PhilaSoup: A Conduit for Teacher-Driven Classroom Innovation
By Marc Brasof
Over 50 educators from various disciplines, schools, and industries came together on October 20th at Impact Hub to enjoy delicious soup, engage in camaraderie and network, and fund and vote on this round of teacher-created innovative classroom projects. For this round of projects, close to $500 was allocated to support Joshua Kleiman’s JR-inspired art project at Kensington CAPA, book purchases for Ericka Morris’ “High Interest Reading for Middle School Girls of Color” initiative at Independence Charter School, and Patrice Plumador’s kindergarten-created ethnography project at Willard Elementary School. As such, these educator-driven initiatives look to strengthen students’ engagement in the liberal arts, and ultimately their commitment to learn.
This fall’s first soup micro-grant event was held at Impact Hub, a center for encouraging and supporting social innovation. Located in Northern Liberties in a renovated 18th century church, Impact Hub hopes to be a “center of gravity to draw the innovators that would interested in changing the world,” according to its director, Jeff Shiau. And, they seem to be well on their way to achieving that mission with over 40 spaces across six continents. Impact Hub donated the top two floors for PhilaSoup’s fall dinner due to a successful presentation at Mobilize’ reGenerate Philly Summit last month.
During the first hour of the event, professionals mingled on the 2nd floor deck that overlooks the eastern part of the city while sipping on beverages and picking at healthy snacks. One veteran PhilaSouper and teacher at Dimner Beeber Middle School, Samuel Reed, comes to these events to “feel rejuvenated…meet colleagues and celebrate teachers’ work…it is what helps sustain me.” Peggy Savage, a fifth grade teacher at Richmond Elementary School and outreach coordinator for Teacher Leads Philly, continues to take part in PhilaSoup to build professional networks in efforts to exemplify “teacherpreneurship”—teachers that take on leadership roles in and out of the school. Reviewing literature on such leadership, Reed and Savage wrote about the importance of teacher leadership in transforming schools. Also present were young professionals from technology start-ups, teacher-recruitment organizations, universities, law and financial firms, and socio-emotional health services. A future study is being planned to understand if this cross-pollination of professionals cultivates network opportunities that ultimately result in strengthening school-community ties and support teaching and learning.
After mingling, guests made their way to the third floor dinning hall in order to engage in an ice-breaker to meet new people, take in the beautiful architecture, and break bread together. While PhilaSoupers sipped on delicious soup (carrot-ginger vegan was my favorite) dipped Metropolitan Bakery donated French bread and picked at a vast array of cookies and cakes, educators gave short presentations on the projects they wished to be funded. Participants were able to ask questions or offer insights; some comments helped presenters connect projects to other resources. Some questions illustrated the disparity of funding and resources between schools. For example, one educator asked Morris why books were not purchased through the school or community library only to find out that the school does not have a librarian, the parents’ association donates most books, and students’ community libraries were closed. So while only $500 was awarded (ticket sales plus fundraising), every dollar helps support teaching and learning.
After presentations, each participant went into a private room to make their vote, which were tallied and reported out before the end of dinner. Due to fundraising efforts, the PhilaSoup board has made it their mission to fund as many projects as possible. At this event, all three projects presented were provided funding in relation to the percentage of votes they received. Everyone applauded and promised to see each other at the next event. Like Reed, I found the experience rejuvenating and the new contacts made will help to strengthen my practice and understanding of professional learning communities.
In this current era of austere budgets and criticism focused on schools, PhilaSoup events continues to be a source of support and inspiration for all participants. The next PhilaSoup event will be held in the winter of 2013 and will be announced on the PhilaSoup mailing list and the organization's social media pages. Educators interested in getting their projects funded can fill out and submit this easy application, or can go to PhilaSoup.org to learn more.