Conditions for Learning

What can growing blueberries teach us about the conditions for learning?

If you’re like many Alaskans, you probably spent some time outside gardening or gathering this summer. You likely noticed that the juiciest berries and crispest carrots tend to grow where the conditions are right. Students are similar; they grow the most in the best conditions.

We know that blueberry plants need certain conditions to grow: acidic soil, strong roots, water, and good light. So, what are the conditions that students need to thrive? How do we know if we have the right conditions in place? And what tools and resources can help us create those conditions?

What do Conditions for Learning look like?

Students need a healthy, supportive, and engaging environment in order to do their best learning. Their basic needs have to be met and they need to feel safe – emotionally, physically, culturally, and socially. Creating a positive school climate includes creating the conditions for learning required at school. 

Some common characteristics of a positive school climate are:

In addition, many schools work with community partners and families to help ensure that Conditions for Learning outside of school are met. This might include supporting families to meet needs and link to learning, creating safe and supportive afterschool environments, and supporting community equity work to break down barriers for marginalized groups.

How do we know if we have the right conditions for learning?

Similar to soil conditions, we can test our school conditions. The School Climate and Connectedness Survey can help schools learn how to continue to create the best conditions within the school. 

Some other tools may include Community dialogues, youth leadership opportunities, individual conversations with families, public testimony, school events, and social media. 

School districts or partner organizations can be great resources for helping. For example, NAMI in Juneau hosted a conversation on the mental health needs in the Juneau community and Tlingit and Haida language teachers across the region shared with organizational leaders some of the supports needed to effectively teach the language, and in Hydaburg students shared ways they thought they could have an impact on the school climate.

So how are STEPS partners creating the conditions for learning?

STEPS partners are leading the way toward healthy learning environments.

…in Sitka, the district and Sitka Tribe of Alaska staff and three district cultural para-educators provided academic support to Alaska Native elementary school students who were falling behind and supporting teachers with cultural enrichment in the classroom. In addition, five Sitka Tribe youth program staff provided support at the high school level and with post-secondary transitions. Students report positive relationships with caring adults as a result of these connections in the school building.

…in Angoon, students ran a cafe every Saturday. Students were in charge of the prep, cooking, customer service, sales, and clean-up. Opportunities like this allow students to connect with their school and community, fostering better engagement, connections with supportive peers and adults, and developing a vision and skills for their future. 

…in Yakutat, School staff are using STEAM/STEM to weave together culture and academics to allow students to use their unique strengths and hold up different ways of knowing and learning. Students used 3D printing, carving, and metal casting of cultural objects. Students also participated in an afterschool stop motion animation project with Sealaska Heritage Institute based on Tlingit stories. 

…in Juneau, district- and school-level equity committees came together to address processes, policies, and structures for a positive school environment. Each school investigated issues within their building. One site planning group member said “During the pandemic, we observed a strong need for additional SEL strategies and support for students and staff.  The equity issue regarding this was that not all students were getting this need met as it varied throughout our grade levels. Our goal was to address this need in a systematic way in all grade levels K-5. We did achieve that goal through providing training, materials, and time to explicitly teach these strategies.”

…in Hydaburg, Tribal Governance is a required class for high school students. Students discussed issues in their community and school, and their understanding of sovereignty and self-determination.  Students completed projects on issues pertaining to Indian country and their own community interviewing community members and leaders. The conversations were rich and powerful. 

…in Hoonah, school staff and AASB hosted a series of training sessions on trauma-engaged school environments. Staff deepened their understanding of how to address and mitigate trauma. Educators explored how they respond to dysregulated behavior in a trauma-engaged way and manage their own stress, practicing self-care strategies to improve their ability to support their students. 

Let us know how YOU are supporting the conditions for learning in your school or community!