Lessons Learned: A Principal Bridges the Gap Between a School and a Community

shutterstock_207420427This blog post was originally published on National Association of Secondary School Principal’s (NASSP) blog. Read more

Meaningful family-community engagement and principal leadership are two essential components for effective school reform. Yet, often these two elements can sometimes operate separately from each other and collaboration between school leaders and the community can be a challenge.

October is National Principals Month, which means it is an opportunity for communities to recognize the important work principals do for our students across the country. I wanted to share one way in which a local PTA and a bright elementary school principal worked together to unite a community in educating our students.

Recently, as a PTA officer and the only male on the executive committee at my local elementary school, I was assigned to connect with the new male school principal. I smiled at the gesture and opportunity. This was his first opportunity to lead a school. A few weeks into the school year, I met with him. My initial impression was that he did not recognize that a local PTA can be a valuable resource to our school. I began to talk about our challenges and successes with the previous principal we had as a team. After talking with the new principal, I realized both of us were strong believers in the power of family-community engagement. I spoke about opportunities in the neighborhood to increase local business engagement within the school and PTA.

At a subsequent meeting, the principal outlined strategies to target local businesses. He placed more emphasis on an action based approach where students and teachers partner with businesses to define a problem and find a solution. The PTA—along with teachers—spoke with businesses and asked for financial contributions but also, as the principal outlined, asked for participation in the classroom. All of the businesses agreed to participate, resulting in our PTA receiving significant financial contributions and the school receiving a few months’ supply of free paper.

With input from local business leaders, the principal developed an innovative program to have business leaders interact with students in the classroom. The local businesses came in and spoke about their work and problems they experienced in their business. The students were then asked to help solve those problems. In some cases, the teachers made it an interactive homework assignment. The owners returned to the class and listened to students present their ideas on how to solve the proposed issues.

This program was well received by all. The students felt their opinions mattered, which created a better learning experience. Teachers learned more about their students’ abilities to communicate and solve problems. And in some cases, the business owner learned something new or something he/she did not recognize about their own business.

As a result of that successful teaming, the new principal’s opinion about the value of our PTA changed. I believe he now sees the PTA as an important partner in education as opposed to just a fundraising group.

I also learned a few valuable lessons in this project that can help local PTA leaders work with talented principals across the country to help educate our children:

  1. Start by working together on ONE project. You will begin to make connections and watch how it pays off and how you build on the relationships from there.
  2. Utilize the past experience of others.
  3. Place a priority on your community partners and reach out to them.
  4. Make it a win/win solution.
  5. This is simple but often overlooked.

Eddie Gleason is a PTA member of Glenn Dale Elementary School in Maryland and serves as the federal legislative chair of Maryland PTA.