Helping Community Coalitions Overcome School Recruitment Barriers

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One of the most critical parts of forming a community coalition is cultivating a membership full of individuals with the right qualities that will make them, and the community coalition as a whole, successful in overcoming school recruitment barriers. There is a lot of power in utilizing the right techniques and approach, having an authentic motivation to make a positive impact, and presenting positive energy each time a live conversation takes place or when sending an email. We recently finished hosting an impactful training session for Arkansas regional prevention providers on this very topic.  

Building relationships and creating connections within the community is critical and must be established before approaching Superintendents and/or Principals for school recruitment. Opening lines of communication to understand what is of importance for each stakeholder enables you to speak to those points, acknowledge any concerns, and validate their reservations. Using this approach will not only create buy-in for the district/school participation, but it will also allow you to tap into the areas they place more significant focus, which can assist in the determination of current and future needs. 

The most significant barriers many community coalitions come across during school recruitment are related to resistance, lack of awareness, and discernment around data collection. It is not uncommon to encounter a hostile stakeholder (superintendent/principal) who lacks knowledge and/or understanding around the purpose and procedures of the survey efforts. Perceptions that surveying takes too much time, or is a waste of time can be fueled by their concerns involving political hostility towards data gathering. Thus, using information gleaned from your prior communications is especially useful when facing their lack of interest in participation. This is fundamental in overcoming the barriers you may encounter. 

We have compiled a robust Five-Step Plan to help educate your community coalition members on how to overcome school recruitment barriers:

Identify the Schools’ Needs.

In order to best serve the schools, you need to begin by understanding the big picture and each school’s who, what, where, when, and how. The essential components include: understanding the impact of their participation, awareness about the school survey instrument and process, how data collection provides accurate information about students’ needs and behaviors and understanding how to utilize data effectively so your community coalition can adequately serve them.

Plan to Succeed. 

The more you prepare, the more likely you are to succeed. Develop common responses to the most frequently asked questions, so you are ready with educated and eloquent answers. Position yourself as the subject matter expert, providing solutions for many of their questions, diffusing the possibility they later become objections. It isn’t necessary to have scripted responses, rather be a knowledge broker providing value by sharing the experiences of others who have successfully participated. Prepare to handle “No” from the client and train yourself that a “No” is not a rejection. Remember, “No” isn’t personal; it merely means the information you provided isn’t perceived to be of value or importance. Practicing detachment from the outcome removes the sting of their declining participation. Rather than focus on the result, focus on what more they may need to know. By becoming knowledgeable about the survey data, you can appropriately articulate responses to client objections based on their individual needs. Know how the use of data collected can be beneficial to the school, their use cases, and the community so you can adequately convey this information.  

Develop Your Strategy.

All coalition members need to fine-tune their personal recruiting strategy and become an expert in the space based on experience, past successes, and key learnings. Relationships are at the core of overcoming school recruitment barriers, and developing and maintaining relationships with key stakeholders such as Superintendents, Principals, and Others is instrumental to success. Coalition members can do so by learning what methods of communication the stakeholders prefer, setting expectations with every meeting/conversation, establishing a process of connection/reconnection, and always making the first impression count be it a personal phone call or an in-person meeting. Consistency is vital; following-up and following through with personal attention and repeated touchpoints is highly valued and very important. Develop a system for tracking communications and notating what information was shared. Often times, you will uncover hidden gems in the conversation that will allow you to address concerns or resistance, increasing the potential for gaining stakeholders’ buy-in. Understand what keeps stakeholders engaged over the process of recruitment and focus on providing added value during each conversation. For example, during each touchpoint communication, be forthcoming with information. Share any insights or nuggets that you may have about anything they have mentioned in previous conversations. This could be an article, a piece of wisdom, or a strategy that is working for others. It doesn’t have to be related to their professional space; it could also be something related to their personal space. Anything that adds value is usually something that makes life a little easier in some way. Always make the client feel that their questions, concerns, and/or hesitations are valid. The best way to foster connection is by treating the stakeholder as a person, someone you relate to, and not as a goal or tick on the quota marker. Keep this perspective at the front of your communication strategy.

Focus on Connection.

How will community coalition members connect with clients? By focusing on their communication style and remembering that greetings and conversation matter. Being mindful of body language, tone of voice, and always smiling, even if communication is by phone or email, will help instill that initial sense of connection. Be proactive and intuitive by answering questions before they are asked. Provide valuable and meaningful information from the start. Share information about the levels of participation within the region and the value of survey participation and data results.

Overcome Objections. 

What does the client need to say “Yes”? Identify the barriers to participation – some examples might be time commitments, curriculum interference, educator pushback, and fear around process or misuse of data; acknowledge and validate their concerns – it might sound like “I completely understand why the time commitment is an issue for you. It makes perfect sense given that the class period times are only 50 minutes and educators already have so many things to cover”, and address questions and issues with confidence. Use the frequently asked questions document previously created, and any insights you gleaned from previous communications. Never take “No” personally – remember it isn’t about you; it is about the way they perceive the value of participation. Get curious about the reasoning behind the decline to participate, and counter with a solution (approach from the space of possibility). For instance – if the school is concerned about the time the survey will take, suggest online school survey methods as ease of use that may be quicker for some students to complete and allow for a large number of students to be surveyed at the same time, i.e., at a General Assembly. Also, reiterate the benefits of participation. Relay the value of the survey and the uses of data/trends over time that can help in creating programs that will bring more awareness to issues and are solution-oriented. Always acknowledge how many within the region are participating and provide meaningful data about the region. These are just a few tips and tricks that can assist in converting a hard “No” into “Possibly.”

Pride Surveys has been a critical ally and trusted resource in helping community coalitions overcome school recruitment barriers for more than twenty years. The information provided helps community coalitions emphasize and implement action items designed to help them succeed. Call us today at 800-279-6361 or fill out our quick online contact form with any questions you may have.

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