Teaching Opinion

Develop Community Partners to Increase Student Learning

By Starr Sackstein — August 06, 2017 6 min read
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Guest post by Dr. Robert Dillon

Going it alone in the world of education is a growing fool’s game. The isolated classroom, school, or district is rarely serving the students and community optimally in our interconnected, global economy.

This means that the concept of partnership must be central to the work of educational leaders throughout the country and around the world.

The concept of partnership is growing more complex as well. Though schools need more resources to bring a full portfolio of programs to the school district, partnerships aren’t the seeking of time, talent, and treasure of others to make an impact.

Donations are often confused with partnerships when partnerships are symbiotic in nature. Quality partnerships allow for those connecting with the school to receive from the school district as well. In quality partnerships, the students and staff are closing the loop by contributing to the partner organization with ideas, support, and energy.

Full partnerships are a cornerstone to the Learning Reimagined efforts happening at the School District of University City in St. Louis, Mo. Learning Reimagined is a set of principles and a related shift in mindset that is designed to recraft the learning for all students in the district. It is based on three learning pillars that must grow for all students to know the power of formal learning. These pillars are the idea that educations needs to evolve in how it humanizes, personalizes, and problematizes. Each of these pillars are then coupled with deep, meaningful learning experiences that generate engagement and joy for all. This robust philosophy is an answer to the test score-chasing model of learning that has infected many districts.

Learning Reimagined is based on what research suggests as best practice, and it combines elements of effective learning that have been incubated around the country for years. It will only continue to be possible if the districts are able to surround the work with modern partners that see our students in terms of their strengths and their ability to solution make around the community. To make this happen, we are focused on four types of partnerships.

Business Community

In this realm, it is first and foremost about building an entrepreneurial spirit in the students of the School District of University City. Our vision is to have students that are deeply embedded with local and regional business partners in a way that allows the partner to the see the value of the fresh eyes and ideas of students in their organization. We also want to build lasting partnerships that allow for internship while in high school, entry level positions for students wanting to move directly into the workforce, and opening doors for our students returning from college looking for careers. This is a model seen in the work of the Center for Advanced Professional

Studies as well as the focus of the internship model that the U.S. Department of Education is looking to accelerate. This will begin in earnest for the district in the fall through the problem-based learning work that is being launched in our 9th grade learning center and from pilot projects that will have students serving as marketing, graphic design, and social media experts for a number of small businesses in the community.

Arts Community

The arts activate all learning. This has been a part of the district DNA for fifty years, and it continues with incredible band, orchestra, and dance programs. The evolution of these programs in Learning Reimagined is to find entry points into these programs for all students, so that the energy of the arts and the natural joy and engagement that the arts can bring to learning can seep into other areas of learning.

Centered in St. Louis, COCA (Center for Creative Arts) has been a partner with the School District of University City for many years. This partnership now looks for elevation as it now holds itself accountable to the pillars of Learning Reimagined. How might we use the arts expertise in the community to humanize and personalize the learning?

In addition, the concept of authentic audience in partnership also is a part of this work. The districts are looking for additional ways to bring community into the performance process as well as wrap more experts into the facilitation of all courses.

Higher Education Community

In the shadow of one of the best universities in the world, the School District of University City should be swimming in the higher education knowledge and wisdom of Washington University in St. Louis. This hasn’t been the case and when the partnerships were there, they didn’t meet the robust criteria of modern partnership. In the past, the district received, and the university felt good. This reorientation to modern partnership with Washington University in St. Louis is beginning to impact the professional learning of all educators in the district and the Institute for School Partnership is also making an impact on the STEM mindset in the district.

The language of K-12 and higher education hasn’t always been in sync for the St. Louis region, but there is a growing synergy and a willingness to be at the table and listen that has allowed saplings to emerge. Learning Reimagined will not be successful without a university partner or partners that see the value in growing amazing citizens through a model that humanizes, personalizes, and problematizes the learning.

These partners need to see the value of bringing a student steeped in modern learning to their campus as an undergraduate because it will enrich the conversation and classroom instruction moving forward. This is a level of partnership that is exciting for our first generation college students and all of the students at University City.

Other School District Partners

Cognitive redundancy is absorbing huge amounts of time in education that could be used for innovation, communication, and restoration. School districts around the country are reinventing wheels that have been launched for decades. Eighty percent of the solutions needed in every school have already been invented, tested, and implemented. Certainly, each district needs to mold the last 20 percent, but no one has the time moving forward to start over on ideas and concepts that the research and practices already shows work.

The School District of University City is dedicated to working with allies in learning locally, regionally, and around the country. This means growing a network of connected educators that can bring ideas and resources to the table from other schools and classrooms.

The district is opening its doors to learning opportunities from Google, Microsoft, and other partners that will bring together innovative educators from around the country in conversation on its campuses.

These intentional partnerships will allow the district to move quickly to transform itself into a nimble, agile learning environment that is filled with joy and creativity for both the teachers and students. These partnerships will allow for fresh resources to enter the district, but most importantly, they will allow the beauty and strength of the students to be a known quantity for everyone in our community and beyond.

What partnerships can you foster with your community to expand and deepen student learning? Please share.

Dr. Robert Dillon has served as a thought leader in education over the last 20 years as a teacher, principal, and director of innovation. Dr. Dillon has a passion to change the educational landscape by building excellent engaging schools for all students. Dr. Dillon serves on the Leadership Team for Connected Learning, a St. Louis based organization designed to reshape professional development to meet today's needs. Dr. Dillon has had the opportunity to speak throughout the country at local, state, and national conferences as well as share his thoughts and ideas in a variety of publications. He is the author of four books on best practices in learning, Leading Connected Classrooms Engage, Empower, Energize: Leading Tomorrow's Schools Today, Redesigning Learning Space, and his most recent book on learning space design called The Space: A Guide for Educators.

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.