Developing strong community partnerships is vitally important for the success of a school.  As educational leaders, we have the power to get our local community members (families, businesses, corporations, CEOs, politicians, etc.) excited about our school vision and mission! Why not?

My book, The “Why Not?” Challenge will prepare and position your school for developing all types of powerful community partnerships by helping you shift from engaging your community to empowering your community. If you don’t empower your community, nothing will happen. For me, engaging and empowering are two very different approaches. Let’s face it, we, as educators, have been discussing community engagement for years, which basically means creating opportunities for involvement. Involvement is a wonderful thing, but I think it’s time to take that to another level. Think of it like this: When we engage, it is like getting a lease. When we empower, it is ownership! See the difference? When we empower our community, we are offering an opportunity to share in ownership. And ownership, my friend, translates into investment.

As school leaders, it is in our nature to empower others, but we also need to learn how to do it effectively. Let’s look at some action steps below that can help you develop or grow your Why Not? mindset.

1. Dream Possibilities

Developing a Why Not? mindset requires us to dream big. Your ability to think this way can empower your community in a monumental way. Let’s examine the word possibility. A possibility is something that may actually happen. In other words, there is a likelihood, probability, or prospect that what you want may occur. Isn’t your school worth your ability to dream possibilities? Sure it is!

So, think bigger! Think about your school being the solution to the success of the community. Think about your school being the vehicle of change to educate new leaders to take on the world. I dare you to take on a Why Not? mindset and watch what happens. When you start to think like that, it changes your perception about your own school and puts you in the driver’s seat. But you need copilots, and those copilots are your community. When you take on a Why Not? mindset, it has the ability to attract like-minded people. Everyone in your community will not think like you. Some will need to be convinced, influenced, or challenged to think differently. That is your community empowerment challenge.

2. Create Possibility Boards

This exercise will get your community to imagine again. I sent out a flyer inviting local businesses to our school to show them what we were doing. Many of them showed up!

Our staff expressed their ideas in different ways. Some used pictures about putting in a pool on our campus and others used grass to show we needed more landscaping. Whether we would actually get those things or not, the activity was a vehicle to help us think about possibilities—a necessary first step for community empowerment. We displayed the possibility boards around the school, which started conversations among those who looked at them including our guests from community businesses. Many in the community were proud of the work they did but were wrapped up in their own problems and didn’t see what they could contribute to our school. This activity helped them think about solutions, rather than all the problems. It helped refocus them on being solution-oriented and not problem-oriented.

3. Lead a School-Community Walk

One surefire way to empower your community and heighten the Why Not? mindset is to organize a community walk! One year, I really wanted to get my community more involved and empowered, as well as change the negative mindset about our school. Our school had a bad reputation because of where it was located, and this was hard to change.

We took time to go out into the community and we invited all the local stores, companies, organizations, and residents to walk with us on a specific day. Hundreds of people came out! The highlight of the day was when a local motorcycle group joined in and rode beside us. We all loved it! They blasted music, spread out, and rode alongside us. This helped protect us as we walked. All 600 of us marched around the block. We sure caused a stir in the community! Everyone stopped and pulled over, clapped as we went by, and smiles were everywhere. It was sheer community empowerment!

As we continued this tradition each year, we watched the mindset of various community members change over time. We gave them something positive to talk about.

4. Throw a Back-to-School Pep Rally

While it is important for you to have a Why Not? mindset, the same is true for your community. Sometimes it is easier to work on oneself, but an entire community can be a bit daunting.

Acknowledgment and praise are priceless, especially when it is authentic and made public. Rallies provide a fine opportunity for you to deepen the Why Not? mindset within your community, recognize achievements, share upcoming events, honor individuals and businesses, promote positive thinking, develop a common language, create teamwork, and position your school community to be empowered.

You may already be doing something like this but have not reached out to invite your local community to come and celebrate with you. Now is the time!

5. Know Your Value

It is easier to have confidence, empower your community, and have a Why Not? mindset when you

know your school’s value. Please realize that your school adds value to the community. Your school matters—a lot! This is incredibly important because sometimes we need to be reminded of just how important our schools are to our communities. What value does your school add? Well, to start, you are educating the next generation of employees, CEOs, and leaders.

Developing a Why Not? mindset is a process. It is realizing your school is worth the effort of empowering your community to make lasting change for your scholars. It is something we must do as school leaders

for sustainable impact. Once we believe our school deserves the best, we will never settle for less. Believe in possibilities because you expect great things to happen! To learn more about the Why Not? mindset and what you can do to prepare, create, and maintain successful partnerships, you can purchase my book here.

About the author:
Dr. Jacqueline L. Sanderlin is an accomplished school principal, lecturer, and speaker, whose “Why Not?” attitude has led to dramatic improvements in some of Southern California’s most under-resourced schools. Dr. Jackie’s passion for guiding young people has garnered national recognition and has helped her to form partnerships with both local and global organizations. Dr. Jackie’s innovative and visionary style has taken this simple question and turned it into a movement that educators around the country are clamoring to incorporate into their classrooms and schools.

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