Community Learning Exchange

Hello, dear friends,

I wrote up these notes to share my takeaways from the CLE with the rest of the IDEA Team. If you have anything to add (or change, if I got anything wrong), please add a comment. Thanks, and look forward to staying in touch!


Conveners: Community Learning Exchange (a program of the Center for Ethical Leadership & the Institute for Educational Leadership), Journalism That Matters 
Overview: The guiding question of the gathering was, "What is our narrative of public education going forward? How do we tell that story? How do our stories add up? What is the action going forward?" The gathering provided an opportunity to reflect and think out loud together, deepen partnerships, and promote a common message around education that serves us well and counters the dominant education narrative.
Participants: 31 education thought leaders and journalists from around the country.
Format: Thursday night through Sunday morning at the Highlander Center 45 minutes outside of Knoxville, Tenn., a beautiful, rural space. We stayed in dorm rooms and ate meals together. The main room contained a circle of rocking chairs that have been here for decades. The meeting time combined a variety of discussion formats: going around the circle sharing reflections; breaking out into dyads and triads; open space workshops (5 sessions over 2 days); World Cafe; and a walk in groups of three to tell our own education narratives.

We also had an open mic on the last night and bonfires Friday and Saturday that went until all hours. The focus of Friday was on the current narrative of public education; Saturday turned toward what we think it should be, and what we will personally do to advance it. Sunday we simply went around the circle with final reflections.




Open-Space Workshops Attended:

Core Curriculum: Are there things kids should know? How much is specific to local context?

Greg Smith mentioned an urban school that used the Haiti earthquake as an opportunity to learn about that place in the world, as well as develop a Plant-a-Thon fundraiser to plant trees in the community and also raise money for Haiti. The students used many skills of core subjects, and they vetted possible beneficiaries before choosing 2 organizations to receive the $1500 they raised. Someone pointed out that although these kids learned a lot, this learning would probably not be reflected in their standardized test scores.

Greg also mentioned that around 15 years ago in Finland, there was a complex national core curriculum. The country pared it back so teachers could shape lessons, while also investing in quality teacher training and trusting teachers to deliver. He says that years ago, he visited The Gheens Academy for Curricular Excellence and Instructional Leadership, a professional development program in Louisville, KY, where teachers taught each other rather than bringing in consultants, entrepreneurs, or Dept. of Ed staff.


Open Space Workshop: How can citizen journalists & professional journalists influence educational policy?
  • Adam Maksl is part of the Student Press Law Center in Missouri, which supports censorship-free student journalism that holds educators and government accountable.
  • Huffington Post will soon be launching the somewhat controversial HuffPost High School (as well as sections aimed at Latinos, women, and African Americans.
  • Requirements for teaching high school journalism in public schools vary from state to state. Some require a Master’s in Journalism, but you can get around that by naming the class “Media Arts.”
  • School papers may censor students voices. To avoid this, students can publish their stories in the local paper.
  • What’s the balance between offering students apprenticeships/internships and exploiting their free labor?
  • Global Girl Media: California-based organization that develops female citizen journalists in Los Angeles & South Africa. Trains them to use FlipCams and capture their stories.
  • The Freedom of Information Act makes available to the public more info than they realize, e.g. Health Department reports of cafeteria food (Adam Maskl says he knows of one school’s that found rat droppings), emails exchanged about school policy. The public can request this info.


Open Space Workshop: Education & Journalism: Moving from Democracy to Liberation
  • Students need to understand their plight (some are not aware that school can be any different, that it should be engaging and useful) and have the tools to change their situation. Rebellion and discipline problems may be civil disobedience, seen through a different lens.

  • Highlight stories of kids who aren't traditional achievers, so the kid and the public understand a different way of thriving. When Matt Militello taught school, he named a C-student a Student of the Week and convinced his principal to tell the student's story to the press. The migrant student cared for his siblings in addition to going to school.

  • Within a school district: Educate the staff who run the website what's important to communicate

  • Letters to the Editor are still the most read section of the paper (along with Obits). Good way to shame politicians into action, along with mentioning them on Twitter (often they are monitoring and will reply).

  • There are many models of schools as the centers of community: community schools, examples in Portland, Seattle, and Tulsa that have support fabric for newborns and parents. A social worker meets with parents and babies born in a given week and helps them ease into parenthood (Kathy Minardi mentioned this; her son was a part of it.)

  • John Oliver told the story of being a black college student at Morehouse when a Black Panther walked into the cafeteria and told the students, "You think you're being educated, but you're being colonized." KIPP schools as places of colonization

  • Much in common between education and journalism -- these institutions must change or die. Both are being told "Do more with less."

  • If we want students to capture their own stories with cameras/cell phones, we must change school policies because these tools aren't usually allowed -- YouTube or other social media, either. Better to teach to use responsibly?

  • Meet parents where they are. In Waelder schools, teachers and principal break small town into four quadrants for a Community Walk. Parents post the school mascot logo in their window that night if they’d like to talk with the school staff.


Open Space Workshop: How to Get Journalists to Cover Education
  • Key question: What is your pitch and how clear is it?
    • Do your homework before pitching: what kind of news does this publication and reporter cover?
    • Newspapers have a personality; Blogs have a point of view
  • Journalists are overworked; make their job easy.
    • They don’t open attachments from people they don’t know. Put text in an email.
    • They don’t receive faxes; usually it’s a copy room person who throws most faxes in the trash.
    • Physical press kits are outdated. Put them online and send a link in an email.
    • Attaching a couple of high-res photos (ideally different sizes) to a coverage request is encouraged. Some journalists are now expected to take their own photos of news stories because of newspaper staffing issues.
    • If you mention a source, make sure you have permission from the source (parents, if source is a minor) and contact info.
    • Local papers often publish press releases as is, so make them read like features and you may get the release itself published

  • Can convene a media briefing or a blogger call
    • Email a group of bloggers with a compelling hook -- can be around an upcoming event, release of a report, or “who we are and how we can be useful to you”
    • This is a good way to establish yourself as an ongoing source on education
    • Share 4 talking points that reporters can walk away with

  • Build relationships with local reporters
    • Invite them to coffee or lunch, even if you don’t have a story to pitch them now
    • Build goodwill, show why building a relationship with you would be useful to them

  • Op-Eds
    • Must be timely
    • Typically cover a topic once and move on (while blogs can harp repeatedly on a topic)
  • Columns
    • If you have an interesting point of view (one blogger started column as a woman whose son was held back in kindergarten) or experience, pitch a column to a news source
    • HuffPost column is good exposure but is increasingly at risk of becoming noise -- there are too many bloggers

  • If you want politicians’ attention, @ or # them on Twitter; they typically have alerts on their names and may respond if you namecheck them


Language and ideas that emerged:
  • The dominant narrative is that school and teachers are most responsible for educating students. We need to shift that responsibility to the entire community, including the students themselves, and make their essential roles clear. (if community feels overburdened already, what’s the hook?)  

  • The dominant narrative is that "bad teachers" are mainly responsible for the problems in schools, and if we get rid of them, the problems will be fixed. Underlying are assumptions that "bad" means the students have low test scores, and that these test scores measure learning.
  • Education is more than preparation for college and career. It is about liberating yourself, developing your humanity, and learning to be a global citizen.

  • Why become educated? If you don't know how to read and write, plus develop your critical thinking, people will take advantage of you.

  • Let’s put the “public” back in public education.
  • Education for liberation, not domestication or colonization

  • How will we know when we've achieved equity?
  • We must keep putting ourselves in the position of the learner.

  • Civil disobedience and “creative insubordination” have their place in education reform. Cheryl Fields half-joked about starting a “Courageous Teacher Fund” for those who lose their jobs or even are arrested standing up for education transformation; someone else suggested adding sabbatical money to this fund.

  • Education is about asking questions and discovering answers. Learn that sometimes there isn’t “an answer” -- e.g. a history is one version of that history -- but multiple answers.

  • How do we deal with the fact that some are not interested in education for the masses and would rather keep the power and money at the top?

  • Adult-student relationships are at the core of any teaching and learning; we need to name love as a key ingredient of any education. Every student needs at least one caring adult who looks out for them, and ideally many of them.

  • Disinformation campaign:
    • Pearson is making a ton of money in NY and NJ because of tax breaks
    • The idea vs. the reality of charter schools
    • Though KIPP students graduate from high school, only 30% graduate college
  • Do we need a Teach for America for progressive teachers? (Lynda Tredway says that TFA is getting more progressive in itself.)


  • Lynda Tredway, Shital Shah, Dale Nienow, Daniel Massey, Tim Marema, Mark Cantu, Elaine Salinas, Travis Pinckney and I formed an open space workshop on creating a new message and came up with the PSA campaign "I am public schools."

The idea: recruit racially diverse celebrities, business and government staff, and everyday people (young and old, those with children in school and those without) and ask them to submit photos of themselves holding up a school picture from a public school they attended. One line of text in small print below (think Got Milk? ads) can explain one thing they learned in public school, how it's shaped them as an adult, or why public schools are important to them even if they don't have a direct connection.

Video is also encouraged; we went around the circle at the end of Open Mic, each standing up to say a personalized variation on, “I am public schools. I am Altimira Middle School. I am an education changemaker.”

The campaign still needs to be hammered out, but we were all enthusiastic about it and are willing to engage our networks to launch it.



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Thank you so much for these wonderfully thorough notes.  I almost feel like I was in the room for some of it, having seen some of the photos and video as well.


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