STEPS Alaska Updates
Stepping Up for Alaska's Youth!
STEPS is a community-based project that is grounded in the strengths and needs of our students, families, and community members.

But how do we bring in lived experiences and improve impacts?

STEPS partners use dialogues, deep listening, and collective storytelling to partner closely with families, students, organizations. Some of these are highlighted below. 

  • A Deeper Understanding Through Community Dialogues
  • Deep and Structured Listening: A Tool for Effective Communication
  • Telling Our STEPS Story/ Your Story
  • Finding Stories in Our Data
A Deeper Understanding Through Community Dialogues
By Connor Meyer, AASB

What are Community dialogues?
Community dialogues are safe and welcoming spaces that are instrumental for partnership, growth and healing. AASB and many STEPS grantee partners have been using the ANDORE (Alaska Native Dialogues on Racial Equity) model, first developed by First Alaskans Institute to elevate the idea that “in every chair is a leader”. Through a series of discussions, social technologies, and dialogue techniques, we learn from each other, about each other, and identify ways to lift our communities. Within these dialogues we find strength in ourselves and in our community. We honor each person’s experience with love and respect for each other’s strengths.

What is the process for creating community dialogues?
The dialogues create a safe space for meaningful conversation through the use of social technologies, or hosting strategies, that help each person to engage. Led by the dialogue “hosts”, participants are invited to share their own experiences and work together toward action. The social technologies often used in dialogues include sharing circles, world cafe, open space, fishbowl, and reflection.
Dialogues begin with the First Alaskans Institute’s Agreements.
These agreements include:
  • Speak to be understood; listen to understand. 
  • Value our time together. 
  • Be present, be engaged. 
  • Be a safe space for meaningful conversation. 
  • Move from challenges to solutions. 
  • Takest thou hat off. 
  • Understand that our value of humor helps us. 
  • Know that we are responsible for our experiences. 
  • Take care of yourself, and take care of others. 
When Should a Dialogue be Used?
While typically the ANDORE dialogue protocol is used to engage communities in conversation on addressing systemic, interpersonal, or personal forms of racism, our STEPS partners have expanded the use of community dialogues to engage communities in all types of conversation. For example, dialogues have been used to:
  • Gather input from the community on general needs and opportunities
  • Understand the community’s perspective on a specific question or issue 
  • Reflect/ debrief on something together (for example - on Orange Shirt day, the dialogue format was used to prompt conversation about the historical trauma associated with boarding schools)
  • Co-create a project (for example- dialogues are currently being hosted in communities in order to develop new family engagement tools)

Dialogues in Action
Three years ago the Sitka School District recognized that despite having a fairly large population of Filipino students, they did not have a strong connection with many Filipino families. So they decided to host a listening session with Filipino families to understand their needs, experiences, and desires for the district. As a result of these dialogues with families, the school district learned that families desired more supports for post-secondary planning and financial assistance. In partnership, the district and families launched a new scholarship program - the Tulong Aral Filipino Student Scholarship. “Tulong Aral” is a Tagalog phrase that can be translated to “help learning” or “support education.” Now more families are talking with their students about plans for life after high school and they are feeling connected and heard by the school district. Close to 90% of eligible seniors applied for the scholarship this year.

In Juneau, the Juneau Violence Prevention Coalition has used community conversations to guide its work as well. The coalition asked the community, how can we show up for youth? How do we support equity in our community? How do we create a community free of violence? The wisdom in the circle led to the total transformation of the Juneau Prevention Coalition and the birth of Haa Tóoch Lichéesh (HTL). This ultimately helped the coalition design their collective work. In order to do this, they had to put aside what they thought were urgent priorities and instead, take the time to ask questions and listen deeply to the community.

Since that time, HTL has partnered with organizations to elevate community vision and needs. HTL has worked with SAIL to form a radical inclusion committee, look at how programs are designed, and increase partnerships. This work also led HTL to host anti-racism conversations and support equity committees with the Juneau School District and conversations with the University of Alaska Southeast and partnerships for hosting conversations at Sealaska Heritage Institute and with Tlingit and Haida. 

Each HTL member is committed to listening deeply to those that they are with.

Hosting Your Own Community Dialogue
More than 150 STEPS partners have participated in dialogue host trainings in order to facilitate their own dialogues in their communities. The host trainings are co-hosted by partners from UAS, AASB, Sealaska Heritage Institute, Haa Tooch Licheesh, NAMI, and others. Once trained, hosts can plan and facilitate their own community dialogues.

Interested in participating in a Dialogue Host Training? Please reach out to
Deep and Structured Listening: A Tool for Effective Conversation
By Heather Coulehan, AASB
I’m an introvert. Sometimes it’s challenging for me to speak up during lively conversations with colleagues to share my ideas. I have colleagues who are extroverts. It can be difficult for them to make space for my quieter voice when their ideas and enthusiasm are flowing. The Constructivist Listening protocol, from the National Equity Project, fosters deep listening as a way to make space for all voices to be heard. 

The purpose of Constructivist Listening is to allow new insights to emerge from being listened to and from listening to others. The National Equity Project explains that when, “we put aside our own needs and ‘agendas’ to offer the gift of deep listening to another human being, the results can be profound.” Constructivist Listening also creates the opportunity to build relationships by encouraging trust, caring, and authenticity. 

Whether we use protocols, or make a sincere commitment to listening to understand, deep listening is an essential tool for collective impact and equity work. It means trying to understand our own blindspots and more clearly seeing the needs and opportunities that will best serve students, their families, and our community partners. 

STEPS Coordinator, Lisa Worl and I used this protocol in our April workshop with Hoonah staff after watching the “Establishing, Maintaining, Restoring Relationships” video from Phil Burdick, Sitka Pacific High School Teacher. In triads, staff reflected on their relationship with students and through listening to each other developed new strategies for relationship building. In our Constructivist Listening slide from the workshop, you can see constructivist listening happening in what the School Reform Initiative calls the Microlab format.

Participants are sitting knee to knee with no table or other barrier to person-centered listening. You’ll also see in the photo Lon Garrison, the AASB Executive Director, practicing constructivist listening with two Lower Yukon School District administrators. Constructivist listening and microlabs work well with any audience, with both adults and students of any age.

In our busy days, deep listening can take time and practice. STEPS partners can and do use many deep listening strategies to understand how we can better serve students and families and how we can do this together. 
STEPS April 22
Telling Our STEPS Story - We’d like to hear from YOU!
By Lauren Havens, AASB
As we enter into year 5 of our STEPS collaboration together, AASB staff is interested in compiling our collective insights on our progress, persistent challenges, and how we can plan to continue to better support students and their families from cradle to career. Thus far, our team has interviewed more than 10 partners recording our collective stories of success, lessons that we have learned, and adjustments to our approaches. 
Through these honest, thoughtful conversations, we can improve our impact for students and their families, identify areas that need attention, celebrate our successes, and consider sustainability needs of the STEPS collaborative. 
These stories will be shared back to all of us as partners and to our funders at the US Department of Education, Promise Neighborhoods.
If you are not available for a Zoom interview, we’d still like to hear from you! If you can, please take some time to answer the following interview questions and email your responses to You may also submit them anonymously on paper at the STEPS Annual Partner Gathering. We may follow up for a Zoom interview if you are comfortable.
Interview Questions: 

  • Please introduce yourself, your role and organization, and your community. Can you tell us a little bit about your work under STEPS? 

  • Briefly describe STEPS (as you would to students, families or partners you work with). Is there an image, analogy, or story that the STEPS work makes you think of (optional)?

  • Can you describe the major ways that you believe STEPS has made a difference for students and families? How do you know?

  • The STEPS project has focused on “doing it better together.” Can you share some examples of how you have worked with local and/or regional partners in order to do your work better?

  • STEPS has been an opportunity to learn over the last 4 years. In your experience with STEPS, what do you feel has worked well? 
  • What hasn’t worked so well? 
  • If we were to do it again, would you anything do differently next time?

  • What STEPS work would you like to see sustained/ continued on after the Promise Neighborhoods grant project ends?

Finding the Stories in our Data 
By Lauren Havens, AASB
In addition to listening and community dialogues, another way that we can ensure we’re incorporating lived experiences into our work is through the use of quantitative data collection tools like surveys. 

The School Climate and Connectedness Survey, for example, allows students, families, and staff to reflect on their experiences with their school’s climate, including the caring adults in their lives, perceptions of cultural responsiveness, family-school partnerships, and safety.

Each STEPS district and partner can use the school climate data and other surveys to understand student and family needs. This type of data is helpful to see patterns, track change over time, and to make quality improvements to our work.
For example, last year, Juneau and Sitka early childhood partners wanted to understand families’ experiences with the transition to kindergarten. Some of the questions they wanted to understand were:

Are families satisfied with the kindergarten registration process?

What activities/ services were most helpful to families in the transition to kindergarten?

Are there differences in how families experienced the transition to kindergarten depending on the child care/ preschool services they received prior to enrollment in kindergarten?

Are there differences in how families experienced the transition to kindergarten depending on demographic factors such as race and income?

Partners AEYC, Sitka School District, Juneau School District, Head Start, and AASB collaborated to develop a survey tool that could help answer these questions. They offered the survey to all entering kindergarten families. Both communities saw high response rates and partners were able to answer their broad questions as well as receive specific feedback/ suggestions for how to improve.

Some general themes that were learned through this survey process - 

Are families satisfied with the kindergarten registration process?
  • Generally, yes! Although some families did offer specific feedback to make the process even better, overall, the vast majority of families surveyed found the process to be easy and schools to be welcoming.

What activities/ services were most helpful to families in the transition to kindergarten?
  • Families found the summer transition camps to be highly effective for preparing their children for kindergarten.
  • Families also liked the information sessions, open houses, and orientations - experiences where they were able to meet staff, see the kindergarten classrooms, and get a feel for kindergarten before the first day. They also wanted more of these opportunities.

Are there differences in how families experienced the transition to kindergarten depending on the child care/ preschool services they received prior to enrollment in kindergarten?
  • There did not appear to be any major differences based on childcare/ preschool experience according to our survey responses.

Are there differences in how families experienced the transition to kindergarten depending on demographic factors such as race and income?
  • There did not appear to be any major differences based on demographic factors according to our survey responses.

How can our survey tools help us better meet the needs of your students, staff, families, or community members? How can we see the patterns and stories that data can share with us?

If you need support in developing a tool or in understanding data you have already collected, please reach out to AASB STEPS staff or join the STEPS data workgroup. Contact Lauren at

Don't forget to check out your newest student, family and staff data - 2022 SCCS results will be available in May!
Upcoming Opportunities
STEPS Annual Gathering
MAY 3 AND 4, 2022
WHEN: May 3-4 2022 
WHERE: Centennial Hall, Juneau
FOCUS: Doing it Better, Together
This two-day gathering will bring together STEPS partners (funded and collaboration partners) from across Southeast. If you plan to attend, please register here. For questions or a more detailed agenda, please contact Emily,, 907-723-6599.
Alaska CAN Quarterly Convening
WHEN: May 2, 2022 | 3:00 – 5:00 PM AKST
TOPIC: Building Cultural Identity as a Postsecondary Strength
Register in advance for this Convening:
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Convening.
Coalition for Career Development
WHEN: May 17 - 18
FOCUS: Free national conference
Sealaska Heritage is also offering a wide array of opportunities for students this summer.
Looking for additional ideas? Check out the STEPS resources page for past newsletters and other STEPS-related resources.