Community Partnerships: Working Together [Overview]

Building trust, strategic planning, organizing and sustaining efforts, evaluating the results, and enjoying new ways of working together are all parts of collaboration. This information is useful for Head Start staff members who want to build strong community partnerships and enhance collaborative skills. Collaboration is the most intense level of community building. Head Start endeavors to build collaborative relationships with children, families and community partners.

The following is an excerpt from Community Partnerships: Working Together.

How can I support the Head Start community in building community partnerships?

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We can learn many lessons from nature. For example, geese have much to teach us about working together.

As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an uplift of air for the bird that follows. By flying in a "V" formation, the whole flock adds 71 percent more flying range than when each bird flies alone.

Lesson 1: People who share a common direction or vision can achieve their goals more quickly and easily when they share information, activities, and resources.

Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels resistance; the goose will quickly get back into formation and take advantage of the "lifting power" of the other birds.

Lesson 2: By working together, we can achieve common goals that otherwise could not be achieved alone.

When the lead goose gets tired, another goose takes the lead.

Lesson 3: It pays to assume new roles and share leadership.

The geese in formation will honk to encourage those up front to keep their speed.

Lesson 4: Taking the time to reflect on and celebrate achievements brings renewed energy and commitment.

When a goose gets sick or wounded, two geese drop out of formation and follow their fellow member to provide protection. They stay with the goose until the bird is either able to fly again or dies. Then, they catch up with their flock or launch out on their own.

Lesson 5: All collaboratives face challenges. Depending on how the challenges are handled, they can either cause the collaborative to lose momentum and collapse, or they can be the springboard for creativity and revitalization.

Adapted with permission from Jon Seidel, Lessons from the Geese (Oakland, Calif: EDP Consulting, Inc., 1997).

…Creating community partnerships to support the growth and development of children and families to make their lives better [is a key focus in Head Start]. Without doubt, your Head Start program is already involved in community partnerships of varying levels. Some of those partnerships may be at the communication or networking level, where staff exchange information about community programs and services. Others may be at the coordination level, where staff work with other community agencies to avoid duplication of efforts or to fill gaps in services. Cooperation is yet another level of community partnership where two or more programs conduct joint activities to meet their individual goals.

Collaboration, however, is the most intense level of community partnership. It involves programs working together toward common goals could not be achieved by any program acting alone. Resources, information, and activities are shared by the collaborative partners to turn the goals into reality.

For Head Start programs across the country, collaboration poses both an opportunity and a challenge to get people and organizations to work together in new ways. The road to collaboration is neither straight nor easy. It involves changing the way people work and think. When people collaborate, they move from competing to consensus building, from working alone to including others, from thinking mostly about activities, services, and programs to thinking about the "big picture," and from focusing on short-term accomplishments to achieving long-term results. *

Performance Standards

Head Start Program Performance Standards call for grantee and delegate agencies to take affirmative steps to establish ongoing collaborative relationships with community organizations to promote the access of children and families to community services that are responsive to their needs, and to ensure that Head Start programs respond to community needs.

The Performance Standards refer specifically to community partnerships as vehicles for collaboration. This guide's activities are designed to expand upon and reinforce the community partnership role of staff. That role, as stated in the Performance Standards, involves engaging, planning, and working with other agencies to improve, share, and enhance services, staff, information, and funds.

* Michael Winer and Karen Ray, Collaboration Handbook: Creating, Sustaining, and Enjoying the Journey (Saint Paul, Minn.: Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, 1994).

"Community Partnerships: Working Together [Overview]." Community Partnerships: Working Together. Training Guides for the Head Start Learning Community. DHHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB. 2000. English.

Last Reviewed: June 2009

Last Updated: February 20, 2015