Trusted school leaders, viewed as advocates for all stakeholders, tend to be experts in the demographics and the sociological make-up of the communities in which they serve. Conducting, or being the recipient of, a sociological inventory of the school’s broader community provides school leaders with information and data to gain a clearer understanding of the values and perceptions of the population they serve. An extensive sociological inventory will include data on the following elements:
- Customs and Traditions: Every community exhibits local practices and behaviors distinct to its culture. Regardless of the extent to which homogenizing cultures has taken place throughout society, every local community possesses unique customs and traditions. Trusted leaders embrace and understand valued local traditions. This understanding also supports the leader as they create and determine policy as “nothing evokes a quicker reaction from parents and citizens than the adoption of policies and practices that run counter to their established beliefs.”*
- Population Characteristics: Leaders need to be familiar with the community’s educational levels, as well as median age, gender, race, and even nationality in some settings.
- Communication Channels: In order for leaders to connect with their communities, they need to know what avenues are available to them for reaching the public. This will vary depending on target groups within the community (e.g. newspapers for reaching older men vs. social media postings for younger adults).
- Community Groups: Within every community, leaders discover sub-groups focused on a wide variety of special interests – everything from political and societal to recreational interests.
- Group Leadership: For this part of the inventory, two distinct elements of community leaders must be identified: leaders who influence others and specific groups who follow their leadership.
- Economic Conditions: The old election saying, “it’s all about the economy” is also important for the school leader. The inventory should reveal major and minor employers in the community, tax initiatives and referendums, property values, tuition rates of competing schools and more.
- Political Structure: Although some Christian school leaders are tempted to distance themselves from local politicians and local political issues – trusted leaders understand the value of knowing, and being known by, local political leaders. Schools are always a subject of discussion and critique within political circles; even Christian schools. It is far better for the school leader to have a voice in that discussion whenever possible.
- Social Tensions: Trusted leaders understand the issues and challenges that play a role in whatever discontent may exist within their community. As most schools serve a wide variety of constituents, it is very probable that the leader will discover school families are members of subgroups at odds with each other. In order to meet the needs and concerns of all stakeholders, the leader must be able to understand and articulate the issues and concerns of either side; demonstrating Compassion to all.
- Previous Community Efforts: This final stage of the sociological inventory identifies any previous community efforts with an impact on the local citizenry within the past few years. Elements to be identified include, “what kind of projects were undertaken, who sponsored them, the degree to which they succeeded or failed, and the probable reasons for the outcome.”*
Trusted school leaders know their communities. Through that knowledge and understanding of the unique setting, qualities, and make-up of their community, they become well-informed advocates for all of their stakeholders. The advocacy of all stakeholders is an essential responsibility of school leaders. When executed well, it endears a greater level of trust in their leadership, as well as the schools they lead.
©2017 Toby A. Travis, Ed.D. All Rights Reserved
*Recommended Resource: “Sociological Inventory,” North Dakota State University, accessed 21 June 2016, https://www.ndsu.edu/”16zfileadmin/education/Assignment_Instructions-Sociological_Inventory_and_Letter.pdf.