by Dan Hoffman, PhD
School Design Consultant
In the past month, I have had the privilege of two conversations regarding partnership development and innovative school design. Both conversations caused a collegial gathering to reflect on developed partnerships in projects such as the founding of Metro Early College High School and the Reynoldsburg City Schools High School Redesign and K-12 STEM Pathway innovations. From the wisdom and the experiences of the group, I have arrived at four common characteristics of successful partnerships that lead to significant educational innovations.
1. Shared Beliefs
2. The Power of People
3. The Power of Place
4. “An Air of Unanxious Expectations”
The first characteristic is that the partners have a shared belief system around the “big ideas”. Obviously potential partners do not have to be aligned on every thought or idea but there must be alignment on fundamental beliefs and central purposes. At Metro, Reynoldsburg and now Marysville ECHS some of the shared beliefs were:
• That the primary purpose of school was teaching students to use their minds well and, in order to do so, instruction must be varied and full of problem-based learning that leads to performance-based assessments. The aphorism of “student-as-worker, teacher-as-coach” comes to life.
• “Less is more” strategies must be deployed so that student can go thoughtfully deep in key content areas
• Mastery becomes an expectation, failing is not acceptable
• The schools must be designed for all students entailing highly-personalized plans and strategies
• The schooling experience should not be under one roof, thus promoting college attendance, internships and mentorships -school practices and governance must be equitable and democratic
So these fundamental ideas and others were shared beliefs that became unveiled in the early partnership conversations. I would be remiss not to recognize Theodore Sizer and his research and work with The Coalition of Essential Schools. The resulting Ten Common Principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools became a springboard for partnership conversations on belief systems and school reform.
A second common characteristic is the power of people. In successful school innovation efforts, we have observed that the partnerships were founded and nurtured by people who had faith and interest in one another. Mutual respect and admiration developed early-on as partners learned more about one another and their current and prior successes. For example, at Metro, partners at the table were a university president, the Battelle CEO, a variety of deans and directors and a handful of public educators who passionately believed that we could make schools a better place to teach and learn. Locally, Reynoldsburg and Marysville experienced similar composition patterns in their planning teams.
Also of note when discussing the power of people in partnership for school improvement, we should note that pedagogical and content expertise is typically needed from beyond the existing staff. Partners such as PAST Foundation, EdWorks, BalletMet, Mount Carmel Hospitals and The Honda Corporation are examples of partners providing expertise beyond a school’s capacity.
Networking efforts both support and advance these partnerships efforts and in Ohio, the Ohio STEM Learning Network has served and continues to serve a vital role in many of Ohio’s most advanced school innovations. OSLN recognizes the power of people by networking the right players.
Part 2 of this blog post will be published Dec 8.
About Dr. Dan Hoffman
Daniel Hoffman, PhD, former Assistant Superintendent of Reynoldsburg City Schools has a long and diverse career in education. He was the former Executive Director of the Ohio Center for School Reform, a founding member of The Metro High School, and a consultant for EDWorks as National Director, STEM. In addition to his work at EDWorks. Dr. Hoffman held consulting roles for Reynoldsburg City Schools and The Ohio State University’s School of Educational Policy and Leadership (Principal-in-Residence) where he received his doctoral degree. His responsibilities at Reynoldsburg City Schools included the development of a K-12 STEM initiative. A small STEM high school opened in 2010, followed by the opening of a K-4 STEM school in 2011 and a 5-8 STEM school in 2012. Dan’s reach extended throughout central Ohio as he served a coordinating role for the Central Ohio Hub of the Ohio STEM Learning Network. Dr. Hoffman served as the founding leader of the Ohio Center for Essential Schools. While working at Ohio CES, he led the planning team for Metro High School, a small STEM school located on west campus on The Ohio State University. The school is open to children of all abilities with a commitment to equity and democracy that is a source of pride. Dr. Hoffman began his career as a middle school teacher and spent 28 years as a teacher, coach and school administrator.