Pioneering Year

Youth and Adults Transforming School Together (YATST) is the signature initiative of UP for Learning in high schools schools throughout Vermont. The goal of youth-adult school teams is to increase engagement in learning through an action research model. After five years of developing this approach, the one frustration most frequently cited by YATST schools was their inability to better communicate the need for school change within their own schools and communities. In response, in 2013 Helen Beattie (UP for Learning Executive Director) enlisted the expertise of Jane Feinberg (Full Frame Communications) in order to co-create a course that would help address this need.

Four YATST schools engaged in the resulting year long credit-bearing course (masters level credit for adults, dual enrollment or high school credit for high school participants): Harwood Union, Hazen Union, Peoples Academy and South Burlington High School – Big Picture Program. Jane brought a breadth of expertise in a strategic framing approach to communications and a wealth of experience in supporting schools throughout New England in the redesign process. Her background in research regarding mental models of education and learning, and effective communications strategies based on extensive research, grounded the participants’ communications development. Helen contributed her experience with the youth-adult partnership model, school psychology background and school change consulting vantage point.

One significant contribution to the field of communicating school change arose when the CSR teams realized that although there was research regarding adult mental models of education and learning that informed communications strategies, virtually no communications research had been done to profile student mental models of the same. Committed to filling this void, the class implemented an extensive qualitative research effort, interviewing and recording 39 student interviews. They then analyzed and synthesized this data to inform their communications plans. The composite data was further analyzed and summarized by Penn State researcher Dr. Catharine Biddle (click here to see analysis).

In the course of the pioneering year, individual schools produced tools and dialogue strategies to introduce school change to key stakeholder groups and the South Burlington High School – Big Picture team created a highly effective Public Service Announcement (PSA) as a catalyst for organizing community dialogue. The class closed the year by leading a statewide communications conference for schools throughout Vermont engaged in school change efforts, We learned a great deal this first year, best captured in the evaluation of a Penn State researcher who conducted an outside evaluation on the process and outcomes of the course.

During the winter months of 2014, it became evident that the Agency of Education (AOE) was developing numerous resources to help schools implement Act 77: Flexible Pathways, but had no identified method to help schools communicate the compelling reasons for this change. CSR faculty shared our pioneering model and a partnership was formed with both the AOE and the Vermont School Boards Association to offer statewide communications training and support the subsequent year. Daniel Baron joined the Communicating School Redesign’s faculty to better support building the participants’ capacity to lead effective dialogue – one of the key elements of the CSR change paradigm.

Five schools signed on to CSR for the 2014-15 year, and their local efforts were augmented by a concurrent statewide communications campaign – hence the birth of “Shaping Our Future Together: Communicating School Redesign”.