Building Powerful Learning Environments: From Schools to Communities

“I was fortunate to experience first-hand how we, as educators, parents, and community members, could function as ‘US’  — instead of  ‘US and THEM’~ Dr. Arina Bokas

bokas-book-coverOakland Schools: Arina, you are a local educator-innovator with a Clarkston-based magazine and cable TV show that promote learning – and now you’ve written a BOOK about your experiences?

Dr. Bokas: Yes! My passion for education and what I’ve learned through community engagement has culminated in my new book. It’s intended primarily for educational leaders, policy makers and teachers, but really, it’s for anyone interested in the future of education.

Building Powerful Learning Environments: From Schools to Communities [December release] looks into various ways of creating a partnership culture at district, school, and classroom levels. It provides practical guidance, strategies, and tips as well as some conceptual understanding of what can be done to create and support this culture at various levels of educational leadership.

Oakland Schools: You are looking at education holistically – as part of an entire community’s focus and responsibility?

Dr. Bokas: Community is key. A learning environment has traditionally been viewed as something that educators created and sustained inside their schools. Building Powerful Learning Environments expands this understanding to embrace families, communities, other learning institutions, and businesses not as helpers, but as co-builders of a powerful learning environment. It demonstrates that schools have to take the first step in this direction by becoming the center of a new educational culture – a culture of partnerships.

CO-BUILDING happens when schools, families, and communities join their efforts in both decision-making and sharing responsibility for education of children. Most teachers, I believe, know that how well students develop as learners within a classroom learning environment depends on synergies with other learning environments a child enters.

If a learning environment at school is similar to one at home, there are no contradicting messages to interfere with the process of learning. On the other hand, if at school a teacher strives for an environment that promotes curiosity and thinking, but at home, a child’s thinking is not valued and the focus is placed on adult authority, it might create confusion for a learner in both learning environments.

A school and a family need to work in tandem.

In general, co-building is a process that consists of many steps and involves a multitude of interactions among parents, teachers, parent leaders, school and district administrators, other learning organizations, and businesses and agencies.

Oakland Schools: I read a quote that describes Building Powerful Learning Environments as a blueprint for creating a “different canvas for learning”.  What is your concept of a best-practice learning environment?

Dr. Bokas: I have to say that a “different canvas” is powered by a diversity of perspectives, expertise, experiences, and resources.  I see learners simultaneously engaging with multiple learning providers in various locations.

  • In a classroom, families and educators view each other as colleagues in education and work together to create the best possible learning environment for children. They actively connect, feed from each other’s ideas, give and receive learning feedback, and share resources, including parental expertise, to enhance instruction.
  • Educators and parents decide which system to use to evaluate the child’s learning. Students have opportunities to learn and apply their learning outside of a school’s location.
  • Businesses and organizations act as learning providers for short-term project-based experiences, which allows students to connect their knowledge to its applications.
  • Global learning experiences are an important part of education. Teachers utilize technology and learning platforms; students enter collaborations with students from all over the world.

A different canvas for learning is a culture of partnerships.

No one person or entity sees all of the needs, knows all of the questions to ask, or has all of the answers. When learners simultaneously tap into multiple resources and engage with multiple providers, opportunities and contexts for learning are endless!

Many people contributed their support to Building Powerful Learning Environments: From Schools to Communities. Clarkston Superintendent Rod Rock and Principal Glenn Gualtieri; talented Oakland County educators; parents and community members; truly, there were many co-book builders! They all both inspired and reinforced my message —

Building partnerships with families, community organizations and agencies, and learning establishments will enable schools to create synergies, develop new ways to enhance professional and cultural capital of all stakeholders, and nurture a powerful learning ecosystem.


Dr. Arina Bokas with Global Educator Dr. Yong Zhao at Future of Learning TV



Dr. Arina Bokas is the editor and vice president of Kids’ Standard magazine, host of the Future of Learning public TV show produced by Independence Television in Clarkston, Michigan, an officer of the Clarkston Community Schools PTA, and an English professor at Mott Community College. Dr. Bokas may be found on Twitter at @ArinaBokas or through her Culture of Partnerships website.


Blog Editor Jean MacLeod, Communications/Oakland Schools


 Oakland Schools • 2111 Pontiac Lake Road • Waterford, MI 48328-2736 • 248.209.2000





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