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Developing Social Capital Through Collaboration

Dan McWilliam

I was introduced to the idea of Social Capital when I served as a research assistant on a project conducted by Dr. Abdie Kazemipur while at the University of Lethbridge. It was my job to input the collected data from recent immigrants to Calgary to determine whether they were finding and accessing different sources of Social Capital. My basic understanding of the concept did provide me a new perspective on a host of issues.

Social capital is about the value of social networks, bonding similar people and bridging between diverse people, with norms of reciprocity (Dekker and Uslaner 2001). One of the best descriptions of our school and value we place on social capital came from a blogger who attended the ConnectED Conference in May of 2013. He shared that he expected to be blown away by our building, technology and the latest greatest “stuff”, but what he found was, “The sense of community, caring and support for one another had little to do with technology and tools and everything to do with relationships – the free stuff!” (Dale Cotter, Teacher at Beach Grove

Through the tours of the Calgary Science School I have heard similar statements about our program. We are an innovative school with 1-to-1 technologies and an administration that prioritizes funding to classrooms, but what visitors comment on more than that is our community. Scheduling collaborative planning time for teachers has become one of our brightest innovations. Six collaborative planning blocks are scheduled through our 6-day cycle. Teachers share this time with their curriculum partners in their grade level and the grade either below or above. During that planning time you have your grade curriculum partner and 2 other teachers to help support your planning. The Teacher Collaboration Assessment Rubric was developed by Ivy Waite through her research and innovation project. We use this tool at points through the school year for teams to be accountable to each other in their collaboration and to develop strategies to deeper collaboration.

Collaboration is one of the hallmarks of the Calgary Science School. We have funded a full time External Collaboration Coordinator for 3 years as an investment in social capital. We may be limited in our ability to raise financial capital, but our ability to increase our social capital is nearly limitless. In my first year in this role I have begun to measure the different ways in which build and maintain collaborative partnerships and relationships with our school. My work to date has simply been to quantify the connections we've had in the 2012-2013 School year.

Next steps:
Social Capital is more than the number of visits and connections we have with others. Moving forward we will continue to track these metrics, but will also develop strategies to deepen and strengthen the connections as well.

We have been a part of a three year pilot with The Learning Bar and the Tell Them From Me surveys. The results from the surveys can be used as a source of qualitative data for social capital. There are several outcomes reported in the survey that we currently use as a staff for planning and reflection including the students' sense of belonging, advocacy at school, positive relationships, participation in clubs and teams, volunteering and more. These are used and can be defined as indicators of the quality of our social capital.

The Calgary Science School Parent volunteer committee has also been working on our Social Capital portfolio recruiting, delegating and keeping track of the work our parents do in and with the school. They are developing a database of parents who have skills, hobbies, time and/or expertise that are willing to share with the school and classes. There are many parents in our school community that have been in the school to share their passions with students. We have had artists, photographers, knitters, geologists, and countless other parents assisting with our outdoor trips and inquires in the classrooms. We haven't fully tapped the potential of this abundant resource, but the parent survey and database will be amazing tools in helping us further develop these collaborative partnerships.

Dekker, Paul, and Eric M. Uslaner. 2001. ‘Introduction.’ Pp. 1 – 8 in Social Capital and Participation in Everyday Life, edited by Eric M. Uslaner. London: Routledge.

1 comment:

Garry McKinnon said...

Dan, you share some significant insights relating to relationships, collaboration, community and structures which increase the social capital of a school. The social capital metric of 822+ reflecting the involvement of experts, educators, administrators, university students and other visitors to the Calgary Science School during the past school year is very impressive!

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