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Leading Across Boundaries: Community Schools are a Global Movement

Tuesday, January 24, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Sarah McCann
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Leading Across Boundaries: Community Schools are a Global Movement

By Dr. Helen Janc Malone, National Director, Education Policy Fellowship Program
Director of Education Policy and Institutional Advancement, IEL

The 2017 International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI; @ICSEImembers), which brought together some 710 delegates from over 40 countries, focused on “Collaborative Partnerships for System-Wide Educational Improvement,” an intentional theme about the power of education-community partnerships. The theme builds on ICSEI’s 2015 Cincinnati Congress that focused on school-community partnerships, moving this global community to deepen its dialogue on equity, justice, and inclusion. Three messages affirm the work of the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL): a) cross-boundary leadership is necessary in our global education community; b) school reform cannot happen devoid of the stakeholders and environments that surround our schools; and c) community schools are a global movement.

IEL’s tagline and practice is leading across boundaries. Karen Seashore (University of Minnesota) and Warren Simmons (Brown University), keynote speakers at ICSEI, both spoke of breaking siloes and crossing boundaries.  They argued that the global school reform movements have created artificial barriers in education through policy and practice, culture and environments. These barriers have limited collaboration and silenced voices of people most directly affected by our public schools- students, families, and community residents. Building within the education system and across sectors is imperative if we are to reimagine education in the 21st century. And for that to happen we need leaders at all levels to act in new ways; we need learning communities and feedback loops across research, policy, and practice that engage all voices and support and push each other to continuously improve and respond to the needs and possibilities of our young people.

Both speakers further underscored the second key message, the old adage that schools can’t do it alone. As Seashore noted, for too long the school effectiveness and improvement communities, particularly in the US context, have emphasized magic bullet interventions under the standards-based banner. However, to truly improve practice, we need to reach out to the communities, to families and see them as assets in the learning enterprise, where innovation comes from the ground-up, contextualized to meet the local needs and potential. Students succeed when they have the support of their environment, at home, in school, in their communities. Especially today, when more students are facing multiple challenges, we share in a collective responsibility to work together to support the whole child.  

Third, community schools are a global movement! While at ICSEI, I held a workshop on community schools, illuminating the work of the Coalition for Community Schools, housed at IEL. I shared stories from across the US that illustrate how education and community leaders are working together to create conditions for learning for all children, pursuing shared governance, and scaling up promising practices. The workshop was filled with people from around the world who are engaged in community schools on all levels. From the workshop and other sessions, three things became clear: 1) Thousands of schools in Canada, the United Kingdom, Norway, Australia, and other nations are or are becoming community schools. For many, community schools are a movement to promote democratic ideals of what education could and should look like in the 21st century. 2) Despite diverse global contexts, the challenges and opportunities that lead to engagement in the community school strategy and its implementation are very similar to the U.S. context: focusing on inclusion of traditionally marginalized students, strengthening school-family-community partnerships to support all students, and designing learning experiences and services to close opportunity gaps that persist in many communities. 3) This is an opportune time for global community schools movements to come together to engage in a learning community that can advance this strategy at scale.

ICSEI is a unique institution, and it is needed today more than ever. It is a Congress of global delegates from over 80 countries, equal parts scholars, practitioners, and policymakers on all levels, who come together at the nexus of research, policy, and practice to discuss collectively common challenges, innovations, and ways forward. As an incoming ICSEI Board Member, I’m excited to join this global community and work collaboratively to further its work, crossing boundaries to strive for equity and justice.


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