Advocating for the Community – Results in Higher Levels of Trust

Advocating for the Community – Results in Higher Levels of Trust
by Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.

High levels of community involvement and community connection to the school result in both assisting families in supporting their child’s academic development, as well as the child’s level of engagement in the school.[1] ELCC Standards were created by ISLLC Standards and the Educational Leadership Constituents Council. Both organizations identify their number one standard as “A school leader is one who promotes success for all students by facilitating development, articulation, implementation, and stewardship of a vision of learning that is shared and supported by the school community.”[2] Why is this standard the top priority? When school leaders demonstrate strong and healthy school-community relations, students benefit – retention levels go up; achievement levels increase; graduation rates and college matriculation numbers escalate.[3]

Strong community-school relations also help school leaders in accountability and developing a high level of trust. “A particular challenge, of course, is the need for school leaders to be accountable for providing a good education to all children. But members of a school’s community may well have differing views about what constitutes acceptable accountability.”[4] Frequent communication, visibility, and school leadership access to the school community is essential for developing a sense of compassion and accountability regardless of the measurements used to assess these two characteristics. This task and challenge is easier in smaller homogeneous communities. It is more difficult to create a sense of compassion, accountability, and trust in more diverse communities. It is noted that “…relationships with parents and the local community are potentially more problematic and require more effort and thought, where there is a greater social and cultural gap between teachers and parents, where the community is in any way troubled, or if parents have reasons to be disillusioned with or antipathetic towards schools.”[5]

In a large study on trust conducted in urban schools, researchers directly correlated interpersonal trust with levels of student achievement. They made the case that the following conditions, when identified within a school, resulted in higher levels of student achievement:

  1. A teacher’s “can do” attitude and internalized responsibility
  2. Outreach to and collaboration with parents
  3. Professional community – collaborative work practices and high academic expectations and standards
  4. Commitment to school community[6]

Note that conditions #2 and #4 identify elements of advocating for all stakeholders, which both require a level of compassion toward the broader school community. Students succeed when school leaders engage in intentional outreach to parents, involvement with parents, and a commitment to the broader school community. This is even of greater importance in inner-city settings where additional research has shown the importance of strong community relations. Trusted and compassionate inner-city schools demonstrate, “a strong emphasis [on] core skills and particularly literacy, but within a rich and exciting curriculum with an emphasis on the arts, community events, and socially critical versions of citizenship education.”[7] Note the connection to community events and community issues critical to the local community. The research identifies the importance of school leader’s connection to the community.

Leadership was ‘distributed’ not in a narrow sense of delegation, but in terms of drawing on the insight and initiative of staff with strong community roots. Head-teachers themselves had many community connections, and a kind of political defiance, rejecting all assumptions that students growing up in inner-city neighborhoods were destined to fail.[8]

School leaders can respond to this research by ensuring division-level leaders possess strong social communication skills (i.e. principals who know and value the local community). School leadership is viewed as compassionate and accountable when led by individuals not solely focused on the school’s internal needs, but also the community’s external perceptions and needs. As a result, they experience a higher level of trust. School leaders do well to ensure they have principals with these core skills and characteristics.

©2017 Toby A. Travis

[1] Joyce L. Epstein and Steven B. Sheldon, “Present and Accounted for: Improving Student Attendance Through Family and Community Involvement,” The Journal of Educational Research 95, no. 5 (2002): 308-318.

[2] Hoy and Miskel, Educational Administration, 1, Kindle.

[3] Joyce L. Epstein, “School/Family/Community Partnerships: Caring for the Children We Share,” Phi Delta Kappan 92, no. 3 (2010): 81-96.

[4] Strike, Ethical Leadership in Schools, ix.

[5]  Tanya Fitzgerald and Helen Gunter, Educational Administration and History: The state of the field (New York: Routledge, 2009), 2021-2022, Kindle.

[6] Hoy, Educational Administration, 197, Kindle.

[7]  Fitzgerald and Gunter, Educational Administration, 2097-2099, Kindle.

[8] Ibid., 2106-2109, Kindle.

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