Training Guides for the Head Start Learning Community:
Community Partnerships
Working Together

Module 1

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What is Collaboration?


As a result of completing this module, participants will be able to:

Key Concepts

The key concepts of Module 1 that serve as a knowledge base for the skills needed to define the collaborative process include:

Background Information

Community partnerships are exciting and dynamic structures that develop from the realization that programs and people can share resources and achieve more by working together. Through commitment, a willingness to compromise, and careful planning, partners are capable of making significant changes in the community.

Developmental Process

The formation of a collaborative is often a developmental process that begins with communication and networking. Program administrators, members of governing boards, managers, consumers, and/or direct service providers from different agencies come together to explore possibilities of working together. In this initial phase, partners exchange information and build rapport by sharing concerns, interests, and needs.

The next phase takes participants to coordination and cooperation, where information and activities are shared. Participants develop methods of working together that allow them to take advantage of each other's resources without substantially altering the way their programs operate or deliver services. For example, participants may decide to co-sponsor staff training events or health promotion campaigns. This phase usually does not require a change in program budgets or policies, but may require a change in program procedures.

When agency coordination and cooperation work well, the door to collaboration may open. Collaboration is different from cooperation and coordination in a significant way. In an effort where collaboration takes place, participants become partners and agree to share information, activities, and resources to achieve common goals. For example, local Head Start programs and school districts can collaborate by jointly hiring therapists to ensure smooth and appropriate transitions for children with disabilities and their families. Changes in the structure, policies, procedures, and budgets of the partners' programs are often necessary to carry out the goals of a collaborative effort.

Assessing Head Start's Readiness for Community Partnerships

Prior to engaging in a collaborative, Head Start programs must assess their readiness for participation in a community partnership. Some questions to help staff explore the possibilities, benefits, and challenges of community partnership, include:

Stages and Milestones

Building a community partnership is hard work and demands a lot of patience. Collaborations move through four stages. Each stage has a set of milestones or benchmarks that allow collaborative partners know they are making progress. However, each partnership is unique, going through the stages and meeting the benchmarks in its own way and at its own speed.

Stage One: Getting Together

In this stage, a small group comes together to explore how to address an issue or need of mutual concern. Sometimes an event in the community, such as closing a public housing complex or a child's tragic death, brings people together. More typically, people come together due to shared frustrations over deteriorating neighborhood conditions or unmet service needs. Next, the group identifies and invites other community representatives who may have a stake in the same issue. In addition, initial ground rules for working together are also explored in this stage.

Stage Two: Building Trust and Ownership

Once potential partners are identified, attention turns to building trust and ownership by engaging partners, developing a base of common knowledge, and creating a shared vision of what needs to change. At this point, group members make a joint commitment to become partners and collaborate. They exchange information-as well as views on the issue or need-that brought them together. In addition, partners must revisit and revise the basic ground rules for working together and explore the resources needed for collaborative planning.

Stage Three: Developing a Strategic Plan

In this stage, partners develop a mission statement and conduct an assessment to determine whether the collaborative has the ability to accomplish its mission. This assessment involves: 1) obtaining more information relevant to the issue (e.g., political climate, other initiatives); and, 2) identifying the strengths, needs, opportunities, and challenges of the collaboration.

If, after the assessment, the partners feel the collaborative has potential to succeed, they establish goals. If substantial discrepancies exist between the goals and the potential to achieve them, partners must reevaluate and rework them. This stage also involves developing strategies for achieving the goals by examining the various routes, analyzing the cost and benefits of each, and selecting the strategies that are most likely to work.

Stage Four: Taking Action

In this stage, partners begin to implement the strategies that define their strategic plan. Sometimes program policies and procedures need to be revised or modified in order to support the plan developed by the collaborative. Thus, if they are not already involved, partners must bring program administrators and members of governing bodies and policy groups who have policy-making authority to the table. Before going full scale with the initiative, partners may decide to implement a pilot project and assess the results.

Ongoing evaluation that helps partners monitor their work, making mid-course corrections, and measuring the results is an integral part of the collaborative process. Module 4 of this guide, Practicing the Collaborative Process, as well as other guides in the series, Training Guides for the Head Start Learning Community, offer guidance on evaluation. Finally, throughout all the stages, taking the time to reflect on and celebrate achievements-no matter how small-brings renewed energy and commitment to the partners.

Activity 1-1:
Workshop icon Purpose: To clarify the meaning and benefits of collaboration.


For this activity you will need:

  1. Warm up the group. Present the purpose of the activity. Explain that individuals and organizations work together in many different ways. Ask participants to take turns describing one way they work together with a service provider or organization in the broader community. List responses on newsprint.

  2. Introduce the topic of collaboration. Point out that collaboration is a popular buzz word today many people use to describe almost any form of working together, but collaboration has very specific meaning. Describe the concept of collaboration as a distinct process using the module's background information as a guide.

  3. (a) Discuss collaboration and the Performance Standards. Explain that community partnerships are one of the many themes emphasized in the Head Start Program Performance Standards. Refer the group to handout 1 and explain that community partnerships occur at different levels, ranging from interagency communication to collaboration; as one moves through the levels, the linkages or relationships between partners become stronger and more intense.

    (b) Refer to the examples of working together presented by the group in step 1. By show of hands, ask participants to indicate whether the examples of working together are communication and networking, coordination, cooperation, or collaboration. Address any uncertainties about the correct response.

    (c) Make sure the group understands that the focus of this training activity is collaboration, which is the most intense level of working together and involves the sharing of information, activities, and resources. Review the definition of collaboration, presented on handout 1. Ask participants to give details about any collaborative activities they are currently pursuing or participating in.

  4. (a) Conduct a large group discussion on collaborative possibilities and benefits. Explain that the possibilities for collaborative activities are vast. Tape the three labeled sheets of newsprint to the wall.

    (b) Refer the group to handout 2 and read the first scenario. Using the first scenario, explore the benefits of collaboration by encouraging participants to discuss how community partnerships are good for children and families, the Head Start program, and themselves. Give all participants an opportunity to respond. Record responses on the appropriate sheet of newsprint.

    (c) Once the discussion has concluded, repeat the process with the remaining scenarios provided on handout 2. Make sure the benefits presented in the key concepts are covered in the group's responses.

  5. Close the activity. Recap the activity's highlights and emphasize that collaboration makes possible what a single person or program could not do alone. Acknowledge that the collaborative process can be filled with many challenges. Make sure participants know that upcoming activities in this guide will address managing these challenges.

Activity 1-2:
On the Road
to Collaboration
Workshop icon Purpose: To recognize the stages and milestones of the collaborative process and to assess the Head Start community's need and readiness for community partnerships.


For this activity you will need:

  1. Introduce the activity. Present the purpose of the activity and make the following points:

    • A collaboration occurs between two or more partners.

    • In a collaborative, the process of working together must be flexible and adjust to new information or circumstances, while staying focused on goals.

    • Changing community conditions or ways of doing business require a process powerful enough to overcome multiple layers of resistance-in attitudes, relationships, and policies-within and across agencies and groups.

    • Collaborative partners must find the most efficient and effective way to knit their needs, resources, and interests into a purposeful and unique plan.

  2. Present a framework for building a collaboration. Refer the group to handout 3 and, using the background information as a guide, review the stages and milestones of collaboration. Emphasize the importance of ongoing evaluation throughout the stages of collaboration. Ask participants to give examples of the stages and milestones, based on their experiences with developing or participating in a community partnership.

  3. (a) Initiate a small group exercise on collaboration's stages and milestones. Explain that in the upcoming activity participants will take a look at one community's collaboration-building experience; the exercise is intended to help participants recognize the stages and milestones of a community partnership. Refer the group to handout 4, which provides a profile on an actual partnership called New Beginnings. Point out that New Beginnings is a collaborative focused on widespread change in the community's service system; collaboratives, however, can be much smaller in scope.

    (b) Divide the large group into two small groups. Make sure each group appoints a facilitator and a recorder/reporter, and has sheets of newsprint, markers, and tape. Assign groups the following:

    • Identify the activities that show the milestones and stages of New Beginnings' progress and development.

    Allow the groups 30 minutes to complete their work.

  4. (a) Debrief the small group exercise. Reconvene the large group. Ask for reports from the small groups on New Beginnings' stages and milestones.

    (b) Recording responses on newsprint, raise the following questions to help the group make connections between New Beginnings and their community:

    • What did you find most significant about the story?

    • What parts of the story would you like to see happen in your community?

    • What role do you see Head Start, or yourself, having in a collaboration to improve community services for families?

  5. (a) Prepare to assess Head Start's readiness for collaboration. Point out that prior to engaging in a collaborative, Head Start programs should assess their readiness for participation in a community partnership; this requires looking at tough questions on how well their Head Start program is doing in its support of children and families and how it can improve.

    (b) Present the format for a large group discussion. Refer the group to handout 5.

    (c) Emphasize that you expect a lot of different viewpoints and opinions to come out during the discussion and that you are not looking for any set answers. Ask for a volunteer to record discussion highlights on sheets of newsprint.

  6. (a) Facilitate a group assessment of Head Start's readiness. Lead the group through the first set of questions on handout 5. Do not rush the group through the questions; instead, allow plenty of time for the group to reflect and respond. Manage the discussion process so everyone feels acknowledged and heard.

    (b) Repeat the process presented above for the second and third set of questions on handout 5.

  7. Close the activity. Present the themes of the group discussion. Acknowledge that collaboratives require a lot of time and hard work; however, when partners make a commitment to see an initiative through all of its stages and milestones, many positive and exciting changes can occur.

Activity 1-3:
and Head Start
Coaching icon Purpose: To encourage development of community partnerships.


For this activity you will need:

  1. Introduce the coaching activity. Explain the purpose of the coaching session. Note that the Head Start Program Performance Standards require programs to collaborate and form community partnerships. Ask participants to give examples of how they work together with community organizations, groups, or leaders.

  2. (a) Explore the development of community partnerships. Refer participants to handout 1. Make sure they understand the differences between the illustrated levels. Discuss where the examples provided in step 1 fit on the handout. Point out how the linkages or relationships become stronger and more intense moving from communication to collaboration. (See the background information section of this module for details.)

    (b) Provide an overview of the stages and milestones of collaboration. Refer participants to handout 3. Next, encourage participants to describe their experiences with collaboratives. Based on handout 3, ask participants to reflect on the process used. Emphasize the importance of ongoing evaluation at each stage of collaboration.

  3. Present a model of a community partnership. Point out that many communities are succeeding in improving services for children and families through collaborative efforts. Refer participants to handout 4 and ask them to read it. Next, encourage participants to share their reactions and to discuss what it would take to establish a New Beginnings in their community. Make sure to point out the stages and milestones of this collaboration.

  4. Identify the benefits of collaboration. Tape up the three sheets of newsprint, labeled "Child/Family Benefits," "Head Start Benefits," and "Personal Benefits." Ask participants to give you examples from handout 4 on the benefits of community partnership. Record responses on newsprint. Make sure the benefits of collaboration presented in the key concepts are included in the examples.

  5. (a) Prepare participants for a homework assignment on community partnerships. Refer participants to handout 6 and review the instructions. Explain that you want them to complete the handout as homework.

    Coach Preparation Note: Suggest that participants start the assignment by recording the ways in which they or their Head Start program have formed partnerships with community organizations. Instruct participants to follow up the self-reflection by interviewing other staff members. If more than one staff member is participating in the coaching activity, suggest that participants conduct interviews as a group or that they divide up the assignment so that no single staff member is interviewed more then once.

    (b) To make sure participants understand the assignment, review the example provided in handout 6. Allow participants two weeks to complete the assignment. Set up a time for debriefing the homework.

  6. (a) Debrief the homework assignment. Encourage participants to give you some general feedback on the homework assignment. Then, ask participants to answer the question posed in the title of handout 6, "Where do we stand?" Ask participants to present examples of community partnerships from the homework assignment.

    (b) Review the completed handout with participants. Encourage participants to analyze the information by asking:

    • At what level of working together is your Head Start program? Communication and networking? Coordination and cooperation? Collaboration? (Explore the reasons for their responses.)

    • Where do community partnerships appear to be the strongest? With which organizations? What kinds of activities are occurring with these organizations?

    • Where do community partnerships appear to be most needed? With whom? Why? How would you initiate a partnership?

    • Is your Head Start program ready to collaborate? Expand on collaborative efforts? What are some collaborative possibilities? (Explore the reasons for their responses.)

    • What kinds of community partnerships would you like to be part of? What can you do to encourage their development? What challenges do you expect along the way? (Explore the reasons for their responses.)

  7. Close the activity. Emphasize the following points:

    • Collaboration is a distinct way of working together.

    • Collaboration is often a developmental process. Working collaboratively with other organizations to improve services for children and families involves hard work, but it also brings rewards.

    • The Head Start Program Performance Standards offer a challenge and an opportunity for staff to be part of exciting changes in the way Head Start and community organizations do business.

Next Steps:
Ideas to
Extend Practice
Next Step icon Purpose: To recognize the stages and milestones of the collaborative process and to assess the Head Start community's need and readiness for community partnerships.

Follow-up training strategies to reinforce the concepts and skills taught in Module 1 are presented below. After completing Module 1, review the strategies with Head Start staff and help them choose at least one to work on individually, in pairs, or in small groups.

Working With Others in Your Community

Take a close look at what you're trying to achieve in your job. Review your work activities over the past two to three months. Identify the activities that may have been easier to do or more successful if you had stronger working relationships with staff members of other agencies or organizations. Choose one or two possible partners and invite the staff members to have lunch with you or to take part in an upcoming activity at Head Start. Explore possibilities for working together.

Taking an Inventory of Collaborative Initiatives

Find out about collaborative initiatives underway in your community that may already address one or more of your concerns regarding community conditions or the unmet needs of children and families. Start by asking co-workers, colleagues in other agencies, and community leaders about initiatives they know of. Next, contact local child and family service agencies, community action groups, charitable organizations, and other appropriate agencies to find out what they are doing. If you uncover collaborative initiatives relevant to your concerns, find out more about who is involved, what populations or neighborhoods they are targeting, and their missions, goals, and strategies. Present your findings to members of the Head Start community (policy-makers, staff, volunteers, and parents) and explore the interest and possibilities for Head Start to become part of the existing collaborative initiatives.

Exploring Possibilities for Collaborative Partnerships

Use the outcome of the assessments, conducted in Activity 1-2 and/or Activity 1-3, to develop a brief report on a collaborative effort you would like to initiate or be involved in. In the report, describe the need or concern, as you see it, as well as how you believe the collaborative effort would benefit Head Start children and families, the Head Start program, and Head Start staff. Include a list of potential partners in the collaborative effort. Outline the steps you are willing to take to get the effort started. Present the paper and your ideas to your supervisor and co-workers.




Copyright © 1998 Head Start Publications Management Center
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