Sustaining your work and developing an environment that supports continual improvement is the ultimate goal of anyone seeking to create cultural change. But, reaching this stage doesn’t mean your work is done. As we said earlier in this toolkit, building a college-going culture isn’t a task you can “check off” your to-do list.
The very definitions of sustainability and continual improvement indicate that this work is never ending. And one of the more exciting things about working in the education and community development space is that the opportunities for innovation are limitless. We can always make things better.
But how do you maintain momentum for the long haul? In the Sustained Innovation section, we’ll discuss strategies and tactics to help ensure your work continues through inevitable change. People central to your movement will retire or move on. Grant programs will end. And policymakers’ focus will shift. But this issue — and your work — will remain critical to the success of your community.
For organizations that have reached the Sustained Innovation phase, we recommend focusing on the following long-term goals:
- Institutionalizing Proven Practices: Adopting and implementing new policies and procedures
- Aligning Resources to Goals: Securing new resources or reallocating existing ones to support strategic objectives.
- Fueling Research, Creativity, and Debate: Creating an environment where stakeholders never stop learning or improving.
Goal 1: Institutionalizing Proven Practices
Once you’ve identified practices that are effective in supporting a college-going culture, ensuring that they are adopted as formal policies and procedures is often a good way to scale and sustain them. At the local level, this process may be as simple as making a compelling argument to your administrators or school board. (Be sure to include data, research, and personal stories!)
If you’re seeking to change state or federal policies, you may need to develop an advocacy strategy. This Introduction to Advocacy may help you explore this concept more.
Goal 2: Aligning Resources to Goals
Once your college attainment organization has developed clarity around a common vision and shared goals, you’ll need to ensure that resources are aligned to support them. This could mean seeking new funding through grants or donations. Or it could mean reallocating existing resources. It likely comes as no surprise that the latter can cause controversy, so you’ll want to be thoughtful and sensitive if you go this route.
One strategy is to undertake asset mapping, or inventorying the work and resources your organizational partners are providing. This process can help you identify gaps or overlaps and facilitate meaningful conversations about whether resources should be combined or whether certain partners might want to focus on other areas. It can also help you recognize strengths and, well, assets you may have overlooked or aren’t using to the fullest potential.
In addition to helping you identify tangible resources like funding or services available, asset mapping can also help you identify more nebulous assets. This might include things like community stories or traditions that can help you better connect and serve your audience or the experiences and skills of residents you might enlist.
It may seem strange to undertake this activity this “late in the game.” And, in fact, many community development and organization experts recommend mapping your assets early. However, collaborating through shared resources requires a great deal of trust, as does leveraging community traditions and symbols. Because of this, we recommend waiting until you’ve built strong relationships within your organization and at least some level of support for your cause.
Grant writing is a valuable professional skill set. But, even if you’re a novice, you can still write effective grant proposals if you do your homework. Here are a few resources to help you get started:
- Grant Writing 101 for US Nonprofits: Learning the Formula
- How Do I Write a Grant Proposal? A Guide
- Proposal Writing Insights
- Grant Writing 101: Resources for Grant Writers
If your college attainment organization is not set up to be able to serve as the fiscal agent (the organization that will manage the grant funds), be sure to work with a reliable and trusted partner who can fulfill that role.
Goal 3: Fueling Research, Creativity, and Debate
Hundreds of books and thousands of articles have been written about how to build a culture that encourages research, innovation, creativity and debate. (In the Workbook (Download MS Word or PDF) accompanying this toolkit, we listed a few of the most trusted books on the topic.)
But if we were going to create a “10 Commandments of Innovation” list, it would look something like this:
- Don’t get complacent
- Never stop learning and exploring
- Don’t be afraid to fail
- Engage individuals with diverse backgrounds and perspectives
- Encourage robust debate
- Listen and learn from those you seek to serve
- Develop rigorous research and evaluation programs
- Prototype and pilot, early and often
- Explore ideas outside your discipline or field
- Be uncompromising on your goals, but flexible on how you get there
The following are practical, actionable ideas for institutionalizing and sustaining a college-going culture and creating an environment that supports innovation:
- Make it standard procedure for your counseling team to identify low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented minority students. Make sure to personally reach out to these students and their families regarding postsecondary planning.
- Identify and reach out to students who may be struggling or overlooked. One powerful exercise is to play “Personal Interaction Post-its.” Here’s how it works: For every single student you serve, create an individual post-it with their name on it. Place these on the floor of a large wall with plenty of space to walk around and examine the names. Instruct your teachers or team members to look at the names and consider whether or not they’ve had a meaningful personal interaction with that student within the past two weeks. If they have, they should take that student’s post-it. (It’s ok if someone else gets a post-it for a student you’ve also interacted with). After everyone has walked around and collected students’ names, which ones remain unclaimed? These students probably need your focus and attention.
- Identify your “middle of the road” students — those students who aren’t top of the class and involved in everything… but also aren’t on the failing or detention lists. Encourage these students to pursue leadership positions or join extracurricular activities. Often, these students are capable but hindered by a lack of confidence or other personal barriers.
- Host an articulation conference to bring together high school and college educators. Collaborate to find ways to better align curricula.
- Create opportunities for students to provide feedback and input on college issues. Invite them for coffee and donuts before school for informal conversations. Hold annual or semi-annual focus groups with diverse groups of students. Or use the Discussion Guides included in this toolkit to host group discussions with student leaders.
- Start a nonfiction book club at your school or within your college attainment organization. Choose books that focus on issues related to postsecondary success, social issues your students and families are facing, or community development and collaboration.
- Host an annual College Access and Success conference. Invite members of your college attainment organization and the broader community to participate. Secure a keynote speaker who can address a critical issue facing your community and include breakout sessions focusing on other key topics.
- Submit proposals to present at regional and national conferences focusing on college attainment. Share your experiences, best practices, and research.
- Share your successes through stories in local media outlets, student and parent testimonials, social media posts, and presentations to community groups.
- Be up front and open about your challenges and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Host town hall meetings on tough issues or lead group brainstorming sessions during regular meetings.
- Engage every member of your school community — including teachers, cafeteria staff, counselors, principals, bus drivers, coaches, janitorial staff, and office administrators — in supporting a college-going culture. Offer them clearcut ways to participate, such as hanging college pennants around their work space or wearing their favorite college gear on Fridays.
- Set expectations for supporting college access and success within hiring practices, job descriptions, and performance evaluations.
- Host college planning workshops outside of the school at churches, 4H club meetings, Scouting events, or popular local hangouts.
- Ask parents to host a college-planning party at their home. Play games and offer prizes. At one, elect a host or hostess for the next party and charge them with inviting new people. (Think MLM parties.)
At this stage, you likely have developed your own robust set of metrics and goals. However, we would be remiss if we didn’t include some indicators to consider when evaluating the strength of your college-going culture.
- In your community, college means postsecondary, not just a four-year degree.
- College is broadly viewed as a viable and desirable path for ALL students.
- College success stories are prevalent throughout the school and community.
- Academic achievement is considered a universal point of pride on par with athletics.
- Teachers generally believe that all students can succeed in higher academic level classes when the appropriate strategies and support structures are put in place.
- Parents and students demand that a wide variety of advanced classes be offered and there are high levels of participation in upper level and advanced courses.
- Your school has identified all students from low-income, minority, and first-generation college families and made an intentional effort to assist them in college planning, engage them in leadership opportunities, and encourage them to take advanced academic courses.
- College advocacy is emphasized during hiring and performance evaluation practices.
- Most school team members can report on your school’s college-going rates and the activities and initiatives you’ve undertaken to increase them.
- Your school’s college-going rate is published and discussed throughout the community and is viewed as a measure of success for your school system.
Asset Mapping: An overview of asset mapping provided by the AmeriCorps Vista program.
Grant Writing 101 for US Nonprofits: Learning the Formula: An overview of the components and stages of the grant writing process.
Grant Writing 101: Resources for Grant Writers: A list of resources to help you learn to be an effective grant writer.
How Do I Write a Grant Proposal? A Guide: An introductory course on grant writing.
How Successful Companies Sustain Innovation: An article from Fast Company on the common characteristics of innovative organizations.
Proposal Writing Insights: Strategies and tips for improving grant proposals.
The Capabilities Your Organization Needs to Sustain Innovation: An article from the Harvard Business Review about building a culture to support ongoing innovation.