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Inside the school door, guests are warmly welcomed by students and invited to the gymnasium. The room is set up with fifteen or so round tables, each seating six to eight guests. High school students serve baked chicken and steaming rice. In one corner of the gymnasium, delighted voices and giggles of preschoolers and younger elementary-aged children emerge from among piles of colored paper, hand puppets, and other activities supervised by more high school students.

A school carnival? A fundraising event? No, this was a student-planned and led event for the purpose of encouraging conversations over dinner among parents, students, educators, and community members. The students received special training to host the event, and helped create the conditions for conversations among people who might never otherwise share a meal. Families felt genuinely welcomed, and teachers and administrators learned much about what helped families feel supported at school.

While schools everywhere would be quick to agree that they want parents to feel welcomed at school, hosting a dinner where educators, parents, and community members dine together as equals may seem a radical idea. Yet, it makes sense when we consider our common agenda: children.

This event is a small-scale example of the power of collective impact. Behind the notion of collective impact is a recognition that while we are all in quest of success for our own children or for students generally, each of us has different priorities and perhaps certain strategies that we believe most compelling. We will be more effective if we work together than if we pursue only our individual agenda.

“Collective impact” in a school district or county might mean that different political groups and nonprofits come together, set aside individual organizational priorities, and jointly work on student achievement.

What can you do as a leader to nurture and encourage the power of collective impact in your school community and beyond your school district boundaries?

First, communicate the power of collective impact to your staff. For example, when you welcome staff back to school in the fall, develop messages that pull staff together around a common purpose, such as “We’re Better Together” or “Promises We Keep.” Align your professional development with your core beliefs and common agenda.

Secondly, help your community develop a common agenda around children and families. For example, a theme of “Strong Community, Strong Schools” is actionable if it helps you develop a common agenda with city and state leaders, communities of faith, and nonprofits serving your students and families.

Third, encourage your professional associations to focus on the noble purpose for which they exist rather than on only the latest operational urgency. For example, an administrative leadership training from your professional association can focus on “Children, Our Common Agenda.” Businesses, nonprofits, and government need to be part of the common problem definition and strategy development. Be sure that they are included.

In many respects, the power of collective impact can be likened to dinner conversations. We come as guests, listen to one another, and figure out how to work together on behalf of all children.


For more about youth-led social interaction events, see “Youth-Led Intentional Social Interaction” by Mary Sue Hanson (February 2016) at www.equityalliancemn.org/youth-led-intentional-social-interaction.html.

Thought for the Week

Understanding why students may be reluctant to engage is a crucial first step in countering the behavior and opening the door to full participation and learning success.

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