- Read We Make the Road by Walking
- Get on The Soapbox
- Identify the Attributes of A Learning Community
- Loosen Your Grip on Decision-Making
- Track the Aspirations of Your Students
1. Read We Make the Road by Walking
Myles Horton, the founder of the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, and Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educational leader and theorist, were from two different backgrounds, but their shared views on the use of participatory education in bringing about social change are the basis for this book.
Arranged in the form of a transcribed conversation (one that took place over the course of several days), We Make the Road by Walking provides an intimate view of two men who based their work upon the belief that a good education required three basic elements: love for people, respect for people’s abilities to shape their own lives, and the capacity to value others’ experiences.
To order We Make the Road by Walking, click here.
2. Get on The Soapbox
The Soapbox, located at the Network at fivefreedoms.org, provides an online forum for people committed to First Amendment freedoms, democratic schools, and the idea that children should be seen and heard. Visit the Network to set up your own personal profile, and then use the “Soapbox” feature to share your ideas and observations about your own professional practices – or take a few minutes to join one of the discussions already underway. The Five Freedoms Network is no longer active.
3. Identify the Attributes of A Learning Community
“Attributes of a Learning Community” protocol is a group exercise that begins with each participant spending five minutes thinking and writing about the best learning community they have ever experienced. It may be a school, a church, or a summer camp. The location doesn’t matter, or the age at which the person experienced it – only that it was deeply meaningful to us, and real learning occurred. In smaller groups, each person then shares his or her personal story. The rest of the group listens actively for key attributes that emerge. Once everyone has a chance to tell their story, a central facilitator asks each group to reflect on their list and come up with the 3-5 most important attributes. These do not need to be the attributes that show up most often in the stories – a great attribute may have surfaced just once. Each list is then shared with the whole group. The resulting list of attributes, grounded in meaningful personal experiences, should help your group ground its work going forward in two key areas: First, the ways in which your shared culture is already aligned to reflect what the community knows to be a powerful learning environment; and second, the areas in which it must improve. To download a PDF of the Attributes Protocol, click here.
4. Loosen Your Grip on Decision-Making
The essence of co-creating a learning environment is making sure space exists for people to share their ideas and spur each other’s thinking. This is why “buy-in” is a misleading phrase – the only time we need to people to “buy in” is when it’s our idea that needs their support. If you’re the person calling together a group to do collaborative work, try loosening your grip on what the “end result” needs to look like. This doesn’t mean ceding your initial ideas entirely. It does, however, mean painting a picture for the group that is intentionally incomplete. Provide broad brush strokes, and leave ample room for people to fill in the remaining blank space on the canvas. Whatever emerges will truly reflect the collective wisdom of the group.
5. Track the Aspirations of Your Students
What accounts for the difference between a student who talks about goals and one who actually reaches them? What makes the difference between a student who works hard at everyday tasks, and one whose hard work leads to a promising future? The difference, according to the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations (QISA), is in the student’s aspirations — his or her ability to set goals and think about the future while being inspired in the present to reach those goals. In order to help schools and educators foster a learning culture that heightens student aspirations, QISA has developed The Aspirations Profile, which presents a visual model of the behaviors that support and hinder success. To learn more about QISA and its work helping K-12 schools put into practice (and assess) the conditions that foster student aspirations, click here.