The DeHavilland Blog

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Lessons learned by coalition leaders

In our new survey, “Business Coalition Leaders Speak Out on Education,” we asked survey respondents to comment on the lessons they’ve learned from working with schools and districts and to offer advice on becoming attractive partners and on building effective partnerships. Due to space considerations, we weren’t able to include all of the responses in the survey report, so I wanted to share them all here on the blog.

This is the first of three posts, and provides responses to the open-ended question:

“What lessons have you learned that you would apply to future partnerships?”

The 47 responses received were as follows:


1. K-12, higher ed, and Chamber - - three different cultures, methods of operation. 2. When you have K-12, higher ed, and business working together you have an extremely powerful and effective coalition.

Acknowledge style and agenda differences up front and find a collaborative model that works for all.

All partnerships must be win-win for all parties involved.

Be open and flexible. Learn about the legislative and mandated programs that educators must deal with. You cannot treat an institution of public education as a free market business, there are too many dissimilarities.

Be ready for your business partnerships. When industry is involved they want to see immediate results and want to support now.

Clear direction and someone with the time to ensure actions move forward.

Collaborative partnerships work.

Constant communication with all stakeholders is a key to success. Relationships make or break a change effort.

Design a contract that spells out each party’s responsibilities and have it approved by the local school board & CEO. Then have the parties sign it.

Devote more resources to developing and maintaining contacts.

Equality of partners is essential to avoid business-dominated or education-dominated practices and processes.

Fostering a sense of ownership by all partners.

Got to have the superintendent's full support. Have to have the school principal's support.

Have to have someone in the school (and community) committed to the program/activity.

Have agreement on outcomes, process. Make sure you are adequately covered for expenses that will be incurred. Be clear regarding who your customer is, e.g. Department of Education, superintendent, principal, sponsors, and what their various, and sometimes differing, expectations are. Encourage participation, involvement, sponsorship opportunities for business leaders and organizations to cover costs; get people hooked into the process. More does not always equal better.

Have commitment from the top as well as the schools. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

Have identified contacts between the partners and regular scheduled connections - i.e. - serving on task forces, boards, councils, etc.

Having substantial financial resources at the beginning of the project assists with the launching of the project and keeps up with accountability.

Identify key data that must be turned in at the beginning and get in writing the dates this is due. Try to find ways to keep locals more focused on the long term goal.

Importance of clear expectations and roles in the partnership. Ongoing communications system and alignment of efforts to avoid silos and duplication of efforts.

It is all about building relationships and trust and providing the services that schools districts cannot.

It is important to be included in education discussions from the beginning. Being a statewide organization, be sure to network with all and not just the few that come to us. Watch for those who might use our name to further their personal "pet" projects.

Keep key educators/administrators and business partners at the table working together, set specific goals and some measurable outcomes.

Looking to leadership on all levels and obtaining top down commitment.

Make sure of system's intent beforehand and make sure the system is committed to the project beyond verbal commitment.

Make sure that both parties bring to the table equal resources to make the partnership successful, and then make sure both parties follow through.

Many but most importantly, the partnership objective of developing college access and success for the city's at-risk youth is the focus above and beyond any single partners agenda.

Need to identify the "right" people. Those that want to partner. Have to have a vision and be able to communicate effectively.

Never assume that district administrators understand what is being asked of them. Be more careful to establish a strong foundation of communication with the school system in each situation.

None yet.

Not sure our work is applicable to your survey. However, an unmet goal is working collaboratively with the authorizing school district to share best practices.

Partnerships are based on relationships and accountability. Good accountability and outcomes help build the relationships.

Partnerships require that both give at least 51%. When you don't care who gets credit, you get a lot more done. Focus on victories and celebrate them. Be passionate about what you believe.

Patience is a virtue. Sometimes it takes years for an idea to come to fruition - almost as if there were a proper time for a project to happen. If we share our ideas and plans NOW, at some point we can call upon them to implement projects that will make them a reality. Example: 12 years ago we wanted stringed instrument instruction in our schools. We funded a pilot in 2004 and last Thursday we announced the expansion to 3 more schools.

Projects must have potential to influence or change public policy.

Quality/capacity of school leadership is critical.

Reciprocal partnerships, where each partner benefits, are the most productive.

School administrators are pulled in so many ways that you need the correct leadership or do not start the project to begin with!

Schools sometimes do not want "outside influence" on how to change schools. They are happy to take financial and human resources, but do not always commit to seeing a project through successfully and gathering impact data to justify sustaining the practice. Union environments and internal friction make some school districts extremely difficult to work with in improvement efforts.

Set reasonable common goals and benchmarks.

Specify more up front - don't assume partner will deliver.

Strong leadership is essential. Real reform must come from the top down. Schools can not make reform work if districts are not ready for change.

The educational community is not typically interested in partnerships where the business community is trying to direct or change programs in regards to learning for future business success. They do not like to be informed of deficiencies, but rather want to be the ones to initiate for their needs. We now do not offer our assistance, but consider their requests on a limited basis.

The importance of all math & science teachers from schools being involved in specific professional development activities.

The partnership cannot be connected to a district employee who may be "here today and gone tomorrow". The tide of education changes and flexibility must be built in to accommodate such changes in state and district policies and mandates.

We are primarily and advocacy coalition operating at the state level to secure adequate state priorities and funding. Longevity, consistent contact, and trust building are key with K-12 and postsecondary, but is difficult with legislators because committee assignments change and legislators are constrained by term limits of 8 years.

Work together on goals from the beginning.

You must have at least one business sponsor that provides a major part of their funding as unrestricted funds--to use for overhead.



To see the answers to other open-ended survey questions, you can go to:

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