Over the years I have worked with many different schools, some very cooperative and open to partnerships and some that were more reserved. It is no secret that it is a delicate relationship to manage. I wanted to share the few things I have learned over the years that have helped me build strong partnerships with schools:
1. Find your ally.
Schools can be highly political places. People are stretched very thin with limited resources, high expectations and pressures coming from every which way. Chances are slim that someone will be willing to give you an ear unless you have some sort of connection. If you have previous connections, see if they would be willing to help you find the information you need or at least point you in the right direction. If you are new to the school, find the person who works closest with your population and start building that relationship. This person may become your best friend.
Take time to listen and learn about the initiatives and programs the school is trying to push. Learn the language the school uses to describe student achievement and behavior management strategies. Ask thoughtful questions about strategy and mission. Find ways to speak their language and find ways to align your program with their goals.
3. Be willing to give.
If you learn that the school has a need that is yet to be filled and your program may be able to address it - be willing to offer your help. This takes a little bit of creativity. If you are a student support specialist or case manager, perhaps you can start groups that focus on specific skills that the school hopes students will achieve. Perhaps they need more aides - find if you can offer translation services or one hour a week of tutoring/assistance to a kid that you might already be serving through your own program. This olive branch should involve no effort for the school and be a direct benefit to them. It is your chance to build relationships and a reputation.
4. Find opportunities for collaboration.
If you are planning a community event, involve the school. Let them know what your goals are and ask if they would like to participate, have representation, or support the event in any way. Invite teachers and staff to come to the event, use school space, see if your event can be included in school mailings/newsletters/announcements. Being open about your intentions may lead to ideas you haven't considered before.
5. Keep in touch.
Once you have an established relationship, or if you are serving kids from a certain school - don't underestimate the value of sending a quick card or email mentioning what the kids are up to, perhaps highlighting an inspiring or funny story and/or pictures. This keeps your work fresh in their mind, and they may think of you as a potential resource or partner if an opportunity arises. Also, if you need to connect at a later date, the relationship can continue instead of having to begin from scratch.
Networking is huge, and willingness to listen and give can go a long way in helping achieve the development of meaningful programs.