What makes a “teacher of the year”? I think its relationships with students and the faith you place in them. As this school year drew to a close a colleague shared a comment a student made to her about me after witnessing a conversation between a young man and myself about his grades and plans for next year.
I recently had the privilege of serving on a panel at the annual United Way Worldwide Staff Leadership Conference. Melody Barnes of Aspen Forum for Community Solutions – among a hundred other key roles she plays so wonderfully to support our democracy – facilitated beautifully. She helped us dig into a host of questions about really taking on Collective Impact and engaged the audience in a great dialogue.
One of the follow-up items I was approached about by numerous folks afterwards were a couple references I made to “servant leadership” as core to the work of collective impact, namely the backbone organization staffing cross sector partnerships. I read Robert Greenleaf’s book The Servant as Leader years ago, but given the level of interest it sparked me to go back and take another look. I was fortunate to find a pamphlet that served as cliff notes that The Robert K. Greenleaf Center published not too long ago, and I was literally floored.
Having lived the life of a “cat herder” supporting a cradle to career partnership for many years in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, his words from 1970 provided a level of clarity I had not expected regarding the roles – maybe I should say “the way” (Steve Patrick, also of Aspen, noted that Lao Tzu might be the most obvious example of this way of being) – those who take on this work must adopt.
Here are a few quotes that really stuck with me:
“ …the great leader is seen as servant first and that simple fact is key to his/her greatness.”
“But if one is servant, either leader or follower, one is always searching, listening, expecting that a better wheel for these times is in the making.”
“A fresh critical look is being taken at the issues of power and authority, and people are beginning to learn, however haltingly, to relate to one another in a less coercive and more creatively supporting ways.”
It would have been easy to pick out 100 others and I could have picked out even more of the core tenets he describes, but here are my top ten based on my latest read:
- Set goals and be clear about direction – find creative ways to stay on course
- Listen first…..really listening first
- Careful use of language – goal is to trigger the “imaginative leap” on the part of others to see new way
- Requires acceptance and empathy – respect for different perspectives
- Means pacing oneself to allow for reflection/”withdrawal”
- Knows the right role to play at the right time
- Understanding institutions must move from people-using to people-building
- Requires getting people favored by rules to think differently
- The opposite of servant leadership is critic and expert – this work requires humility
- Requires foresight – ability to help solve current AND unknown problems
There are wonderful stories to go with each of these insights that make this worth your time to read. I would encourage everyone to take a look and I would love to hear what you think.
I don’t like to admit how much I love watching the Academy Awards; I am a sucker for public acknowledgement of great work. We couldn’t be more proud of the many accolades falling on New Tech schools, teachers and students. It’s like the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys combined, with New Tech collecting trophies in every category!
I also know that we’re aware of only some of the honors bestowed to members of the New Tech family — please let us know if we don’t acknowledge awards you’ve received.
How should we measure the success of a school system? For the last few decades, the states have wanted to see high achievement on standardized tests. Parents want a safe school and a successful student ready for college and career. The local newspapers like it when the sports teams are winning. We could measure the success of a school in literally dozens of ways, from cost per pupil to dropout and attendance rates. But what would happen if we chose to focus on student success as the sole measure of a school’s success?
It has almost been exactly one year to the day since I walked across a stage to receive my diploma at Rochester Zebra New Tech High School. Now a year later, I’ve successfully completed my freshman year at Indiana Wesleyan University. At IWU in Marion, Indiana, I am a double major in Church Music and Christian Worship. My studies focus both in Music and in Theology.
We have the honor of working with sites all over the country looking embrace the concept of collective impact and establish cradle to career civic infrastructure to achieve better outcomes for children. Unfortunately, the energy around this work has led to a new political challenge in many communities: jockeying among partners to become the “backbone”. In one community that reached out to us they noted they had NINE backbone organizations in the education space! As we all know, a body that has nine backbones is really going to struggle to move forward effectively. The same is the case for a community working to improve outcomes in a specific issue area like education. We fully embrace that a community may likely need multiple backbones for multiple issues – health, public safety, housing, education, etc. – but we strongly advise against having multiple backbones in just one issue area.
So how might we think about the different roles organizations looking to take up a leadership can play in order to capitalize on all of this interest? We have developed one way to think about this that has helped numerous communities find a way through this challenge. The visual below captures the concept at a high level, but the key is to differentiate between the role of backbone organizations and conveners. The primary difference is that a single backbone entity is needed to help support the overall development of civic infrastructure to have collective impact. Conveners, on the other hand, are focused on working with the relevant partners – practitioners and other interested stakeholders – to build comprehensive and data driven outcomes around a single outcome along the continuum. See a summary of the roles in the visual below:
The Role of the Backbone
The key roles of a backbone organization are outlined in detail below. Before going into the roles, it is important to note that while the backbone is often perceived as a position with the most power in a collective impact effort, it is most effectively played by an entity that embraces the principles of servant leadership. In essence, the backbone needs to play a very quiet and behind the scenes role, lifting up others who are doing the work so they get the well deserved credit for the data-driven work they are doing on the ground to support children. In the end, an entity willing to take this servant oriented stance – instead of being more visible – will be able to play the following roles much more effectively as partners across all sectors and at all levels will feel respected for the contributions to the partnership vision:
- Connect and Support Leaders: The core function of the backbone is to ensure leaders at all levels playing a variety of roles within the community keep the vision, mission, and outcomes of the partnership front and center when making major decisions. This takes regular meetings with any and all key stakeholders that contribute to the vision so they feel supported by the work of the partnership instead of threatened. This also means addressing political fires that that regularly emerge when partners are struggling to communicate or unexpected drama emerges in the press.
- Establish the Data Management Infrastructure: At an early meeting in a community we have partnered with to take on this work, one of the funders in the core group of leaders was almost in a state of shock at the end of the civic infrastructure overview. It turned out she was worried that she and her peers were going to be asked to pay for data experts and systems to work in each and every individual non-profit and related partner in town. But she quickly realized the backbone enables you to avoid such an expense by centralizing the development of the data management system and supporting partners to help collect, manage, and report data effectively.
- Advocate for Technical Support: As practitioners work together to build action plans, invariable challenges emerge related to items such as engaging key partners, getting access to data and other key resources, and challenges communicating the work. The backbone can help advocate with leaders to help address the issues or offer technical supports like facilitation or experts from the business community to help overcome what can seem like small, yet show stopping hurdles.
- Marshal Investments: When The Strive Partnership was started in Cincinnati, we heard from directors of non-profits that many spent over 90 percent of their time fundraising. Over time, as action plans emerge from practitioners to improve specific outcomes, the backbone can help reduce this burden on individual providers by advocating with public and private investors to support comprehensive and cohesive action plans where each partner plays a clearly defined role.
The Role of the Convener
The convener, on the other hand,plays a much more specific and frequently more visible role in building action plans. Because practitioners are looking to bring attention to their work, the convener can be out front with the work they do to help develop comprehensive action plans because it will invariably raise awareness both for the importance of the work and the contributions of the partners. So entities looking to be more visible and play a leadership role may very well be better positioned to become a convener to do the following:
- EngagePractitioners – Practitioners have more than enough work to do on a daily basis that adding the work of a network initially can be burdensome. The convener can focus more on the specific needs of practitioners to actively engage in this work, while ensuring they are willing and able to use data to shape their individual and collective action plans. In the end, the convener is focused on making it as easy as possible for partners to actively engage, helping them to overcome specific obstacles, and ensuring the necessary incentives are in place to make this worth their while.
- Facilitate Multi-Sector Networks – Once Networks are formed with practitioners and other relevant stakeholders to focus on a specific outcome, expert facilitation is needed to ensure the partners use data to build an action plan that is focused on scaling what works. Conveners help to ensure this support is in place, often in the form of expert facilitation, so the Network stays focused and develops an action plan the full partnership can advocate for among a host of critical local and national stakeholders.
- Update Action Plans – Once the action plan is completed, it can’t just sit on a shelf. It is critical to update the plan every time new data becomes available to inform decisions around what is working to improve the outcomes the partnership has embraced. It is this continuous improvement of action plans that leads to the long-term, disciplined use of data that is at the heart of making civic infrastructure valuable.
It is important to note that in each of these roles, the backbone and the convener, the entities in question must be a) un-biased toward specific partners or strategies, b) willing to use data to drive decisions and navigate the many challenges that come with such a role, and c) have resources to fund the basic staffing roles needed to do the work. This can often narrow the pool of potential players to fill these roles. But if partners can meet these criteria, they can find a way to lead. Not everyone has to be the backbone. In the end, given the state of the outcomes most communities hope to move, there are plenty of leadership roles to play to realize the improvements we all so desire.
 See definition in “Collective Impact” by Kania and Kramer at http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/collective_impact/
More testing! Give them IPads! More teacher accountability! Vouchers! Did I mention IPads and testing? If you’ve paid any attention to the rhetoric of education, you have surely heard these plans. But what you haven’t heard is how we are going to address the needs of children. Sure, technology must enter the equation, but rushing to be the first school with IPads isn’t the answer, especially when there isn’t a plan to integrate them in a meaningful way. More testing simply takes time away from actual instruction, and in no way helps prepare kids for future endeavors.
President Obama visited Manor New Technology High School
No one loves a happy ending more than me. Today was a personal once-in-a-lifetime movie moment: I welcomed President Obama to Manor New Technology High School. Before the president spent 45 minutes with students showing off Project Based Learning, I got to engage in a conversation with him about the kind of innovation taking place in 100+ public school districts across New Tech Network.
I shrieked and was glad that I was not driving. My husband’s eardrums have nearly recovered. You know how the visualization suggestion goes: Dream big dreams and watch what happens. The phone call that caused me to scream confirmed that the president---THE President—was going to visit one of our schools. That was a shriek-worthy moment in itself. But then the real miracle happened the voice on the phone said “and we want you to be there. “
If you have had to spend more than 15 minutes with me in a professional setting recently, you have probably heard me make a distinction between principles and practices. I've had the chance lately to have a lot of conversations of this sort lately about PBL, PrBL, inquiry, and leading professional learning.
For what its worth, here's my list of principles to leading authentic learning:
1. Engage them in meaningful problems and give them the work
2. Give them the time
3. Help them articulate criteria for success
This past week during PBLChat, we discussed the importance of reflection for both ourselves and our students. Although we all agree on the benefits, some of us struggle with the how, especially for ourselves. Learn from all of the strategies as well as be inspired by the tweets from the chat.
Now, for some of our favorite tweets of the week!
So if you knew food would be scarce in a couple of years, would you begin to make your kids know what it was like to be hungry now? Of course not. It is far more likely that you would feed them well, lots of leafy green vegetables, fruits, proteins, make them as strong as they could possibly be so they could weather the tough times! We would never have them "practice" being hungry. That is what I think of every time I am asked the question "How will PBL students be prepared to sit in a lecture hall of 300 kids in college?"
So if you knew food would be scarce in a couple of years, would you begin to make your kids know what it was like to be hungry now?
Are we doing the right things to address, or rather, prevent the issues of disparities in education?
I just read a fascinating opinion piece in the New York Times entitled “No Rich Child Left Behind.” I wasn’t surprised by what I was reading. There is a significant gap in education success between high-income families and those of lower socio-economic status. This we know and have known for years. What did surprise me is how much the gap has grown over the past few decades. The author, Sean Reardon, found the gap in test scores is around 40 percent larger than it was 30 years ago. He also found that the income test score gap is considerably larger than the black-white test score gap. “Family income is now a better predictor of children’s success in school than race.”
I found this shocking and disturbing, given what has seemed to be a great deal of focus and resources dedicated toward closing the achievement gap over the years. But, as I continued reading, what I found even more surprising was the author’s conclusion for why this rapid widening of the gap has occurred. After reviewing a significant amount of historical data, particularly related to family income, he found that the academic gap is widening because the rich keep getting richer. As income inequality rises (which it has substantially over the past decade) rich students are increasingly entering kindergarten much better prepared to succeed in school than even middle-class students, much less poorer students. Which means that wealthier students are not only better prepared to succeed in their first years of schooling, but ultimately better prepared to succeed in life as a whole. This supports what we know about the critical importance of early childhood education as building the foundation for education success.
So, could it be that we, as a nation, have been focusing on the wrong issues when working to eliminate these educational disparities? Much of the strategies to close the achievement gap have focused on improving teacher quality and failing schools and we have made some great progress, yet the gap continues to widen and at such a rapid pace. The author suggests that we must also focus on the relationship between family income and educational success and he makes some suggestions for how to address these challenges. In reviewing his suggestions, it is clear that our work to build cradle to career cross-sector education partnerships is particularly relevant as it will take the combined efforts of business, philanthropy, government and education sectors to close these gaps or better yet, prevent them from occurring.
First, improving outcomes in early childhood education must continue to be a focus for cradle to career partnerships. If states and the federal government are not going to do the right thing and increase investments in this area, then it is imperative that local partnerships really dig into the early childhood data, identify what is working and align resources to expand these practices, with a specific focus on ensuring greater access and equity when it comes to high-quality early childhood experiences.
Next, cross-sector cradle to career partnerships are uniquely well-positioned to advocate for more family-friendly policies, such as more generous maternity and paternity leave policies or access to high quality childcare. These types of policies will enable parents to have the flexibility and resources to spend more time supporting and teaching their children. In fact the business partners at the table of cradle to career partnerships could set the precedent by implementing these policies for their own employees.
There are so many things that partnerships can do to help prevent and eliminate gaps, but what is perhaps the key lesson learned from this particular issue, and so many other education issues, is that it all starts with data. Just as the author of this piece used data to understand the growing problem of income disparities, cradle to career partnerships must take the finest cut at the data – digging into student data and monitoring important contextual data in order to get at the root cause of the issue and address it head on before the gaps occur. Only when we have looked at disaggregated data as a community, can we be prepared to have the tough conversations and take the appropriate action that are so critical to reversing this trend. If the achievement gap begins well before children reach kindergarten, then an ounce of prevention is most definitely worth a pound of cure.
Just about a year ago I gave an Ignite Talk at our New Tech Network summer conference called "Bridges & Fences".
As I rehearsed for this I could never say the ending without choking up, you can hear in my voice at the end that I barely made it through. I think it makes me emotional because those of us in education know so many students who are surrounded by fences they didn't build but must somehow get over to reach their dreams and goals.
We had a fast-paced #PBLChat this week sharing project ideas and helping each other out with ideas that were just being formed. Tap into these resources here in our chat archive . Don't forget you can add YOUR topic requests right here on this google doc.
Now for a few of our favorite tweets of the week:
As I take a deep dive into MIT Media Lab’s MOOC on “Learning Creative Learning”, there are so many great resources to explore. One of my favorites is an article on "Designing for Tinkerability." It’s by Mitch Resnick and Eric Rosenbaum from the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT Media Lab. If you’ve ever used Scratch, you know of their work.
When the Collective Impact article appeared in the Stanford Social Innovation Review back in early 2011, our phones began ringing off the hook with communities wanting to learn more about the work of building cradle to career civic infrastructure. Thanks to support from Living Cities we had already worked to capture lessons and work with other sites nationally, but the momentum the article generated expedited the launch of the Cradle to Career Network. We knew we didn’t have all of the answers here in Cincinnati so we needed to fuel the movement by creating the Network to connect the many communities doing cradle to career collective impact work on the ground and capture the knowledge being generated in order to help share the learning.
And the movement has most definitely been fueled. Membership in the Cradle to Career Network includes 92 communities across 35 states and 6 different countries and counting. This rapid growth is exciting as it means that all of these many communities are committed to improving outcomes for kids. When we came together as a Network for our Annual Convening last fall, however, we were not talking about how to continue to grow the Network. Rather the conversation was about making sure the Strive approach remained rigorous across all these communities, calling for a more defined structure around what it means to do this work with quality. If we don’t work to maintain the rigor that is inherent in this approach, collective impact will become little more than business-as-usual collaboration and we will not achieve the results that we want to see for kids.
And so, the process of developing quality benchmarks began and here we are in the midst of the soft launch of the Strive Theory of Action. The Theory of Action takes the years of captured learnings from the Network and our work on the ground with communities and builds it out into a continuum of quality benchmarks that act as a guide to implementing the Strive Framework. The Theory of Action clarifies the essential pieces of building and sustaining Cradle to Career Civic Infrastructure, which will allow for a better understanding of how to do this work and act as a guide in where to focus a Partnership’s energy and resources to more efficiently achieve impact. It also acts as a mechanism to hold each other accountable within the network for implementing a collective impact effort with rigor, increasing the consistency of language and approach across communities. And finally, and perhaps most important in all of this, the Theory of Action and quality benchmarks validate local action. The Theory of Action provides a practical and evidence-based framework to inform and validate local action and focus.
Perhaps nothing exemplifies the validation of local action more than the Interactive Theory of Action tool that was built to support the soft launch process of these benchmarks. The tool incorporates examples from 17 Cradle to Career Network member partnerships, demonstrating how these partnerships have achieved specific benchmarks. But what’s even more amazing than the tool itself is the way in which these 17 cradle to career partnerships, along with leaders from the more than 25 partnerships involved in the vetting and revisions of the many Theory of Action drafts, the more than 350 participants in the 2012 Strive Cradle to Career Convening who put out the initial call for more rigor, and the Network as a whole has really rallied around a new movement – a movement toward quality. Network members have provided stories, examples, feedback, and advice. They have struggled, innovated, failed forward and been willing to share it all so that others can learn. And now they are committing to quality and taking on a rigorous approach to lead to impact. And when all is said and done and outcomes for kids from cradle to career begin to improve, this Network will have contributed something incredible for the field. I’m excited to be part of the movement.
This week's #PBLchat topic was "What kind of PD best supports you?" It was a robust chat with many resources/ideas and models being shared.
Some of our favorite tweets of the week....