PAGE Community Conversations — Your Voice, Your Guide is based on the concepts presented in Jamie Vollmer’s groundbreaking book, “Schools Cannot Do It Alone.” Use this interactive guide to plan, map, present and track your Community Conversations. As you click on questions, you’ll be prompted to create a username and password. Your notes are strictly confidential. You may, however, choose to share your login information among your team so that you can collaboratively build your Community Conversations action plan.
Community Conversations are built on two tracks: one formal and one informal. The formal track engages educators and the public in ongoing discussions, leading to increased student success. The centerpiece is a scripted message. Steps include:
- examining your community
- determining your message
- mapping the community
The informal track boosts the effectiveness of your conversations by tapping the power of educators to positively influence local environments.
The Formal Track
Begin at the District Office Examine Your Community Faculty/Community Discussion: The Design of School Faculty Discussion: What is the Problem? Group Discussion: Trends in Education Develop a Message and Script Mapping the Community Conduct a Communications Audit A Constructive Community Meeting in 7 StepsBack to top
Begin at the District Office
When initiating comprehensive community conversations within your school or district, begin at district superintendent’s office. School principals and staff must then be educated about the importance of the conversations. Be clear that the goal is to facilitate collaboration between schools and the community, and thus transform educational opportunities for local students. Back to top
Examine Your Community
Before addressing the community, your team must closely examine the key characteristics of both your community and the schools (successes, trends, challenges, etc.). The following are constructive dialogue prompts suggested by Vollmer:
- What are the community’s values? How are they evidenced? How are those values changing?
- How well do the schools reflect community values?
- Is information about values / goals / successes / challenges / academic data / attendance data available on the school websites? Do we track and share information about our graduates (successes, scholarships earned, etc.) Have we compared the number of graduates over time?
- How has the school budget changed over the past few years? How have budget reductions impacted services?
- How is our school system budget allocated in terms of salaries, food service, transportation, etc.
- What is the economic impact of schools in our community?
- How do school employees and students support the community through volunteerism, leadership, etc.
Consider the following questions when designing prompts for constructive dialogue. These prompts can serve for multiple conversations over time. The following can be used as examples or questions to make applicable to your audience. You may start with a small group and then move to larger audiences. Back to top
Faculty / Community Discussion: The Design of School
Consider the following passage in “Schools Cannot Do It Alone”:
America’s schools were not designed to teach all children to high levels. They were designed to select and sort young people into two groups: a small handful of thinkers and a great mass of doers according to the workplace needs of an agro-industrial society. As long as this design remains intact, millions of teachers and administrators will struggle to deliver outcomes that the system was never designed to produce. (J. Vollmer, p. 41)
Discussion questions: To what extent is your school/district about sorting and selecting students as described by Vollmer? Consider the following passage:
We were going to have to take the plunge into the community’s cultural core, and we were going to have to go deep enough to influence the hearts and minds of the people who ultimately control our schools. (J. Vollmer, p. 102).
- When you think about your community’s cultural core, what comes to mind?
- Is there one community or are there communities?
- What values and beliefs do community members hold?
- What hopes and dreams are central to the community?
- What mental models do community members hold of school? Of success?
Questions used with permission of The Schlechty Center (2013). Principal Leadership Network Back to top
Faculty Discussion: What is the problem?
Consider Vollmer’s passage below:
What if we do not have a people problem? What if the problem is deep in the system? This thought was sobering on two counts. First, it suggested that 30 years of reform initiatives aimed at changing behavior via performance incentives, teacher-proof materials, site-based councils, raised standards, wall-to-wall testing and school takeovers were missing the core problem, which would explain a lot. Second, and much more vexing, fixing a people problem was a formidable challenge, but restructuring a massive, heavily regulated, culturally entrenched system was a task that was harder by a factor of a thousand. (J. Vollmer, p. 29)
- In what ways does Vollmer’s passage coincide with observations and experiences in your community?
- What tools, frameworks or strategies do you draw upon to make system changes?
Group Discussion: Trends in Education
Vollmer: We must understand the “Terrible Twenty Trends”
- Changing Demographics
- Negative Media
- Fear of School Violence
- Culture War
- The Clanning of America (Self-selection into groups)
- The Rights Revolution
- The Rise of Special Interests
- The Plague of Regulations
- Fear and Loathing of the Government (No local control)
- The Frenzy of Privatization (Current management is inferior)
- Anti-Tax Movement
- Schools as Scapegoats
- Union Bashing
- Public Perception of Alternatives (All superior to public education)
- Demand for Customization
- International Comparisons
- Standardized Testing
- Changing Job Market
- Ever-Expanding Expectations
- The Biloski Dilemma (Working parents with little/no time to attend school functions)
- Which trends are prevalent in your school? Your community?
- What trends that impact your work are missing from the list?
The following prompts may help facilitate group discussion regarding education trends that impact your community. They may be used by presenters or in break-out sessions.
- What do I need to know?
- Why do I need to know it?
- What will I be able to do when we are done?
- How well do I have to do it?
(The above questions were culled from Steven Barkley’s 2010-2011 presentation to the PAGE Academic Coach and Principal Leadership Institutes.)
- I am here to talk about …
- You are here because …
- Why are we here together?
- This is what we are exploring / investigating / here to discuss / here to learn about …
- What are some of the points we need to consider?
- This is how we affect the future …
(The above discussion prompts were culled from Ruben Ocampo’s 2013 presentation to the Superintendent Leadership Network, West Palm Beach, Fla.)
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Develop a Message and Script
Design scripts to be flexible enough to accommodate meetings of varying lengths. And be sure to share the scripts with your entire staff in advance. They must know what is being shared with the community in order to provide critical support. The public face of your community conversations should be a team of two to four teachers leaders and presenters. The role of administrators and board members is to develop, implement and manage each phase. Essential Components of Your Message to the Community:
- Promote the district’s successes
- Discuss the urgent need to increase student success
- Make it clear that the entire community will benefit from improved schools
- Communicate clearly that the district seeks an honest exchange of information and ideas
The Power of Effective Scripts:
- Help presenters stay on message
- Provide confidence / support
- Define responsibilities
- Discourage emotional presenters
- Ensure clarity and consistency of message
- Ensure staff understanding
- Provide a written record
Mapping the Community
Identify all groups that regularly meet in the community:
- Civic Clubs
- Fraternal societies
- Professional associations
- Labor and farm organizations
- Ethnic societies
- Businesses over a certain size
- Religious organizations
- Internal groups-school staff, PTA, etc.
- Miscellaneous groups
- Ad hoc assemblies
- Virtual communities
Determine where and when each group meets and develop a map of locations.
Create a Presentation Schedule
Create a presentation schedule for teams to meet with the groups you have mapped. Be sure to hold meetings on the turfs of the groups, rather than vise versa. Meeting times and locations must be convenient to the audience. Here is an example provided by Jamie Vollmer of how to map your community conversations: Click here to download a PDF of blank copy of the mapping document to use for scheduling and tracking your community conversations. Resources for mapping your community include the websites of your local chamber and economic development authority. They typically list local organizations and contact information. The Georgia Regional Commissions’ website includes a link to Regional Commissions in Georgia: www.dca.state.ga.us/development/planningqualitygrowth/DOCUMENTS/Publications/RegionalCommissions/RCDirectory.pdf Back to top
Conduct a Communications Audit
A communication audit is a comprehensive evaluation of your district’s ability to send, receive and share information. It uncovers the communications strengths and weaknesses between your school community and all of your constituents: parents, students, employees, civic organizations, legislative bodies, the media, etc. Gaps that need to be bridged are identified and a strategic plan is developed to improve communications. Some districts have a public relations officer skilled in communication audits. For others, the National School Public Relations Association [www.nspra.org] can help guide a district in this process. Another good resource is “Ten Steps for Conducting a Communications Audit” by UrbanWords (www.urbanwordsgroup.com/tensteps.pdf). One way to begin the process is to list the ways in which your school district communicates with the public, directly and indirectly. Obvious ones are websites, social media networks, newsletters and newspaper columns. Less obvious examples include student work displayed in the community and the appearance of the school grounds and facilities. Ask your team to consider the district’s communications goals. Are our messages clear and consistent? Are our messages reaching key audiences and moving them to action? What would improve our communications? Back to top
A Constructive Community Meeting in 7 Steps:
- Welcome the audience and introduce the team. Emphasize that the purpose of this community-wide meeting is to increase student success, leading to tangible benefits for the entire community.
- Communicate that education in America has changed drastically. To help your communities understand what is demanded of today’s schools, use the Resources in this guide and recite excerpts from Vollmer’s poster “The Ever-Increasing Burden on America’s Public Schools.”
- Emphasize that schools and communities must partner to ensure that every student receives an education that will enable each of them to become a productive citizen.
- Provide concrete examples of school successes: student / faculty progress, achievements, awards, grants, etc.
- Ask community members what they think today’s and tomorrow’s children need to know and be able to do upon graduation from high school.
- Finish with an extraordinary fact. Examples include the number of extracurricular activities that take place in a year; the number of students who transfer in and out of the district in a year or an actual test that students are administered.
- Q & A. It’s very important to listen as well as talk.