Michelle Boss Barba

One of our goals for Studio to School is to create and support a learning community in the hopes that we can get to a shared understanding of the community, student, and structural needs and contexts related to arts education in Oregon. In designing Studio to School the OCF team felt it was important to have a strong network of practitioners that can not only learn together, but learn from each other. We strongly believe it is important to have time together in-person and that this time must be meaningful.

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We knew the first convening would be key in setting the tone for the future of the learning community, so we set high expectations for ourselves. We wanted to model the risk-taking and innovation that we are trying to encourage in grantee projects. We also knew that we needed to spend time laying a foundation for the next five years and not jump too quickly into program content- after all, we are going for the long game and trying to address the barriers that no one has had the time and space to address.  Our team had a couple of brainstorming meetings to get all the ideas and needs out on the table then jumped in with our instincts- not completely sure how everything would tie together.

We want our teams to think outside the box, so we had a hunch that working with Kathleen McLean on creative visioning would be a good idea. We wanted to start with something active- like an assembly or art project- as opposed to talking heads. We wanted people to get to know eachother, but not by standing up and telling everyone their name, so the conversation project with Oregon Humanities came up. Artists and musicians involved needed to be educators as well- we weren’t sure how that would tie in, but we made sure to only book educators just in case. We needed to document what was going on, but we knew it couldn’t just be note-taking. Most of the program content was planned based on an instinctual feeling that it was the right thing to do- we just weren’t sure how it would tie together. It was only after the convening, during the de-brief, that we asked the question: how did we get it all to flow so well? Everything tied together so perfectly and activities aligned so well even though we didn’t have full team meetings with all our presenters and there was no master outline before we jumped in on the planning. How’d we pull it off?

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Looking back now, there were two key elements that made it all gel. The first one was all in the framing. After we had most of the activities planned we stepped back and asked- what are we trying to achieve? How will we know we were successful? That’s when we developed our four learning objectives:

  1. Grantees gain an understanding of OCF’s vision for the initiative.
  2. All Attendees get to know each other better.
  3. Grantee teams implement learnings from the convening into the vision for their project.
  4. Attendees understand how they can contribute as an individual & how they connect to this work.

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With these determined we were able to finalize our planning and establish measurements for success. We also had a better sense of what needed to be said at the start of the gathering to relay what was important to us.

Objectives in hand, we were able to start our weaving. Weaving these objectives throughout the convening team was the second element that made everything fall in place. We went back to all our presenters and shared our goals then walked through their section to make sure it fit and modify plans as needed.

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Getting everyone to understand the goals and how their work related to the overall vision was key. As project lead, I initiated all these conversations and met or spoke with all presenters – even our musicians for the reception – but as much as possible tried to bring other team members into discussions, so there was as much overlap as possible. Not everyone knew everything about every section of the convening, but everyone did at least know something about one or two other activities. This overlapping was a key element to making sure everything aligned for the convening, especially given the limitations of not being able to get everyone in the same room for planning.