Monday, November 30, 2009

10 Questions to Ask Your Community Partners

by Ann Abbott

"How are things going?"

Is that as deep as you probe when talking to your community partner? Maybe you're afraid they will tell you something bad, and you'll have to drop everything and address the problem.

Well, you do need to ask more questions than that. First of all, you need to fix any problems that exist. Secondly, the more you know about your community partner, the more you can help your students extract meaning from their experiences in the community.

So, here are ten questions to ask. I'm sure you can think of more! Leave a comment to add yours.

One-to-One Questions.
  1. What's the best thing a student has done? You want to encourage your students to do more of this behavior.
  2. What's the worst thing a student has done? This can be painful to hear. Believe me. Sometimes it's really egregious ("Can you please tell your students not to teach the children here how to swear in English?"). Sometimes they are little things that you simply need to call to your students' attention.
  3. What do students know at the end of the semester that they didn't know at the beginning? Maybe you can create teaching materials or handouts that can speed up their learning curve.
  4. How many students can you honestly handle? Maybe they could use a lot more, but are afraid to ask. Or maybe they feel that they just don't have the resources to train and follow all your students. If the latter is the case, consider assigning a student "liaison," if possible.
  5. Do you want to continue this partnership? Tweak it? Don't assume anything.

In-class Questions. Consider inviting your community partner(s) to class so that students can learn from their expertise in ways that simply don't happen in the hectic workday.

  1. What is your organization's proudest achievement? These overworked, underpaid people often do wonderful things in our communities.
  2. What change in public policy would have the biggest positive impact on the people you serve? We want students to see that while it's important to help people one by one, policy, politics, and their own votes can truly have an important impact.
  3. What can our students do after they graduate and move away to continue having an impact? Students can take what they learn in the local community and apply it in their new communities. I'd also like to see us create ways for students to stay in contact--Facebook groups, maybe?
  4. What is the most important skill you use to do your job? It's probably something that no one is explicitly teaching in our universities!
  5. Please describe the impact our students have on your organization. Students need to hear that they are, indeed, having an impact. We all want to know that what we do matters.

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