SEDL Southwest Educational Development Laboratory
  Building Support for Better Schools
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step three: Designate Facilitators

Since you've gotten to know your community and the issues people care about, the next step is finding the right people to facilitate what can be tough conversations about how to improve public education.

The hard work of identifying facilitators grows easier as organizers establish relationships with neighborhood groups representing different ethnic, cultural and community interests. Approach leaders of civic, religious or minority organizations who are respected, credible and fair. The only agenda facilitators should carry with them to a public forum is a strong desire to ensure that all participants are heard.

Recruit Respected Community Members

  • Religious leader
  • Block leader
  • Parent
  • Neighborhood Watch captain
  • Local grocer
  •  Housing project resident

While you are meeting with community groups, agencies, churches and cultural organizations (see Step 1: Know Your Community), ask for referrals. Be sure to explain the facilitator's role, time commitment and what training will be offered. Community advocates also can advise you of any cultural or language do's and don'ts as you recruit facilitators. Ask those who provide names if they would consider calling the person on your behalf. This early introduction lays the groundwork for your follow-up call.

Armed with a list of potential facilitators, contact each person and explain who you are and who made the recommendation. Provide background about what education issue is being discussed and why you think this person is well suited to facilitate a community discussion. Schedule a time to meet in person and take along an information packet about the event and training (see Step 4: Training Facilitators). Follow-up with a confirmation letter.


Get Personal

The key to successful recruitment is personal contact. If the person you want to participate in a community meeting is extraordinarily busy, forget sending an invitation letter or a phone call. Make a personal appeal. Explain what contribution you want the person to make and why you value his or her involvement.

—Advice from a minister


If a person is designated who has never facilitated a group, assure them they will co-facilitate with someone they know. This will help ease anxiety—anxiety that can prompt someone to say no.

Seek out facilitators who speak languages reflective of the community, whether it's Spanish or Vietnamese or a Native American language. A bilingual facilitator will help put participants at ease and improve the quality of the conversation. If a bilingual facilitator is not available, arrange for interpreters.

Here's why this hard work pays off: parents, community members and others are much more likely to participate if they know who is organizing and leading the discussion. They might attend church together on Sundays or have children enrolled in the same school or live on the same block. Choosing the right facilitator can mean the difference between just another school meeting and a more productive conversation about children and learning.

Who's a Leader?

A former principal in Arkansas interviewed by SEDL said her best ally was an active grandmother who has close ties to families in the community. In this Hispanic and African-American community, this grandmother is viewed as an authority figure and wields a great deal of influence in her neighborhood. The grandmother helps the principal identify community leaders and get the word out about school meetings and events, resulting in strong community participation.

  Building Support for Better Schools
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