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  • Gretchen Morgan

Sharing Our Learning: Principles of Practice for Learning Community Stewardship

When I worked at the Colorado Department of Education, Paul Leather, then the Deputy Commissioner for NH and happily now my colleague here at C!E taught me something critical to operating as an agentic and hopeful human while being employed by a state education agency. This was that while it is easy to feel like WHAT you do is entirely directed by others, such as the board, legislature, or governor, there is actually tremendous room in terms of HOW you do your work. And, that is good news because how you do your work actually has a significant impact on what educators out in the field do with the programs you have been told to operate.

This principle – that how we work IS the work – has taken root at the center of our strategy at C!E. We believe, like adrienne maree brown, Margaret Wheatley and others, that like it or not, the manner in which humans interact with one another on an individual level ends up shaping the behavior of the system as a whole. Which also means that, by changing their personal interactions (HOW they work with others) people can affect change that ripples outward to transform the broader system. Infection metaphors aren’t as fun in 2022 as they used to be, but I will just go ahead and say that in all of our work, we see that such individual changes in habits and behavior are, in fact, catchy.

We see this “contagion” of new ways of interacting in the place-based work we lead in partnership with system leaders in Vermont and Kentucky, and we see it at both the local and state levels. Facilitating place-based radically inclusive co-creation has become a core practice at C!E because we see that it provides such consistent opportunities for people with different and deeply invested interests in public education to practice new habits of working together. We can facilitate families, students on the margins, teachers, community members and school system leaders in being inclusive, practicing empathy, co-creating solutions to what they each see as essential problems, and determining how they will continue to operate with reciprocity when the initial collaboration is done.

We also see this phenomenon inside of learning communities that welcome people from across places into shared topical inquiry. One such community that we have had the pleasure of stewarding for the past several years is the Assessment for Learning Project (ALP) community. And we were additionally fortunate this past year to have some help from Hallie Preskill, formerly of FSG, to help us reflect on changes in our stewardship of that community over time, how that is both similar to and distinct from how we facilitate other communities like the Interstate Learning Community (ILC). We also made connections between what we are learning from our lived experiences stewarding learning communities and some of the great frameworks and insights of mentors and colleagues that have shaped our work again and again: Cynefin framework regarding complexity, the six circle model about systems change, The Art of the Gathering about how to welcome collaboration (Parker), emergent strategy (brown) and Walk Out Walk On (Wheatley and Frieze) about facilitating equitable emergence.

The result of this reflection and the expert guidance from Hallie is the following set of learning community stewardship principles of practice. We are sharing the principles of practice in hopes of expanding the dialogue about the design and facilitation moves that promote a change in HOW we work with one another. We do not profess to have the principles “right,” in fact we assume that no one set of principles can be “right” for all communities. We are using these principles written this way as we design the next two years of ALP learning community stewardship with our partners Envision Learning. We will learn more about them as we use them with members of that community, and we hope some of you might be interested in sharing your principles of community stewardship with us and that a few more of you might test these principles and tell us what you learn. As we continue to test these ideas, we will also continue to share stories that help illustrate what it looks like to strive to, manage to, and also fall short of enacting these principles.

If you are interested in getting nerdy about principles of learning community stewardship, or want to share a story about similar approaches, shoot me a quick note at

And if you want to connect with a large and diverse national network of educators pursuing assessment for learning, agency and belonging -- follow this link to let us know a bit about you and the ways in which you might like to connect with the ALP community this year.



C!E Draft Principles of Practice for Stewardship of The Assessment for Learning Community

First a note about what principles of practice of any variety aim to do. We chose the construct of principles of practice because they are specific enough to inspire practice, but also not so pointed as to seem inflexible or unadaptable. As Michael Q. Patton (Principles-Focused Evaluation, 2018) has written, good principles:

  • Provide direction but not detailed prescription

  • Require judgment in application

  • Are grounded in values about what matters

  • Inform choices at forks in the road

  • Point to consequences, outcomes, and impacts

  • Are based on evidence about how to be effective

  • Have opposites that point in a contrary direction

  • Can be evaluated for both process (implementation) and results

  • Must be interpreted and applied contextually and situationally

  • Are the rudder for navigating complex dynamic systems

  • Are evaluable. That is, they can be the primary subjects for evaluation.

These principles guide our design and facilitation of the ALP community, and also establish a basis for developmental evaluation. We will share more about the evaluation utility as we test it with the ALP community this year. There are six high level principles of practice, each of which is further elaborated on with bullets outlining specific activities aligned with that principle.

Principle #1: Lead with learning

  • Develop a shared learning agenda to make the charge of the learning community and a learning disposition clear from the start.

  • Develop structures that connect individual learning to shared learning (e.g. request for learning, learning plans, and presentations of learning), and to students’ experiences and outcomes.

  • Use different kinds of learning activities to fully engage members in reflection and dialogue.

  • Identify productive tensions in ways that surface different perspectives in service of learning.

  • Model, invite and encourage vulnerability, risk-taking, curiosity, and course-correction (opposed to performing or judging).

  • Create spaces for people to step into leadership roles.

  • Design for reciprocity among members, lead learners, and community stewards so that each person derives value and feels valued.

Principle #2: Invite with intention

  • Create invitations that offer reciprocal commitment to purpose and process.

  • Invite people in as their whole selves and not just their job title.

  • Invite people in from different parts and levels of the system.

  • Invite people from diverse backgrounds and identities.

  • Empower and encourage members to identify other critical voices to join the community.

  • Return and reflect on the extent to which the invitational commitment is being upheld.

Principle #3: Build trusting relationships to build and sustain community

  • Create time and space for relationships to develop and flourish.

  • Create opportunities for them to share their gifts and for them to see other peoples' gifts.

  • Actively look for ways for people to meet; connect those with similar interests and questions.

  • Create expectations for mutual accountability.

  • Help members develop a sense of identity within the learning community so they are in kinship with one another.

  • Use empathy practices to build understanding and relationships across lines of difference within the learning community.

  • Create spaces and opportunities for members to make and do stuff together.

  • Work with community members to create a variety of spaces in which each member of the community finds comfort and safety - drawing on the unique assets (traditions, rituals, practices) of its members.

Principle #4: See the system, pay attention to power, and interrupt patterns of oppression

  • Use empathy practices to lift up voices of learners and communities, especially those most marginalized.

  • Allow people to be where they are on their equity-seeking path and hold members accountable for their continued learning and growth.

  • Pause to notice and interact when patterns of bias, exclusion, and oppression are reproduced in conversation.

  • Use constructs to support critical analysis of current behaviors, processes, and policies to identify and change oppressive habits and system characteristics.

  • Continue to center and re-center how this work is rooted in equity.

  • Identify and disrupt disproportionate levels of power that come from position and expertise.

Principle #5: Ground learning in place

  • Analyze a wide range of contextual characteristics when trying to understand why something was designed the way it was or why it is working the way it is working.

  • Ensure that student voice and student perspectives are always part of the work.

  • Prioritize, study, center, and invite in local wisdom.

  • Use empathy practices to see, hear, and learn about the experiences of students, families, educators, and those closest to the work.

  • Use frameworks and tools as guides that are in dialogue and uniquely adapted to a place.

Principle #6: Scale through shared learning

  • Use stories to share learning, to change the narrative, to foster adaptation, to humanize quantitative data, to support critical thinking, and to help people locate themselves in the work.

  • Use analysis of others’ work to affirm your own work and learning, and become more critical and creative about the work.

  • Gather and share diverse ideas from others and adapt them for use in other contexts and places.

  • Co-create frameworks and tools to foster adaptation and scale beyond the learning community.

  • Pursue local, state, or federal policy changes to enable innovation and/or scaling.

354 views3 comments


Apr 11

Your article is biased. I believe you've presented a one-sided view of the issue. basket random


Comfort Ateh
Comfort Ateh
Sep 13, 2022

This is such a timely framework given my new role as associate provost for DEI. I will explore and implement and share my stories. The framework aligns with my insight on how to engage community towards feasible solutions for complex problems.

Sep 15, 2022
Replying to

Thank you for sharing, Comfort, and congratulations on the new role! We are excited to learn alongside you as well all try to pursue solutions for these complex problems. Please keep us posted on how your work evolves! - C!E

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