The Common Ground Collaborative (CGC) is a non- profit organization headquartered in the USA, with Regional Offices in Europe and Latin America. The CGC has grown in impact and influence since our founding in 2014. Our members include international and national schools, both independent and public.
We work with everyone from new schools in Quito to well-established independent schools in Toronto. We work in public school districts in the USA and in public ‘experimental schools’ in China. We work with partners, both nonprofit and for-profit, to reach thousands of learners currently mired in learning poverty.
Our primary process is conversation. When schools join the CGC, they do not adopt a fixed programme, they join a conversation. Together we puzzle out what is best for the school, or other organization, co-creating customized models in context, using the CGC’s acquired experience and practical models.
Our theories are built backwards from decades of experience in leading, teaching and learning in multiple contexts and cultures and yet are rooted in decades of research and acquired wisdom drawn from the rich well of progressive, constructivist education.
We hope that you will find our work interesting, and perhaps intriguing enough for you to contact us with a view to joining our global conversation.
In this work, we found a kindred spirit in the brilliant Jay McTighe, Co-Founder of Understanding by Design, and a prolific author and proactive leader of change. Jay and Kevin Bartlett, our own Founding Director, have spent the last two years in close collaboration to develop THE BALANCED ASSESSMENT SYSTEM (BAS). This is now being launched as a series of 5 Webinars and a 2-Day in-person Construction Site. This is an external partnership and we have conference costs to cover, so there are fees involved but we have tried to make the whole experience accessible and affordable.
After a lifetime in the learning profession I'm still coming to understand the power of clear, conceptual transfer goals like those in the CGC's Portrait of a Learner. We are now harnessing the power of a clear 'end in mind' to directly shape curriculum, culture and community. An exciting example of this is our work with schools on A Portrait of a Teacher.
The Two Loop Theory of Organizational Change is a model suggested by Meg Wheatley and Deborah Frieze from the Berkana Institute. It basically holds that human social systems are not machines that will endure endlessly but living, organic systems that experience cycles of growth, dominance and decay, just as new, replacement systems emerge.
For the last two weeks, besides working online in schools, I also co-taught an in-person 8th grade Learning Module with a secondary school leader. Our focus was on helping students become experts in persuasive writing, but also on building a 'constructivist' learning culture. We created an 'authentic' context by basing our work in the world of social media influencers, a world somewhat familiar to the learners. I'd say we achieved our goals, but...it was hard. Post-covid middle schoolers can be quite a handful...has anyone noticed?
Teaching is hard...I do it because I believe in our work and I know I have to have skin in the learning game before I can expect teachers to take change seriously.
When schools in the CGC community hold parent sessions, they are anything but an informational Sit'n'Git+Q'n'A. As Michael Fullan put it, 'Information without relationships is never knowledge'. So, we build relationships...and we use inquiry.
Simply put, we use the same strategies that we use in any learning situation. We ask questions like, 'What did you never get in school that you'd like to give your children?'. We frame their responses as 'intergenerational gifts'. We share our Portrait of a Learner, the CGC's set of transdisciplinary transfer goals, and we say, "This is what we'd like to give your children...what do you think?'.
One great source of wisdom, J. André de Barros Teixeira, had a pretty extensive bank of truths to offer. I'll paraphrase one of these as:
'Reject the tyranny of OR, embrace the power of AND'.
As some of us have noted before, education loves a false dichotomy.
'It's not about content, it's about concepts'
'It's not about phonics, it's about whole language'
'It's not about direct instruction, it's about inquiry'
...and so on, ad nauseam.
In co-creating with our member schools a genuine learning continuum as part of a fully coherent learning ecosystem, the CGC has found a balance among elements that may be falsely painted as 'opposed'.
In an earlier post I mentioned an initial degree in philosophy. I then went on to a one-year post-graduate certificate in education (not counting the hippie years, overland to India, that kind of early 70s stuff). In my PGCE year, I learned two things: