Deep, rich partnerships are an essential component of KnowledgeWorks schools. Close collaboration among the school and its partners ramps up the rigor of learning experiences and, through implementation, naturally answers student questions like, “Why do I have to learn this?” or “When will I use this in real life, anyway?”
Over the years, several themes emerged from the most successful partnerships at play in KnowledgeWorks schools:
- Authentic partnerships take time – time to listen, to learn and to grow together. A partnership is a relationship.
- Creative practices emerge when both the school and the partner come to the table with the attitude of “what’s in it for them,” not just “what’s in it for me.”
- Just two or three strong partners can change the life of a school
- The deepest partnerships are not about incentives or award dinners – although those have their place in any organization. Deep school-business-higher education-community partnerships are about teaching and learning. Teachers and partners sitting together and mapping out real world lessons and performance assessments. Partners engaging with students, either in the school or in the community.
- Partners trust and respect each other. This mutual respect creates space for creativity and new ideas, which, in turn, provide amazing experiences for students.
- Shared partnership shifts perceptions about the school, its students, businesses and the community.
Jones Valley Teaching Farm and the Birmingham City Schools in the Woodlawn Innovation Network have, over the past 18 months, developed just such a relationship. What began as a simple community garden is now a series of scaffolded, standards-driven learning experiences jointly developed and delivered by teachers and Jones Valley staff. The partnership touches every school in a feeder pattern:
- Avondale Elementary School
- Henry J. Oliver Elementary School
- Hayes K-8 School
- W.E. Putnam Middle School
- Woodlawn High School (with its Early College Academy of Arts & Environmental Science and if Early College Academy of Business & Finance)
Hear the perspective of an Avondale Elementary student:
The teams of Jones Valley Teaching Farm and the Oliver Elementary make the following recommendations about implementing partnerships on the ground:
- Align your curriculum (meet your community partner where they are)
- Language matters
- Space matters
- Relationships matter (partnership is relationship)
- Follow through, show up
Jones Farm Fellow Lucy White summed up their partnership in this way, “Because there are times we will be viewed as outsiders in the communities where we work, we must build a culture of trust around our mission and the quality of our work. By being in the school every day, we can demonstrate to the teachers and parents that we are committed to a meaningful, genuine relationship with their school community.”
Partnership is relationship.
Guest post by Deborah Howard, former Senior Director of Operations for KnowledgeWorks.