Negotiation & the Art of Happy Partnerships

In Partnerships, Services by James Magerman

James Magerman, Director of Partnerships

No one agency can do it all.  And it’s rare for a school or school system to have all the resources and expertise they need in-house to meet all of their student’s diverse needs.  If there is one thing that Alliance for Inclusion & Prevention has found to be universally true across the decades we have been doing this work, it would be that.  In the realm of children’s mental health in particular, the needs are so great and many of the skills and treatments are so specialized, creating an environment where all children can thrive requires the coordination of effort between schools and a variety of partners.  And it’s not an easy task.

Community partners and schools have many goals in common.  They are all focused on the children’s wellbeing, and they all care about quality of services and care.  Each group also has goals that might diverge in important ways, and there needs to be a process in place for making sure the parameters of the partnership work equally well for all sides of the partnership.

This may include setting aside appropriate private space for counselors to meet with children, even though every inch of a school building is a precious resource with many demands on its space.  This may mean finding a way to include a partner counselor in student support team meetings, to get a better perspective on the students they see, even though that would cut into their billable hours.  There is a laundry list of such issues that need to be worked out to allow a partnership to thrive and endure, and nailing down solutions ahead of time to as many of the foreseeable issues as possible is key to success.  Similarly, schools and partners should be reviewing the partnership every year to address new barriers or needs that arise.

That means regularly updating contracts or Memorandums of Understanding, to outline the goals of the partnership in specific measurable terms.  This not only helps both sides in establishing common goals, but provides an agreed upon basis for evaluating the success of the partnership.  In addition to performing this kind of bilateral review of the partnership, another important way to increase the efficacy of services in a school building, particularly one with a wealth of partners, is to regularly convene those partners as a group to update them on the schools needs or to look for ways the partners can work together or refer students to one anothers programs.  There can be a lot going on inside a school building, and it is easy for partners to be unaware of each others work, missing easy opportunities to help children in need connect with quality services. Having this kind of partnerships council can also help mediate any potential conflicts between partners in the same building, or even provide the collective partners to negotiate with the school leadership on areas of common concern.  It’s a great way to show partners that a school is as invested in their success as they are in the schools.

No one agency can do it all, but we owe it to the children to try to do it all together.