The Learning Lab for Resiliency® provides support to schools and districts in meeting the requirements of the Massachusetts History and Social Science Standards Framework in fulfillment of Chapter 296 of the Acts of 2018. Our approach is student-focused and teacher-supportive. This means we provide tools, techniques, resources and guidance for designing, implementing and evaluating 8th grade civics projects in order to instill civic readiness (knowledge, skills and dispositions) in students so that they are equipped to exercise the rights and responsibilities of democratic participation at any/all levels of citizenship and governance. A significant asset we bring are connections to community activists throughout western Massachusetts.
We work directly with classroom teachers to facilitate the six-stage process of student-led civics projects. Typically we meet with teachers before the start of the school year and identify the stages and practice standards where we can best support the overall process. At that meeting we build a timeline together, setting dates for in-person visits and online communication with students through secure, District approved platforms. This schedule creates a reliable backbone with adequate touchpoints to keep students moving effectively through each stage of the project.
The ethos that guides us is creating a context in which students can do real organizing, that is: proactively engage a problematic issue, research and diagnose root causes, comprehend the system sufficiently to create a feasible prescription for change, and do their best to mobilize action on a scale with the potential to succeed. Importantly, we evaluate and assess success and progress realistically, so that students learn to value and celebrate every achievement along the way while realizing that meaningful change often requires more sustained effort than a single school-year.
To begin the collaborative process, if needed (Stage 1 & 2), we can assist teachers in a series of activities identifying individual student’s issues of most concern, and group these concerns according to shared characteristics and values. At this point, we introduce information about which areas of concern expressed by the students currently have active campaigns underway at local, state, and federal levels. These are foundational activities that inform the collective decision students eventually make about the focal issue for their civic action project.
Especially in these first few stages of the project, we model (along with the teachers) appropriate non-partisan dispositions: communicating clearly and respectfully, asking questions, thinking critically, making connections across disciplines and content areas, problem-solving, seeking alternative perspectives, and respecting explanations and answers different than our own in order to practice the communication skills necessary to eventually achieve a whole, big picture view of the entire system affecting the focal issue.
To support the research process (Stage 3 & 4), and also in preparation for committing to a Theory of Action (TOA), we can arrange for guest speakers and panels or presentations on different aspects of the focal issue, as well as connect the 8th grade students with students in other schools working on related, similar or complementary focal issues. Coming up with a TOA may be the most challenging aspect of any civic action project: students’ ideas about ‘how social change happens’ derive from diverse, contradictory and competitive sources. Divergence here can be managed strategically through selecting tactics aimed at carefully selected leverage points in the overall system.
Selection and implementation of tactics (Stage 5) is an area we can support or not, as needed, through negotiation with each teacher or school system. Successful civic change projects hinge on the ability of students and teachers to be nimble and adaptive in acting on tactics when the timing is right. “Timing” for effective civic action requires designing plans around other people’s calendars: legislative hearings, public events, coincidences and happenstance. Right timing can mean responding spontaneously after an unfortunate or newsworthy event. The staff of the Learning Lab for Resiliency are always watching for moments when a tactic might be called for in service of a particular change initiative. These moments are random: they may or may not arise. When they do, we can assist teachers to pivot and respond quickly so that students can implement the tactics (perhaps with last-minute adaptations) in accord with their TOA strategy.
The more consensus students have built around their TOA, the more clarity at parsing the complexity, scope, and significance of the issue to various stakeholders and decision-makers, groups of students who enact multiple and various tactics as needed will be practicing civic readiness. These tactics should be of many different types:
- collaborating with community leaders, organizers and activist networks;
- articulating the case for change, providing education and instructions;
- recruiting and rallying support;
- persuading decision-makers;
- generating publicity, getting media coverage; and
- utilizing multiple methods of communication to reach diverse, interested audiences.
Every tactic should have a measurable standard for success (Stage 6). We will determine that measure together beforehand and consistently assess whether we achieved it or not, including whether the students want to join in the statewide Civics Day. Whatever the outcome of their change effort, students who have creatively generated and implemented many different tactics in service of the focal goal will maximize the learning and development delineated in the 8th Grade Civics Project Guidebook.
Mobilizing to impact systems, to actually change institutionalized ways of doing things, requires alertness, flexibility, and the exercise of voice in real time. We are extra antennae for teachers who are rightly focused on stable teaching plans rather than daily events influencing public opinion or developments with a policy proposal.
Our job is to support your teachers’ delivery of this new civics curriculum with all of its standards. We will customize the support we provide to suit the particular and specific needs of your teachers in order to deliver the best outcomes for your 8th graders.