Engage For Change: Strategic Partnerships and Convergence vs. Consensus

FrazierHeiby asked education communications expert Adriana Martinez to help us understand more about reaching marginalized groups.

Better engagement with education communities is essential at all times. FrazierHeiby asked education communications expert Adriana Martinez to help us understand more about reaching marginalized groups.

In her first post, Adriana closed with the concept of “doing no harm” in your communications and engagement. In this second post, she picks up the discussion with guidance on nurturing strategic partnerships to bridge engagement efforts.

Why are strategic partnerships so critical in the work that you do with school systems, to touch what matters in the lives of students outside the school day as well as during the school day?

“Education and kids don’t exist in isolation,” noted Martinez. “Kids only spend about 20% of their time in schools. Sometimes schools aren’t in the best position to reach out, especially when lack of trust in an issue. But there are others who do have that trust.”

For example, when states were working on Every Student Succeeds Act implementation, they had to partner with others, such as churches and community organizations. Sometimes it’s good to read the room and let others lead the conversations, find the right messages and channels, and see what’s resonating.

“I’ll also remind everyone to eliminate the jargon, because it can be disempowering,” said Martinez. “Everyone has a personal relationship to education because we’ve all been there, so use that as your starting point.”

What best practices have you learned when it comes to building consensus across multiple stakeholders?

“When all viewpoints are incorporated, from both internal and external stakeholders, we make sure we have the right balance,” noted Martinez. “And because we are advocates of student voice, at least 20% of all participants in our engagements should be students.”

Giving appropriate space and time for role-alike and mixed conversations across engagements is critical. Another important step is having participants engage in learning together, sharing thoughts and ideas broadly and using mixed methods in facilitation.

Martinez emphasized that “we are letting go of consensus-building and moving to convergence.” This avoids group breakdown into factions when participants are in vastly different camps.

What's something interesting or surprising you're seeing in the modern classroom that didn't exist when you were a child?

“I’ve seen a principal with an office in the hallway at the entrance to the school,” said Martinez. “Getting rid of bell schedules, or organizing schools by grade band with a more diverse group of ages together. They can learn from the same teacher over multiple years and build that stronger relationship. Remember that the age-based cohort model is organized around the industrial age, and we are far past that.”

Another concept that is becoming more accepted is mastery, the idea of measuring student learning by demonstration of skills and competencies, not testing or grades. Capstone projects, portfolios, and project-based learning are part of this approach, where students show what they’ve learned and can apply their learning to solving problems and connecting it to their interests or issues in their community. Teacher training has to change to meet the needs of the student-focused learning design process. “It’s the right approach because it drives students’ internal motivation,” Martinez observed.

“And let’s not forget about school culture,” Martinez continued. “I see examples of students rallying around bus drivers and janitors because these adults also play an important role in their lives. All roles in schools build culture. We need to think critically around internal school engagement to reinforce this. Public education is funded by taxpayer dollars, and the best form of education embraces active community engagement. Research shows lack of ownership is a big problem with buy-in to our schools. People have to see themselves in the work, whether they are working within schools or support them from the outside in.”

What’s the best way to make lasting change in our schools?

“Get involved in local and government, starting with school boards! And vote in local elections!” Martinez emphasized. “Local school boards, city councils, state legislators, and governors will make more of a direct impact on your student than the president or secretary of education.”

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