15 SES 02, Partnerships involving schools
Schools in highly diverse urban settings throughout Europe face problems related to sometimes dysfunctional integration policies and structural inequalities. It is widely accepted that schools should be open to the community, meet the large variation of needs of newcomers and combat the fears for differences. In such a setting it is important for schools to develop strategies that allow them to deal with complexity and embrace controversy.
The presented study is conducted within the framework of the Learning Communities for Peace Project (LCP), an Erasmus+ Strategies partnership project funded by the European Union (October 2016 - August 2019.Six project partners with unique expertise formed a consortium to run the project.
This European project aims at identifying, developing, testing and evaluating innovative methodologies, strategies and tools to support a primary school and its surrounding community to engage in a transformative process of becoming a Learning Community for Peace and to improve the climate within the school by discovering unique peace-building strategies as well as "living together" and improving togetherness in the wider society. In four different contexts (Croatia, Greece, Sweden and the United Kingdom) project partners developed a partnership with one or two primary schools (in total five primary schools) to discover the specific and unique needs as well as relevant means for the schools to become a “hub for peace” within their community. In each country this process was assumed to look different based on the assumption that needs and means would differ for each school community.
The Learning Community for Peace project (LCP) adapted “a communities of practice approach” (Wenger, 1999; Wenger, McDermott & Snyder, 2002) and focused on a learning community made up of different stakeholders (pupils, staff, parents, and community actors). A dialogic and participatory approach was selected to bring about positive change in ways that could be of value for the stakeholders. As a dialogic and participatory approach, Action Research was chosen. The conditions to ensure participants' involvement were based on the following principles: 1) establish an egalitarian dialogue between all the stakeholders, 2) co-design the process to create and share ownership, and 3) contribute to and draw from collective wisdom. The project intended to enable the school to select from a range of options (methodologies, strategies and tools) introduced by actors in the school and the community as well as by the trainers and researchers, in order to develop their own unique strategiesforchange.
Apart from using an action research cycle, an impact evaluation has been carried out to measure the state of art at the start of this action research cycle and after about 8 months. The impact evaluation aimed at monitoring school climate improvement.
Research questions: What strategies and tools would support a primary school to improve a climate of togetherness and peacebuilding? What are the hinders for a school to engage fully with the community? To what extent can a transformative process be detected?
The results presented in this paper are primary based on data collected from the action research and impact evaluation with one (out of the five) primary school within a period of one academic year. The school is located in a middle large northern European city. These results will be compared with the general outcomes of the action research projects conducted in the other three European countries. For the impact evaluation, innovative participatory and visual methodology has been used. The action research process: the school was guided by the project partner through the following phases: 1. Identifying areas for improvement 2. Discussing why these areas were problematic. 3. During an open democratic process choosing the order of the areas that needed improvement. 4. Developing an action plan. 5. implementing, evaluating and disseminating an action. And finally writing an action research report. The impact evaluation: qualitative and quantitative data were collected before and after a one-year action research period. Data consists of 47 (before) and 72 (after) questionnaires filled out by the children, and 29 (before) and 23 (after) questionnaires filled out by the staff of the schools. Statistical analyses were used to reveal whether or not positive experiences in school for both adults and children increased, and whether negative experiences decreased. Visual Voices data on the theme “apart and together” were collected made up of photographs, presentations and/or posters. To understand the visual voice data, there were interviews and focus groups to give adults and young people in school an opportunity to discuss their visual data. Furthermore, some staff-members at the school, the headmaster and the research team from the university were interviewed. These qualitative data were analyzed thematically.
Preliminary results from the action research process unveil unique stories per school about their meaning making of the process, challenges, actions and implementations. We, for example, found a variation in understandings of the meaning of a school community. In addition, the schools differed in the ways they used to identify challenge, areas of improvements and the actions that were implement and evaluate. Consortium partners learned to translate the dialogic and participatory approach into ways and activities that would fit the context and the school they worked with. A variation of activities was piloted. The preliminary results from the impact evaluation (conducted by an external evaluator) showed signs of school and school community improvements in the area of living together. The improvements could be seen in the analyses of the data collected for the impact evaluation; they were not noticeable for the members in the school or the project partners teams. The school in Sweden found out that there was a need to unite actors at the school property before reaching out to actors outside the school. In the partner countries; the school in Croatia already had established relations with stakeholders in the community and close relations with the parents which could be strengthened throughout their action research project. In the UK the two schools decided to firstly focus on activities that could support the collaboration with the parents. In order for the school in Greece to participate in the project the improvement of parents’ association was very important as well as a formal letter from the ministry of Education, which took time. All partners agreed that their collaboration with the school during one year of action research was too short. They had to focus on providing the school with means and tools to continue their improvement project by themselves.
Cremin, H., Mason, C. & Busher, H. (2011). Problematising pupil voice using visual methods: findings from a study of engaged and disaffected pupils in an urban secondary school, British Educational Research Journal 37, 4, 585-603 Wenger, E. (1999). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge university press. Wenger, E., McDermott, R. A., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Harvard Business Press.
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