Community Conversations

Strong local collaborations are critical to successful youth transitions. Preparing students with disabilities for life after high school requires creative and committed partnerships within and beyond the school. However, transition educators sometimes struggle to meaningfully engage the people and programs that already exist within their local community. A community conversation event is a practical, fun, and effective way for districts to capture fresh perspectives and identify innovative, local solutions to persistent challenges in transition education. On this page, we provide resources, materials, and tips for school districts interested in applying this approach in their community.

Materials for Hosting an Event

Prior to using the following materials, we encourage you to read our teacher article for practical guidance on how to use community conversations to improve transition outcomes:

Schutz, M. A., Carter, E. W., Gajjar, S. A., & Maves, E. A. (2021). Strengthening transition partnerships through community conversation events. TEACHING Exceptional Children. Advanced online publication. 



This video provides a brief overview of community conversation procedures.

Before the Event

  • Event Checklist: Follow these steps to ensure that procedures taken before the event, during the event, and after the event lead to a well-planned, fruitful, and useful conversation.
  • Sample Event Questions: Each round of the event addresses a single question that prompts attendees to identify resources, ideas, and personal connections that could enhance transition programming for students with disabilities. While you may find these sample questions to be helpful in guiding your thinking, ensure the questions you develop are aligned with your district’s goals.
  • Recruitment Planning Sheet: You may find this sheet helpful for organizing and documenting efforts to recruit attendees to the event. Consider sharing this sheet through a shared file storage tool (e.g., Google Docs) and adding rows as necessary.
  • Sample Recruitment Flyers: You may create flyers similar to these examples for recruiting attendees to the event.
  • Table Host Training Resources: Table hosts play in integral role at community conversation events. Use these resources to ensure that they are adequately prepared and supported to carry out their roles effectively.
    • Table Host Training Video: You may use this video as a brief training tool prior to the event for table hosts to view to better understand their roles and responsibilities during the event.
    • Table Host Tip Sheet: Provide this tip sheet to table hosts at the beginning of the event as a reference to important reminders during the conversation rounds.

During the Event

  • Registration Sheet: Use this sheet for attendees to sign in upon arriving to the event. You may consider customizing the sheet to reflect any pertinent information you are interested in collecting from attendees and pre-filling the sheet with the names of individuals who have registered prior to the event.
  • Table Tent Template: Use this template to create table tents to be set up on each conversation table to display event questions and provide reminders regarding conversation etiquette. Be sure to add your own conversation questions to the template prior to printing.
  • Placemat Template: Use this template for creating a paper placemat for each attendee to write down any additional ideas they do not share aloud. Be sure to add your own conversation questions and any additional desired logos or information for customizing the placemat prior to printing.
  • Sample Facilitator Presentation: You may find this sample presentation helpful when developing your own facilitator presentation to use for guiding attendees through event procedures. If you choose to use this template, be sure to make changes to the title, mission statement, and conversation questions to reflect your own district and event information.  
  • Table Host Notes Template: During the event, attendees participate in three distinct rounds of small-group conversations. During each round of conversation, detailed notes are taken to document every idea generated. You may find this template helpful for creating table host notes. Note that table hosts should receive three note sheets, one for each round of conversation.
  • Sample End-of-Event Survey: You may find this sample survey helpful for developing your own form for collecting feedback from attendees at the end of the event. If you choose to use this survey, be sure to customize questions to reflect the particular information you are looking to collect from attendees. You may consider adding a space for attendees to write the most promising ideas they heard and use this information when developing goals after the event.

After the Event

  • Goal Planning Template: You may use this template to set goals for improvement based on ideas found to be promising at the community conversation event. You will develop action steps, delineate staff responsibilities for each goal, and develop a timeline for follow-up checks and goal completion. After documenting all necessary information in this plan, store the plan in an accessible location – such as a shared file storage system – to be referenced by all team members as necessary.
  • Sample Goals and Action Plan: This sample provides an example of a fictional plan with the type of information that you may include in your action plan.
  • Sample Event Summary Brief: You may find this example to be helpful when developing your own summary brief to be sent out to attendees who participated in the community conversation event.

Additional Resources

Additionally, you may find this guide on hosting a community conversation event to be helpful:

Research Support for Community Conversations

Bumble, J. L., Carter, E. W., Bethune, L., Day, T., & McMillan, E. (2019). Community conversations on inclusive higher education for students with intellectual disability. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 42, 29-42.

Bumble, J. L., Carter, E. W., McMillan, E., & Manikas, A. (2017). Using community conversations to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities in rural and urban communities. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 47(1), 65-78.

Bumble, J. L., Carter, E.W., McMillan, E., Manikas, A.S., & Bethune, L. K. (2018). Community conversations on integrated employment: Examining individualization, influential factors, and impact. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 28(4), 229-243.

Carter, E. W., Blustein, C. L., Bumble, J. L., Harvey, S., Henderson, L., & McMillan, E. (2016). Engaging communities in identifying local strategies for expanding integrated employment during and after high school. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 121(5), 398-418.

Carter, E. W., Bumble, J. L., Griffin, B., & Curcio, M. P. (2017). Community conversations on faith and disability: Identifying new practices, postures, and partners for congregations. Pastoral Psychology, 66(5), 575-594.

Carter, E. W., Schutz, M. A., Gajjar, S. A., Maves, E. A., Bumble, J. L., & McMillan, E. D. (2020). Using community conversations to inform transition education in rural communities. The Journal of Special Education. Advance online publication.

Carter, E. W., Swedeen, B., Cooney, M., Walter, M. J., & Moss, C. K. (2012). “I don’t have to do this by myself?”: Parent-led community conversations to promote inclusion. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 37(1), 9-23.

Carter, E. W., Trainor, A. A., Ditchman, N., & Owens, L. A. (2011). A pilot study connecting youth with emotional and behavioral difficulties to summer work experiences. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 34(2), 95-106.

Carter, E. W., Trainor, A. A., Ditchman, N., Swedeen, B., & Owens, L. (2009). Evaluation of a multi-component intervention package to increase summer work experiences for transition-age youth with severe disabilities. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 34(2), 1-12.

Dutta, A., Kundu, M. M., Johnson, E., Chan, F., Trainor, A. A., Blake, R., & Christy, R. (2016). Community conversations: Engaging stakeholders to improve employment-related transition services for youth with emotional and behavioral disabilities. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 45(1), 53-61.

Molfenter, N., Hartman, E., Swedeen, B., Neugart, J., Huff, S., Roskowski, M., & Schlegelmilch, A. (2018). Harnessing the power of community conversations to expand opportunities for youth with disabilities. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 28(4), 216- 228.

Parker-Katz, M., Cushing, L., & Athamanah, L. (2018). Fostering transition leadership to promote partnerships with families and communities. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 28(4), 244-254.

Raynor, O., Hayward, K., Semenza, G., & Stoffmacher, B. (2018). Community conversations to increase employment opportunities for young adults with developmental disabilities in California. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 28(4), 203–215.

Trainor, A. A., Carter, E. W., Swedeen, B., & Pickett, K. (2012). Community conversations: An approach for expanding and connecting opportunities for employment for adolescents with disabilities. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 35(1), 49- 59.