Studio to School

Reflection Four: Who’s at the table?

What is the most important or valuable thing that you learned at the August rendezvous about community engagement? How is it impacting how you think about community engagement for your project?

When our group connected, we talked quite a bit about the presentation lead by Milenko. Specifically we gravitated to his idea that a community needs to be involved in the conversation if you want buy in to any project you are proposing.

This is not a new idea, but he outlined some amazing examples of how he was able to connect to community members and see what they are already excited about, see what they are already focusing on, and then to leverage that information to add to the community in a meaningful way. He said that community engagement only  works if you are in a mode of service. You are not bringing in your vision. But instead you are helping a community to articulate their vision and then asking them to trust you to play out that vision in a way that makes sense with materials that you know.

We realized that realistically, there are people missing from our table. There are people whose voices have not been a part of this visioning piece, and thus, are not bought in to the project. We wondered together what we could do to include some varied voices.

Already in year one, we have found some strategies.  We are meeting constantly with teachers so that the experience in their classroom is tailored to the actual classroom culture and to the needs of a specific teacher. We are meeting with administrators to keep lines of communication open there.

We are curious about having a more formal way to collect the teachers ideas and wondered if there was a good way to collect parents ideas. For these parties, we talked about tabling at the back to school fair and about putting together a questionnaire to send out.

We are also curious about how to better include student’s ideas in this process, but are not sure yet what that would mean.

Who are the most important community members that your project needs to engage in order to build a culture of arts appreciation? Who is not “at the table” for your project and needs to be included? How will you include those community members this year?

There are quite a few people who are stake holders in building a culture of arts, some of whom are already “at the table” and some who are not.

With the way the program is currently set up, the focus has been on the teachers. The teachers are the recipients of professional development workshops. They are present for all of the teaching artist interaction times. The goal is to have them buy in and commit to continue what they have learned even without a teaching artist present. Teachers often set the culture for a school.

In year one, we were only involved with a small cohort of teachers, but it still sparked intrigue and interest in the rest of the school. We are hoping to bring on a second cohort of teachers while still supporting and involving the cohort from year one.

The parents are a stakeholder group that we do not currently have involved and are another big factor in setting a culture. It is our goal to reach out to parents more this year. To begin with, we want them to be aware of what is happening for their children at school, potentially in the form of a digital bulletin board linked to the website or facebook page or a paper newsletter sent home in take home folders.

We want parents to recognize materials in the classroom as normal and expected.  We want them to be excited and to be involved.

We are also hoping to involve parents in an event at the school. Our current goal is to host a materials night at the school that is open to all of Woodlawn’s students and families. There will be volunteer opportunities, but there will also be opportunities for parents to come in, interact with materials and with their children.

How will you know that your community is engaged in arts education, and whether you are making progress towards building engagement in the coming year?

Engagement will look different for different stakeholders.

For teachers, engagement will start with a willingness to step into the unknown and try some new things in their classrooms. It will continue if those “new things” (big inquiry questions and material work) yield valuable interactions. It will be sustainable if the teachers choose to incorporate the ideas without the explicit support of a teaching artist.

For parents, engagement will start with simple awareness. We hope the awareness will develop into curiosity and intrigue. It will be sustainable if parents are aware but also want to be involved.

We also want to make sure we are valuing the student’s voices in this process. We want them to see materials as a normal and expected part of their education. We want them to feel safe enough to share their ideas to their classmates and feel respected for those ideas. These will help us know whether we have been successful.

These are key stakeholders, but we recognize too that there lies a lot of potential beyond the walls of Woodlawn in to the greater community. At this point, this is one of our unknowns. This year we are hoping to focus efforts on involving parents, students and teachers but not to close the conversation to greater community.

Some of our brainstorms about this idea have included trying to be involved somehow in the local farmers market, reaching out to local business for help with the materials night or working on a larger mural piece that would be visible into the local park next to the school.

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