ALISON SUTTON WINS ADULT LITERACY AND NUMERACY LEADERSHIP AWARD

COMET Auckland’s Manager, Literacy, Alison Sutton recently won an award for her long-standing commitment to adult literacy and numeracy education.

Fitting with the theme of International Literacy Day, on 8 September, 2015 Alison was awarded the Adult Literacy and Numeracy Leadership Award by the National Centre of Literacy and Numeracy for Adult’s Director Professor, Diana Coben.

Alison has been involved in adult literacy for 27 years’, working in research, evaluation and project development roles. At COMET, Alison now leads numerous initiatives related to family learning and literacy across the city, the latest of which is Talking Matters, an Auckland collaboration designed to grow early speakers, listeners and readers.

Earlier this year, Alison was awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Fellowship, and has since travelled to the UK and the US to research how city-wide literacy campaigns are being developed.

If you want to read more about Alison’s award click here.

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WINSTON CHURCHILL FELLOWSHIP: REFLECTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

About 21,500 bright eyed, excitedly nervous five year olds head off each year for their first day at Auckland schools. Healthy, confident ones with support from home and with strong oral language skills and a few pre-literacy skills will do well. Our Strategic Analyst, Alison Sutton, embarked on a cross-continent trip to learn more about oracy and what’s working overseas. Here is an excerpt of her thought-provoking blog post on her travels, lessons, and what we can do here in Aotearoa to improve oracy for kids:

But for many, starting school is hard. Some don’t have the language skills they need because there wasn’t much talking or much reading at home. Others may be new to learning English. Children whose parents have low literacy are much more likely to struggle to learn to read – and it’s learning to read easily and early that is the key to education success later.

With this on-going intergenerational literacy challenge in mind, I embarked on my month-long Winston Churchill Fellowship. I visited towns where early learning, schools, community groups, employers and local councils are coming together to raise literacy levels. I was lucky enough to visit nine different organisations and programmes in eight towns and cities. 

Three key themes stood out for me:

  • Improving reading is being positioned as an important way out of poverty
  • Raising literacy takes more than schools
  • Health is a major driver for improving literacy

To read Alison’s full article on her reflections and recommendations on oracy, head to the COMET Auckland WordPress blog

If you would like to know more about literacy across Auckland or want to be part of a new collaboration contact Alison at:Alison.Sutton@cometauckland.org.nz or tweet her via @AlisonJSutton

To access this article, or to read about more of the projects we are involved in, please click here to check out the full May 2015 Newsletter.

Key Learnings from the Winston Churchill Fellowship

About 21,500 bright eyed, excitedly nervous five year olds head off each year for their first day at Auckland schools.  Healthy, confident ones with support from home and with strong oral language skills and a few pre-literacy skills will do well.

But for many, starting school is hard.  Some don’t have the language skills they need because there wasn’t much talking or much reading at home.  Others may be new to learning English.  Children whose parents have low literacy are much more likely to struggle to learn to read – and it’s learning to read easily and early that is a key to education success later. 

With this on-going intergenerational literacy challenge in mind, I embarked on my month-long Winston Churchill Fellowship. I visited towns where early learning, schools, community groups, employers and local councils are coming together to raise literacy levels.  I was lucky enough to visit nine different organisations and programmes in eight towns and cities.

Three key themes stood out for me

  • Improving reading is being positioned as an important way out of poverty: Across England and the USA, improving children’s literacy by the time they start high school is being seen as an economic imperative as well as important for wellbeing throughout life.

Save the Children UK  has just launched Read On. Get On in England, a national campaign to improve the number of eleven year olds reading well.  New research on How Reading can help children out of poverty investigated the likely trajectory of children who don’t read well when starting high school shows the future is bleak and the economic cost high for working class white boys and poor Anglo-Caribbean boys with low reading ability

A similar analysis has been done by the Annie Casey Foundation in the USA, which has led to the national Grade Level Reading Campaign.

  • Raising literacy takes more than schools: all the initiatives I saw included some focus on improving teacher quality and education leadership, some of which was government funded. In towns like Leicester, Baltimore and Austin, communities were playing a big role in getting children to school ready to learn and keeping them there.

In Leicester there was a major focus on building reading for pleasure and supported city-wide reading and story-telling festivals. They also had ‘Pens Down’ days where the focus was on oral language and talking.

Many programmes sought to get an intentional focus on literacy into after school & holiday programme. Others put on fun summer reading clinics.  There were many variations of in-school reading support from volunteers. Leicester was also about to experiment with a targeted programme for 300 low literacy boys over the summer when they moved to high school, linking them with high-school mentors, providing summer enrichment and family visits as well as providing specific specialised reading help. Most cities were encouraging family-facing social services to promote the importance of early oral language and literacy-rich environments in families and in community settings.

  • Health is a major driver for improving literacy: people need literacy to receive and understand public health messages, people need literacy. And they need oral language and literacy to manage personal and family health issues and be active and consumers of health services.    The public health net was cast wide across some of these cities and programmes.

The Grade Level Reading Campaign is backing Growing Healthy Readers – linking pre-natal care to get normal birthweight babies, asthma management, warm houses and pre-school screening.

Austin was supporting community public health messages about asthma and keeping sick children away from school – while also publicising data on the link between regular attendance and achievement.

In Baltimore, public health specialists were at the table with educators, bringing antenatal and early parenting programmes into early learning centres, where the mobile library also called in.

Taking a different approach, Middlesbrough was about to trial providing books and messages about talking, storytelling and reading to the parents of premature babies, to promote family bonding

Action in Auckland

I came back more convinced than ever of the need to join up across Auckland if we are serious about making a difference to literacy across generations.  What do we need to do?

  • Grow a broader understanding of the importance of literacy across the lifespan- so more people get that reading matters
  • Get family and health services and early learning to share expertise and promote common messages to families
  • Promote and scale some of the great community learning initiatives we already have here
  • Strengthen the pathways between programmes
  • Connect up adult literacy, English language and intergenerational family learning programmes to create more coherent pathways for our families.

 My thanks to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship for providing me with this opportunity.    Applications are now open for Fellowships in 2016.   

If you would like to know more about literacy across Auckland or want to be part of a new collaboration contact me Alison.Sutton@cometauckland.org.nz or tweet me @AlisonJSutton

WINSTON CHURCHILL TRUST FELLOWSHIP

Those of you who follow this newsletter may remember that our Strategic Analyst, Alison Sutton, was awarded the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship last year, recognising her skill and passion for literacy and education.

Alison spent a whirlwind month traveling in the USA and England on her Fellowship tour, observing working processes across digital, gender, and action hub literacy strategies, as well as strategies to support cohesive and dynamic cross-sector literacy collaborations.

In a series of insightful blog posts on the  COMET Auckland WordPress blog, Alison details her efforts to find more ways to link education, community and business to raise literacy for children and adults. With oracy becoming an increasingly important issue in work environments across Auckland, Alison’s observations focused on ways to develop oral communication skills and decrease the number of youth not in education, employment or training (NEET).

This was an opportunity for Alison to gain new insights on issues of importance to Auckland’s social and economic wellbeing.   Over the next few weeks, Alison will be reflecting on her findings and identifying implications to feed into the way we plan and deliver our work.  She will also be presenting to various relevant groups and forums so others can benefit from her experiences.

Keep an eye out in our May newsletter for a longer article detailing Alison’s experience as a Winston Churchill Fellow, once she has had time to reflect. If you’re a Twitter user, you can keep up with her at @AlisonJSutton, or contact her at Alison.Sutton@cometauckland.org.nz

To access this article, or to read more of the projects we are involved in, please click here to check out the full April 2015 Newsletter.

E3 Alliance – Education Equals Economics

My last site visit was to E3 Alliance on two hot days in vibrant and fast-growing Austin in Central Texas –  with a couple of cowboys, Elvis look alikes, lots of country music, wild flowers, guns, and BBQ. Central Texas has a rapidly growing population (about 1.8 million, with rapidly increasing diversity) where, like Auckland, there is a mismatch between the skills of local people and industry demands.

E3 Alliance is a specially created backbone organisation, driving collaboration around the Blueprint for Education, to build the best skills pipeline in the country. Their four goals: school readiness; eliminate achievement gaps; high school, college and career readiness; community accountability.

Making the economics of education (and the cost of failure) visible in their organisationE3Alliance Theory of Change strapline is strategic – it helps bring business to the table and keeps return on investment front of mind when planning what actions to take up. The small Board of Directors is always chaired by a business person. To maintain neutrality, their organisation bylaws preclude any elected politicians.

E3Alliance does not see itself as a grassroots organisation.  ‘Engaging with community’ in their case means powerful and on-going collaboration with stakeholders with the power and influence to change the system.

The change process is iterative, with data central to everything they do. They actively work to grow the capacity of stakeholders to understand and use data and hold quarterly data shows that draw in large crowds! The organisation promotes a graph a month, so over time stakeholders become exposed to a wide range of issues.  A common question ‘What 2 things could you/your organisation do now to make progress toward shifting that data?

The community accountability workstream is one  aspect of their work that is different to Strive Together’s cradle to career model and has proved to be one of the most powerful. It enables conversations about success being everyone’s business. An example – attendance comes under community accountability because families, health services and employers have roles to play in keeping young people at school.  For example, fast food outlets have been challenged about employing school aged students during school hours.

E3Alliance sTEx mex Lunch E3taff were very generous with their time and expertise. Seeing the depth and progress here after nearly a decade was inspiring. I came away loaded up with good ideas, new understanding of collective impact in action – and having had wonderful Tex-Mex food.

Raise DC – brings people, resources, and data together to improve cradle to career outcomes for every young person in DC.

Raise DC was a terrific choice as my last Washington collective impact visit because they are  operating in a city roughly comparable in size to Auckland and have only formed over the last three years.

A small group of ‘thoughtful people’ seeded the idea, initial sponsorship came from the Mayor’s office and a forum of 150 stakeholders endorsed the concept. Now the local community foundation hosts the backbone staff.  A large leadership table of key stakeholders meets quarterly, a smaller executive committee meet regularly and importantly, Raise DC is actively connected to a local research institution. The establishment process has been iterative and their leadership table has changed twice in three years (in a process similar to changes in Learning Auckland).

It’s reassuring to hear staff still struggle to find a straightforward and compelling elevator pitch to describe collective impact and use something like ‘we provide a city-wide infrastructure to support education and skills alignment’ (which doesn’t exactly flow off the tongue).  To explain the intent of collective impact, the Raise DC  director says many partnerships and collaborations are like incandescent light bulbs – for all the heat they generate, only 10% ends up as light. The aim of  new collective impact is to work like an  LED light – get 90% of light for only a 10% expenditure of energy.

Raise DC has five goals, each with an action network. Each network has co-chairs who collectively make up the executive table that meets every two months.  The aspiration is to have co-chairs who have sufficient reach and authority to bring about change in their respective areas- but the lived experience is that you have to work with who is in your circle to start with – it wasn’t always possible to get the ‘A list’ of CE level business people or senior officials. Not all goals can be high priorities at the same time – because of resources and staff capacity, and also the readiness of the workstream for collective impact.

The first three goals are similar to Strive Together: school readiness, high school graduation and post-school qualifications. Although school readiness seemed  a logical starting point for collaborative action, it has proved to be challenging. After an initial project (setting up a common screening tool for developmental delays), the network is still deciding how best to add value to a landscape crowded with stakeholders and projects.

The school success workstream has started with a stocktake.  The post-school graduation network are focusing  data sharing protocols to get  accurate data on post-school results and destinations.

In addition to the Strive-type goals, Raise has two different networks: disconnected youth (our NEETS – not in education, employment or training);  and helping young people find work experience and employment (somewhat like Auckland Council’s Youth Connections project). More energy appears to be going into these areas. RaiseDCInfoGraphicRoad7

Raise DC is endeavouring to use the Strive Together data triangulation approach – national data, local data and community ‘voice’; the action point is where those three points intersect. A ‘quick win’ for the Disconnected Youth project was Connecting Youth to Opportunity, an action research survey of 500 disengaged young people, the data from which was concrete (and new) to put in front of key stakeholders. As a result, a Re-engagement Centre is being developed, rather like the Youth Hub piloted over the summer in Puketepapa which had education providers and social services available in one place.

The Strive Together model advocates for bringing in business voices, but the Raise DC experience is that this is challenging and problematic, particularly initially.  A lot of the work is process, building trust and getting organisations (education and social sector) to share data. This is not compelling to business people. Yet ‘collaboration can only move at the speed of trust’.

Raise DC is certainly worth following because their challenges and scale are similar to Learning Auckland.

Champions for Change 2015 – the work of collective impact backbone organisations

I spent an eventful three days at the Champions for Change 2015  conference in Washington. 

Funders and  backbone organisations of collective impact projects from hundreds  of communities attended, concerned about dozens of issues:  Strive Together (cradle to career education action) and Grade Level Reading (Reading success by age 8) were education focused; there were obesity initiatives alongside food poverty collaborations (places where people are so poor there is not fresh food, where children have never consciously eaten a vegetable): homelessness;  environmental action;  a global coffee coalition; a woman from Tauranga working globally on island developments  (Cuba, Mauritius, Solomon Islands); reducing violence; health coalitions of many kinds; and two other organisations from home (Water Safe NZ and a whanau  well-being collaboration). 

 
Many of the groups who attended were still forming, wanting to draw on the insights from the Collective Impact Forum (an alliance of FSG and the Aspen Institute’s Forum for Community Solutions). This is a new field and FSG and Aspen have been charged with developing capacity. They want ‘escape velocity’ – hopefully we will know it when we feel it!  The Tamarak Institute from Canada were major players, which was useful because key staff have both been to NZ several times.  

 The first challenge was thinking how to tell our collective impact story without jargon in three minutes including me/you/us – I am not even sure the presenter passed that task. Almost everyone found their collective impact story hard to describe.  The mantra – work smarter, work faster, work together.

Some quick observations:

  • The Backbone makes collective impact happen, but often without being seen (shining the light on cradle to the work of others, supporting everyone to get the credit). Of course this makes it challenging to raise funds for backbones
  • Maybe collective impact isn’t new, its just a new label for collaboration. But some of the speakers had been in other sorts of collaborations for years and say it is fundamentally different;  it puts outcome and data and systems change at the centre.  And it starts out expecting a long haul.
  • The backbone has to be conscious that it will be measured on whether there is any policy and/or systems change. Its not about ‘projects’ or initiatives with short term funding. Much easier said than done because everyone keeps going on about quick wins.  Idea: To keep the mission at the front, read out the core purpose statement at every meeting
  • Backbone organisations are cat-herding jugglers!
  • Groups want Backbones to tell them what to do.  But the essential shift is when stakeholders say ‘What are we doing to contribute to the issue? How are we going to contribute to the solution?
  • Backbones have to take both the helicopter and worm’s eye view – know the political scene and know how to work at a small, local scale as well.
  • Collective impact is ‘bricolage’ – something new made up of bits of other things

One big event – during the lunch-break between the conference and a leadership workshop, all my stuff was thrown away – my  notebook for this whole trip, conference papers and business cards I collected. Talk about stressed! I couldn’t hear anything during introductions at the start of the workshop because I was so preoccupied. Eventually, with the help of one sympathetic kitchen staff member prepared to bend the rules, I was allowed into the garbage bay to search for the right bag. To everyone’s chagrin, I buried my arms in the huge sacks of stuff  and emerged triumphant, papers in hand.  Nothing that  a bit of a wipe wouldn’t fix. 

There was a metaphor there for working in  collaborative projects I commented back at the workshop:  being unable to think because of pressure, finding a mentor who was prepared to help, hunting through rubbish, looking for treasures. According to the South African standing near by, hardly anyone understood  what I said. But everyone could see my relief.

Much to mull over.