This project undertook three case studies where students - and their teachers - had access to different kinds of community and professional experts as part of their school-based learning. It investigated how these collaborations or partnerships arose and how they worked to transform "business as usual" curriculum, teaching, and learning. We were particularly interested in understanding the professional learning and growth opportunities for the adults involved - the teachers, and the other professionals - that arose from these collaborations.
The schools we case studied were:
- Pakuranga Intermediate and their collaboration with a group of performing and visual artists in 2012-2014.
- Owairaka District School, and their collaboration with their community as part of the Garden to Table programme and other initiatives.
- Epuni Primary School, and their collaboration with the Common Unity Project Aotearoa.
We will soon be publishing a summary of key themes identified across the case studies and relating to wider themes in other research on school-community collaboration.
Who are "community and professional experts"?
In this project we defined them as people who are not necessarily educators or teachers, but who have knowledge and expertise in their own professional areas, or because of their role in the community, and are working with schools in ways that support learners to connect with that knowledge and expertise. This broad category could include professionals from a wide range of fields (scientists, artists, engineers, designers, writers), people in businesses, people from local iwi, people working in local government, community leaders, parents and whanau with specialist expertise, and many others.
What is the link to "future-oriented learning?"
This project builds from the six principles for a future-oriented learning system hypothesised in a 2012 report for the Ministry of Education. It is especially pertinent to principle 6 which calls for "new kinds of partnerships and relationships between schools and the wider community". This principle asserts that for a variety of reasons, schools on their own can no longer be expected to provide all of the knowledge, expertise, and resources that students need for 21st century learning. Learners need better opportunities to access knowledge, expertise, and learning contexts within the wider community. They also need opportunities to exercise the development of their capabilities in authentic contexts (for example, generating and applying knowledge in ways that contribute value to others' lives, as well as contributing to their own learning and development).
This research project assumes that the professional and community expertise has the potential to complement school-based educational expertise and that schools can and should play a key role in orchestrating these kinds of learning opportunities for students. It is therefore important to understand what enhances or diminishes schools' capabilities to connect and collaborate with external expertise. It is also important to consider how equitable learning opportunities can be achieved across different schools and communities.
Why focus on the impacts of these collaborations for the adults involved?
The core argument for these kinds of school-community relationships is their benefit for students' learning. However, a primary focus for this research was to understand the impacts and experiences of adults who work together in these collaborations - the teaching professionals, and the community and professional experts. The reason for this focus is that adults (as teachers, school leaders, policy decision-makers, parents or voters) shape the educational system. For system-wide shifts to occur, it is important to know how and why adults think it is beneficial for school learners to have access to community and professional expertise as part of their school learning, and how they think this can happen effectively. By examining "success cases", we were specifically looking for sites where there is evidence that these collaborations have influenced adults' thinking about learning, teaching, curriculum, schooling, young people, and their own professional roles. By looking at cases across a range of contexts, we sought to understand how the principle of integrating teachers' expertise with community/professional expertise to support learning can be enacted in different ways to support diverse learners, schools, and communities.
Some schools are engaging with people and groups from the wider community to support innovative learning for students. If this work is to be scaled up, it needs systemic support and to be underpinned by research. Educational professionals and partners from the wider community need support to work in the spaces between their different areas of expertise and to talk and listen to each other – across professional and/or cultural boundaries. (NZ Curriculum Update #26)