Dianne Kangisser, first executive director of the Robert Bowne Foundation (RBF), believed that afterschool programs should be linked in a network both as a way to promote program improvement as well as a strategy to legitimize the field. She took several actions that set the stage for collaboration and networking. First, she invited practitioners she considered exemplars to work alongside professional development providers in RBF's Professional Development Group, established in 1988. Several years later, she funded Michelle Cahill, then at the Youth Development Institute of the Fund for the City of New York, to develop a concept paper for a professional support organization to serve afterschool programs. Following up on this in 1994, Kangisser made the initial grant to support the founding of the Partnership for After School Education (PASE). A short time later in 1996, RBF funded both the Literacy Assistance Center (LAC) and the Institute for Literacy Studies at Lehman College (ILS) to work together to initiate the New York Youth Education Support Network (NYYESN).
RBF expected networking to be an integral part of programs it funded, such as PASE’s Intervisitation Peer Mentoring program (1997) and ILS’ Youth Practitioners Institute (also 1997). In a similar fashion, the Foundation instituted networking as a learning strategy within RBF initiatives, including Re-Imagining Afterschool (1998), Participatory Evaluation Institutes (2001), Julia Palmer Library Development Initiative (2003), and the Afterschool Matters Initiative (2003).
In 2006, Program Officer Anne Lawrence, in collaboration with Professional Development Group colleague Claudia Ullman from the Institute for Literacy Studies at Lehman College, established Networking Meetings as a specific program. In the second year, Lawrence invited Suzanne Marten of the Center for Educational Options (CEO) to co-facilitate Networking Meetings. The program grew out of a particular time and context, when community-based programs were finding it difficult to raise the funds to send one or more staff members to an intensive professional development program with multiple meetings over a period of time.
In contrast to professional development seminars, RBF Networking Meetings occur three or four times each year and require a low level of commitment from participants. Lawrence stresses that they are NOT workshops. Instead they are a forum for participants from across the city and a range of OST programs to come together, share their work, and discuss important issues in the field with other practitioners. Although each session is a stand-alone, one-time meeting, Lawrence and Marten often develop two or three sessions on the same topic and plan to address the needs of both returning and new participants.
Networking meetings were conducted as a partnership between RBF and CEO. Anne Lawrence and Suzanne Marten collaborate to cull topics for meetings, identify “case study” presenters from among grantee staff, co-facilitate the sessions, collaborate with presenters on identifying the main message(s) and developing interactive learning experiences that allow participants to experience, discuss, try out, learn, and apply new approaches, tool, and techniques to their own work settings.
Networking meetings are highly structured, respecting the time constraints most afterschool program practitioners work within. Sessions actively engage participants through a balance of presentation along with time to reflect and interact with colleagues.
As part of introducing each session, the host (either Lawrence or Marten) reminds attendees of the purpose of the Networking meetings and shares how the session topic arose.
Following each session, Lawrence sends out notes [PDF14_Snapshot_Networking_Meeting_on_Family_Involvement] to each attendee describing the meeting, including contact information for all participants and copies of handouts. In addition, she sends out just the notes to the entire RBF mailing list. These notes are a critical component of the networking experience: They are a source of information -- reiterating the main session's messages, describing the activities, encouraging further networking, including attachments so participants can apply the learning to her/his situation, and recording what participants said they would take back to their own programs.
Lawrence and Marten systematically collect information from multiple sources to identify networking topics [PDF13_Topics_of_Networking_Meetings], including meetings with grantees, formal surveys, and written evaluations that participants complete at the end of each session. Some topics are constantly in demand, such as parent or family involvement, evaluation, youth development, and educational best practices. Other topics address more situational issues, such as responding to “tough times” during the recession or learning about newly-adopted school system learning standards and their implications for OST programs.
The program’s simple evaluation form [PDF24_Networking_Meeting_Evaluation_Form] has remained constant over the years. It includes three sections: rating and commenting on whether the meeting met expectations; noting ideas the respondent may use at work; and suggesting future Networking topics. As with all RBF programs, Lawrence and Marten take feedback seriously, integrating it in future efforts to meet the professional growth needs of programs and practitioners.
- Excerpt from a Robert Bowne Foundation Networking Meeting on Youth as Staff, facilitated by Suzanne Marten from the Center for Educational Options, held May 13, 2013. [ML11_RBF_CRE_Ntwrk_051613]
- Snapshot: Example from a Networking Meeting on Family Involvement, including:
- Complete text of follow-up memo from Anne and Suzanne sent to participants
- Selected handouts from the meeting
- Excerpt from debriefing discussion [PDF14_Snapshot_Networking_Meeting_on_Family_Involvement]
- Topics of Networking Meetings, 2006-2015 [PDF13_Topics_of_Networking_Meetings]
- Networking Meeting evaluation form [PDF24_Networking_Meeting_Evaluation_Form]