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Public Engagement Through Teaching and Learning

We all stand to gain tremendous resources, expertise, and support from having a broader base of constituents working toward a shared vision of public schools as vibrant centers of learning which radiate a positive, safe, and caring environment within which all students thrive. Rather than relegating "outsiders" to the
sidelines, schools need to nurture mutually beneficial relationships with parents, business, and the full spectrum of community members. The collective expertise that will be brought to bear on improving our schools will help us all be more effective in meeting the needs of those at the core of our mission: the students.

Too often, collaborative efforts are hampered by the perception that only teachers know what students need to learn and how to provide the necessary instruction to develop those skills. We will be far more effective in impacting the learning process if we bring all of the available resources to bear on increasing student learning: parents, young people, community members, business leaders, and school staff. The rich perspectives and expertise offered by this diverse group can substantially expand our ability to meet the varied abilities and interests of the students in our classrooms. With teachers as the central guide in the process, each student's educational experience can take great strides by developing collaborative partnerships that enhance learning in a broader context.

As you begin the new school year, renew your commitment to ignite your teaching and learning by engaging the public. The reward? Increased understanding of what it takes to be a successful school, greater support for what you need to be successful, and additional resources to inspire success in your students. Start from where you are, and start small. Begin with a pledge to take one small step toward engaging the wider community in your efforts today, then use the following strategies to get you started.
  • Ask members of the city council in helping your class write a classroom constitution to establish a democratic classroom.
  • Send home a Time and Talent survey with your students, asking families to identify ways they would like to be involved in your classroom community. Request that each family identify one other community member to take the survey as well.
  • Open the school for a broad range of educational opportunities outside the school day, such as a knitting, yoga, or computer classes for learners of all ages.
  • Structure homework around things that are happening in the community. Assign a research paper on a relevant community topic and then make the copies available at the local library. Give students credit for participating in a community event that relates to your curriculum. Invite community members to speak to your class about relevant topics.
  • Write an op-ed for the local paper that talks about learning that is going on in your classroom that connects with a current issue or need in the community.
  • Work with the city council and other community groups to engage youth in addressing community issues. Find out what they're working on and connect it with your curriculum. Become a partner in promoting awareness through a public awareness campaign. Attend city council meetings with your students and get involved.
  • Invite members of the community to join your class for a community forum to discuss needs in the community. Connect these needs to your curriculum through service-learning and engage your students in designing and implementing a solution.
Image: Teri Dary
About the Author: Teri Dary is the Education Consultant for Service-Learning at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and serves as co-chair of the State Education Agency K-12 Service-Learning Network. She has been an educator for 27 years and has extensive experience in curriculum and program development.

This article is one in a series on the topic of Engaging the Public in Public Education. It was developed to provide a set of resources to assist schools in discovering innovative strategies for engaging the full spectrum of stakeholders in the education process. To read other entries in the series, please click here. To download the entire series with links and resources, please click here.

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