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When Partnerships Surprise
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By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

Systems Thinking, a practice that started at Wildwood, is now thriving in our partner public schools.

In recent years, partnerships between public and private schools like Wildwood have been intentionally constructed to emphasize the flow of learning opportunities in two directions.

In other words, it was no longer a matter of established and well-resourced private schools merely giving time or resources to a public school but, instead, a way for each school to inform the other in practice and purpose. These were real partnerships, not one-way “exchanges.”

Now, these partnerships are shifting again. My recent experience illustrates this story in a way that I wanted to share here because the implications are profound for educators and children everywhere.

Six years ago, Wildwood, embarked on a partnership with LAUSD’s Palms Elementary School that involved pairing teachers across grade levels K-5 who learned to implement Systems Thinking—an innovative classroom practice that was incubated at Wildwood. The Systems Thinking-based project included classroom visits, joint field trips, and a professional development curriculum that spanned the entire school year. Three years ago, the partnership expanded to include another LAUSD elementary campus—Mid-City’s Prescott School.

The Systems Thinking Schools Partnership was launched by the Outreach Center in 2014.

From the beginning, we experienced an unusual level of teacher buy-in and enthusiasm, and it kept growing. Teachers across the campuses became trusted colleagues and confidants. They traveled together to conferences to present their work. We launched a website and produced videos to share in-class learning footage and teacher reflections with educators worldwide.

And, I began to notice that the public school teachers, too often lacking for resources and recognition, began to take the lead: They began to innovate and became models for Wildwood teachers to emulate. They became key facilitators of our Systems Thinking Summer Workshop and, this year, have even started a book group for teachers across our three partner campuses.

Wildwood 5th Graders working with their Mid-City’s Prescott partners

Teachers at Wildwood are fortunate to have what they need and a reliable network of support, whereas public school teachers can’t always be sure of that. So this evolution of public-private school partnerships makes sense, even if I didn’t predict it. What I do know is that teachers everywhere care about good practice. Outcomes are very clear in the classroom—it’s easy to see if students are getting it, or not without a standardized test.

Next month our Systems Thinking schools project bring in international partners, as over a dozen public school teachers from Taiwan will visit Wildwood and Palms Elementary Schools for a week. I made an introductory trip to Taipei in December to introduce the teachers to Wildwood and share the curriculum basics. In Los Angeles in February, these teacher leaders will be paired with grade-level peers at Wildwood and Palms, and watch Systems Thinking instruction in action. They will see students valued for their prior knowledge, and observe how teachers and students map connections.

I’ll also bring this story with me to the National Network of Schools in Partnership’s annual conference in Philadelphia in late January; it’s an important template for educators looking to develop reciprocal relationships with schools in their communities. My message: it works, and in some surprising ways.

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