Stakeholder Engagement—A Checklist for Rural Education Systems

This blog is the second in a series on strategies and resources to help rural educators implement critical improvement initiatives. This blog series will share and build on lessons and best practices that are working in rural districts. An introductory blog post outlining the series is available here.

It is important that states and district leaders in rural communities continually refine their engagement approaches to ensure they stay nimble and responsive to community needs.

There are some common steps that rural districts and schools can use to refine stakeholder engagement approaches (see the “Let’s Get This Conversation Started” brief for more information on these steps). Rural communities should customize these approaches to fit their regional, economic, and social factors.

To help ensure their stakeholder engagement approaches are effective, rural districts may consider the following:

  • The messages and activities associated with an initiative need to be customized to reach the hearts and minds of community members. For example, a district may engage different groups or individuals first to show respect for community leaders or elders. This may help build support for the initiative in the broader community.
  • Stakeholder engagement activities need to explicitly identify and inspire new actions to ensure that the work can continue despite staff turnover or changes in leadership.
  • Very few staff may be responsible for stakeholder engagement activities; one staff member in rural schools often has a variety of responsibilities or roles. Implementation activities may need to be modified with consideration to what is feasible across available staff.
Effective Communications for Stakeholder Engagement Checklist

Over the past few years, many resources have been released around general strategies for stakeholder engagement to inform school improvement, but few resources focused on the rural perspective. To support state and district staff leading stakeholder communication efforts in rural contexts, the State Support Network developed the “Effective Communications for Stakeholder Engagement Checklist.” This checklist synthesizes and adapts guidance from key resources (including the Let’s Get This Conversation Started and the “Involve-Inquire-Inform-Inspire” engagement frameworks). For example, the checklist describes practices related to language and terminology use, such as adopting common phrases used in the community. The checklist also provides tips on how to manage partners and ambassadors, such as making a relationship map to strategize outreach based on which individuals or groups are best positioned to establish authentic connections. For example, in some communities athletic coaches may be best positioned to communicate and build partnerships with families at the middle and high school level, whereas teachers may be best the best point of contact for families at the elementary level. For more information on relationship maps and examples, please see the Building Strategic Partnerships resource from the State Support Network.

Rural states and districts can use this checklist to plan stakeholder engagement activities likely to be effective in a rural context. The checklist is designed to be flexible, helping state and district staff prioritize the most critical implementation activities and gradually implement other efforts over time. Each item in the checklist is also tailored to reflect common conditions across rural districts.

Interested in learning more?

Download the checklist on the State Support Network website here.

For more information on stakeholder engagement strategies, check out the “Let’s Get This Conversation Started” checklist from the Council of Chief State School Officers and the “Involve-Inquire-Inform-Inspire” framework and the “Engaging Educators”brief from the Reform Support Network.

Click here for the next post in the series, “Top Ten Tips for Rural Leaders Around Effective Communications.”