I spent hours on the phone with my coordinator colleague Lua last year. I spent hours listening to her tears, seen or unseen, listening to her fatigue, the only thing keeping her in the job being the love of her students and the cause of community schools itself.
In her words, “coordinators are dedicated to a job without much upward mobility or structured forms of recognition/advancement.” And for us, it’s true. Lua has been a coordinator for four years, I have for five. We both have masters degrees, and neither of us have seen a promotion since we started this job in Los Angeles.
But what had we accomplished? And what were we going to be promoted to? What would a promotion even look like?
That was the conversation we began this spring. Community School Coordination is a messy job. When we first began as coordinators, the job description was fairly useless as we sought to build relationships and earn trust, tasks not easily summed up in a job description. By the end of the second year though, we couldn’t use the description to even show what we had accomplished because we hadn’t started with that description in mind. Community School Coordination needed some delineation so that we could have meaningful conversations about our work, for as much the sake of being able to have coaching conversations about our work as for the sake of boosting our morale.
Since then, Lua and I have met with our directors to develop a trajectory for Community School Coordinators in hopes of helping ourselves as much as to help the Community Schools movement as a whole. Inspired by some of the job postings we saw in Coalition emails, we started naming formalized tasks and expectations for years one and two, three and four, and beyond, attempting to think of the appropriate advancement in title as well. These ideas aren’t revolutionary, but within our organization we weren’t doing them.
Meeting with our directors, we were able to expand the idea and better capture the complexity and challenges of the diverse school environments in which we work. Instead of creating job descriptions for the various stages of Community School Coordination, we have four categories on which we are able to talk about community school coordination.
We are looking at the:
(1) characteristics of the Community School Coordinator (such as relationship building),
(2) school characteristics (how much support, buy in, championing, and advocacy occurs),
(3) organizational supports (what is the coordinator’s role in our organization as we apply for grants and roll out our own initiatives), and
(4) development appropriate to the growth of the coordinator (mentoring, professional development, relationship to local, regional, university, and national networks).
With each category, we can identify if we think the coordinator is at a novice, proficient, or expert level. (Imagine a three row, four column matrix to talk about all of this.)
By having these categories, we are hoping to be able to personalize the growth and development of our coordinators. For example, while some of our coordinators are extremely advanced personally, the school site growth is not nearly as strong, and this chart will allow us to be able to have deeper conversations about such discrepancies. Ideally this will allow us to better develop personalized supports for Community School Coordinators, because that too has been a challenge for our team.
Simply, this allows for growth within our profession. Experienced coordinators are valuable, bringing their reflections and experience to our movement. But we have to keep them here. We would love to know more about what other efforts those in the network are doing to talk about their work in a differentiated way and to support the growth of coordinators.
Matrices and conversations like these may be all it takes for coordinators like Lua and me to avoid hitting a ceiling, and instead grow and continue to contribute.
Has this matrix been developed? How are others being supported for their own professional development and reflection around professional growth? As a new program, we are looking for ways to use an assessment tool to help recognize areas of growth and areas of need. Any input is appreciated!
Luann Kida, Broome County Promise Zone
Hi Luann! It's almost done. We've added a lot of voices to it and so it's in its final stages. I'd love to share it with you once we've finished.
This is really interesting to me as I am always remaining in the moment career-wise while also thinking about what's next. In my 5 years in this role I have seen 2 former community school directors (that is the term we use in CT and NYC for site liaison or coordinator) that moved out of their role into either something at the initiative level or another position within their lead agency. I don't think there is a set next level trajectory for directors/coordinators beyond their agency or within the initiative because it really depends on your own professional goals but also the status and strategic development of the agency. I think the overall community school structure makes charting a career path for our roles unique because we’re both within and outside of the school system. In short I love the idea of this matrix because I think it can help people figure out what professional skills they are developing in this role and how those skills can be transferred into other careers. Personally I can’t see myself as a director for another 5 years because I don’t like the idea of being solely site-based. The initiative level kind of work, technical assistance and operational levels of the community schools work is much more interesting to me than working at one site for an extended period of time. One can only spread their wings so far when you’re working in one site.