This is the fifth in a series of guest blogs by the CREATE Lab Team.
By Lauren Zito
Our values are our heart. The words that we use to describe it may change, but our heart does not.
At first, there were eight: Equity, Choice, Transparency, Numbers and Narratives, Inquiry Based, Relationships, Power, and Safety. They stated who we were, letting others know what we believed in as we embarked on this new journey called “The Fluency Project”. It was a way of sharing our heart with potential partners, knowing that they needed to share these beliefs if our partnership was to be successful.
The original eight read:
Equity is being intentionally inclusive and requires eliminating the barriers that prevent the full participation of all peoples.
Choice happens when the process is flexible, and recognizes the authority of those most directly involved in a project to know what tools and methods are best.
Transparency is important because information is power, and shared information promotes collaboration.
Numbers and Narratives together create a compelling argument but NUMERICAL data is too often privileged over personal narrative, therefore we actively work to raise the perceived validity of personal narrative.7
Inquiry Based means starting with questions, and facilitating the exploration of those questions.
Relationships help create safe spaces, provide accountability, motivate, and open new learning outcomes.
Power hierarchies are present in schools, education systems, and the world, but we aim to create an environment where people are respected and heard, lifting some up and making space for all.
Safety means acknowledging potential consequences and managing risk as appropriate.
These eight words became a code of conduct – not only did they guide the direction of and choices we made within our project, but they also guided our actions with each other.
At the start of our project, we sat down and wrote action items for each value, stating as explicitly as possible how we would enact them. We dedicated each month to a value, setting time aside to review these action items and check in with each other. It was a time of reflection, a time away from the everyday to-do’s. Reflection became an importance practice for us as a team. It gave us space away from the everyday meetings. I personally enjoyed having a space to bring up anything that I wanted, feelings, concerns or otherwise while also learning more about my team members, what they care about, and how they feel in the project. It allowed us to grow closer as a team, developing a coherent vision.
Our teacher cohort similarly dedicated time during their summer residency, writing action items explicitly stating their dedication to enacting each value in their work. As the year progressed, they reflected with us each month, considering how the values impact their work with students. Our teacher cohort is our partner. Their input was immensely important in determining the direction of the values and the project overall. We asked them to share whatever they felt comfortable sharing from their reflections as a way for us to gain insight into their thinking. This thought sharing supported our collaboration and allowed us to truly know each other as people.
We questioned which values felt most important to consider as we dove deeper into the project and took time to define each word using our own vocabulary. In this way, we created deeper, personal connections to the values while developing deeper team unity.
Our reflection time guided us as we found this year’s iteration of the values: Equity, Compassion, Authenticity, and Agency.
Our shared belief in equity means that, in design, we prioritize accessibility first, being intentionally inclusive, eliminating the barriers that prevent the full participation of all peoples, and ensuring the accessibility of information and technology.
Our shared belief in compassion means that we approach our relationships with respect and acceptance, striving to understand and support each other, making space for vulnerability in service of our full humanity.
Our shared belief in authenticity means that we are transparent in our purpose and process, aiming to be genuine to who we are in our work and with each other.
Our shared belief in agency means that we copower each other, promoting each person’s voice and recognizing their impact.
Though they are fewer in number, they still ring true to what we believe. Our values remain our heart. The words may change, but the true meaning does not.
This is the fourth in a series of guest blogs by the CREATE Lab Team.
By Jess Kaminsky
One of the major tenants of the Fluency work is “voice” - student voice and its relationship to adult voice. As a member of Fluency and a project lead on the Hear Me project for six years, I’ve spent a whole lot of time thinking about the relationship between youth and adult voice. More specifically, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the power relationship between adults and young people. In society, adults hold more power than young people. We make the decisions, we set the rules of a classroom, we speak first in a meeting, we tell youth how they should participate, we tell students they are the future (but not the present).
Can we imagine a different type of youth - adult relationship? Is this new type of relationship possible in a system as established as public education?
This was a question I carried into our exploration year of Fluency. As we started the school year together in September, I heard a lot of our cohort teachers wrestling with this question too. After all, student voice does not fit nicely into the test prep pushed on most teachers. Then we had the opportunity to visit places like Mikva Challenge in Chicago and see students designing and leading action plans to improve their school, alongside their adult mentors and school principal. We went to PhillyCam and Global Action project on our Philadelphia/New York City trip and saw programming that was designed in response (not in anticipation) to student needs and interests. And we went to Detroit to visit Detroit Future Schools, where recognizing one another’s humanity, regardless of markers like age or gender, is the foundation on which everything they do is built. Back in Pittsburgh we read Adam Fletcher’s “Washington Youth Voice Handbook”, a beautiful and compelling case for examining youth-adult collaboration with strategies and activities ready for implementation. These examples were all inspiring and they helped us start to see the incredible outcomes of youth and adults working in partnership. Yet all these programs are outside of school and have different limitations, such as not having to assign grades or improve district test scores. We had begun to answer our first question - yes, a different type of relationship is possible - but we were just starting on our second question - can we do this in our classrooms?
As we moved into the spring, I started to notice subtle changes in the language and attitudes of our group when we talked about students. Things were changing in classrooms too. Teachers in the group were trying out new projects in class and often prefaced these with, “I’m not sure exactly how this will turn out but we’ll figure it out together” or “some things might not go right, and we’ll problem solve together”. Teachers were encouraging students to interface directly with adults and other audiences they needed support from instead of that communication being done by the teacher (releasing a need to supervise what’s said and acknowledging that students are capable of managing these responsibilities). There were teachers asking students to dream, plan, and do something where they could make an impact, and the teachers were following this up with “what do you need from me to support you in making this happen?” There seemed to be a collective shift in attitude in our thoughts on voice and relationship, and this was opening up new ways of relating to students. It was catalyzing new learning possibilities and supporting students to see themselves as agents of change.
Reflecting back on my starting questions I realize that it is possible to imagine a new dynamic between youth and adults, where students and adults work collaboratively to learn and build community, and it’s possible to enact this reimaged relationship in public education. We start small and we commit to this new vision of youth-adult partnership, and I believe beautiful learning will happen.