What does the community think? That’s the first data point to gather in mapping out a game plan to mobilize the community around any issue.
Conducting a series of listening sessions and/or community conversations on the broader issue of education is the best way to find out what people think. Whether you conduct an informal listening session, an Education Town Hall like United Way Worldwide did a few years ago, or follow the community conversation model the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation and United Way have created together (see “Resources”), listening is critical.
Reach out to early childhood education providers, community and faith leaders, early elementary teachers and principals, the PTA, librarians, funded agencies serving children and families and other education stakeholders for community conversations.
School reform research shows that improving student outcomes requires intensive, sustained engagement with teachers, principals and parents. Connecting with schools’ “customers,” like parents, teachers and students provides insights to inform any education initiative, including your early grade reading effort. In gaining those insights, United Ways can also gain credibility, visibility and new supporters in any community coalition-building effort.
This notion of "turning outward" is fundamental to the United Way business model and is helping United Ways start, refine or improve their education impact work. By listening and subsequently connecting your early grade reading efforts to the needs of the community, you will be better able to focus your work and validate or strengthen strategies to improve reading. The people to whom you reach out and listen to can later become part of the community-wide coalition you will need to bring your early grade reading strategies to life.