Story of NExT Hub:
Re-imagining Erase the Space
In February 2020, Erase the Space teachers met to collaborate on their “shared learning” step to their exchanges. There were 16 teachers (8 exchanges in all) that were preparing for their students to collaborate on solutions to shared social issues. Otterbein was to host all of the exchanges in May.
Soon after Ohio got the stay-at-home order on March 13, 2020, we realized these classroom collaborations were not going to happen in person. As the pandemic continued, we realized that in-person exchanges weren’t going to happen in the 2020-21 school year either. Schools were facing unprecedented challenges and teachers shouldered much of the legwork as districts moved forward.
Teachers needed space. We’ve needed shared space for a while. We needed space to regroup and figure out how to care for students as we returned to school. We needed space to listen and respond to student voices telling stories of racism and other forms of discrimination in our buildings. The need for space remains as we continue to confront the realities of white supremacy in our school districts.
Much of our research has led us to understand that teachers are often insulated in their classroom experience and isolated within their school district. As we began to listen to the moment, we started to understand that space for teachers to collaborate across districts was just as important as students working across segregated experiences.
We proposed to Otterbein that we apply for a grant through the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation to build more cross-district networks like Erase the Space. We imagined a place that addressed the need for teachers to connect across districts around the shared work of antiracism. In July 2020, we found out that we were funded and got to work on NExT Hub.
What is NExT Hub?
NExT (Networks for Excellent Teaching) Hub is a community of networks engaging educators in antiracist work in their schools. The idea behind this community is to have teachers, principals, librarians work across segregated school districts to transform themselves, their classrooms, their schools, and the education system at large. Our focus on cross-district collaboration is grounded in contact theory and the necessity for teachers to collaborate outside of their building/district.
During the 2020-21 school year, NExT Hub created and facilitated three networks of educators. Our initial network of teachers participated in a program entitled “From ‘Civil’ Voyeurism to Civic Action.” This network met once a month to investigate white supremacy in ourselves, in our classrooms, and in our schools. Giving teachers the time to reflect and transform is necessary before teachers take action during the 2021-22 school year engaging their students in Erase the Space classroom collaborations.
NExT Hub’s second network entitled “Brave Spaces Need Brave People” geared towards administrators for them to lead the conversations about race and racism in their schools. This network provided principals and other school leaders to learn nonviolent communication in order to practice deep listening, and to lead from the heart.
“Beyond the Book Club” is another NExT Hub concept that was created and facilitated during the 2020-21 school year. We brought teachers together, again across districts, to engage in self-reflection and theory beyond just reading and reacting to a book. We focus on teacher identity and meeting the needs of students through the text in hopes that our teachers take more intention into their planning and curriculum before rushing to teach a text. We have had two of these networks this year: one on teaching the book Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi and the other focused on We Want to do More Than Survive by Bettina Love.
At the end of year 1, NExT Hub invited Dr. Bettina Love to talk with any teachers who have participated in our networks. In May, over 50 teachers from 10 districts got the chance to listen to and have dialogue with Dr. Love around the idea of not going back to the status quo. Her words breathed life into us all as we ended one of the toughest years of teaching in recent memory, and we hoped to generate momentum among teachers engaged in social justice work in their schools.
This summer NExT Hub launched “Support Through Story: A Network for Educators of Color” in hopes to provide space for teachers of color to connect outside of their building and across districts to engage in empathy and storytelling with each other. As the 2021-22 school year begins, we will also launch a student, parent, teacher network called “So you think you know your district?” focused on investigating and telling the hard history of central Ohio school districts. Other ideas and networks will be created throughout the year as we listen to teachers and attempt to create the space they are asking for. We hope to give teachers space to understand why we teach now.