Designing all of our learning settings with relationships at the core could not be more important than it is today — for reducing stress for both children and adults, for addressing trauma, and especially for re-engaging young people and bolstering their belief in themselves and their futures.
But we also know that children develop within a context of relationships that extend beyond the school walls.
In schools guided by a whole-child purpose, school staff engage families, caregivers, and community stakeholders to co-create and contribute to the school culture and learning community.
These relationship-filled contexts don’t happen by chance — it takes intentional individual and collective action to disrupt historically uneven power dynamics and patterns of exclusion and create contexts where all partners belong, are heard, and are valued.
Engaging families, caregivers, and the community is about reducing the stress on teachers, expanding the web of support for both students and educators, and linking the community to what children are learning in classrooms.
Now that we’re a few months into the school year, it’s a good time for educators to take stock of the relationships they’re building and see where they can strengthen existing connections.
How to Connect the Community and the Classroom
Not all school-community connections need to be formal partnerships.
As educators become better acquainted with their community members and resources, holistic connections to learning can become apparent with almost every interaction. These connections not only support student learning and engagement, they contribute to a sense of belonging in the community and affirmation of community resources and contributors. They also increase educator understanding about and involvement in the broader community.
Turnaround for Children’s School–Community Outreach Strategies tool includes a specific resource on ways to link what students are learning in the classroom to community resources and leaders. After prompting school staff to think about ways to develop relationships with the local community, this tool helps teachers and leaders integrate community knowledge and events into classroom and schoolwide experiences.
Here are some examples to spark your thinking:
- A grandmother of a third-grade student visits the class during math to share a number story problem: My recipe calls for 1/2 cup of sugar, but I only have 1/8 and 1/4 measuring cups. What should I do? The students work out the problem and share their thinking, then grandma tries out one strategy using actual measuring cups.
- In a 5th grade classroom focusing on narratives, the grade-level teachers invite guests from the community to share stories, which integrates oral histories (alongside traditional narrative writing), discussion of narrative features, and development of relational and cultural ties to the community.
- A principal attends a community coalition and offers to continue the discussion with a coffee hour at the school, in which school and community members can make connections between their intersecting goals and activities.