What Does Community Engagement Look Like?

As the Northern Hemisphere returns to school, school staff should reflect on the ways in which they have interacted with parents/carers and the community at large in the first half of the year.  As the Southern Hemisphere plans to return to school over the next few weeks, school staff would do well to reflect on what they learned last year about how they interacted with parents/carers and the broader community, and plan three concrete ways to build bridges, and not walls, to home and the community.

The survival of a school depends on its environment and on interactions between its component parts.  Findings from research support the idea of the more we involve the community and parents/carers in meaningful ways, the more successful our children are in school (1).  In fact, in a study of five US cities’ programs targeting a reduction of the dropout rate, community engagement is seen as a step in improving outcomes for students (2).  I’m using DiPaola & Tschannen-Moran’s (2005) definition of community engagement, which are bridging strategies schools implement in order to actively engage parents/carers in the school and build coalitions to align parents/carers and community members with the school’s mission and goals.

Community and parents/carers need to feel welcome in the school and viewed as a resource.  Schools need to engage the community in meaningful ways, not just open their doors a few times a year, and not just for fund-raising to support the school financially.  How have you built bridges to your parents/carers and community? Do you have school events scheduled throughout the day and evening at various times of year, or only in the evenings?

In two schools I taught in, one middle and one high, in the Bronx, NY, I made it a point to call each and every student’s home/shelter to make contact with my students’ caretaker over the first two weeks of school.  In this way, I was able to ascertain any needs or concerns the parent/carer had about their child. It also gave me an ‘in’ for any future phone calls, notes and/or emails.  This simple task built a firm foundation from which to build my relationship with both student and home.
In another school where I worked, we partnered with local colleges and technical schools to offer employment related workshops for parents/carers. One of the other benefits to this approach was that we also built bridges for continuing education for our students in the future, as we began building partnerships with the larger community from the success of this initiative.

How can your school develop a collaboration with community board task forces or committees? How can your school and community work together to create a collaborative agenda that works in the best interest of the students?

We have countless opportunities to connect intentionally with our parents/carers and the community.  What are some ways in which you will engage/ engage more deeply and meaningfully with these important stakeholders? Feel free to get in touch and share your thoughts here or through my website drmistymkirby.com.


  1. Epstein & Sheldon, 2002; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Kirby & DiPaola, 2011
  2. Center for the Study of Social Policy, 1995

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