Building the New and Needed Web of Learning Support

The Learning Partnerships Specialist: Building the New and Needed Web of Learning Support

Dorothy Rich

WHAT WE’RE LEARNING ABOUT OUR LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS IS THAT OFTENTIMES KIDS NEED MORE HELP THAN THEIR TEACHERS ALONE CAN GIVE THEM. THIS LONGTIME EDUCATOR AND ADVOCATE FOR CHILDREN HAS A PROPOSAL TO HELP THAT SITUATION.

BEYOND ACADEMICS

The halls can be patrolled. The students can be searched. But the ultimate safety of our schools and the achievement of our students rest in the hearts and minds of those students, their families, and their community.

Educators can’t do it all … nor can metal detectors. We need what it takes to prepare students with the sound fundamentals of judgment, common sense, confidence, and motivation to know what is correct and to do what is correct. This is the integration of academic and character development that influences achievement.

Certainly, schools across the nation need high academic standards, and students need to become competent readers. Yet, the message from Littleton, Colorado, and beyond is also loud and clear: Students who can make bombs can read. What they lack are the attitudes and behaviors of mind and heart that will enable them to be productive and successful in school and beyond. These qualities, along with academic achievement, are what our students need.

THE EDUCATION `SAFETY NET’

Until fairly recently, schools were part of a set of intimately connected social and educational institutions: the family, the neighborhood, the church, community clubs and groups. A variety of players was involved in putting across the educational message.

Today this vital web of community, social, and educational institutions — really the safety net for students — is punctured with gaping holes. Our children feel multiple competing pressures, from inside the school and from outside.

We applaud the seemingly endless and daily multiplying resources for broader and better education. Yet, education will be better only when the many parts of this mosaic, the endless pieces, are brought together to make sense, as in a puzzle. It is people who bring the parts together. Without them, we encounter lots of noise, lots of spectacle … signifying very little.

Lack of technology isn’t the only thing that keeps those pieces from connecting. Too much undigested information can be a major problem for children, even for adults. The world outside is bigger than ever, filled with choice and hype. Too much is coming at us at once, and too much of a good thing can be more of a curse than a blessing.

The connections needed for education today are not just with information. They are with people who help us manage two major areas of concern: One we may have too much of– information. One we probably have too little of- relationships that support children’s learning. I call these “connection” people Learning Partnerships Specialists (LPSs).

This is not “old wine in new bottles.” This is a new and necessary role in education for our changing times. The changed conditions are such that the schoolroom alone, no matter how effective, is insufficient. How can we expect so much from the school, when children are in school so little time and so much is happening outside? Information that comes at us 24 hours a day, seven days a week, does not match the school schedule. Students need to be able to connect and use information and transform it into knowledge. The Learning Partnerships Specialist will help students and their families build a strong base for emotional and academic knowledge.

Some precedents for this kind of collaboration have been set with Title I and related education programs. Yet, it takes specific and trained persons to build and sustain collaboration and extend it into the larger learning environment of the community.

FROM RHETORIC TO REALITY

The Learning Partnerships Specialist’s role evolves from need and experience in translating research into practice. It is the logical next step in the evolution of the partnership of the MegaSkills[R] Method (see “We All Need MegaSkills[R]”) with school reform models nationwide.

LPSs are not traditional teachers. They are persons whose primary tasks are to work with and maintain the once strong, now weaker connections among school, home, and community resources. These linkages include: school, home, library, police, recreation center, medical clinic, etc. A key job of the LPS is to build learning relationships.

We used to think that if we put a good teacher in a classroom with good materials, all would be well. Students would eagerly learn; teachers eagerly teach. We used to think there was a direct line between teaching and learning. It was taught; then it was learned. We used to think every student learned in the same way … actually, we didn’t think about it at all. We just taught everything in the same way! We did not know about the impact of the home and community on children’s work in school. We knew so much less about the impact of poverty and abuse. We know more now; we know better now, and with this knowledge, the age of innocence in education is over.

Children won’t learn unless they want to learn and have the will to learn. The key to building this motivation is to build relationships that support learning. It’s these connections that have needed support as never before, and this is a major assignment for the Learning Partnerships Specialists.

For each school, we can think of having at least one LPS who can be trained and designated for this role. For high schools with large enrollments, we have to think of having at least two people.

Often the first question in education tends to be, how can we cut costs? It’s almost as if anything new by definition costs too much. In view of what’s happening today and the enormous need for melding academics and character, what we need to ask instead is, how can we not afford it?

LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL

The training of Learning Partnerships Specialists is being introduced as a legislative proposal, and there is strong interest in supporting this legislation.

Legislators represent growing constituencies of young families today. The family’s educational role is in the spotlight, and there is increasing realization that schools do not now have the personnel to tackle partnership issues.

Legislators realize that families, balancing the demands of work and home, want to do right by their children. They are seeking good schools, and they know the importance of excellent education for their children. And, they know they need help to pull it together.

The goal of this legislation is to train a corps of Learning Partnerships Specialists whose primary role is to increase children’s capacities for learning and achievement by and through greater family and community involvement in education.

These specialists will work on site at schools to help teachers and families make the connections that are needed for optimal learning today at both the elementary and secondary levels. The goal is to train as many people as possible as quickly as possible. Most of the participants will be drawn from the ranks of already employed school personnel. Plus, there’s a training-of-trainers component.

Essentially, this is how the plan works:

* Accelerated Training Institutes for groups of educators and parents who will be trained for leadership roles in the how-to’s of creating and maintaining learning partnerships. This includes workshops and materials for families and collaborations with businesses and community organizations (see “LPS Training Proposal” section).

* Service Programs within the next school semesters. This is the next step in which participants from original institutes deliver programs that they were trained to provide in their communities. Through their performance, they are identified to become trainers of future LPSs.

* Trainer of Trainers Institutes. This next level of training is provided to the “stars” of the service programs. These are the people who build the internal capacity of local school systems to continue and expand the work of LPSs at their own sites.

LSP TRAINING PROPOSAL

In the early 1970s, long before I devised the MegaSkills[R] Program, I developed a master’s degree in School and Family Community Involvement. It was well before its time then, and it is both encouraging and discouraging nearly 30 years later to see that tragic events inside and outside of the school at the turn of the century tell us that the time for this training is now. The LPS builds on what we know and what we must do.

I propose practical, hands-on topics and strategies to be provided within a brief training period to a corps of Learning Partnerships Specialists. Training activities can be keyed to meeting the major program goal:

To build more synergistic, active, and practical school-community relationships … so that a “safety net” of learning support is built throughout the community … that all children and their caring adults can achieve in school and beyond.

We will help participants to develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes for their work with families and community. This takes leadership, assessment, organizational, team building, and communication abilities.

I foresee topics and subject areas that will include how-to’s for:

* Building and sharing understandings about what it takes for children to achieve

* Learning how to work with pieces of information for transformation into coherent knowledge

* Developing school/community plans and compacts

* Providing for home reinforcement and expansion of children’s learning

* Helping children develop attitudes needed to become good citizens and lead healthy, productive lives

* Identifying and solving problems related to school, home, and community issues

* Learning about, teaching about, and sharing community resources

* Creating and maintaining a strong support network for educational improvement throughout the community

IT DOESN’T ALWAYS COME NATURALLY

For some teachers and parents, this kind of synergistic partnership comes naturally. But for many it’s a connection that doesn’t connect, a source of anxiety and disappointment.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In any event, it can’t continue. The only chance our children have for the education they really need today is when the school, the home, and the community connect. It’s the Learning Partnerships Specialist who can make these connections and be the “connection catalyst” for the school and its community.

WE ALL NEED MEGASKILLS[R]

According to developer Dorothy Rich, the 11 “MegaSkills[R] are the `superbasics’ — they are the enablers that make it possible for us to learn everything else. They are key habits, attitudes, and behaviors that determine our achievement in school and in life…. [they] are our inner engines of learning.” And they can be taught.

* Confidence: feeling able to do it

* Motivation: wanting to do it

* Effort: willing to work hard

* Responsibility: doing what’s right

* Initiative: moving into action

* Perseverance: completing what you start

* Caring: showing concern for others

* Teamwork: working with others

* Common Sense: using good judgment

* Problem Solving: putting what you know and what you can do into action

* Focus: concentrating with a goal in mind

To learn more about MegaSkills[R] and The Home and School Institute, access

the Web site at www.MegaSkillsHSI.org. Or write to: MegaSkills Education Center/HIS, 1500 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC 20005; phone 202/466-3633.

Dorothy Rich is founder and president of The Home and School Institute and developer of the MegaSkills[R] Program. She has received the A+ for Breaking the Mold Award from the U.S. Department of Education and support from the MacArthur Foundation. Legislators and districts seeking more information about Learning Partnerships Specialists can contact her at 202/ 466-3633.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Agency for Instructional Technology

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