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Learning at its Best

Community Planning, Curricular Design

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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?


About mrsenorhill

Director of Innovation, Special Projects @collegeboundstl, Co-Founder and CEO @thedisruptdept, hustling for creation literacy for all; want to cook better.


5 thoughts on “Community Planning, Curricular Design

  1. You gotta connect with Monika!

    Posted by Chad Sansing | July 13, 2011, 9:57 pm
    • Chad! I already have. She’s a friend and the one who brought me to the coop.

      Thanks for reading.

      Do you have any thoughts on the proposal?

      Posted by mrsenorhill | July 13, 2011, 10:02 pm
      • I’m really fascinated by the city-as-school ideas Monika has shared.

        While I’ve not done ll the work to implement community-based schooling, I am a fan of pushing learning out of the classrooms, If schools don’t at least attempt some of what you propose, then public education will continue to lose market share and the imagination captured by more experiential learning opportunities.

        I’ve done some thinking about how social media could be used to to facilitate out-and-about learning:

        We have the technology to reinvent systems for tracking mastery and learning inside and outside school; we should use it.


        Posted by Chad Sansing | July 14, 2011, 6:29 am
      • I’ll have to talk to Monika about this. Many of my ideas are inspired by conversations we had throughout last summer. She’s very cool, and very smart.

        I think this idea reflects the intention to make the community a rich and safe environment for ubiquitous learning. I feel that this process is a step in the right direction because it sets up an ethic of complete collaboration and ownership over what, how, when and why students are learning. Eventually, as is the vision of the Disruption Department, there would be no need for the facilitation of the school, learning would just be something for which the community took responsibility. The school would serve as a hub for resources and exciting activities. Teachers would coordinate activities based on research they’ve done and experience they have about the brain, but not from the standpoint of monopolizing everything about the community’s education. It would no longer be the geographic focal point, but rather learning would be dispersed throughout the neighborhood and the city writ large.

        Thanks for the thoughts. Talk soon.

        Posted by mrsenorhill | July 14, 2011, 9:20 am
  2. Greg,

    I love the idea – to me, it reads as a more rigorous and concerted effort to provide access and collaboration to the community.

    However, I think going back to one of your main goals – to guarantee the inclusion of the voices of poor families – may struggle. For any “meeting,” the poor families will probably be underrepresentation because they have been so regularly disenfranchised. They likely will not put in much effort to go, even if it’s in the neighborhood. Folks won’t believe that their input will really be taken to begin with, let alone that they will be equal participants.

    Are there ways in which you could make it so that it is not an “opt-in” situation requiring initiative energy up front to become a participant? Could it be framed in a way to engage with the children to engage their guardian(s) to get the conversation moving? I could see the students then, based on their own views and the conversation they had their parents, having a dialogue with the other students, teachers, and administrators to develop main ideas and thoughts. Then, when the community meetings are scheduled, you’ll have the students encouraging their parents to go because they are also major stakeholders – so it’s less that the parents would need to “decide to put in the effort to give the new meeting a try” and more that they would “need a reason to explain to their child for why they cannot go.”

    Posted by Kevin Crouse | July 14, 2011, 9:41 am

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