When NGLC announced our final round of winners in our most recent wave of investment last week, it was an opportunity for those school developers and innovative degree program designers to stand in the spotlight and celebrate their bold new designs for the schools and college programs of the future.
For us, however, it was also the beginning of an exciting new opportunity for NGLC. After nearly a year of surfacing and reviewing applications, it was finally time to think about the ways we could support our new grantees as they continue their work. To help them transition from grant winners into a powerful NGLC community capable of serving the entire education sector.
That work began in earnest on Sunday and Monday when we gathered all of our Wave IIIa secondary school model winners in New Orleans, LA for a face-to-face convening. In the planning meetings before the convening, we wondered aloud if school leaders would be willing to open up and candidly share the daunting challenges they face. After months of showcasing their promise in front of our review panels, could they now pivot and talk honestly about the sheer difficulty in moving their big ideas into reality?
It turns out, we shouldn’t have worried.
Over the course of the convening, school leaders celebrated the unique attributes of their new schools – tech-enabled individualized learning plans for students, school cultures focused on rigor and achievement, innovative partnerships to foster project-based learning, extended time for learning, and differentiated teacher roles to maximize capacity. But they also shared the key issues that still keep them awake at night, reaching out to their peers for feedback and support.
What we learned:
- “Opening a new-model school is hard.” Opening any school is difficult. There are teachers to recruit and train, a community to build bridges with, parents to engage. But inventing and then opening a new, next generation learning school comes with its own unique challenges. Finding the right digital curriculum and the right tools. Finding teachers truly ready to work in a new paradigm. Explaining the benefits of the model to sometimes skeptical community members. Building schedules and systems to support an “out of the box” approach that incorporates (among other things) competency-based progression. The grantees are all supremely committed to their visions of very different, much more personalized and effective learning experiences for kids. And they need every ounce of that commitment to see their plans through.
- A movement is stirring. At one moment in the convening, Scott Benson, program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, mused aloud that, just a few years ago, the pioneers in blended learning could all sit around a single table. In New Orleans, our blended school developers (20 total) filled a room. There were plenty of new faces along with faces that ed reformers would recognize. It was hard not to feel that a blended school 2.0 movement is building based on their efforts and their emphasis on student success.
- There is power in numbers. Building a school isn’t just hard, it can feel lonely. We watched as these school developers, teachers, principals, and staff discussed the individual pieces of their model with such enthusiasm and energy because the person on the other end of the conversation “got it.” People exchanged ideas, offered candid feedback, and suggested a long list of ways that a community could help push the movement along. As one participant remarked, ‘“For once, I didn’t have to take one and a half hours to explain my school. It’s so nice to have other thought partners.”
- The future of education is bright. It was hard to miss the palpable enthusiasm in the room as people celebrated their new models for student success. (Read more about them on our Wave III grantees page.) They talked about students who, for the first time, were taking real ownership of their learning – in part because the adults were learning how to step back and let them do so. Kids bursting into applause upon hearing their school would be getting funding to transform the learning environment. If their energy and passion is any indication, the future of education is bright, indeed.
To read more about our breakthrough model winners, explore their grantee pages at: http://nextgenlearning.org/grant_recipients/k12_breakthrough_models
Carie Page, Community Engagement Manager, NGLC