Dave was a disengaged 14-year-old. Everything about his world suggested he would fail. He came to class, eyes glazed over, seeing little relevance in school. He was lost. That is, until a teacher found ways to reach him. A teacher who helped Dave find his voice and discover purpose and passion.
A central premise of the cradle to career approach is that this work requires the collective effort of an entire community to really achieve the systems level and institutional change that is necessary to support every child, from cradle to career. Inherent in this, is the engagement, involvement, and mobilization of the community around this cradle to career vision. Part of successfully achieving authentic engagement, involvement, and mobilization of the community stems from understanding who is and what is the community.
When we talk about community engagement, we often encourage individual partnerships to define what ‘community’ they are trying to intentionally engage and for what purpose. Community engagement needs to be a contextual process not only in regards of a specific community or region but also to a specific topic or challenge. We have broadly defined the community as “Individuals in the defined geographic scope who are directly affected by the quality of the education pipeline (e.g. students, parents, business and civic leaders), and therefore must be clearly understood, actively involved, and eventually satisfied by the impact of the partnership.” This definition of community can essentially encompass every individual in a partnership’s region; however the expectation is not that every person in the region will be engaged in every engagement strategy that the partnership employs. Rather, this definition of community is intended to identify who should ultimately be engaged and informed, recognizing that the strategies to achieve this broad engagement should look different for varying purposes, sectors and individuals within the community. Different partnerships across the Network have identified various community sectors such as youth, students, parents, general public, business leaders, teachers and others as the major focus of their engagement efforts. No matter what part of the community we are trying to intentionally engage, a major lesson learned has been around needing to tailor the engagement strategy for the specific audience. The strategy employed to engage youth voice in the partnership should and will look different than a strategy to involve business leaders in the work.
With the recent launch of the Theory of Action, a continuum of key benchmarks that acts as a guide to implementing the Strive framework, we have taken the opportunity to reinforce the critical role of community in cradle to career partnerships. We are also working to get clearer than ever on what community engagement is and looks like within the context of this cradle to career work.
This is the first blog in a 6 blog series that aims to further define community engagement and illustrate on-the-ground examples of community engagement throughout the Theory of Action. Check back soon for the next community engagement blog about categorizing engagement strategies! Also, plan to join us September 25-27th in Dallas for the 2013 Strive Cradle to Career Network Convening where we will be diving into the topic of community engagement in more detail!
What do you need to know to be successful in this endeavor? While it is the starting point in all good Project-Based Units, dragging them out of young people can be a challenge. Quality Project-Based Learning Units also focus on deeper learning and facilitate inquiry and research skills needed to be successful participants in a constantly evolving workforce. This last year, my co-teacher Ryan Steuer and I grappled with the concept of creating meaningful Need to Knows for our middle school learners and we came up with two strategies to improve them.
This week our Twitter Feed was filled with "back to school" tweets and lots of inspiration. Our chat topic was "Sharing ice-breakers and beginning of the year culture building strategies". The full archive is here on our Storify Page. It is full of great ideas and has already been viewed nearly 200 times!
In other #PBLChat news we would LOVE for you to do two things!
I’ve talked with a number of communities over the years who are undertaking the work of building a collective impact education partnership, and one of the first things they are thinking about is how to manage the data collection and data initiatives of the partnership. “What exactly do you work on as a data manager?” they ask. “And what kinds of skill sets do we need to be looking for in a data manager?” So through those conversations and reflecting back on the data work when Strive was still young, I’ve put together the following “Day in the Life of a Data Manager,” split into two parts. Part II is below.
All of the outcome indicators that you would like to track as a partnership not be readily available – part of the work is directly with partners to help develop shared measures and determine the best way to start tracking them. One example from Strive’s early work was in selecting our outcome indicator for Goal 1: Every child will be prepared for school.
There were a number of indicators that we could potentially track (infant mortality, low birth weight, pre-K experience, etc). But we knew the best measure would be one that is a close proxy to the goal – and the one we landed on was “Percent of children who are assessed as ready for school when they enter kindergarten.” But this data wasn’t consistently available. We worked closely with the Success By 6® early childhood networks and the school districts to land on an assessment and begin tracking the data on a regular basis. The early childhood networks were meeting on a regular basis, and I remember that in one of the Covington network meetings, we brainstormed a list on flipchart paper of about 20 different assessments that were being used by partners. There are no common measures for kindergarten readiness and there aren’t even standard definitions of it. There are many factors that influence a child’s readiness for school including cognitive development, physical well-being, language use, approach to learning, motor development, and social/emotional skills. But we needed to land on something as a population level measure, even if the measures are imperfect, in order to advance the conversation. “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” was a mantra, and we had three good measures in our three geographic areas – Cincinnati, Covington, and Newport.
Cincinnati is using a brief assessment tool called the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment – Literacy (KRA-L) which helps teachers identifies early reading skills. It is an assessment that has been adopted by the state of Ohio. Newport started out using the Developmental Indicators for Early Learning (DIAL-3) screen tool. The DIAL-3 provides scores for motor, concepts, and language. Covington started out using the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy (DIBELS). The DIBELS measures letter naming fluency and initial sound fluency.
The work of a Data Manager could involve getting into the weeds on all these measures with the members of the collaborative action networks, where necessary, helping to sort through the various measures. The partnership can highlight the discrepancies in the ways school readiness is measured, and help advance the conversation around the importance of good data and in pushing toward common measures. Covington and Newport agreed on and began reporting a common measure (the Dial-3) a couple years after the initial baseline report. And just recently, the state of Kentucky adopted a new statewide assessment that all districts in the state will be using.
As mentioned earlier, there are three primary areas where I found myself spending time on any given day: digging into data, building relationships and consensus with stakeholders, and supporting the data needs of collaborative action networks. A short list of competencies for a Data Manager would include:
- Knowledge and demonstrated success in data collection, management and analysis; knowledge of education and community data resources
- Ability to build relationships and work with key partners to develop a comprehensive community accountability system that incorporates data across the cradle to career education pipeline
- Ability to address and overcome uncertain and complex issues to achieve desired results
- Plans for the collection, analysis, and reporting of data to measure the partnership’s impact and to facilitate evidence based decision making and continuous improvement
- Develops and cultivates relationships with community partners and stakeholders, including data and research professionals in education, business, faith, nonprofit, philanthropic, and civic sectors
I'm still on the NTAC cloud nine. There's just nothing as energizing as spending five days with a thousand-plus teachers who come together to learn, connect, share and push one another as we look toward the coming school year. That week felt like the best kind of family reunion you could imagine — filled with old friends and welcoming new teachers.
The American poet and novelist Sylvia Plath once wrote, “...everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” As an English facilitator, I know writing is a powerful tool towards self-confidence. Writing should be an exciting, enjoyable, and rewarding experience. Unfortunately for some high school students, writing has become a dreaded task—a desperate attempt at a word count.
I’ve talked with a number of communities over the years who are undertaking the work of building a collective impact education partnership, and one of the first things they are thinking about is how to manage the data collection and data initiatives of the partnership. “What exactly do you work on as a data manager?” they ask. “And what kinds of skill sets do we need to be looking for in a data manager?” So through those conversations and reflecting back on the data work when Strive was still young, I’ve put together the following “Day in the Life of a Data Manager,” split into two parts. Part I is below.
As a Data Manager for a cradle to career partnership, there are three primary areas where I found myself spending time on any given day: digging into data, building relationships and consensus with stakeholders, and supporting the data needs of collaborative action networks.
Evidence based decision making is an underpinning of a collective impact partnership, and one of the first things to tackle after establishing the shared vision and goals is to establish a set of shared outcome indicators to help measure progress toward the shared goals. And so a data manager needs to dive head first into the data itself and really understand all the sources, variables, and caveats to how the data may be collected and presented. We started with a list of over 75 potential measures, and so the data manager really needs to understand the data landscape in order to be able to help steer the data team and partnership in getting to consensus in narrowing that list down. The manager also needs to become the local education data “expert” – and help build credibility for the partnership by being one of the go to people for questions related to education data and results in the community.
Building relationships and consensus, however, is just as important as the data analytic skills. A partnership’s Director and local champions will definitely help with the relationship building among partners and advocating for data transparency – but the Data Manager also has to be able to forge relationships with the key data partners and build trust with them. One of our first efforts was to form a Data Committee comprised of all the data experts from key partners at the table – the school districts, postsecondary institutions, early childhood professionals, and other community data experts. As a committee we came to a list of ten shared outcome indicators together, using a set of criteria that we developed, to take back to the Executive Committee as a recommendation.
It is important that this process is done with your key partners as opposed to it feeling like you are producing a report about your key partners. And so establishing relationships and building trust are key ingredients in this – and landing on the indicators is a back and forth process of presenting ideas and getting feedback until you have built something together that everyone feels ownership of. As a result, when we released the first report, members of the Executive Committee could speak with confidence about it knowing that they had truly helped to create it.
Coming next: Working with networks to define indicators where no clear ones exist, and key competencies of a Data Manager
When we think of the skills students need to be successful in school and in life, the word "agency" doesn't usually pop into mind. But maybe it's time...
The work to build and sustain cradle to career civic infrastructure is extremely complex and interconnected. One of the biggest challenges early on in this work is just organizing the different pieces and players that all impact the education pipeline and our students’ success. Developing an accountability structure to start organizing the different pieces of a partnership has become crucial to effectively managing, communicating, and involving partners in this work.
An accountability structure is the organizational framework that depicts the different groups within a partnership and includes an outline of the roles and responsibilities of each group, describing the processes, people, and supports necessary to function effectively. An accountability structure for a cradle to career partnership can be likened to an organizational chart for a company. To support communities in developing this crucial piece of the work, Strive has released a ‘Building an Accountability Structure Toolkit.’ This toolkit is part of a larger ‘Getting Started Playbook’ that will be focused on helping communities meet the key benchmarks in the Exploring Gateway of Strive’s Theory of Action. The ‘Building an Accountability Structure Toolkit’ aims to help Network members:
- Understand the importance of an accountability structure
- View different types of structures and their respective advantages and disadvantages
- Understand and outline the roles and responsibilities that need to be accommodated in a structure
- Clarify the decision making roles of different groups in the accountability structure
- Develop necessary agreements that need to be in place to operationalize an accountability structure
- Create an accountability structure that fits their partnership’s needs and context.
With the help of Network members who agreed to share their stories and examples with the Network, the toolkit also includes narratives around different accountability structure groups, designs, and agreements. This provides you with an on-the-ground perspective of how other communities have designed and convened the various groups in their accountability structures.
The ‘Building an Accountability Structure Toolkit’ is available to Network members through the Strive Partner Portal: http://www.striveportal.org/resources/strive_network_documents/buildinganaccountabilitystructuret
Be on the look-out for the next pieces in the ‘Getting Started Playbook’ to be released in the upcoming months!
Meet Paulena. She fits easily into the category of “these kids.” You know who “these kids” are, they are the kids that society and even some educators believe won’t ever graduate. She’s the kind of kid that some might let sit in the back of the classroom, because it’s a lost cause. She’s the one who after a couple of weeks, I was ready to write off. Yes, I admit it.
This word "agency" has come to me like a breath of fresh air after a school year full of challenges at the student, staff, and district level. It seems to me that this idea of agency is an answer to unspoken questions in the midst of a climate that often presents challenges where we have to evaluate, yet again, our own beliefs about teaching and learning.
As I embarked upon my immersion in the New Tech Network, I felt a sense of newness laced with an overwhelming sense of familiarity. Over the past 8 years, I have moved from a novice to expert for PBL and have experienced the success with my students as they have grown and learned...but at times the journey seemed isolated.
At home in my classroom, I refer to my students as “little birds”. A project deadline approaches and I’ll remind them on the forums that I cannot wait to see them fly. It feels appropriate, then, to be so homesick and to feel so much like a caged bird myself. I have been struggling, in some ways – feeling lost and disoriented, trying to making meaning of my time here and relying on others to do it for me, not trusting that I have just as much of a right or a reason to be here as everyone else.
New Tech Network events are my Christmas. NTAC is Christmas when I'm six and still believe in Santa Claus. I eagerly await the opportunity to guzzle as much as I can from the New Tech fire hose.
Data-informed decision making is a central tenet to collective impact and building the civic infrastructure. Data can serve as the translator when it comes to understanding what is really happening in a community. In the words of one prominent local Strive partner, “People are entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.”
One of the roles that a cradle to career partnership plays is promoting the use of community level data. And so the question arises as to what are the roles of a cradle to career partnership in making data available to the public? I think that the answer varies by community depending on the existing organizations and capacities that are currently in place. Some may house and make readily available large amounts of data to be queried by the public and partner organizations, while others may focus only on their core outcome indicators to produce a report card without providing a publicly accessible data portal.
I believe that cradle to career partnerships should play a role in both of these types of efforts. A “report card” is important to be able to organize and report on a set of key outcome indicators that a partnership is organizing around. It is almost more of a communication and storytelling tool, although data being a critical element. The indicators should be relatively few, easy to digest, and something that gets reported on an ongoing basis in order to keep the focus for the partnership. Many partnerships are publishing report cards, and you can find many examples on the Strive Network website.
But there’s only so much data that you can (and would want to) include in a report like this before it becomes too big to digest. So making more and deeper levels of data available in a user friendly way is also important. There’s only so much you can do with high level data before the right questions lead you to dig into to the data to better understand what’s going on and what you can do about it, collectively. So in Cincinnati we also have a tool called Facts Matter that serves as portal for large amounts of data that can be viewed in tables, charts, or on maps – http://www.factsmatter.info. This isn’t a led by our cradle to career partnership though. Rather, we partner with a number of local organizations in this effort, and it is owned by these organizations collectively. The partners include United Way of Greater Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation, Northern Kentucky University, Agenda 360, Vision 2015, and the Strive Partnership.
The Strive Network has launched a Community Impact Report Card tool to help sites create and build their own local report card. The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky partnership’s data from this tool can be seen via the Strive Partnership website. All Hands Raised and the Michigan College Access Network also have examples of this tool in action. And the Facts Matter data portal is built off of another local GIS data solution and is available to other communities as well.
With the growing amounts of data available to communities, it is important to be able to help translate and package it so that it can be used to inform collective decisions about where to invest resources – time, talent, and treasure.