Collaboration in schools is essential and a big component of learning. At the same time, when we think about collaboration, we mainly refer to student-student collaboration, teachers collaborating among themselves, or even whole school collaboration for different projects.
That is not the end of it, not even close. In many cases, we treat schools as silos, with their own little community and culture, whereas we know well that schools are anything but that.
Educational institutions are a part of the more extensive community and often a reflection of it. The community’s problems and its strengths are often those of the school’s as well — not to mention that schools are affected by country, state, and local policies.
Why building stronger school-community partnerships is worthwhile
That’s why it makes no sense to keep classrooms closed when it comes to creating school-community partnerships. Here are some of the benefits of doing so:
Seeing real-life examples
In general, when we think about a strong school-community partnership, vocational education is somehow involved.
However, any class and grade level can benefit from authentic examples from professionals. For example, when students learn about chemistry, it’s hard to tie the formulas and experiments with real-life phenomena or applications.
That’s why having a Chemical or Materials engineer or anyone who uses certain chemistry concepts daily come and talk about what they do and why their skill set is meaningful can motivate students to learn more. This opportunity enhances their understanding of any subject, not just STEM-related.
Read more: Getting started with STEM in your classroom!
Making lessons more relevant
The curriculum is relevant, but students don’t always see it that way. The question “what do I need this for?” often comes with a speech about future careers, how their future selves will thank them for this, etc. As a teacher and an adult, it’s really easy to see how education shapes your life, but it’s not that clear for them.
In reality, it’s hard to motivate students who have no idea what they want to do in the future or what is out there. Professionals from the larger community can supplement the curriculum with relevant information, even though a Q&A session. Better yet, they can send visual materials to help you enhance your lessons, something that it’s not easy to find with a Google search.
Ensuring representation for all students
If students choose career paths based on what they can see and learn from their environment, it’s best to showcase diverse people and careers.
For some students, especially from higher-income backgrounds, representation is not usually an issue. On the other hand, research tells us that lower-income students often encounter barriers such as low self efficacy.
At the same time, parents, counselors and community members have a decisive influence on a young person’s career path. It’s impossible to ask educators to fulfill this role for all students.
That’s why meeting professionals of all genders, races, and even people in non-traditional roles from similar backgrounds is genuinely empowering.
Breaking down work myths and stereotypes
Myths such as “jobs are just for this gender” or “you need to be extra gifted to get into a certain field” are certainly on your students’ minds whether they talk about it or not. They will eventually hold your students back, even if deciding on a career path is still many years away.
Community role models play a key role in showing them what is possible to achieve. Representation matters, especially for younger people looking for guidance and often finding it in places such as TV shows and the internet, which might not paint an accurate picture of what certain careers are like. For example, TV writers often think that office jobs are boring despite never holding down a similar job themselves.
Project-based learning (PBL) often involves getting into the “real world” for information. Simultaneously, most students don’t have the connections to just walk into a small business office and write a report about entrepreneurial practices or simply get what they need by visiting a Geology museum.
The school can provide access to an expert to answer their questions and even be involved in the project. Community members can act as judges in school competitions, or they can give feedback on projects.
Read more: 10 DOs and DON’Ts in Project-Based Learning
Acting as a learning opportunity for teachers
Teachers are seen as the holders of all knowledge, but there is not one person in the world who knows everything.
We can see a barrier between teachers and other professionals, with both having preconceived notions about what the other group knows and does. This isn’t helping students as they are expected to go into the workforce after graduation, whether they attend higher education or not.
It’s also an opportunity for teachers to develop professionally by having an expert to provide use cases, discuss real-world applications of their lessons and to get useful information that can certainly improve their teaching.
Going beyond classroom walls
I remember a lot more from classes that took advantage of different guest speakers than from lectures. That’s because there were no lectures, just chatting with people, who usually described their job in simple terms, knocking down misconceptions that we had and making things much easier to understand. All of it was, of course, coordinated by the teacher, who made sure that we could connect this new information with what we had already learned.
Having students pick experts' brains gives them a more accurate idea of how things work. It leaves plenty of room for informal learning. Most of all, as technology is ubiquitous in schools, you don’t even have to bring experts who live within a few miles. You practically have access to any professional with a spare hour for a video call, or there is always social media, where people are often happy to engage and help.
Making things click
Schools are essential for communities and can’t exist outside of them. A successful school-community partnership has many benefits, including breaking down barriers, enhancing learning, and providing much-needed representation.