Promoting Professional Development and Best Practice in EE
Study Circles for the Community Engagement: Guidelines for Excellence
We were so excited about the newest Guidelines for Excellence publication on Community Engagement after having the opportunity to hear about them from Bora Simmons in a couple of meetings we attended, that the staff of the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education (KACEE) jumped right in! We wanted to figure out an effective way to more fully understand, process and apply the guidelines to our work, so we approached it as a Study Circle. We invited another organization’s staff that we’d been working with who was also looking for better ways to work in communities to join us, the Climate and Energy Project (CEP). So together the 10 staff from KACEE and CEP picked out 6 dates, one a month, the first a face to face meeting and the remaining 5 took place via conference call as we are all scattered around the state. We wanted to make sure to meet face to face for the first meeting so that everyone could put a face to the name on subsequent calls and it was a great way to create a level of trust and appreciation for each other as well.
Each meeting was dedicated to one chapter of the Guidelines and we started with the following question prompts to discuss:
- What’s something that surprised you in your reading? What inspired you?
- What did you find out that you didn’t already know and why is this important to you?
- What can apply from this in your work?
- What’s creating some cognitive dissonance—something you read/learned that doesn’t fit with what you already know?
- What’s not making complete sense to you? What’s challenging to what you already know or have experienced.
- What aligns with what you have already experienced?
- What’s the most important take away for you?
- How does this apply to your work within your organization?
We took turns leading the conversations each month and throughout the course of these study circle meeting, both organizations remarked repeatedly how valuable these conversations were. At times we recognized that intuitively, we had been doing some of the right things. We learned strategies that aligned with our current work and would help us be more effective with our community partnerships. We recognized something really important--how incongruent this approach to working with a community is with many funder’s requests for proposals. Often we’re asked to identify exactly what we’re going to do to address a challenge or problem in a community, rather than identifying the strategies to engage with the community and collaboratively identify what we’re going to do together. We have even talked about holding funder forums in our state to share these guidelines as a way to open this conversation. We learned how this work mattered to each of us and we connected with each other in a way we might not have otherwise. We highly recommend this strategy as a way to do a deeper dive into the Guidelines!
This experience was so powerful to our organization that we applied to have a Guideline Training and Train the Trainer experience here in Kansas when the opportunity arose and we will be facilitating study circles for those who attend the training!