by Rupu Gupta, Shuli Rank, and Nezam Ardalan, NewKnowledge
For the past year, Teaching Our Cities (TOC) -- led by Common Ground High School -- has highlighted how a connected and supported network of educators from a series of New England schools can advance meaningful work at their respective institutions. Teams from six environmentally-focused schools worked to develop new curriculum that incorporated urban topics in meaningful and engaging ways, to promote motivated student engagement. Youth leaders were an integral part of each school’s team, where their leadership development was an important part of the process. For the past year, New Knowledge Organization Ltd. (NewKnowledge) has engaged with Common Ground as their evaluation partner, supporting the project to learn how the network of leaders grew as a community of practice, while observing and assessing the team workshops conducted throughout the project.
A community of practice goes beyond just the creation of a group around a common pursuit. It comprises people interested in a specific domain or topic, who actively learn from each other to impact their respective spheres of work through an iterative and communicative process. Using workshop surveys during the start, middle, and end of the project, and phone interviews with administrators, we were able to track how a community of practice was actually being forming. As anticipated, we indeed learned that the TOC project has led to a rapidly developing network of educators exchanging learning and resources to move forward institutional goals!
Educators perceived immediate value in the community of educators after they convened as a group for the first time. A survey at the end of the first workshop Common Ground hosted with educators, administrators, and students, suggested the educators were interested in being part of an engaged community and learning from each other. They appreciated hearing from others and were eager about additional opportunities for face-to-face learning, connection, and work. The emphasis on engaging students as co-creators of their school plans was valued for its importance and novelty. They were enthused about disseminating and sharing what they had learned with their colleagues in their schools and we saw a sense of excitement and gratitude for having the opportunity to be part of an inspiring group of leaders.
Midway through the project, we observed that educators reiterated their commitment to a shared and collaborative learning process. They acknowledged the potential value of the community to support their school’s long-term efforts and apply the lessons learned to build their school’s curriculum. To help them achieve their school’s goals they hoped for continued opportunities to interact and learn from colleagues in other schools while also bolstering internal collaboration and support in their own schools.
Interestingly, it was the administrators at the schools who most strongly conveyed insights on how the lessons were being applied at individual schools. In our interviews with them, they enthusiastically shared their ongoing support for the TOC project to create curriculum and lessons that closely aligned with their school’s priorities. They described educators’ professional development through the project, especially by closely engaging with peers from other schools. They also described tangible impacts on their respective schools related to the restructured lessons offered to motivate and engage students in more relevant and interesting ways. Indeed, students also shared how their school experiences helped them develop an interest in volunteering around an important cause to them while using the skills they learned. We expect educators will share further insights on how they are implementing specific lessons learned from TOC. As we write this, we are in the process of gathering responses from a final educator survey which was distributed after the final workshop.
We are excited about the trajectory that TOC has set for the educators engaged. The community of practice appears to be on an accelerated path, with applications being realized relatively early on in the process. For an effort that has been around for a year or so, this is unusual and also thought-provoking. We reflect on the questions these results pose:
- What are the specific activities, resources, and platforms that helped create the TOC community of practice?
- How does preparation and planning in advance of joining the network impact the growth of a community of practice?
- What strategies can foster and sustain educators’ longer-term engagement with the community of practice?
- How can we effectively connect the development of the community of practice to student impacts?
We hope Common Ground and its partner schools will continue to explore these questions and strengthen the community TOC has created!