What We Learned

The Terra Foundation worked with evaluators Linnea Rademaker, Ph.D. of FutureEd Evaluators and Doris Wells-Papanek, Ed.D. of Tailored Learning Tools to assess the value and effectiveness of the learning community, and whether it met the following objectives:

  • To deepen understanding of the reading, writing, and speaking and listening areas of the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts;
  • To build museum educators’ capacity in writing about American art for student readers;
  • To create CCSS-ELA-aligned teaching resources and materials about works of American art; and
  • To share progress with and support the development of CCSS-aligned museum programs and materials that focus on American art.

Information in this summary is drawn from the evaluators’ 2014 final report.

Initial Survey and Method

In November 2012, museum educators participating in the learning community were surveyed by the Terra Foundation. The majority of respondents self-reported that they were only somewhat familiar with the CCSS-ELA and that their institutions had just begun to address how to modify existing programs and resources. Many museum educators shared noteworthy concerns about the CCSS regarding the use of fiction and non-fiction texts, the value of creativity, the time required to align resources to the CCSS, using the right language to communicate about the CCSS with others, and concerns about changes to existing programs and resources. Museum educators wanted the opportunity to learn more about the CCSS, especially in light of supporting Chicago teachers, addressing application of standards grade by grade, understanding how to deliver standards, and understanding the definition of “text” within the standards. Learning community educators were often using American art or visual culture in their programming at the start of the project, and many had ideas for new programs and resources using American art.

Throughout the project, evaluators gained real-time feedback and input on the program via exit slips (short written surveys conducted at the end of each session) and observations of learning community sessions. In the summer of 2014, they assessed AACL participant perspectives via longer surveys and one-on-one interviews to determine how the learning community objectives were met, the main takeaways from participation in the learning community, and suggestions for future learning communities.

Summary of Findings

How were the learning community objectives met?

As described in the final evaluation report, learning community participants who responded to the survey felt the original objectives of the program were met, with greatest emphasis on understanding the nature of the CCSS-ELA, in writing, speaking and listening. Overall, 94% of participating educators responded that the program had a positive impact on their knowledge and understanding of the CCSS-ELA. The same percentage of educators reported that AACL had a positive impact on their confidence integrating these educational standards in their programming, and in articulating connections between their institution’s K–12 programming and the standards. All participants also felt that the goal of collaboration was met, in that strong ties were created between the participants across museums. This resulted in a number of post-learning community activities, including co-creation of learning units for museums and for school personnel; and the rewriting and revising of existing materials to align with the Common Core.

Participant feedback, input, and comments resulted in the following:

  • All benefited from AACL programming from a professional development and institutional perspective.
  • Data indicates, regardless of the duration of participation or frequency of attendance – all benefited from the AACL program.
  • It is likely too early to assess learning community impact on each institution’s K-12 programming for teachers and students.

Main ‘Takeaways’ from Participation in the Learning Community

Participants’ number one cited ‘takeaway’ during the final program evaluation was the opportunity to meet with other museum educators. They also cited the positive impact of the collaborations took place between museums, some of which continued after the learning community meetings ended. Participants all stressed the benefits of visiting other museums and seeing how each structured and implemented museum education. They also all stressed the benefits of learning from each other through this process. Other takeaways included: benefits of understanding and learning how to incorporate CCSS into lessons about American art, and increased use of American art in their current curriculum offerings.

Individual participants reported that institutionally, the AACL led to creation of new curriculum, programming alignment to new standards, and collaboration with other institutions as a result of participation in the learning community.

Feedback from Participants


  • “I am more aware of the importance of working with teachers and having teachers review and give feedback on materials. I am more aware of and have better skill at writing text and curriculum that is intended for students (not just teachers).”
  • “We have created a new student program utilizing a painting within the collection. In general, we are more confident in using art as a primary source.”
  • “We created a new student experience directly as a result of our involvement in this project.”

Programming alignment:

  • “Although we do not currently offer a structured ongoing K-12 program, as a result of our participation, all contact with K-12 teachers and students is created and discussed with CCSS standards considered. We are also discussing ways to bringing more education about CCSS to our docent training for requested school tours.”
  • “We’ve developed 3 American art Common Core aligned programs for K-12.”
  • “We have promoted using the Common Core standards to teachers in our Professional Development Seminars over the summer.”


  • “We collaborated with another institution for our 2013 educator open houses.”
  • “We have also collaborated with 3 other museums who were apart of AACL to develop 2 summer teacher institutes.”
  • “We have collaborated with other institutions for marketing. We now have a better sense of what work our colleagues are doing with similar audiences.”

Individuals participating in the learning community also reported on how the program impacted their personal professional development:

  • “Developing relationships with educators from other institutions has been fantastic. Working groups, the sharing of practice, and understanding the scope and service differences at each institution has been very valuable.”
  • “I have met many wonderful new colleagues and had the opportunity to observe and talk with them about the work they do in their organizations, which has positively impacted my work. I feel like I have important new people in my professional “think tank.” I have continued to work with the teachers who collaborated on our unit, which I think has been mutually beneficial.”
  • “I was able to organize a panel of community members to collaborate at the annual Illinois Art Education Association conference in 2013. These presentations could continue on a state and national level if the communities continued to meet and explore options.”

Recommendations for Future Learning Communities

Evaluators found that participants valued the opportunity to work with other museum educators, and that this process was helpful to all of them in processing, learning, and implementing the Common Core State Standards into the teaching and use of American Art in programming. Many respondents requested that the learning community continue as new standards were released from the state department of education, and that the learning community continue to provide opportunities for collaborative learning with each other in museum contexts.

Additionally, several participants suggested that future Terra programming be considered about the creation and implementation of student-focused programming (such as museum educators implementing programs on-site in schools), which is difficult for smaller museums given current funding allocations.

Evaluators also recommend, based on participant feedback, that future learning communities give special attention to the size of the project, especially smaller projects that are distinct, but connect over a period of time; broader dissemination of results to reach more K–12 teachers/students; and opportunities for future projects that bring teachers and museum educators together at the same time to create and/or work on a shared vision.