Successful collaborative partnerships of any type require thought and planning. This section explores aspects of planning, guidance for making a first connection with a school district, and contextual details which may aid in improving communication between higher education and preK12 educators.
Learners should be able to:
- Articulate general features of collaborative partnerships.
- Determine who your potential partner(s) may be.
- Use tips and strategies for connecting with school districts.
- Implement strategies to achieve impact.
- Identify practice steps to empower teachers and administrators to provide feedback.
- Review the presentation.
PPT slides: An Orientation to Building Collaborative Partnerships with Schools. [Building_Collaborative.pptx]
- Document any questions.
Full Transcript [Show/Hide]
Collaborative partnerships require planning and evaluation to be successful. Collaborative partnerships require:
- Joint planning between all parties involved
- Meaningful and measurable outcomes for all parties
- An evaluation plan to determine which outcomes were met
- Opportunities for iteration and improvement
Explicitly state who your audience is. You audience could be all kindergarten students, female students in 6th grade, or students who are graduating high school without employment or college plans. Your audience could also be earth science teachers, high school counselors who need recertification, or administrators who want to learn about emotional intelligence. Having a specific audience best so that you can tailor your project to meet the needs of this group. If you try to make your project applicable to too many groups (for example, designing and activity that both an elementary and high school student would enjoy), you may make your project meaningless to both groups.
Once you know who your audience is, that will help you know who to approach for building a partnership. If you project involves earth science, you may approach the science administrator of your school district to start your partnership. In general, approaching administrators is recommended over approaching specific teachers, because administrators can ensure that outreach is spread equitably throughout the school or district. You may also want to suggest involvement of a school librarian or media specialist as part of the project in addition to a teacher or group of teachers. School librarians may be interested in expanding their knowledge about OER as part of their role in supporting classroom teachers.
Once you know who to approach, you should first investigate any existing partnerships with the school or district. Your goal should not be to become an expert in the school district, but rather to know the current events and have a general familiarity with with the school. We discuss how to complete this research at length in the Assignment: Before You Approach Your School District.
Discuss with the school district mutual goals and benefits. Make sure that you are both getting some of your needs met and that the project is aligned with your higher level, long-term goals. This may take more than one conversation.
Make sure to communicate and be honest about what you need from the beginning of your relationship. Make sure to be direct and don’t use jargon that is specific to your field. Your goal is to be clearly understood by someone who is likely outside of your field.
As part of this communication, make sure your timeline is clear and that is works for your partner. You should also present and discuss an evaluation plan, describing how the evaluation will help shape your project (formative evaluation) as well as how you will determine if the goals and outcomes were met (summative evaluation).
When working with schools, make sure that you keep their working timelines in mind. For example, many schools require approval by the school board to participate in grant funded projects. These meetings likely happen once a month, so leave time to ensure that you can get all the approvals you need.
Be very clear in what you are asking for and what you need. If you are not sure, start a conversation with the school about what their needs and resources are.
Be mindful of the return on investment, not just for yourself, but for your partner. What is in it for them? What will they get out of participating in this project? Is your project sustainable in some way?
Above all else, respect your potential partner and remember that they are likely experts in their field. Avoid making assumptions and demands; rather, try to create a partnership of equal value and power. Explore any requirements the school may have in place for working with minors (we provide some training in our slide show: Working with Minors). Treat the school/district you approach as an equal and valuable partner.
In order to achieve impact, you must have a strategy. Just as research is conducted thoughtfully and will specific goals in mind, outreach should also be done thoughtfully and with specific goals.
Make your strategy for achieving impact consistent with the technical project tasks. For example, if you are studying novel research methods in geology, make sure that your outreach can be related to your field of research. This alignment will likely make outreach more interesting and easier for you.
Make sure you know what you will be doing for implementation and evaluation. When doing outreach, always plan your activities at a detailed level. Try to estimate, or ask someone familiar with your audience, how much time each task will take and how difficult it will be for your audience. Make sure your outreach can be done in the time allotted but not so quickly that everyone is sitting around doing nothing. You may allow opportunities for student to explore on their own or have a “back-up” activity in case your first activity takes less time than expected. Ensure your task won’t be too challenging and disheartening for your audience or so easy they lose interest.
For evaluation, how will you evaluate your impact? You should evaluate the impact of your outreach from both your perspective and the perspective of your partner. Ensure that your outcomes were met or determine why they were not met. Examples of outcomes can include both learning outcomes (e.g., what did the students learn from this experience?) and experiential outcomes (e.g., was this activity fun and enjoyable?) as well as interest and career outcomes (e.g., are students more interested in this field?) among others.
Finally, ensure that your activity is appropriate and relevant to your audience. Make sure that this activity aligns with what students are learning in the classroom or with the professional development goals of the district and teachers.
Email is a great way to introduce yourself and your work, but most teachers, school librarians, and administrators will also want to have a phone call, zoom meeting, or in-person talk to learn more about you and your work. Provide opportunities for talking to create a better partnership and to make sure that you and your partner are on the same page. When possible, try to defer to the needs and wants of the potential partner you are approaching. Is parking on campus difficult? Go to their workplace. Do they find responding to emails too time consuming? Give them a call. Try to be flexible and considerate.
Workday hours in a school district likely differ from the typical nine-to-five. Teachers may need to schedule meetings before or after school, rather that during the school day. Most of the time that teachers have at school is spent with students and lacks flexibility for mid-day meetings. If a teacher asks you to meet them during their planning period, arrive promptly and leave on time. Allow time for checking in to the school, which will often have some security and sign-in measures.
Teachers and administrators are experts in their field. Remember to respect their expertise and ask for their opinions.
When empowering teachers and administrators to provide feedback, the first step is to convey your respect for their expertise. Tell your partner that you value their knowledge and skills and that you would also value their input and feedback on your work. If needed, remind your partner that feedback is a way to ensure alignment of the project with your their goals and needs.
Ask for feedback in a professional manner, remembering your partner’s timelines and needs. Make sure that you don’t ask for feedback at the last minute and that you’ve discussed the way to provide feedback with your partner. We provide a model for this discussion in the Rubric for Teacher/Administrator Review and the Template for Inviting Review Teachers and Administrators.
Self-Test Quiz Questions:
- What are the features of a collaborative partnership?
- How much notice do many school districts need to participate in grant funded outreach?
- True or False: School teachers and administrators often work typical nine-to-five jobs.
- Why might you consider involving a school librarian or media specialist in the project?