ERIC Identifier: ED339111
Publication Date: 1991-12-00
Author: Liontos, Lynn Balster
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Educational Management Eugene OR.
Building Relationships between Schools and Social Services.
ERIC Digest Series No. 66.
Public schools and social service agencies often serve the same clients and
have the same goals. Both also have too few resources to adequately respond to
the myriad problems facing children and families today. If schools don't
collaborate with social service agencies, schools will end up assuming
responsibility for problems that go well beyond their educational scope. It is,
therefore, in the interest of schools to take the lead in establishing a
collaborative process with social service agencies.
This Digest contains recommendations addressed to administrators, school
board members, teachers, and support staff who want to start a collaborative
process in their community. It is up to administrators of participating schools
and agencies to provide time for staff members to work on joint ventures.
WHAT IS THE FIRST STEP IN BEGINNING A COLLABORATIVE
Find out about agencies in your community. The National
Collaboration for Youth (1990), in highlighting lessons learned from over 350
Town Summit Meetings across the country, said that respondents consistently
reported how little they knew about what was going on in their own communities.
Many were surprised to discover other groups and organizations that were
concerned about or working on the same problems.
HOW ARE PARTICIPANTS SELECTED, AND HOW SHOULD THEY BE APPROACHED?
Most experts suggest meeting one-on-one, initially, with
individuals from different agencies. How do you select the players? Make a list
of agencies that you can envision interacting with your school, then invite one
person from each agency to coffee. Some schools select people for public
spiritedness or the ability to 'give and take.' Others choose heads of agencies
since it is useful to work with a person who has decision-making authority.
Communicate positively. You might say, "What would you think if we did this?"
or "We want to do a better job, be a better partner to you." Ask questions to be
sure you understand the other person's point of view (thereby making it more
likely they'll want to hear your view). Ask agency people if they have anything
they would like to tell your personnel--and assure them you are willing to hear
Most importantly, remember that relationships must be reciprocal. Find out
what would make working together a win-win situation for both of you. You might
ask, "What is it that you need out of this?"
WHAT TIPS ARE THERE FOR MEETING WITH THE WHOLE TEAM?
getting together individually, call a meeting of all interested participants.
Choose a comfortable setting and talk about what each agency and individual has
to offer to your central goal or vision. Then ask, "Is this an idea we want to
pursue?" If so, work on creating common beliefs and goals.
A collaborative venture involves being committed to a common agenda.
Melaville (1991) suggests developing a broad shared vision and a practical one
that outlines major goals and objectives and links vision with reality. You
might begin by asking, "How can we improve what we're already doing?" Consider
presenting objectives from each partner's point of view, then look for areas of
agreement and be open to compromise.
Here are some other tips to consider:
*Develop good collaborative qualities: Respect the procedures and conventions
of the other participants.
*Be flexible. Each of you will probably have to give a little in exchange for
the benefits of collaboration.
*Be willing to take risks and make mistakes; see problems as challenges.
*Go into a collaborative venture with a positive attitude.
*Agree to disagree. Disagreement is natural, though you do have to be
motivated, dedicated, and committed to each other and your common vision.
*Enter the process with the desire to change the status quo--that is, to
alter the way you have worked in the past with children and families.
*Be persistent; stumbling blocks can be overcome.
WHAT IF THERE ARE CONFLICTS OR RESISTANCE?
collaborative effort will run into problems at some time. Here are five ways to
deal with them:
1. Get top-level commitment. Commitment from key officials for collaborative
efforts provides inspiration, incentive, and the assurance of organizational
2. Involve teachers and staff in planning from the earliest possible moment.
Let them voice their fears and concerns, and let them know they are heard. If
possible, provide training for all staff and administrators.
3. Meet problems head on. "Interagency initiatives that circumvent issues
about how, where, why, and by whom services should be allocated, in an effort to
avoid turf issues and other conflicts, are likely to result in innocuous
objectives that do little to improve the status quo," states Melaville. Try to
resolve problems at the lowest possible level first. Or, bring in a neutral
4. Understand that, over time, resistance will work to your benefit. Cory
Dunn, coordinator of student support services at Linn-Benton Education Service
District in Albany, Oregon, says that it takes time for people to feel at ease,
speak up about what they are experiencing, and get disagreements and
misperceptions worked out.
5. Find ways to share information. Sharing information is something every
collaborative effort will have to face at one time or another. First, identify
what barriers exist and whether they result from policy differences, differences
in terminology, inhouse rules that can be changed, or statutory mandates. Then
take time to air disagreements and discover areas of commonality and design a
release form that details the exchange of specific kinds of information. Use
state guidance when necessary; the state can help remove barriers to coordinated
delivery of services (Turning Points 1991).
HOW DO WE SUSTAIN OUR RELATIONSHIP?
Go slowly--lay a firm
foundation. "Beginning initiatives are often impatient to make immediate
headway," says Melaville, "but building a strong foundation takes time and
considerable patience." It often takes one to five years to get collaborative
projects off the ground (Liontos 1991). In a project in Maryland, school
participants had serious concerns about increased workload and other issues
(Melaville). The organizers assured them that planning would not proceed if the
district had doubts or felt pressured to participate. With this kind of
communication, the group was able to resolve key issues during additional
meetings and formed a planning committee "only when common ground was firmly
Pay attention to ownership issues. Whether your venture starts from the top
down or bottom up, be sure that your process is an inclusive one. The commitment
to change must extend throughout the organizational structure of each
participating agency. Be sure that all participants have a part to play in
achieving common goals.
Clearly assign opportunities to plan and implement action to different
individuals and agencies, then hold them responsible for the completion of the
Create a vehicle for heads of agencies to meet. Dunn states that having the
heads of agencies meet on a quarterly basis as a board of advisors for the ESD's
Youth Service Teams ensures that the agencies maintain an interest and
investment in the teams. This also reinforces the collaborative effort for
Move through developmental stages. Dunn believes that, in voluntary
collaboration, you need to go through a three-tiered approach, with the first
level being communication. Relationship building is developmental, he stresses.
Just getting to know each other and establishing trust are important (Liontos).
The next stage is cooperation: start doing some activities or programs
together. According to Kirst (1991), a simple difference between cooperation and
collaboration is that in cooperative projects agencies maintain administrative
and program autonomy, whereas in collaboration, agencies join together to make
improvements that are no single agency's responsibility.
Collaboration offers not only greater access to services, but the opportunity
to fundamentally alter the quality of those services.
Whether cooperative or collaborative, Liontos found that the impact of joint
ventures between schools and social service agencies not only increased
accessibility to services for children and families, but facilitated interagency
communication and relationships.
Council of Chief State School Officers Resource
Center on Educational Equity. "Promoting School-Based Approaches to the Delivery
of Effective Health and Social Services for Young Adolescents." TURNING POINTS
l, 2 (January 1991).
Joining Forces. CONNECTIONS I (Winter 1991 and Spring 1991).
Kirst, Michael W. "Improving Children's Services." PHI DELTA KAPPAN 72, 8
(April 1991): 615-18. EJ 424 367.
Levy, Janet E., with Carol Copple. JOINING FORCES: A REPORT FROM THE FIRST
YEAR. Alexandria, Virginia: National Association of State Boards of Education,
1989. 49 pages. ED 308 609.
Linn-Benton Education Service District and ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational
Management. Volume I: Introduction and Resources, AT-RISK YOUTH IN CRISIS: A HANDBOOK FOR COLLABORATION BETWEEN SCHOOLS AND SOCIAL SERVICES. Eugene, Oregon: Author, February 1991. 59 pages.
Liontos, Lynn Balster. SOCIAL SERVICES AND SCHOOLS: BUILDING COLLABORATION
THAT WORKS. Eugene, Oregon: Oregon School Study Council, November 1991. OSSC
Bulletin Series. ED number not yet assigned.
Melaville, Atelia, with Martin J. Blank. WHAT IT TAKES: STRUCTURING INTERAGENCY PARTNERSHIPS TO CONNECT CHILDREN AND FAMILIES WITH COMPREHENSIVE SERVICES. Washington, DC: Education and Human Services Consortium, 1991. 57 pages. ED 330 748.
National Collaboration for Youth. Making the Grade: A Report Card on American
Youth. Washington, DC: Author, 1990. 71 pages. ED 320 080.