Monday, April 4, 2016

Community Conversations Offer Much to Consider

Reflecting on what was heard. 

This past Thursday a small but committed group of community members and staff took on the task of sorting through all of the ideas, reflections, and suggestions gathered from eight hours of community dialogue that took place over four meetings during the month of March. As recipients of a Nellie Mae Foundation grant, we have been provided with technical assistance with this process by associates from Everyday Democracy. This organization helps build capacity to create change through civic engagement and dialogue.

Everyday Democracy helps people and organizations build capacity to engage communities in creating change

So what did we learn?

During the day we were led through the process of "unpacking" this data with the support of Susan McCormack, Senior Associate with Everyday Democracy. Susan is a skilled expert in guiding a dialogue such as ours, and she has offered so much to our group over the course of the past year. Susan also reminded us of the importance of our own bias. "Sometimes we see what we want to see", she cautioned. The process she designed and facilitated offered objectivity and helped us theme what was actually there without our subjective lens.

We are still sorting through the data, but one thing evident: our community believes that education must look different to prepare students for their future. While the specific suggestions offered to this end vary, the themes of flexibility and relevance are strong. Collectively, participants value real-world and authentic learning opportunities that make meaningful use of the technology we have access to, while balancing outdoor and community-based learning. Additionally, students should be valued as partners in their education. It is important to many that their voice is valued and listened to. There was also collective agreement about  the quality of our teaching staff, who go above and beyond for students- building strong relationships which are highly valued. 

Next Steps

We will share all of the trends and themes from these sessions at our Community Celebration on 4/25 at  6 p.m. at Crossett Brook Middle School. We hope this will be the beginning of something more! 

People want to know that their investment of time will mean something. We want that too. We know that some of the changes we are engaged in are not widely understood. Developing a shared understanding of the work, and creating opportunities for others to engage and impact what is happening is a shared desire. 

We hope to emerge from the Community Celebration on April 25th with a better sense of concrete avenues to make use of the momentum gained from this process. 

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