Dr. Terrance Green, an assistant professor at the University of Texas, Austin, comes to Sacramento State Nov. 14 for an evening of discussion about innovative partnerships between schools and communities. The event, which runs from 5:30-8:00 p.m. in Hinde Auditorium within the University Union, is the College of Education’s contribution to Entrepreneurship Week, which features lively discussions focused on entrepreneurship, creativity and fresh ideas.
Dr. Green’s talk, “Leading for Equity in School-Community Engagement,” will be followed by a panel discussion, “Closing Opportunity & Equity Gaps via Community-Based Innovation,” which he will moderate. Joining him on the panel will be Katie McCleary, Founding Executive Director of 916 Ink and a recent Better Together Community Award Winner; Nicholas Haystings, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Square Root Academy; and Sisters of Nia Executive Director Synthia Smith & co-founder Malika Hollinside, the winners of this year’s ReinventEd competition.
The evening concludes with a sneak peek at next year’s ReinventEd competition, which spotlights teams with innovative educational approaches vying for a $5,000 grand prize. Entries open in January.
Dr. Green’s approach to school-community partnerships will, as he says in the following Q&A, seeks to challenge the traditional engagement model.
You’ve said that the research you’ll be sharing in your talk deals with actions of school principals that support more equitable forms of school-community engagement and partnerships. What do you mean by “more equitable”?
I will be challenging and attempting to turn the traditional models of engaging with families and communities via schools on their head. However, I want people to think about ways to engage families and communities more authentically and more equitably. That means highlighting and illuminating the role of the school principal and those who occupy educational leadership positions, not only in the school, but also in the community. Community leaders, community partners, principals, teachers, students, and families all have a part in doing the creative work that contextualizes the framework (i.e., Community-Based Equity Audit) for their unique setting. Part of the beauty is the creative part, when the people within that local context wrestle and grapple with and problematize and strategize around principles of equity, justice, anti-racism, and anti-oppression. People have to ask, “How do we make this organically work within our unique context?”
This work sounds like a big job for already-busy principals. Would they need to have any special qualities or personality traits to do this work?
That’s a great question. Historically, in the educational leadership literature, particularly around school principals, there was this idea of the charismatic, heroic leader. But I would say over the last 10 or 15 years there has really been a shift in the literature to begin talking about a “post-heroic leader.” In other words, this work may begin or be championed by one individual, but the ultimate goal is to build an infrastructure around supporting families and supporting schools and communities. Karen Mapp and Paul Kuttner at Harvard write about this idea of a Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family–School Partnerships. One of the things they argue, and to an extent my work also, is that infrastructure has to be built, and that infrastructure has to be predicated on a number of things:
- It has to be systematic. It has to be infused throughout the entire school or the entire organization. Traditionally, we look at school and family engagement as an add-on: schools are about teaching and learning and that’s it. Well, we’re starting to realize that it’s more than teaching and learning – that teaching and learning encompasses engaging with families, with communities, and with parents.
- It has to be coordinated. We have to figure out who is doing what, where is the overlap, and where are the gaps? The idea is that school, community and family partnerships are something that are not only systemic, but they’re also coordinated.
- It’s integrated and interwoven throughout everything that happens in the organization – from the person who serves lunch, to an administrative assistant, to a teacher, to a principal. It becomes systemic, integrated and coordinated across the entire organization.
- It’s linked to learning. Traditionally, on back-to-school night you go to the auditorium or the cafeteria and they talk at you. They give you rules. Then you go to your child’s class and the teacher talks to you about rules and expectations. Not that any of those things are bad per se, but they’re not linked to mutually beneficial learning. Rather, it could be an avenue whereby parents learn about the school, but the school also learns about the parents.
So, a principal understanding of the infrastructure and framework for doing this work as being systemic, integrated, coordinated and linked to learning takes the sole responsibility off one individual. Because you’re right – there are so many things to do it’s impossible for a principal to do and be in the community. So we make this a school-wide initiative. It’s not an add-on, but what we do at our school.
Are there times when community-based organizations are resistant to the idea of partnering with the school?
Yes, there are organizations that don’t want to partner, or organizations who want to partner for the wrong reasons. One of the things I’ve learned in working with principals is the idea of a rule of three. Look for organizations who really want to partner with the school, and if they can make three tangible connections to the students in the school, that becomes important. They’re not just there serving one population, or one group of students.
There’s also the idea of being place-conscious instead of place-based. In other words, not just being focused on community organizations within your local geography or proximity. The idea of being place-conscious is to look for those partners, either in the city or regionally, that can connect and bring opportunities and support families and children. There will be those folks who don’t want to partner and they’re resistant to it, and that’s fine. We just start looking for those folks who are not only in our proximity where the school is located, but we’re looking for those partners across the city and across the region we can also connect to. I’ve found that to be a way to find other partners who are not resistant and who really want to engage in the work of supporting families in particular communities.
We need to make sure that the work we do is beneficial, for the community, for the children who live in the community, and the families. It’s thinking through some of those ideas and working through the dynamics of a school, particularly communities that have traditionally been underserved and marginalized. We really want to approach it from a place of being genuine, really wanting to do work that is equitable for schools and communities.