By Rob DiRenzo
Originally posted on HIVE NYC’s Blog as a guest blog post.
The focus of Digital Ready—a grant-funded program in the Office of Postsecondary Readiness at the New York City Department of Education—is professional development for educators and other school staff. Within the Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) lever of the program, we’ve designed professional development to take place in structured affinity groups, where appointed school representatives, also known as ELO Lever Leaders, focus on problems of practice. Along with discussing issues that arise with this work, we learn about:
- Effective practices in building relationships between youth-serving organizations
- Setting goals for school-community partnerships
- Implementing strategies at an organizational level to help them flourish
Hive NYC organizations have been partnering with Digital Ready schools since the program’s inception in 2013. Drawing from these partnerships, we have established a combined Team ELO/School-Community Partner Affinity Group to focus on common issues and leverage our collective knowledge to document best practices around expanded learning, partnership, youth programming, and systems management. In order for shared professional development to occur, both types of stakeholders (schools and youth-serving organizations) must learn to unpack their stories, theories of action, and rules of the road.
In my experience, schools and youth-serving organizations rarely have an opportunity to participate in this level of shared professional development, where any document or work is the result of real collaboration with both stakeholders’ ideas clearly represented. To quote Chris Wisniewski from the Museum of the Moving Image, “The foundation for any successful partnership is a framework that’s designed based on the realities of the stakeholders and prioritizes high quality learning experiences for students as an output.” This is one reason why the Digital Ready team has explicitly focused on bringing educators both from the in-school and out-of-school space together. The broad goal is to have all institutions (both schools and Hive NYC members) not only document but also apply these practices to current and future partnerships. Other outcomes of this work might include a School Partnership Tool Kit to be disseminated to all future participants and beyond, and blog posts documenting specific examples of collective learning and shared discovery.
The themes that the affinity group aims to cover are derived from what I term Washor and Mojkowski’s 5Ps—Plans, Protocols, People, Places, Portfolios (see the affinity group Professional Development Schedule for full details). The 5Ps are basic tools that schools and youth-serving organizations can use to support effective in-school and out-of-school partnerships. In support of shared professional development, we held the first Team ELO/School- Community Partner Affinity Group meeting of the 2014-2015 school year on September 23, 2014 at Global Kids HQ. The meeting was attended both by Digital Ready ELO lever leaders and Hive community partners, and the theme wasProtocols. Protocols suggest both schools’ and organizations’ “rules of the road” that specify a framework for launching new partnerships. During a brainstorming activity, I asked the participants to write down questions they had about systems and structures, communication, data and assessment, goals and needs assessment,expectations and MOUs. I assigned each team one of the topics and challenged them to answer the questions and synthesize them into a beginning protocol (see summary of notes). As you review the outcomes of the evening’s work, you will notice certain recurring themes:
- Flexibility: to account for shifting goals, priorities, as well as changes due to the iterative process
- Accountability: setting measures of accountability between stakeholders
- Decision Makers: the ability to interact with stakeholders who have the authority to allow access to resources and make changes to the process
Within the constraints of a two-hour meeting, this group exercise does surface the reality that constraints vary widely among schools and organizations alike. Although we cannot create a perfectly formed protocol in a two-hour meeting, we can detail the different perspectives to inform future documentation and interactions. We followed-up the first Team ELO/School-Community Partner Affinity Group meeting with a second one on November 18, 2014 at the Museum of the Moving Image. This time, we tackled how Hive members can create credit-bearing experiences for out-of-school experiences. As more organizations look to create stronger linkages and relevance to school while maintaining their unique approaches, we imagined that this focus would help clarify key approaches. More on the outcomes of this meeting soon. Until then, please reach out to Rob Direnzo at email@example.com or, in the spirit of collective learning, feel free to comment here with any questions or insights.