Trusted school leaders, viewed as advocates for all stakeholders, tend to be experts in the demographics and sociological makeup of the communities 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 understand better 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 one report concluded that “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 and median age, gender, race, and even nationality in some settings.
- Communication Channels: For leaders to connect with their communities, they need to know what avenues are available to them for reaching the public. The avenues 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 various 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 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. 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, the leader will probably discover school families are subgroups at odds. To meet all stakeholders’ needs and concerns, the leader must understand and articulate the issues and concerns of either side.
- Previous Community Efforts: This final stage of the sociological inventory identifies any previous community efforts that impact the local citizenry within the past few years. Elements to be identified include projects that were undertaken, who sponsored them, and the level of success.
Trusted school leaders know their communities. Through that knowledge and understanding of their community’s unique setting, qualities, and makeup, they become well-informed advocates for all school 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.
©Toby A. Travis, Ed.D. All Rights Reserved