by Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
CTA members busy with work and involvement in their local CTA chapter may think they don’t have time for community outreach. They may consider community outreach as “one more thing to do.” They may not even realize that they are already doing lots of community outreach every day through conversations with parents, students, caregivers and public agencies inside and outside their workplaces, and that eventually community outreach will make it easier for association members to accomplish their goals and improve public schools.
One of the best ways to get started in community outreach is forming a chapter “outreach team” that includes members who are already involved in community organizations and activities. An easy way to do this is by conducting a survey. Sample surveys and other resources can be found at www.cta.org/Parents-and-Community/Community-Outreach.
A community outreach team can identify local “movers and shakers” including representatives from community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, the chamber of commerce, other unions, homeowners associations, retirees, parents, and education support professionals. Members of these groups can be invited to one-on-one conversations with chapter members, and hopefully these conversations can progress to stakeholder meetings and events that benefit the community politically, charitably or environmentally.
CTA has a Community Outreach Department that provides support and resources to help local chapters, UniServ units and Service Center Councils working within communities to facilitate involvement in meeting the needs of students and their parents. For further assistance, ask your Primary Contact Staff or chapter president to bring in a community outreach consultant.
CTA’s Community Outreach Department also helps chapters develop partnerships by giving grants that vary in size and scope, depending upon the needs of the community. Several chapters have received support for their community outreach programs, including the Paradise Teachers Association, the Elk Grove Teachers Association, the Natomas Teachers Association, and five High Desert chapters coordinated by the Hesperia Teachers Association. In the High Desert, the grant will help chapters participate in a program with local businesses to give prizes — including a Jeep Patriot — to high school students who maintain perfect attendance.
CTA also offers workshops to provide participants with the skills and the strategies for building a community outreach organizing plan. Workshops include:
- Together We Are Better.
- The Missing Puzzle Piece to Building a Stronger Local.
- Connecting Communities to Our Schools.
- One Voice One Community — Working Together to Make a Difference.
- Community Outreach — Is It Really Important?
- Reaching Out to Diverse Communities.
- Leadership Beyond the Association.
- Urban Strategies for Community Outreach.
- Rural Strategies for Community Outreach.
- Community Outreach for Community Colleges.
- Collective Power Creates Action.
- Turning Education Issues into Association Power.
For more information, visit www.cta.org and under “Parents and Community” click on “Community Outreach.”
Investing in relationships
Community outreach doesn’t mean just reaching out to other organizations when you need help. Community outreach should be taking place even when an emergency isn’t looming.
“You need to invest in a fire truck before there’s a fire,” explains CTA Community Outreach specialist Barbara Smith. “You don’t want to wait until there’s an emergency before you start trying to invest in relationships with others in your community. You want to have communication already in place so that if you are in a crisis, people are there for you and you aren’t trying to build relationships from scratch. That way, when there’s an emergency, you have all your ducks in a row.”
Community outreach, adds Smith, means going “beyond the pancake breakfast” and just socializing with community leaders over food once a month. It means spending time talking about real issues impacting your students and their families — including housing, safety, social services, transportation, and, of course, public education.
Community outreach is an ideal way to improve the quality of life in your community — and also show what you and your association stand for.
“We need ongoing visibility in our communities, and we do this by working with stakeholders to build relationships and partnerships,” says Jim Thrasher, manager of CTA’s Community Outreach Department. “We do not want the public to see us only when we are demanding higher salaries or urging the school board to pass a budget.”
So how can you tell if community outreach is successful?
“Sometimes you can’t tell if community outreach is working, and you think you are just talking to this group or that group,” says Margaret Hoyos, a CTA Community Outreach specialist. “One of the simplest ways to know if your program is successful is if you don’t feel awkward or embarrassed contacting a member of a community organization when you need them. Our members know it can be embarrassing to contact somebody you haven’t engaged with, just because you need their support.”
Community outreach is a two-way street: It is just as important to advocate for the issues of your allies as it is for them to support your issues. And sometimes, as in any relationship, there will be differences of opinion.
“You may not always agree on a given issue, but it should not end the relationship,” says Thrasher. “Remember, there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies in community organizing.