Online Platform for School-Community Connections
CommunityShare is a nonprofit initiative that is re-imagining the relationship between schools and communities. CommunityShare features an online platform that matches educators with regional community partners who want to serve as mentors, project designers, internship hosts, content-area consultants, guest speakers, and field trip sponsors. Some think of the platform as a “human library” that empowers teachers and their students to tap into local “human books” of wisdom and experience in their community. Through in-person learning experiences with community partners, students become more engaged in school because of the increased “real-world” relevance in the curriculum, discover new career possibilities and expand their access to social capital and caring adults. By directly engaging individual professionals, corporations, nonprofits, parents, academics, and others in schools, CommunityShare also increases the public’s understanding of education and their agency to become advocates for it. Beyond our online platform, CommunityShare offers teacher fellowships and grants, community engagement tools and strategies, multimedia storytelling workshops and more.
Connections to Real World Learning Roadmap
Select a roadmap destination to learn more.
Real world learning actively engages a learner in applying their knowledge and capabilities to address a question or societal challenge in their school and/or community.
Our intended outcomes for students are to increase:
- Understanding of future academic and career pathways
- Student engagement and joy of learning
- Understanding of how what they are learning in class relates to real-world applications
- Awareness of and access to people, resources, and opportunities in their community.
These align to our goals to increase students’ understanding of academic and career pathways, deepen their understanding of how to apply classroom content to real-world contexts, heighten engagement in class, and increase awareness of and access to community resources.
Our intended outcomes for the teachers we work with are to increase:
- Access to high quality professional learning around RWL
- Use of innovative instructional approaches (e.g. inquiry/project-based learning)
- Ability to bring real-world relevance and applications to their students
- Knowledge of subject matter from community partnersAbility and knowledge to facilitate community partnerships
- Sense of connectedness to peers and the community
- Social capital and awareness of community resources
- Openness to engage community partners in the future
These outcomes align to our goals for teachers are to increase their access to high quality professional learning, expand their comfort and competency with innovative instructional approaches (e.g. project-based learning), heighten their connectedness to their community, develop their ability to design community partnerships, and expand their opportunity to bring relevance to their students’ learning.
Implementation: How We Did It
Several years ago, we looked around our home community in Tucson, Arizona, and wondered what it might look like if every community member saw themselves as an educator or mentor. Each of us has unique stories, skills, passions and experiences. When we share these gifts with each other, we develop a sense of belonging and identity as a community and define a vision for our shared future.
We asked ourselves…What would happen if we could create pathways for people to share their passions and experiences with each other every day? What kind of learning and relationships might emerge by bringing people together across geographic, socioeconomic and institutional boundaries? If learning transcended the boundaries of schools, what would this make possible for students, educators and communities?
These questions were the seeds that grew CommunityShare.
We work online and offline to connect the skills and experiences of people in the community – everyday individuals with regular jobs and lives – to the needs and aspirations of educators and their students. Our goal is to support “real-world” learning opportunities that help young people discover their passions and transform those passions into future careers and fulfilled lives.
Our elements and how they work include: (1) online matching platform that enables teachers to find regional partners, (2) teacher fellowship that serves as a professional learning community around RWL, (3) grants to teachers to implement RWL learning projects with partners, and (4) storytelling to highlight the diverse voices of people both in and impacted by the education system. Our website describes these items in detail: www.communityshare.us
We establish relevant partnerships by centering teachers so they can find partners at any time on our platform in ways that are relevant to them. We have over 500 community partners on our online platform, representing different fields ranging from STEM to the arts. They include individual professionals, parents, employees in organizations and government departments, academics, retirees, and more.
To support partners, we provide online tips and resources to help them prepare to engage with teachers and students. We also work with teachers to help ensure they have guidance in preparing their students and the partner for an engagement.
Our programming supports all curriculum areas, as we connect teachers to partners in all fields. Partners can serve roles in any of the roadmap destinations, such as guest speaker, field trip host, project collaborator, career day speaker, showcase judge, expert in residence, etc. Though we do not focus on internships, we have been able to facilitate a few internships as a result of teachers reaching out to partners on our platform.
We measure our impact through a number of different ways. Some indicators of success include:
- 88 percent of students indicated CommunityShare increased their understanding of the real-world application of content they are learning in school
- 77 percent of students said their CommunityShare experience increased their understanding of careers in a “significant” or “life-changing” way
- 100 percent of teachers indicated that CommunityShare increased student engagement and student ownership of their own learning
- 100 percent of teachers increased their social capital – community connections & relationships
We also gather stories of impact through visual documentation on our website. We have heard from educators that students who had previously struggled academically were more engaged, creative, and demonstrated critical thinking skills to solve problems in their communities because of participation in a CommunityShare project. These experiences provided the opportunity for all students to be engaged and feel successful.
We facilitate our year-long Educator Fellowship to provide coaching, peer-based critical inquiry, curricular resources, classroom observations, documentation, evaluation, and funding around real world learning. We have a seasoned K-12 teacher/facilitator of PLCs who oversees our professional learning. We have online resources on our website to provide teachers with strategies and questions to help them plan for community partner relationships. In addition, we provide tips for community partners to help them prepare for engaging with a teacher and their students.
Our funding currently comes from local foundations in Arizona and a few foundations in other states. We have also been generating revenue by licensing our platform to other organizations across the country. In addition, CommunityShare created a grants program to provide funding to teachers so that they can engage community partners on longer-term projects. As we explore expanding to other regions across the country, we are seeking funding to expand our organizational capacity and further develop our online platform.
The Future of this Work
We have received inquiries from educators and institutions nationally and globally about bringing CommunityShare to their communities. We plan to pilot CommunityShare in 2-3 new regions during the 2020-21 school year and welcome interested folks to reach out about partnerships.