By Kristin Hempel, CT
At EASTCONN, we have a long history of collaborating with our local workforce board to provide academic and life skills instruction for people who want to improve their lives by advancing their educational background and employability skills. We understand that our students are living in complex systems and believe it is part of our mandate as educators to provide needed services whenever and wherever possible. However, as funding streams are usually quite clear in terms of who can be served with which pots of money and what types of educational services can be provided under which umbrellas, a combination of creativity, collaboration, and commitment is called for.
So, what are the primary building blocks? First, we support a well-trained staff through extensive professional development not only in CCRS but also in learning management systems, contextualized instruction, and flipped classrooms, to name a few methods that we employ. Second, we prioritize team-work, customer service, and community partnerships and support teacher training in each of these arenas. Third, we maintain a flexible technology structure with laptops, projectors, and printers that can be moved between locations and quickly installed for short-term satellite programs. Fourth, we enlist our teachers to write curriculum that integrates a wide range of academic skills while simultaneously developing personal capacities and career readiness.
Our teachers understand that they may be "called up to active duty" in a variety of locations and that the traditionally required flexibility of an adult educator is magnified for our employees. We have, in fact, nurtured the reputation of being a go-to partner when out-of-the-box thinking and design or quick turn-around is required. Because we operate within a model of continuous improvement, we are constantly collecting feedback and re-tooling our programs, our roll out, and our support structure in order to provide even better answers to our partner organizations' requests. In a time of dwindling resources, this nimbleness has allowed us to be viable and extend our reach into rural areas.
At the end of the day, what matters most is how this creativity, collaboration, and commitment has practical value for our students. We have found, for instance, that the recent integration of advocacy skills into our class curriculum is nurturing student leaders who are willing to share their stories and lend their voices to local, state, and national efforts to support adult education. The skills students practice through advocacy efforts translate into productive communication and teamwork in professional settings. These same skills equip parents to navigate school systems and support their children's academic, social, and emotional growth. And they are tools for community members to participate in local government, civic organizations' coalitions, and campaigns... in short, to be creative, collaborative, and committed contributors where they choose to engage.