It takes a village to raise a child: one question and five steps for increasing the cooperation between your school and businesses / NGOs

For supporting all-round growth of youth and the development of their key competences for lifelong learning, schools are not alone. Various organisations are looking for ways to contribute. Schools as the principal hosts of young people’s learning process can harness that will and openness to build relationships and cooperation that makes a difference for their students.

No matter where your school stands on cooperation with businesses and NGOs at present moment, there is more to explore and gain. Every now and then it pays off to review the situation and make new plans. Here you can find a brief framework that will assist you in the process.

(Re)think about the ‘why’

How do you make it worth your and their while? Real, honest and shared reasons for cooperation make up the foundation. Be clear about what do you want to achieve and what is important for your cooperation partner.

From a school’s perspective, here are some common themes that may serve to spark off your reasoning – answering the questions about the needs of your students, teachers or whole school:

  • Your students might need exposure to people and organisations in the society – for their inspiration, motivation, career planning and furthering their first-hand understanding of how the world works;
  • Cooperation between your school staff and businesses and NGOs can help to link academic concepts with ‘real life’ in a way that can never be achieved by school alone;
  • Making effective use of extra opportunities, knowledge, skills, networks and resources that are there in the community – for the benefit of the students (and also teachers!);
  • Keeping school life in tune with other parts of the society – to understand the expectations and the changing role for educational institutions inside it.

Then find out what drives the organisations to cooperate with your school. Use that information to support their interest and take it into account also in the design the processes of working together.

Some common rationale for organisations to cooperate with educational institutions may be the following:

  • Contributing to the development of the society, investing in education ;
  • Raising the organisation’s profile / brand awareness / attractiveness as an employer;
  • Motivating employees with new opportunities and challenges, enhancing teamwork;
  • Improving communication / presentation / mentoring / … skills of the employees.

Think how you can help your potential cooperation partners reach their goals by letting them help you; look for common and / or complementary themes, win-win solutions and potential synergies. The ‘why’ for cooperation needs to be there for both sides. After you clarified ideas, next steps may follow.

Step 1. Identify your cooperation partners

Review (again): what kind of businesses or NGOs would you like to partner? What do you want in a partner? What are the businesses, NGOs and other organisations that your students are most interested in? Where are your students’ parents working? There may also be a number of education related NGOs that are specialising on working with schools or specific initiatives and programs that are targeted to children and youth. With these kinds of partners, it may also be that they have already worked out some standardised processes for you to follow.

Step 2. Make contact

Get in touch – write, call and/or visit the potential cooperation partners. In most cases it is a good idea to follow up your e-mail with a phone call, and meetings are the best for creating a more personal connection and deeper-level discussion. Here it is also the place to bring up and clarify the initial ‘whys’ of your cooperation and set the basic common ground and goals.

Step 3. Develop partnership content

For further development of the partnership content, first determine who should be included in the details’ development from both sides. Make sure to involve soon enough the team members who will need to execute and support the activities so that they develop necessary ownership. Planning the activities together will create more committed engagement for carrying out the plan. It will also minimise misunderstandings and problems during the implementation phase.

Then, work on the content and develop the goals (what would success look like?) and the action plan. And, very important! Set also the process of how you will all work together, review the progress and communicate to each other.

Step 4. Keep a healthy relationship

Keep regular and proactive contact with your cooperation partner(s). Ensure that activities are on track and meet the goals and needs. If changes need to be made, revise plans and agreements with your partner. Timely communication is important. Also, it is important to show appreciation of your partner’s contribution.

Step 5. Discuss and review your partnership

Plan ahead for the review of your cooperation activities. Depending on what you are doing and what is making sense, it may include mid-process review meetings and annual / final meeting. And, remember – part of it is celebration of what you are doing and achieving together. Make the results visible for yourself and your partner.

Project sySTEAM – systematic approach for implementation of STEAM education in schools (2017-1-LT01-KA201-035288) is co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union. The project is implemented by Virolai E.M.S.A., Kiviõli I High School, Vilnius Žemynos Gymnasium, Catalan Foundation for Research and Innovation, Sihtasutus Omanäolise Kooli Arenduskeskus and Knowledge Economy Forum.