Thank you for your thoughtful and enlightening responses to Reflection #14. We asked you to reflect about how the learning community has impacted you and your work broadly and were pleased with the depth of the information provided. This information will be useful for all of us as we continue to define what role this network could play in the future of arts education in Oregon. Here are a few of the shared themes mentioned in your reflections.
The learning community has impacted your project, organization, school, or community largely through the power of the relationships built and sustained through the last five years. These relationships enabled you to experiment, to listen, to compare ideas, and ultimately to evolve your programming to better meet the needs of your students and communities. The relationships further allowed you to develop partners and deepen collaboration, ultimately reduce silo-ing, which so often happens. “In general, in the public school system, we have poor communication outside of our school districts,” said Hood River Middle School principal, Brent Emmons.
In addition, you were able to use the model of the learning community to develop your own local learning communities that will carry well beyond the S2S initiative. Some of these local learning communities established formal networks which will work together to share resources, opportunities, and best practices in the field. “As in many schools, but especially in a struggling Title I school, staff was accustomed to monitoring their ideas and requests to fit within a perpetually lean and predefined framework. The OCF invitation to think beyond our original proposal gave us license and the resources to think about and try new things in new ways — to risk and to pursue meaningful change,” shared by Sunriver/La Pine.
Building upon that theme, many of you mentioned that learning ways to nourish and build partnerships was the most useful aspect of the learning community. “Without that dedicated time each year to reflect before the next school year began, I feel strongly we would have continued to face the same challenges,” Taylor Neitzke, Hollywood Open Meadow.
The professional development opportunities were also useful, especially as you were able to develop and implement the language of the S2S principles. The overall experience and the information gathered at the professional development sessions gave you ideas on how to address common barriers (across both urban/rural and socio-economic divides). The motivational speakers and presenting artists reminded you of the long-term impact of your hard work and provided the resources for you to take risks, in a supportive environment, that are often necessary to achieve meaningful change. The dedicated time for reflection, and opportunity to hear stories of successes and challenges on a broader scale were also mentioned frequently as one of the most useful aspects of the community. (see Lane Arts Oaklea, Harney County)
Many of you shared that the most challenging aspect of the learning community was dealing with high staff turnover and managing consistent membership/staffing changes at the district level. This made implementation difficult and sustainability challenging. You noted that it would be helpful in the future to discuss struggles with consistent staffing and representation. Niki Price, SBMF Lincoln City Schools, stated that “At the OCF/Studio to School Project Level, I was surprised at how most of our 18 projects experienced changes in key personnel that impacted their progress. In the future, I think it would be helpful to have some learning community time spent on these kinds of issues.”
Even when staff was consistent, managing scheduling across small schools was problematic. Some of you were challenged by the requirement to attend off-site meetings that were quite some distance away. Staff from Fishtrap-Joseph shared that “There was only one gathering in five years that was less than a 3-hour drive. This, combined with our small staff (both school and arts org) meant that off-site meetings were a major effort and had a big impact on work on the home front.”
In addition, the prescription of which team members could attend the professional gatherings was limiting. Further, it would have been helpful for all the different people on the teams to be able to connect with others who shared their same job/role more often in order to develop deeper relationships with their peers. (see: PCM Woodlawn)
We encourage you to read and respond to each other’s posts, as always. They are full of shared successes and challenges, and it’s often comforting to realize that all of you are walking similar paths. As such, the capacity for continued connection and learning is immense.