Many of us long for versions of school that acknowledge the power of community involvement, if not engagement, and the wonderful things that can happen when the insights, experiences, resources and stories that are living within the spaces surrounding our schools are drawn into our classrooms and into our ways of thinking about curriculum. Often these aspirations are embedded in our visions for both vibrant systems of education and dynamic communities.

This morning, I had a live conversation with Paul McGuire on voicEd Radio and, while he acknowledged the positive impact that participation in schools can have, he effectively turned the idea on its head when he told us some pretty powerful stories where, as a principal, he ventured out into the community, meeting parents, business people and community members where they lived. For Paul, being able to get out of the school, allowing what he heard and what he learned about the community to inform his vision for the work being done back at the school, paid dividends, forged new relationships and offered everyone a different perspective.

Instead of seeing communities as a part of the school, Paul helps us understand that, in fact, schools are part of the community. (In reality, holding both perspectives simultaneously will likely yield the best opportunities for growth!)

But as Paul was telling his stories, I could literally sense a change in my breathing as he inspired a possibility in my mind. What might happen if, as a staff, we were to designate one PD day a year to do just what Paul did—get out of school and head out, two-by-two, out into the community. What if we were to head to the local shopping mall, the coffee shop, the library, the places of worship, the rec centre, the seniors residence, the local businesses and municipal offices to talk to people. Not all of them would have children in our school, but I would venture to guess that all of them would have something to say about their hopes and aspirations for their community.

Imagine how this “environmental” research might influence the way we see things once we got back to the schoolhouse. Imagine how it might refresh our vision for our work and its importance in the larger context of where we live.

Why not grab a coffee, find a comfortable chair and listen to my conversation with Paul McGuire. And let us know what insights and ideas begin to emerge for you!