If there is one opportunity that emerged from the political, racial, and pandemic-centered strife of the past two years, it is the recognition that communities are the heartbeat of our education ecosystem.
While schools are embedded in communities, the education that occurs within communities has largely been framed as separate from school—after-school, out-of-school, and informal learning. The pandemic challenged the distinction by connecting the classroom directly to the community – the parents, families and organizations that support students outside of the school building.
Now that students are returning to school, will strong community and district partnerships be a moment in time or an opportunity to reimagine?
Education is a shared responsibility of schools and the communities in which schools exist. As such, it is important to move beyond simply inviting families, parents and students in for “community engagement,” to creating the space for communities to be partners in the design of social, emotional, and academic learning.
We can begin by evolving our own mental models for how we value communities within the context of learning:
- Embrace communities as integral spaces of learning, connections, relationships, play, culture, mentorship, and identity. As such, it is impossible to effectively support education of the whole child without communities.
- Champion the ingenuity that resides within communities. Consider the entrepreneurialism, creativity, cultural capital and innovation that is necessary to navigate social systems, especially within high-poverty communities – and create seats at the table for these innovators.
In our work at Digital Promise’s Center for Inclusive Innovation, we are learning alongside systems leaders, educators, families, community advocates, and students about how to support the research and design (R&D) of learning by collaborating with districts and communities on a number of topics including Secondary Writing, Data Equity, Mental Health and Trauma, and Classroom Discourse.
The Inclusive Innovation approach is rooted in communities as necessary and valuable collaborators in transforming education through R&D and is guided by a set of equity-centered tenets. The process pushes beyond simply inviting community input or feedback.
Communities are deeply engaged as designers and decision-makers in the process:
What is emerging from our Inclusive Innovation work that is exciting?
- Students and teachers in Sunnyside School District in Tucson, Arizona, are co-designing a model to guide the development of social studies inquiry units centered in culture and topics of interest to students.
- Students and parents in Socorro Independent School District in El Paso, Texas, are co-designing an interactive writing wall to strengthen student engagement and confidence in writing.
- Students, parents and teachers in Bristol Township School District in Bristol, Pennsylvania, are conducting focus groups in partnership with a community-based organization, Bristol Cares, to design supports for student mental health and trauma, including trauma caused by racial and discriminatory factors.
- Teachers of color in Middletown City Schools in Middletown, Ohio are collaborating with administrators and higher education institutions to design a Black male teacher pipeline and retention model.
Community members at the table with districts, researchers, and designers are enabling new and differentiated solutions to emerge that are reflective of the voices, perspectives and imaginations of those who are most impacted. Education innovation with, not for, communities is the key to unlocking the future of learning.
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