This post is being cross-posted from the Disruption Department Blog as a continuing exercise of pushing the boundaries of learning in the city of St. Louis. Any comments are much appreciated!
A few conversations I had yesterday on the twitter led me to think about what role the Disruption Department could have in facilitating/mediating community conversations about what/where/why/when students are learning and who has major responsibility of “teaching” in urban schools.
I posed the question then, and I pose it again now, has there been successfulcollaboration through the curricular and social design process in any urban public schools?
And by that I don’t mean “input” or “review”.
I mean actually building the academic and social workings of the school through community collaboration.
The question itself underlies a mindset that unfortunately many schools consciously or unconsciously have: that families are liabilities.
I’ve heard too many times school faculty and staff blame parents for actively making decisions that set their children up for failure (and thereby not including their participation at times), while also blaming them for not doing enough.
Colonialist, elitist, and condescending attitudes towards families don’t solve the problem.
Maybe more perniciously, there are biases that aren’t exactly conscious. I have them. You have them. We must talk about them for them to go away. This is an explicit part of this whole proposal.
So I’m not just talking about lip service, I’m talking about respect.
Imagine instead that the entire scope of learning (both academic and social) was a collaborative effort between teachers, administrators, families, students, local business people, creative types, etc. Rather than just the “experts” at the school, each component of a child’s learning would be planned in concert with the goals of the community, all while guiding students to also be compelling participants in the state, the country, and the world at large.
Here’s the way I see this conversation could be organized.
- A school-wide meeting takes place introducing the entire project to the community at large. In this meeting, someone would outline the goals of the project, explain the process of collaboration, introduce the facilitators of each community group, etc. This is the logistical meeting that sets the foundations for the entire exercise. A norm setting exercise would be also included to ensure consensus was reached into how the process would take place.
- After the meeting, the facilitators would lead neighborhood meetings including the collaboration of a diverse mix of folks from the neighborhood. This mix would include families, students, teachers, local workers, artists, business folks, aldermen, etc. The facilitator would keep everyone on task (developing the curriculum) and remindful of the norms, any requirements or constraints, and the connections to broader ideas. Additionally, the facilitator would ensure that everyone’s voice was heard with equal weight, sensitive to the fact that many community members are used to “experts” making all the intellectual decisions, even though community members are the best experts on these students’ lives.
- After the process runs its course, the neighborhood group would elect some representatives to participate in the larger grade-level workgroup, that would include the facilitators and representatives from each neighborhood, but this time organized by grade level. A synthesis of each neighborhood meeting would take place at this time.
- After that meeting, neighborhood representatives and facilitators would meet with content areas, focusing on a discussion of vertical integration leading towards post-school opportunities for students.
- Finally, the entire group would meet again in a summit to discuss how the individual work from each workgroup (both neighborhood, horizontal grade level and vertical content area) would integrate into the academic and social priorities of the school, and by extension the community writ large.
- The final working document would be posted online, in public areas, and sent back to open meetings of neighborhood groups for any feedback, comments, proposed revisions, etc.
- The final plan would be implemented at the school, at after-school events, in libraries, in local businesses, in homes, at ballfields, EVERYWHERE students go.
Each year, the document would be revised based on the priorities of the community.
To me, this collaboration is not just a luxury, it is a need.
I would love any comments about similar projects in communities around the world, or any other involvement you have had as a school or community member in building the workings of a school.
Have you seen/heard anything like this?
What did it look like?
What did it sound like?
Was it successful?
If not, how did y’all learn from your mistakes?