Building Rapport with a Community
October 01, 2022
Appears in October 2022: School Administrator.
A theory of action can be thought of simply as a series of “if, then” statements. After studying successful school districts for many years, I designed a theory of action for building rapport with a community to transform the supporting systemic structures that make for great schools.
It is a tall order, and I’ve modified it over nearly two decades. This five-step approach works for me for large- and small-scale projects.
- Step 1: If you establish equitable funding structures around student learning, then you can directly impact equality of outcome. Without equity of opportunity, a strong outcome is nearly impossible. Some work their entire career to establish equitable funding structures around student learning, and this is a necessary first step. Participatory budgeting does this by giving everyone an opportunity to share ideas and participate.
- Step 2: If you establish quality assurance frameworks, then you can begin the process of building trust with your community by showing the benefit of public education. Our communities have a right to know what benefit they can receive, and we have a duty to show them these benefits. John Tanner’s work in this area is second to none. Many districts use a community-based accountability or local accountability system. Participatory budgeting allows us to ask and answer this question: What is the benefit of spending funds in this way to improve student learning.
- Step 3: If you generate communitywide ownership of learning, then you don’t become accidental adversaries with your teachers, students or parents when implementing change. The community will only take ownership after you have completed step 2, by establishing quality assurance frameworks. Once the participatory budgeting ideas are voted on, it is no longer one person’s initiative. It is something collectively agreed upon.
- Step 4: If you foster courageous leadership and policymaking at the local level, then you can build steps 1, 2 and 3 into policy manuals, district procedures and community conversations. This is how a good idea can become part of the culture of a district, but it requires leaders to stand and make a commitment. Participatory budgeting requires courageous leadership and policymaking as it is a departure from how we normally think about projects.
- Step 5: If we work to cultivate public will and understanding for transformation, then we can ultimately transform the supporting systemic structures that make for great public schools. The participatory budgeting project is cultivating the public will toward this transformation.
The entire participatory budgeting process is a discrete way to think about transformational leadership in action. This theory of action has been of great help to me whenever I am facing a transformational opportunity.