Previously, we discussed why building school-community partnerships is important and how it benefits students and teachers alike.
In a nutshell, the most significant advantage is providing real-life examples, so students have a better idea of what they are learning. This type of collaboration also makes lessons more relevant for students. Additionally, it’s an excellent way for teachers to develop professionally by keeping in touch with like-minded collaborators.
Overall, schools that offer this opportunity to their students are more likely to motivate them and make lessons more captivating. A great school-community collaboration showcases the many different career options students have once they finish school.
At the same time, I know that building stronger connections isn’t easy, as teachers need the school’s support and to work around the community partners’ schedules. That is why we will discuss the different strategies you can use to make this happen! First off, where are the learning partners?
Where to find community partners?
You can start local and then branch out depending on what you need. It’s great to have a collaborator physically in the classroom sometimes, but many more professionals can help remotely. Here are some ideas for finding learning partners:
Use LinkedIn and other social media
LinkedIn and even Twitter are the way to go, and you can probably find common connections or friends to introduce you to potential learning partners. If the nearest expert doesn’t live in your town, there’s no reason to discard this idea. Google is your friend if you need to go outside the community.
Check out expert websites
Certain professionals, such as authors or artists, do virtual or face-to-face talks. They also provide all the details on their websites, blogs, or other places that they use to promote their work.
Educational conferences are a great way to meet all sorts of experts, but local talks and events can also help you get in touch with them more easily.
Ask other teachers and school staff
Your colleagues probably have had other jobs or hobbies that they can share with your class. Why not take advantage of this and ask them for help?
Contact the nearest university
Often, college teachers also have work experience. For example, niche professionals such as Archeologists usually also teach.
Contact local government and public services
Local government employees can answer questions about managing resources, preserving local culture and nature, and public health. These are all relevant topics for many subjects.
Parents can be the experts but also have their contacts. They are also very motivated to help you get in touch with community professionals since they are invested in their children’s education.
Strategies for a great school-community collaboration
In general, when professionals come to school, they do so once per year and hold a lecture-type class. Usually, there’s also a Q&A at the end, and that’s it. However, there are better strategies for authentic engagement and sharing, such as:
More engaging formats
Not all community partners are also great public speakers. So it’s up to you to give them pointers and ask them to prepare other materials.
For example, students can think of questions beforehand so collaborators can concentrate on giving thoughtful answers. They can also share their experiences through video and images that can later be saved on the school learning platform. In this way, students can return to this lesson as many times as they want.
You can also host a trivia game. The partner’s role in the game is to enrich the experience with additional explanations. Otherwise, they can give a demonstration of what they do. For example, since coding is an important topic nowadays, a computer programmer can show the software they use and how they use it. The idea is that both students and the learning partner will be more engaged and even have fun!
Instead of giving one-hour lectures, ask the partner to join in a project or learning activity that is more hands-on.
This works great for science experiments, demonstrating art techniques, joining a literary debate, or coaching during sports practice.
In this way, they are there to help students obtain better learning results and give feedback. The activity should be very light on the theoretical aspects.
The latter aspect is important since it’s more valuable for partners to talk about real-life applications instead of doing a lesson review. That’s what teachers do best anyway.
Establish their role
Some partners may have time for engaging a few times per semester, others maybe only once in a while. That’s why it’s essential to set expectations of what can be achieved and make sure both parts deliver.
On your side, you have to make sure that students have prepared questions and be mindful of their time. On their side, they can promise to help facilitate classes and also bring materials that teachers don’t normally have access to.
It’s important to have a list of activities that you would like to do and how they should be done to be on the same page from the beginning. There’s no need for them to take your place as a teacher.
Go outside the classroom
Depending on the current regulations in your area right now, it can be fun to venture out of the classroom.
In this case, learning partners can act as guides — for example, in a national reservation or museum.
One of my favorite middle school activities was visiting the local weather station. Since then, predicting the weather doesn’t seem so abstract anymore. It was cool to see how they did things in real life and the tools they used. No amount of YouTube videos can top that experience for me.
Small group interactions
Instead of talking to the whole class, partners can rotate and interact with smaller student groups.
For projects, see if you can assign a different partner for each group. In this way, they can answer questions and coach students directly.
Of course, all of this will be supervised by you since sometimes experts don’t have teaching experience, and it’s your job to keep all the groups on the right track.
Real-time learning opportunities
Real-time learning opportunities apply to both teachers and students. Knowing that a subject expert is just one chat or email away can encourage students to seek answers and discuss them during or between lessons.
At the same time, teachers can enrich their lessons and offer better examples as they’re teaching. Case and point, it’s more valuable to explain certain concepts with examples such as “Our community expert also agrees that...” or “Our teaching partner also experienced this in their work...” since they have that anchor to help them remember the material better.
Aside from the much-needed subject knowledge they bring to lessons, community members can also mentor students. Mentoring can take the form of virtual talks, email or even chat exchanges and shadowing opportunities.
The trick is to pair students with similar interests as the community volunteer and find partners to take on the challenge. For instance, maybe a student is interested in a career path but right now lacks critical skills that can be improved with encouragement from a mentor.
You can recruit mentors from the community of retired volunteers or even former teachers who have more time and experience to help in this area.
Open classrooms are better classrooms, more connected to real life. Students who engage with their communities have a better understanding of how it works and how important it is to be part of one.
It makes sense to engage community members in smaller or bigger ways, depending on how much time they can dedicate. Remember that students learn better when they have real-life examples. They also find role models and develop higher aspirations for themselves. Most importantly, a little help goes a long way, as many teachers know already.