The Wallace Foundation’s Education Leadership Professional Learning Communities

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The Wallace Foundation’s Education Leadership Professional Learning Communities

As part of the study, RCLA undertook case studies of six learning communities that could serve as models for the larger grantmaking and nonprofit field. These LCs varied in duration, membership and purpose. Half of the cases were what we refer to as "funder-grantee LCs" and half were "peer LCs." In the former, the LC was a supplementary activity to a grantmaking program. In three cases, participants who received grants from the LC organizer were required to participate in the LC as part of their grant agreement. Both the grantmaker and the grantees participated in the LC. In peer LCs, participants were not grantees of any one program and did not share a relationship with any one funder. This does not mean that there was no funding sponsor. However, the sponsor did not participate in the LC as a learner. Participants in peer LCs shared a common profession or field of practice, challenge or opportunity. The distribution of the case study LCs along these two categories was as follows:

Funder-grantee LCs

Peer LCs

  • Community Clinics Initiative - Networking for Community Health (CCI-NCH)
  • Schools of the Future - Community of Learners (SOTF-COL)
  • The Wallace Foundation - Professional Learning Communities (WF-PLC)
  • Embedded Funders Learning Community (EFLC)
  • Council of Michigan Foundations - Participatory Action Learning Network (CMF-PALN)
  • Eureka-Boston

Below are summaries of each case:

Embedded Funders Learning Community (EFLC)

The Embedded Funders Learning Community (EFLC) grew out of research on philanthropy and community change conducted by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago from 2000 to 2010. The research looked into the practice of foundations doing what Chapin Hall named "embedded philanthropy" because of these foundations' unusually intimate and long-term engagement with the communities in which they live and work.

Purpose: The goal was to exchange experiences among funders and delve deeply into "embedded" philanthropic practice.

Community: Members were 12-15 "embedded funders" across the US interested in exchanging deep learning about their practice. Meetings ranged in size from 16-22 members.

Domain: The group focused on issues of relevance to participants, such as their role as change agents, community relationships and partnerships, non-grantmaking tools and strategies, foundation effectiveness, and harnessing outside resources and partnerships for community change.

Practice: Most meetings were hosted by foundations grappling with issues onsite and in-action. The general theme for each meeting was set by the EFLC steering committee, with considerable input from the host foundation. Chapin Hall brought the academic lens that helped codify the learning.

Council of Michigan Foundations - Peer Action Learning Network (CMF-PALN)

The Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) initiated the Peer Action Learning Network (PALN) in 2010 as part of the Transforming Michigan Philanthropy through Diversity and Inclusion initiative, which seeks to increase the effectiveness of organized philanthropy in Michigan. CMF began to address diversity issues in 2001 with a Board discussion that was followed in 2002 with a Board resolution adopting diversity as a value. A planning grant from The Kresge Foundation enabled CMF to work at a broader and deeper level to address diversity and inclusion.

Purpose: The goal was to strengthen participant organizations' capacity in diverse and inclusive leadership, management and grantmaking.

Community: Members consisted of high-level staff members, including CEOs, of Michigan foundations and organizations committed to becoming more diverse and inclusive.

Domain: The group focused on intercultural competence and diversity and inclusion in Michigan philanthropy.

Practice: An 11-month training with teams from participating organizations was combined with action learning projects at each participating foundation and coaching from facilitators.


Eureka-Boston was founded in 2001 as a recurring two-year fellowship founded on networking and collaborative principles. Eureka-Boston was also pioneering in its focus on strengthening collaborative efforts across organizations and its emphasis on peer learning. What started as a deep-engagement model, with only seven fellows per cohort facilitated by one person, became the force behind the formation of the first nonprofit association in Massachusetts in 2007.

Purpose: The aim was to build a community of committed and networked nonprofit leaders who could join their efforts in tackling persistent social and public problems.

Community: Members consisted of 56 executive directors of Massachusetts nonprofits, who participated in eight cohorts from 2001-2005, and Steve Pratt, the initiator and facilitator of Eureka-Boston.

Domain: The focus was on issues and challenges related to nonprofit leadership, capacity and influence.

Practice: The two‐year fellowship focused on a networked approach to action and action learning. Fellows met for half a day each month to address issues of common concern.

Community Clinics Initiative - Networking for Community Health (CCI-NCH)

The Community Clinics Initiative (CCI) is a $113 million collaborative effort between the California Endowment and the Tides Foundation. CCI was established in 1999 to support community health centers and clinics through major grants, technical assistance and knowledge sharing, with the ultimate objective of improving health outcomes in underserved communities in California. In 2008, CCI launched the Networking for Community Health (NCH) program to support and strengthen California community clinics' networking efforts, encouraging them to "go beyond their own four walls" in tackling health issues. A learning community was at the core of this effort.

Purpose: The aim has been to support and strengthen California community clinics' networking and knowledge-sharing efforts.

Community: California community clinics and regional clinic networks that have formed allies in the healthcare safety net and with community-based partners or agencies have participated. In the second cohort of 2010, there were 32 grantee clinics.

Domain: Participants have discussed their progress and challenges working on grant projects, and raised larger lessons for the field on issues of importance such as the role of youth and health promoters.

Practice: Grantees have come together in one-day convenings two to three times a year and have participated in monthly Webinars, site visits and an online platform to discuss common issues and challenges and to lift learning for the field.

Schools of the Future - Community of Learners (SOTF-COL)

Schools of the Future (SOTF) is a five-year, $5 million capacity-building initiative designed to encourage and mobilize schools to transform their learning environments and teaching strategies. Specifically, the initiative supports student-centered, project-based learning that prepares students to engage as knowledgeable citizens of the 21st century. The initiative is funded by Hawaii Community Foundation (HCF) and managed by the Hawaii Association for Independent Schools (HAIS).

Purpose: The aim has been to share experiences in applying innovative approaches to school learning and share knowledge with the field.

Community: Members have been mostly teachers, but also administrators and principals, from 18 Hawaii independent schools that were awarded grants from Hawaii Community Foundation.

Domain: Participants have discussed their progress and challenges working on grant projects and innovative learning strategies such as project-based and design-based learning.

Practice: Through an annual study tour, quarterly convenings, a Ning and periodic Webinars, participants have heard from experts about innovative learning practices and shared their experiences applying them in their schools.

The Wallace Foundation - Professional Learning Communities (WF-PLC)

The Wallace Foundation, a New York City-based national philanthropy, tackles complex public problems such as improving education and enrichment for disadvantaged children in US cities. One way that Wallace does this is by focusing on strengthening school leadership, a critical ingredient to school reform. Wallace's strategy is to support "innovation sites" to develop and test possible solutions, commission research and evaluation to fill gaps in current knowledge and learn lessons from the work in progress, and share knowledge broadly about what works and doesn't work. It has been supporting this work since 2000.

Purpose: The goal was to support grantee just-in-time learning and to lift lessons for the field of education about school leadership.

Community: Members were Wallace Foundation grantees from states and school districts working on strengthening school leadership, as well as researchers, field experts and representatives of various professional organizations.

Domain: The focus was on common issues jointly identified by Wallace and its grantees related to accelerating their progress in achieving their grant objectives.

Practice: The model included networking, large group engagement and action research work. Project groups of 12-15 participants from across states, school districts and support organizations work on action research projects that both improve their own practice and further knowledge for the field.

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