Reflections on the Coalition of Knowledge Building Schools 2001-2015

Susan Groundwater Smith - a great mentor and friend

Susan Groundwater Smith – a great mentor and valued friend

The Coalition of Knowledge Building Schools was formed in 2001 through the University of Sydney, under the stewardship of Professor Susan Groundwater-Smith. I started working with the Coalition in 2003 when I was managing the Audience Research Centre at the Australian Museum, primarily holding ‘Kids’ Colleges’ on a range of topics with students and teachers from Coalition schools. For me the Coalition proved to be a rich and prolific professional partnership, with many personal life-long friendships forged. The ‘formal’ Coalition wound up at the end of this year, although the work and the partnerships formed live on.

Reflections on the Coalition

I asked Professor Susan Groundwater-Smith for her final thoughts about the work and impact of the Coalition.

Why and how did the Coalition start?

The Coalition was a little like ‘Topsy’, it just grew. A number of colleagues in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney had established a Centre for Practitioner Research (now defunct). The CPR offered consultancies to schools that were wishing to have an academic advisor who would facilitate action research within given programs. A core of schools who exhibited shared interests in how this work could be done began to spend time together and exchange ideas about how they might go about solving practical issues, in particular those that related to consulting young people.

What do you think are the biggest achievements of the Coalition over the past ten years?

As the Coalition burgeoned it began to incorporate a broader range of partners from organisations that had an interest in learning outside the classroom. Thus partnerships were formed between schools and cultural institutions that enriched each of them.

You have done many projects with Coalition partners. Was there one particular one that surprised you?

I think the work with the State Library of NSW where a number of schools met with staff to consider the WW1 exhibition of diaries was particularly moving. The surprise was the sensitivity of the young people who raised powerful questions, such as “How come we learn a lot about how wars start and go on, but what about the ways in which wars are ended? Or do they ever end?” In today’s world of complex conflicts in the Middle East this is a particularly poignant question.

What was the most inspiring thing you took away from the Coalition?

Never underestimate what it is that young people can tell us!

After ten years, what do you think is the Coalition’s legacy?

We have seen a hybrid organisation with diverse partners: private and government schools, cultural organisations and universities all mutually recognising and respecting each other. The work has been well documented in articles and chapters [see below], thus fulfilling the notion of research espoused by Lawrence Stenhouse as ‘systematic inquiry made public’.

And, finally, how would you sum up the work of the Coalition in one tweet (140 characters only!)?

The Coalition has contributed hugely to our fund of evidence about what constitutes sound practice based upon both the hard work of teachers and the voice of students.

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The Pop-up Museum – one of my favourite Coalition moments

A final hurrah

From my perspective this quote from one of the students at a Kids’ College at the Australian Museum nicely reflects the impact of the Coalition’s work on participants:

“The whole thing I thoroughly enjoyed! I loved all of it and getting a chance to have my say. If I had to choose a favourite part of it all I would definitely say being taken on a tour of the Museum and just being able to state our opinion with meaning.”

As Susan mentioned, the Coalition’s work generated many papers, conference presentations and blog posts over the years, listed below.

Museum-related publications based around the work of the Coalition:

  • Kelly, L. (2005). Evaluation, Research and Communities of Practice: Program Evaluation in Museums. Archival Science, 4(1-2), 45-69.
  • Kelly, L. (2013). The Connected Museum in the World of Social Media. In Museum Communication and Social Media: The connected museum. Ed. K. Drotner and K. Schroder. 54-71. Routledge: London.
  • Kelly, L. and Fitzgerald, P. (2011). Cooperation, collaboration, challenge: how to work with the changing nature of educational audiences in museums. In Rethinking Educational Practice Through Reflexive Inquiry. Ed. N. Mockler and J. Sachs. 77-88. Springer: London.
  • Kelly, L. and Groundwater-Smith, S. (2009). Revisioning the Physical and On-line Museum: A Partnership with the Coalition of Knowledge Building Schools. Journal of Museum Education. 34(4), 55-68.
  • Kelly, L. and Russo, A. (2008). From Ladders of Participation to Networks of Participation: Social Media and Museum Audiences. In Museums and the Web 2008: Selected Papers from an International Conference. Ed. J. Trant and D. Bearman. 83-92. Toronto: Archives and Museum Informatics.
  • Kelly L. and Russo, A. (2010). From Communities of Practice to Value Networks: Engaging Museums in Web 2.0. In Hot Topics, Public Culture, Museums. Ed. F. Cameron and L. Kelly 281-298. Cambridge Scholars Publishing: London.
  • Groundwater-Smith, S. (2002). Evidence Based Practice in School Education. Paper presented at the Why Learning? Seminar. Australian Museum.
  • Cameron, F. and Kelly, L. Eds. (2010). Hot Topics, Public Culture, Museums. Cambridge Scholars Publishing: London.
  • Groundwater-Smith, S. and Kelly, L. (2009). Learning outside the classroom: A partnership with a difference. In Connecting Inquiry and Professional Learning in Education Ed. A. Campbell and S. Groundwater-Smith. 179-191. London: Routledge.

Blog posts about the Coalition’s work with museums:

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