There is true power in listening—listening not just to hear, but to understand. This kind of listening has been a pivotal part of how Digital Promise, our partners, and educators across the country have been working to accelerate innovation in education, working with and not just for communities. Listening with intention and empathy reveals powerful stories and informs the work we do going forward, and how we do it.
We recently conducted a “listening tour” to learn more about the impact in communities that participated in Remake Learning Days Across America (RLDAA)—a festival of hands-on, engaging learning events for youth and their families in regions across the country. In 2019, we had the honor of supporting this initiative in partnership with Remake Learning and PBS Kids, and sponsored by The Grable Foundation, Schmidt Futures, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Our listening tour revealed the ongoing benefit that organizations, families, and communities gain from engaging in this work, but it taught us even more about the value and importance of taking part in intentional listening.
Listening tours are a mechanism for individuals and organizations to learn more about the people in their community through face-to-face conversations. These conversations offer a way to reflect and gain a deeper understanding of the impact of an initiative—or to shape a vision based on the needs, assets, and values of a community. They offer invaluable learnings, feedback, and insights. Though the catalyst for the conversation may be an event, project, or program, the learnings from those moments can have a lasting and ongoing impact. We hoped that the listening tour might enhance our overall assessment of RLDAA, and this was later validated in the stories, connections, and even photos shared during the conversations.
Chicago held its inaugural Remake Learning Days Chi this year. Event host Steven Willis, STEM program manager of Chicago Youth Centers (CYC), told us that this experience made him “re-evaluate all of our community assets in order to provide more powerful and enriching experiences for the people we serve.” CYC provides high-quality youth development programs for children in Bronzeville, Bridgeport, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale, Riverdale, Altgeld Gardens, and Southshore. During Remake Learning Days Chi 2019, CYC hosted two events: Making the Future of Fashion, a youth fashion exhibition featuring student designs in their makerspace, and PBS ScratchJr, where young children could program their own games featuring PBS Kids characters.
Initially, Willis’ was excited to participate in Remake Learning Days Chi because it was a chance to showcase CYC programs, but participating in the festival also reminded him of the power, assets, and support that surround them in their community. He plans “to establish more local relationships and utilize them to help elevate community program experiences.”
Another insight emphasized how listening to the needs of the community is fundamental to intentional collaboration. In Pittsburgh, the original site of Remake Learning Days, we spoke with event host Joy Cannon, director of programming of Center of Life. Center of Life (COL) is a community-empowerment organization located in the greater Hazelwood neighborhood. This was their third year participating in Remake Learning Days with their Hazelwood Family Festival, which offers activities to showcase programming provided by COL and their community partners. As Cannon and her team reflected on the needs of their community, they realized they wanted their event to “better empower our parents and families, instead of just passing out handouts and resources.”
They shifted the approach of their family festival to be more hands-on and engaging. “No matter what your age is, you could come into the event … see and experience the music, and also learn something while you were there and be able to do something hands-on and interactive,” Cannon said. A major reason COL began hosting the Hazelwood Family Festival three years ago was to bring awareness to their place in the community—as a gathering space for fellowship, connections, and resources. Their first event was hosted in the lot facing an abandoned school building that had been closed and unused for 10 years. Seeing the beauty of the space, COL, together with another community organization, decided to purchase the building and lot and began renovations. COL utilized the Hazelwood Family Festival as a way to demonstrate how they wanted to work with, and to continuously uplift, their community.
We heard stories like Willis’ and Cannon’s across regions—from Philadelphia to Chattanooga. While the specifics of their stories varied, they all shared a commitment to prioritizing the needs of their communities and seeking ways to co-create events to meet them and work toward closing learning and opportunity gaps.
To the event hosts, attendees, and regional leads who took the time to speak with us over the past several months, thank you. Your stories reinforce how crucial it is to ensure that community voices are incorporated in the ongoing vision for RLDAA. Remake Learning and its national partners are committed to maintaining the communication and resources that best support regional leads and their communities as they come together around building an equitable future of learning.
Looking ahead, 14 returning and new regions are gearing up for Remake Learning Days 2020, April 23-May 23, 2020. Remake Learning and their national partners are working together to ensure that every community, family, and young person can fully participate in the future of learning. To learn more, visit remakelearningdays.org. To host a pop-up event as part of Remake Learning Day Across America, sign up here.
Interested in conducting your own listening tour? Think about a project in your work or community, past or present, that would benefit from a listening tour. Here are some helpful questions to consider: