Building Community
Building Community

When educators design and create new schools, and live next gen learning themselves, they take the lead in growing next gen learning across the nation. Other educators don’t simply follow and adopt; next gen learning depends on personal and community agency—the will to own the change, fueled by the desire to learn from and with others. Networks and policy play important roles in enabling grassroots approaches to change.

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Experience provides the best learning...even when it’s not your own. That’s the bottom line and big payoff for listening to this six-podcast series on personalized learning from The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. Each audio snippet covering one of the partners from the NGLC Regional Funds for Breakthrough Schools feels casual and engaging -- just as if we were chatting over coffee.

Wired with good ideas and energized for action, you’ll also likely come away feeling inspired. For city-based organizers interested in incubating a diverse set of next gen school models, personalized learning networks, or innovative education ecosystems, these podcasts provide a valuable jump-start. To save time, avoid pitfalls, and plan effectively, put the collective wisdom of these six sites to use today.

According to these pioneering hub leaders:

“Educators are hungry for change, and they embrace it…. [but they also] need time, space, and a good process.” – Margaret Angell, CityBridge Foundation, Washington, D.C.

Don’t underestimate the number of local educators who are willing to try out new learning strategies. There’s a group that’s already motivated and ready for action. They benefit from thoughtful, focused support, and from being a part of a like-minded community - that’s part of the value provided by an incubator. Matchmaker is another role that can support teacher teams. Pair them with a local or national site that’s already figured out the part of the puzzle that’s still perplexing your local team. Hear more from Washington, D.C.

Set expectations that this is a team effort. The teams that get the farthest fastest [in designing new schools] involve students and parents early [in the process… and include both] teacher-leaders and school leaders.”  – Greg Klein, Rogers Family Foundation, Oakland, CA

Partners agree it’s important to engage stakeholders early in the design process and to communicate with community members regularly. They recommend seeking out disengaged and underserved students to explore the extent to which those groups can be re-engaged and better served with personalized strategies. It’s part of the promise of personalized learning and it’s a measurable benefit. Hear more from Oakland.

“Begin with the vision and be clear about the student outcomes you seek.”  – Samantha Olson, Colorado Education Initiative, Denver, CO 

Not only is it important to be purpose-driven, but when inevitable challenges arise, teams can revisit the origins of their vision to stay focused and motivated. Check to see if the vision reflects an understanding of change as a constant, so that cycles of renewal or reinvention can occur as needed. Staying flexible, responsive and focused requires balance, but it’s achievable. Hear more from Colorado.

“There’s power in partnership and collaboration.” – Mark Kostin, New England Secondary School Consortium (NESSC), Portland, ME

Working with districts and other regional entities (such as policy makers, advocacy groups, and after school networks) invites an opportunity to work from strengths and enriches the thinking about what’s possible for students. It can foster greater trust, shared understandings, and efficient use of resources. Hear more from New England.

“Take time to align schools, networks [and others] around what personalized learning is and the role of technology...specifically that technology is a tool but not the end goal.” – Maggie Runyan-Shefa, New Schools for New Orleans, New Orleans, LA

Ultimately, this work is about people: students and teachers. While technology can be a  useful tool for reaching our goals, keeping people at the forefront is key. Take time to position educators for success. They’re the ones choosing to implement instructional changes and deciding the tangible benefits of any change. It takes time to build a shared understanding, to purchase technology that fits the school’s approach and needs, to learn new skills, and to test related aspects of new designs such as flexible schedules, digital portfolios and playlists. Hear more from New Orleans.

“Jump in!” – Phyllis Lockett, LEAP Innovations, Chicago, IL

Each of the six sites got off the bench and into the game. There was no manual, just an invitation. Now, many of them are helping to write the playbook. That kind of start-up energy is just what’s required along with a willingness to listen, learn and pivot when necessary. Hear more from Chicago.

For an overview of the series, read Personalized learning: One size does NOT fit all on the Dell Foundation’s blog. All six podcasts are available here.

Sarah Luchs

K-12 Program Officer, NGLC

Sarah Luchs coordinates NGLC's K-12 grant making strategies, investing in promising educators and the next gen learning designs that define Breakthrough Schools.