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Garnering Community Involvement

EducationWorld is pleased to feature a variety of book excerpts in collaboration with Stenhouse Publishers. The following excerpt comes from The Principal Difference: Key Issues in School Leadership and How to Deal with Them Successfully, by Susan Church (Pembroke Publishers, 2005; distributed in the U.S. by Stenhouse Publishers). The book retails for $21 and is available on the Stenhouse Web site. See the book for a full list of works cited in this article.

This article addresses how schools can engage their students, parents, and communities to create a strong school learning community. See Telling Your Own Story: School-Led Self-Evaluation and Strengthening Literacy Learning for Boys for two additional excerpts from The Principal Difference.

Research by Epstein, Henderson & Mapp, and Sheldon documents how organized programs of school/community partnerships “improve schools, strengthen families, invigorate community support, and increase student achievement and success” (Epstein & Salinas, p. 12). The Coalition for Community Schools in the United States (Blank, p. 63) found

  • significant and widespread gains in academic achievement and essential areas of non-academic development
  • increased family stability and greater family involvement with schools
  • increased teacher satisfaction and more positive school environments
  • better use of school buildings and increased security and pride in neighborhoods

In a national study in the United States, Dauber and Epstein found that the best predictor of parent involvement was what the school did to promote it, and was far more important than parents’ income, educational level, race, or previous school volunteer experiences in predicting whether a parent would be involved with the school.

School leaders who truly want to enhance the involvement of students, parents, and other community members need to actively seek their input and act upon what they learn. This can be done through informal interactions, or more formally through short questionnaires or surveys.


School leaders can develop a questionnaire to monitor student perceptions. They might draw upon research tools developed by Nemerowicz and Rosi as part of a study on education for leadership and social responsibility. The researchers asked students to “draw a picture of leadership” and then invited them to talk about their pictures in one-to-one interviews. In these discussions, the interviewers asked the children to define leadership, to share their feelings about leadership, and to give advice to leaders. Such a tool has the potential to give a principal honest feedback on efforts to enact collaborative leadership. It also can provide insights into whether or not students see their teachers or themselves as leaders.

Nemerowicz and Rosi offer the following suggestions for enhancing the leadership capacities of students, thus contributing to the development of collaboration in the school:

About Stenhouse Publishers

Stenhouse publishes professional development books and videos by teachers and for teachers. Their titles cover a range of content areas -- from literacy and mathematics to science, social studies, the arts, and environmental education -- as well as a variety of topics, including classroom management, assessment, and differentiation.

  • Make the topic of leadership a more direct part of curriculum and conversation.
  • Introduce the idea of a “common good.”
  • Increase collaborative learning opportunities and reinforce the association between leadership and problem-finding and solving.
  • Analyze the way decisions are made in the school and in the family.
  • Involve teachers and parents as partners in learning with the child.
  • Point out examples of leadership in the world beyond politics and government, and provide opportunities for students to experience and practice leadership.
  • Develop in children an awareness of the importance of active, participatory leadership.
  • Discuss with the individual child his or her leadership potential.
  • Provide more information about the leadership contributions of women in all arenas.
  • Reinforce interpersonal skills for their importance in leadership.
  • Allow time for coaches and teachers to reflect on what and how they are teaching about leadership.



School leaders can develop questionnaires to seek parental input. In order to ensure that all parents are able to participate, principals may need to work with community groups or the district to have these questionnaires translated into several languages. Schools may also want to offer parents the opportunity to attend meetings where they can provide their input orally; they might also consider putting the questionnaires online for those with access to technology. Dauber and Epstein suggest that a questionnaire include questions that cover the following:

  • parent attitudes towards their children’s school
  • the school subjects that parents want to know more about
  • how frequently parents are involved in different ways in their children’s education
  • how well school programs and teacher practices inform and involve them in their children’s education
  • workshop topics they would select
  • the times of day parents prefer for meetings or conferences at school
  • how much time their children spend on homework, and whether parents help
  • background information about parents’ education, work, and family size


Gaining input from adults in the community, beyond parents of students, can be challenging. Individuals in the community who are not parents can be invited to participate on school advisory councils. Schools can also distribute questionnaires beyond the school, describing school activities and inviting participation. If school activities such as fundraising or service learning require the involvement of community agencies or businesses, it is a courtesy to invite their participation during the planning stages. Such openness is likely to enhance the possibility of garnering support, rather than resistance.


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