Building a community to support your robotics team can reduce your workload as a coach and provide additional resources for the students you work with. It can take some time to get established, but will pay off in the long run as you find ways to share responsibilities across that community.
What is Community Building?
A community is any group that shares something in common. Your robotics team is part of a larger community, and all students learn best when they feel a sense of belonging, when they have adult support, and when they have access to resources.
When thinking about community building, it helps to identify a vision or value that you feel is most important to create for your students. What is the common vision you want your community to have or rally around? Identify characteristics that represent strengths you can build on, such as accessible robotics for all students or co-ed teams.
Who Do You Build Community With?
Community assets can include physical locations like gyms, meeting rooms, and maker spaces that your team might be able to use for practices, work sessions, or events. Businesses and organizations in your area may be excellent sources of volunteers for event support, guest speakers to share expertise, or social media connections. Individuals who live or work in your community might love to share their time or skills with your students.
How to Identify Community Assets
As a coach, you might have a tendency to look for things that are missing and try to fill those gaps. While that’s a pragmatic and common approach, it can sometimes lead to frustration and dead ends. Instead, try taking a step back to look for existing strengths in the community that can be built upon to create a sustainable outcome.
Look at your team’s situation, and make a list of the existing resources. Focus more on your community’s strengths than on the things you feel are missing. For example, resources that are already available to you include the REC Foundation, families/guardians, your team’s funding source (school, org, etc.), and peer coaches & teams (other registered teams in your area). Now think about other resources that are also likely available to you: institutional supports (nearby colleges, etc.), other school staff, physical assets, & community individuals like local politicians, celebrities, local branches of labor unions, professional organizations, engineering associations, and service groups. The image below shows a sample list of team resources.
You may be reluctant to consider other teams & coaches as assets in your community because they’re your team’s direct competition. However, the larger VEX Robotics community is all about helping each other. Coaches, teams, and Event Partners constantly share ideas, guidance, and support, and contribute toward their larger VEX community. We all share the same goal of building positive experiences for students.
Use your students’ parents, guardians, and families as a “PTO” of sorts, and include them in their students’ success. Whether you’re running after school team meetings or a competition, having parents organize some aspect of that activity (food, for example) encourages parents to do more than just drop their kids off—in a structured way that still creates a student-centered environment.
How to Engage Your Community
Be prepared with some suggestions of tasks and time commitments when approaching individuals, organizations, and businesses for support. For example, asking a parent “Can you help with snacks for one month, once per week?” will probably get a better response than, “Can you help out with snacks?” Setting time expectations increases engagement and commitment.
Your best volunteer probably won’t come in with vast engineering knowledge or experience in robotics. They’ll be willing to help where needed, and their commitment may grow from a one-time engagement to an ongoing contribution.
There are three general categories of community engagement:
- One-time contact; visits students once
- Elected official for VIP visit
- Media visits
- Career guest speakers
- Local chapters of engineering associations
- Local government agencies
- Anything of interest to your students
- Periodic contact; quarterly special guests
- Engineering notebook reviewers
- Mock interview judges
- “Team Champions” who check in monthly
- Tournament-day travel helpers
- Post-tournament celebration helpers
- Workspace cleanup
- Continuous contact; weekly coaches and support people
- Volunteer coordinator
- Community coordinator
- Snack bringers
- Support coaches
- Peer coaches
- Peer teams (student-to-student communication)
Online Communities for Coach & Team Support
As we mentioned earlier, it’s common for robotics coaches and teams to work together to share ideas, guidance, and support. Whether you have a vast network of other teams in your area or your region is just getting started in competition, there are many official and unofficial online resources that can serve as part of your community.
VEX Professional Learning Community (pd.vex.com)
- Coaches & educators only
- VEX curriculum staff & engineers are active members of the community
- Network of engaged students & coaches, including some VEX engineers and SMEs
- REC Foundation & VEX Libraries
- Unofficial Facebook Groups
- Unofficial Wikis
- Purdue Sigbots; repository of technical resources for VEX teams
Ways to Connect Your Team to Your Community
Your team’s connections to your robotics community and the larger surrounding community shouldn’t be one-way. Look for opportunities for your team to help. Their presence as volunteers will increase their visibility and the chance that interested community members will know about your team and what they’re doing!
- Team demonstration/booth at community event
- Participate in community service projects like park cleanup, food banks, or mentoring younger students
- Volunteer at events you’re not competing in
- VRC teams can help at VIQC events
- Scorekeeper Referee (15+)
- Judges (HS only)
- VIQC teams can help at VRC events
- Field resetters
- VRC teams can help at VIQC events
This article is based on content created by Kam Yee and Dan Troy, REC Team Engagement Managers, and presented during the 2022 REC Foundation Virtual Coach Summit. To view the video of their presentation, visit this YouTube link. To view the slides from their presentation, open this PDF.