In this piece, Dr. Jacqueline Sanderlin, accomplished school principal and author of The "Why Not?" Challenge: Say "Yes!" to Success With School-Community Partnerships, describes how having a “Why Not?” mindset is a powerful way to support an entire community, especially in the most challenging moments.
As educators, we always want to do what we can to help our students reach their full potential. Making it happen in this unprecedented time unearths many challenges. Indeed, it can be hard to know where to turn for the support our teachers, students, and their families need. But having a “Why Not?” mindset can definitely help.
The Why Not? Mindset Defined
I define having a “Why Not?” mindset as deciding to think bigger. While there is so much evidence around us that speaks the contrary, it is this mindset that pushes past what seemingly appears impossible and moves to the possible.
For my entire career, I have been an educator in urban, under-resourced, low-income communities with limited job opportunities, gang violence, and a high percentage of foster youth. Given the circumstances, one would think it would be easy to adopt a defeatist mindset. To be honest, on some days, I did.
My school budget was always small and my vision, on many days, was even smaller, until, I learned how to develop and live in a Why Not? mindset. I’ll never forget the moment. I looked out on our school playground and the jungle gym had yellow caution tape surrounding it warning children not to enter. It looked like a crime scene. It had been there so long that my students, who I call my scholars, were used to playing around it instead of on it. As I drove past schools in other communities, I did not see those same conditions. I knew my scholars, deserved more and I began to see things differently. I saw my scholars, parents, teachers and staff as a community. I saw the school as valuable real estate. I began to truly realize our worth.
I knew there was more for my scholars, and I was driven to create opportunities for equity and access to support them. I was determined to give it my all.
While my school did not have the same budget as wealthier schools, I found support in community partnerships.My new Why Not? mindset pushed me to call every business, corporation, store, and philanthropist I could find, locally and elsewhere. While many hung up on me, others were intrigued. My Why Not? mindset kept me going until I got my first Yes. Then I got another, another, and another! Before I knew it, we had an entirely new playground, a new library, new classrooms, technology, and a music program! We never could have paid for anything like that without community support. It was because our partners believed in us, our scholars and our desire to create possibilities that we were able to make it happen.
Action Steps for Developing a Why Not? Mindset
Here are steps you can take to cultivate a Why Not? mindset to foster community partnerships and help your scholars:
- Dream big and be open to possibilities. There are no limits to what is possible. Your ability to think bigger will instill a sense of hope in your school which is needed now more than ever.
- Focus on the possibilities, not the outcomes. Invest your time and energy in what could happen and success will be part of the journey. There will be rejections along the way, but so much greatness will also come of your efforts.
- Honor what will empower your scholars. What will inspire and excite your scholars to learn and enjoy? That’s what you should go for and people will want to help!
- Take action. Community partners are out there waiting for you! They are looking for opportunities for engage with the community during the pandemic, so just reach out!
- Reach wide. Call as many community partners as you can and let your passion lead. Start by writing down your brief, ten-second message. This should include your name, school, and your purpose for calling, which is to partner for student and community success. That should at least gain you more seconds on the phone. Then, you want to identify three to five businesses in your local community. Think about the businesses and corporations you pass each day without really noticing. Take a moment to notice them and find out who is in charge. Be determined and ask for the manager, general manager, or director of community engagement. Take the risk…you have nothing to lose! You will be surprised by who you meet. Don’t overthink it, just speak from your heart and let the rest flow. To get going, make a goal of contacting five local organizations this week.
Empower your School with Support
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed our lives, and schools are in need of support now more than ever. Believe it or not, this is the perfect time to cultivate and leverage community partnerships to get our schools what we need, such as funding internet access for all students and their families, providing every student in your district with learning devices, and virtual fieldtrips for youth who need the benefit of exploration beyond home and school. This is a moment in time where we can open up doors of opportunities with the help of our community partners! Also realize, they may be looking for you. Big corporations are always looking for ways to widen their community footprint. You could help lead the way.
Keep Dreaming Big
While it can feel as though there is so much standing in the way, difficult times can bring out the best. Now is the perfect moment to develop the Why Not? mindset to strengthen your school through community partnerships. Keep thinking bigger and turning your visions into possibilities to support your scholars!