if they even wanted to read them). As well as making academic publications available through the blog, I can also write posts specifically aimed at practitioners (e.g., A World Cafe in a school – a step-by-step description).

I’m convinced that blogging can be a useful tool for academics and hope that it will assist  me to develop as an academic while maintaining my focus on the practice of community engagement and community development.

If you liked this post you might want to follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog),  and you might like to look at:

  1. Becoming an academic
  2. What is…?
  3. What is asset-based community-driven development (ABCD)?
  4. What is the Strengths Perspective?
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Seven principles of asset-based community-driven development (Jim Diers)

This is a short video with Jim Diers (from Neighbor Power) in which he outlines seven principles of asset-based community-driven development (ABCD).

The seven principles are:

  1. Have Fun
  2. Start where people are…
  3. But don’t leave them there (Strive for results)
  4. Don’t sit on your assets (Gifts of the Head, heart and hands)
  5. Lead by stepping back
  6. Celebrate success and recognise caring neighbours
  7. Share stories

If you liked this post you might want to follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog),  and you might like to look at:

  1. What is asset-based community-driven development (ABCD)?
  2. Angela Blanchard – Building on the strengths of communities
  3. What is Kids’ Vegies on the Verge?
  4. Ernesto Sirolli: Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!
  5. What is Appreciative Inquiry?
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A garden sleepover

Concentrating on their Rainbow Looms

Concentrating on their Rainbow Looms

Our living room was invaded by 9 girls this week for a sleepover with kids from Kids’ Vegies on the Verge. It was noisy, chaotic and fun. It was also all about building community. The girls, ranging in age from 7 to 13, go to five different schools and most of them didn’t know each other 12 months ago. A few of them were friends before meeting through the garden but, despite living within a few hundred metres of each other, they generally didn’t know each other until Cathy, Jasmine and Alexa started the garden.

Through the garden they have become good friends and were very excited by the thought of a mega-sleepover. Some of them arrived in the early afternoon and all of them had arrived by dinner, and for most of the following day we had four or five girls happily playing at our house. What a great way to spend school holidays!

These types of activities are really beneficial for the kids. The age range encourages them to look after each other and to make allowances for the younger one. Rather than just knowing kids from their own school, they get to mix with other kids and make friends outside of school. I’ve read about the days when the Catholic and State school kids didn’t mix – it certainly isn’t the experience in our street since the garden.

I’m sure that the garden and these types of events are significant protectors in terms of child protection. If something happens to any of the kids they now have increased social capital and there are more adults they can turn to in a the time of a crisis.

In doing things like the garden and the sleepover, one of our motivations is to demonstrate alternatives to technologically based entertainment such as TV, iPods and a Wii. The girls had a great time and there was no screen time. They worked on their Rainbow Looms (which is more plastic than ideal), built human pyramids and played various games. They even got some sleep!

If you liked this post you might want to follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. What is Kids’ Vegies on the Verge?
  2. Parenting for a better world
  3. A Transition Streets water challenge
  4. A school excursion to an Apple Store! Is that OK?
  5. What is social capital?
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Getting to know Graeme Stuart

Engage Newcastle (which shares community engagement stories from across the University of Newcastle) recently did a bit of a profile about me – which was very nice of them. The asked me about my background, my work, blogging, what inspires me, a bit about  Newcastle and various other things.

You can read it at Getting to know Graeme Stuart.

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Angela Blanchard – Building on the strengths of communities

In this TEDx talk, Angela Blanchard (Neighborhood Centers Inc) discusses a strengths-based approach to working with communities. It is an example of what asset-based community-driven development (ABCD) looks like in practice.

ABCD is built on four foundations:

  1. It focuses on community assets and strengths rather than problems and needs
  2. It identifies and mobilises individual and community assets, skills and passions
  3. It is community driven – ‘building communities from the inside out’ (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993)
  4. It is relationship driven.

You’ll find Angela’s approach is built on these foundations. Sometimes people emphasise asset mapping as the first step in ABCD. You’ll notice that Angela’s approach doesn’t rely on a formal asset mapping process; but she clearly starts by identifying and mobilising community strengths and assets. She starts by asking questions like:

  • What do you have?
  • What works?
  • Who’s working in this community?
  • Who’s connected?
  • Who do you go to?
  • Who do you go to we have a concern about your child?
  • Where do you go when you want information about how to succeed in this city?

ABCD starts by looking at what a community has rather than concentrating at what is broken or not there. You can see the difference it makes.

If you liked this post you might want to follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. What is asset-based community-driven development (ABCD)?
  2. What is the Strengths Perspective?
  3. Kids’ Vegies on the Verge: strengthening a sense of community (as an example of ABCD)
  4. What is Appreciative Inquiry?
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Becoming an academic

SkatingI recently presented at a workshop on “Blogging as part of academic practice”. In reflecting on my approach to blogging, I realised that how I become an academic was significant.

Late last century (it still sounds strange to say that!) I was a youth worker and was interested in how youth services could create an organisational culture of nonviolence. I had been running a series of workshops in schools and youth services exploring conflict resolution and nonviolent relationships, but had often been concerned by the way teachers and youth workers handled conflict themselves and the way in which they often operated from a position of power-over rather than power-with. I felt strongly that, if we were going to assist young people to develop conflict resolution skills and nonviolent relationships, we had to model them first.

I was unsuccessful in finding funding to take this interest further, until someone suggested I apply for a PhD scholarship as a way of exploring a philosophy of nonviolence for youth workers. I had enjoyed studying and had completed a Master of Letters in Peace Studies (with a minor thesis on conflict resolution and homeless youth) so decided to give it a go. As an aside, one of the advantages of being a youth worker was that going from a youth worker wage to a tax-free scholarship (with a bit of part-time work) meant my income remained the same. Continue reading

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What is Kids’ Vegies on the Verge?

Corn from the gardenIt’s amazing how much a small 30 square metre vegetable garden can produce. It’s great to be able to eat chemical-free produce straight from the garden. Some of it has been so tasty! But what I really find amazing is the difference it can produce in relationships in a street.

In mid-2013 Cathy, Jasmine and Alexa (my partner and daughters) decided to create a vegetable garden on our nature strip for kids in our street. They sent out invitations to all the kids they knew of in our end of the street (and a few up the other end) to turn up at 1pm on Saturday with their gardening gloves and old clothes. They then waited to see what would happen. Continue reading

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A Transition Streets water challenge

Saving water

Since completing the first challenge of turning off our taps for a day (only using one bucket of water each for the day), we have finished the second: seeing how much water we could save over a week. (The challenge is part of the Transition Streets Challenge.) We used 1306 litres for the week, an average of 37.4 litres per person per day for the 5 of us (including my father who lives in a unit on the same block).

I can’t find the average daily water usage per person for the Hunter (for a household it is 480 litres), but in Melbourne the average for 2011-12 was 149 litres per day. That’s almost four times as much water per person every day! Our normal usage is around 55 litres per person. We normally would have done another two or three loads of washing, so if we add 168 litres (for three loads in our water efficient washing machine) we still would have only used 42 litres per person per day. Continue reading

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A school excursion to an Apple Store! Is that OK?

Apple StoreYear 5 at our daughter’s primary school is about to have an excursion to an Apple Store to learn how to use an app.  This is not the type of excursion we would choose for our 10-year old daughter. The excursion raises two main issues for us. First, we are concerned about how easy it is for corporations like Apple to access students through their school. (I must admit it is quite a good example of community engagement by Apple but it also highlights why I think community engagement raises a number of ethical questions.)

Second, it raises questions about family-school partnerships.  This is the second time the school has organised an excursion to the Apple Store. Quite a few parents were concerned last time and there was a lot of discussion at the Parents and Citizen’s Association (P&C) after the event. While some parents supported the excursion, others did not (and at least one family did not allow their child to attend). Given the depth of feeling last time, I think it is unfortunate that the school did not consult parents before organising it again this year. Continue reading

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