6 keys to community engagement in schools

School gardenWhen I read the definition of community engagement in Community & family engagement: Principals share what works (Berg, Melaville, & Blank, 2006), I was confident it would be an interesting report.

Community engagement is a two-way street where the school, families, and the community actively work together, creating networks of shared responsibility for student success. It is a tool that promotes civic well-being and that strengthens the capacity of schools, families, and communities to support young peoples’ full development” (p. 1).

Drawing on another report from the Coalition, Making the difference: Research and practice in public schools, they present five conditions for learning:

Condition 1: The school has a core instructional program with qualified teachers, a challenging curriculum, and high standards and expectations for students.

Condition 2: Students are motivated and engaged in learning — both in school and in community settings, during and after school.

Condition 3: The basic physical, mental and emotional health needs of young people and their families are recognised and addressed.

Condition 4: There is mutual respect and effective collaboration among parents, families and school staff.

Condition 5: Community engagement, together with school efforts, promote a school climate that is safe, supportive and respectful and that connects students to a broader learning community (Berg, Melaville, & Shah, 2003, p. 23).

You will notice that family-school partnerships and community engagement are at the heart of these conditions.

Based on interviews and focus groups with 46 principals of community schools (or similar schools), Berg, Melaville and Blank identify six keys to community engagement that can help create the conditions for learning,

Key 1: Know Where You’re Going

Start by creating a vision – in partnership with school staff, families, partners and community residents (and I’d add students) – of what the school could look like and develop a plan for how to get there. Ensure that diverse viewpoints are included in this process.

Key 2: Share Leadership

Actively involve staff, parents and community partners in sharing leadership functions, and work closely with them in working towards your shared vision.

Key 3: Reach Out

Be proactive in learning about the community surround the school and become actively outside the school. Don’t just expect the community to help meet the school’s priorities; also think about how the school can contribute to what the local community wants. Identify community resources that could help the school AND school resources that could be useful to the community.

Key 4: Don’t Ignore the Elephant in the Room

Recognise, and embrace, diversity within the school and the broader community. Instead of pretending that there are no differences in culture, lifestyle choices, income, skin colour etc., promote open and honest discussion of the diversity you find around you.

Key 5: Tell Your School’s Story

Make your schools story come alive. “We have to learn to communicate and to tell our story well. Once parents and the community pick up on this, they will do a lot” (p. 12). Using stories, and the strategic use of facts and figures, can inspire people to become involved. There is a great example of telling the story of a school at A year at Mission Hill.

Key 6: Stay on Course

Ensure that the vision and plan for the school remains at the heart of partnerships and in community engagement initiatives. Think about long-term sustainability and how partnerships can thrive over the long haul.

The report uses the six keys to consider ways of responding to some of the challenges in engaging families, staff, partners and the public. For example it suggests that some of the barriers to engaging families include:

  • Negative experiences
  • Language and cultural differences
  • Issues of race and class
  • Lack of professional development and preparation.

To address these barriers they suggest the following strategies (based on the six keys to community engagement):

  • Know where you’re going: Define vision for family engagement broadly
  • Share leadership: Encourage families’ contributions and leadership
  • Reach out: Meet families where they are
  • Don’t ignore the elephant in room: Create a welcoming environment and have honest conversations
  • Tell your school’s story: Be visible in the community
  • Stay on course: Continually assess progress

Community schools are great examples of how schools can work in partnership with families and the local community. According to the Coalition for Community Schools:

A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities. Community schools offer a personalized curriculum that emphasizes real-world learning and community problem-solving. Schools become centers of the community and are open to everyone – all day, every day, evenings and weekends.

Using public schools as hubs, community schools bring together many partners to offer a range of supports and opportunities to children, youth, families and communities. Partners work to achieve these results: Children are ready to enter school; students attend school consistently; students are actively involved in learning and their community; families are increasingly involved with their children’s education; schools are engaged with families and communities; students succeed academically; students are healthy – physically, socially, and emotionally; students live and learn in a safe, supportive, and stable environment, and communities are desirable places to live.

The report and the Coalition’s webpage are well worth reading.

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

  1. Making parents feel welcome in schools
  2. 10 Ways to build school-community partnerships
  3. Community engagement in NSW schools
  4. A World Cafe in a school – a step-by-step description
  5. What is asset-based community-driven development (ABCD)?


Berg, A. C., Melaville, A., & Blank, M. J. (2006). Community & family engagement: Principals share what works. Washington DC: Coalition for Community Schools.

Berg, A. C., Melaville, A., & Shah, B. P. (2003). Making the difference: Research and practice in public schools. Washington DC: Coalition for Community Schools.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Schools, Working with communities and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to 6 keys to community engagement in schools

  1. Keita Madison says:

    I have always had the great ability to adapt to any environment, and the first thing I most certainly learned was not to judge. Some of my most wonderful experiences came from environments whom at one point were looked down upon, The best practice is to establish a relationship with administration , and its parents. In the beginning of the school year you can help in many ways by smallest gestures such as a Surprise Breakfast for Parents and Faculty. I was Successful in making that happen by reaching out to the local Starbucks, and explaining the idea that I had for our community partnership. Sharing your life experiences can be a wonderful asset, it makes much more down to earth to the student population. Specifically for me working at a School that is starts at Kindergarten and ends in the 8th Grade has major challenges already and to add that the that a lot of those children come from broken homes. So its best to always focus on the positive aspects in each community there are a lot of opportunities but people are not aware of them because they are working and simply don’t have the time. It is our job to make them aware.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anonymous says:

    I couldn’t believe that you expressed diversity as “the elephant in the room.” This phrase takes away from the vary notion of what you are trying to address. I would change this phrase as it does not contribute to scholarship on the subject.


    • I am only quoting them, but I can see there is a bit of an issue with the term. There is some irony in saying “elephant in the room,” which would make no sense in many cultures, to talk about the important of recognising and embracing diversity.


  3. I’m glad to have subscribed to your sustaining community blog. thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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