Creating the time and space for authentic parent engagement in the design process

Jim Kline

Teachers and school leaders are busy people. I know this firsthand because I am one. And in the crux of the school year, I know how easy it is to go about tackling problems through the lens of students and teachers: two stakeholders that are critical in student learning. In reflecting on some of my biggest lessons learned through my work at TrueSchool, there is one question I can’t seem to let go: what is the ideal model for parent involvement in the school design process?

As a teacher in New Orleans, I rarely have the time to open my classroom doors and invite parents in for open-brainstorming sessions and the “how might we” exercises we do with our kids. Parents are working, I tell myself. Or parents are seemingly satisfied if they aren’t complaining, right? Not quite.

I remember one story, in particular, a few years ago from my project-based seminar. My seniors were pitching local policy proposals to our city council members, and one of my student’s mother was in the audience watching. After the presentations, she asked me what kind of mobilization and voter registration we were doing to ensure these ideas could live beyond our presentations. A light bulb went off – why was I treating this presentation as the ‘end point’ for their ideas?

This one comment sparked a two-year obsession to empower my students to push for real change in our community. A few legislative bills and one successful state law later, my students are leaving their mark every year in our community through advocacy and research. As a teacher, I needed the time, space and process to meaningfully engage my student’s parents in a way that wasn’t just “checking the box” for parent engagement.

At TrueSchool Studio, we put teachers in the driver’s seat to create innovative solutions for students. Too many of our school models are outdated and broken, and we have to work on pushing research to innovate from within our schools. Our model replaces the notion that outside professional development providers are the agents of change; in fact, we believe that teachers and leaders are the real R+D departments at schools all across the country. We innovate not for the sake of innovation, but for equity – because when one school discovers a new learning model, we all benefit. But what role do parents play in this R+D? What role should they play?

Over the past few years, TrueSchool has worked with hundreds of teachers, school leaders, parents, and community members in designing new learning models and solutions on the ground level, across traditional public, charter, magnet and independent schools. Whether it is at the beginning stages of the design process or generating implementation feedback, there’s been incredible growth among schools in creating the space and process for engaging parents in a meaningful way. One school in particular, the Immaculate Conception School in downtown Los Angeles, designed a workshop series to address communication gaps between parents and educators, all generated from community focus groups and stakeholder surveys.

Creating the space for parent voices is the first step, but TrueSchool also builds the know-how for educators like myself to discover and incorporate our parent’s ideas into better solutions for our schools, leading to better outcomes for all. We couldn’t be more excited by the potential and power of parents on our design teams, and above all else, creating time, space and the processes to solve our school’s most pressing challenges.

About Jim Kline
Jim Kline is a teacher leader at Sci Academy, one of the top performing charter schools in New Orleans. He teaches a project-based seminar in design thinking as well as leads the school’s college readiness initiative. He is passionate about project-based learning and the limitless potential of our teenagers. In the past few years, Jim’s students have changed a state law, advocated state representatives to reform education, and pressed city council members for meaningful oversight into our city’s criminal justice system. Jim’s education experience began in St. John Parish, Louisiana, as a high school civics teacher with Teach For America. Jim has also served as a Curriculum Specialist and Instructor for both Teach For America and The New Teacher Project (TNTP), and has won numerous teaching awards, including the St. John Parish District Teacher of theYear Award, and the New Schools for New Orleans Excellence in Teaching Award. He holds a B.A in Public Policy from Rutgers University, and a Masters in Educational Leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University.

More Than Me and TrueSchool Studio partnership extends free education to over 20,000 students in Liberia in the next two years

TrueSchool Studio is excited to announce its partnership with More Than Me –  a Monrovia based foundation and academy. Together we are embarking on a bold new plan with the Liberian Ministry of Education called Partnership Schools for Liberia to reform the country’s education system by providing every Liberian child, regardless of family background or income, access to a free education. Inspired by  New Orleans, which rebuilt its own decimated educational infrastructure by opening its schools up to the charter system following Hurricane Katrina, Liberia is partnering with organizations like More Than Me to help relaunch schools.

 

img_3928More Than Me (MTM) will operate 6 schools across Liberia and TrueSchool Studio will train 14 School Capacity Leads (SCL). The SCLs attended rigorous training at MTM University, developed and led by TrueSchool Studio. TrueSchool Studio has built the MTM University with the aim of establishing a model of teacher leadership development and teacher-led innovation in Africa and the developing world. Together, TrueSchool Studio and SCLs are co-creating strategies to improve teacher and student attendance and to build positive, safe, healthy, and effective school cultures with high expectations for student learning. TrueSchool Studio will continue to provide support and coaching alongside the SCLs to over 54 Liberian teachers in Fofee Town, Bogbeh, Hill Town, Moore Town, Golodee, and Bombomma communities in Liberia.

 

TrueSchool Studio’s Founder and CEO Amy Vreeland is already on the ground working with Liberian educators, “This is an unprecedented opportunity to truly transform an education system. Due to war and Ebola, Liberia’s children have been deprived an essential human right — access to a free, quality education. As the Liberian government has stated, this is a national emergency. We are addressing this need by immediately expanding the More Than Me model of safety, health, and quality education to 6 new partner schools. Within 5 years, we plan to reach 500 schools. We are also transforming the teaching profession in Liberia — we are building the next generation of visionary educators who will lead enduring change and improvement for students across the country. We’re not going to stop until Liberia serves as a model for the rapid improvement of a nation’s entire education system.”

 

The first cohort of SCL’s have graduated the first phase of TrueSchool Studio’s training at MTM University and  are now on-site at their schools. Some of the SCLs have moved as far as 7 hours outside of Monrovia. Community members will apprentice with local SCL’s until they become onsite community experts in education, safety, or health.

 

All stakeholders involved in Liberia’s education initiative understand the sobering realities they are up against. Liberia is the 6th poorest country in the world as measured by GDP per capita. With 14 years of civil war from 1990 to 2003 and the Ebola epidemic between 2014-2015, the country’s economy deteriorated significantly and 85% of the population is unemployed. This work will not only bring quality education to communities, but also quality jobs.

 

img_3077There is political will in Liberia, however, like never seen before. Communities are united to rebuild their schools — and rapidly. All actors involved are moving at an unprecedented pace. TrueSchool Studio, More Than Me, and Liberian educators are rebuilding schools grounded in very real student and community needs.


As Liberia embarks upon this bold mission to ensure that every child has access to a quality education we invite you to follow along on More Than Me, TrueSchool Studio, and Liberia’s progress with the hashtag #LiberiaIsASchool.  
To chart a new course for Liberia we need all minds on deck.

 

VOTE TrueSchool for Tory Burch Foundation Fellowship!

VOTE TODAY! 

The Tory Burch Foundation launched its inaugural Fellows Competition to select 10 entrepreneurs for a yearlong fellowship. Their mission is to empower women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.

Over 500 applicants from across the nation applied. TrueSchool Studio is one of thirty finalists selected to compete for mentorship and coaching for one year, funds towards business education, and the opportunity to compete for a grant investment of $100,000.

With your help we can continue to grow our impact by empowering educators with the time, space and process to lead system-change solutions in their schools and regions. We have worked with over 1,100 educators, impacting over 50,000 students with innovative solutions to solve pressing challenges in their schools.

Help us grow, by voting daily!

  1. Visit Amy Vreeland’s Fellows Page.
  2. Click Vote.
  3. Enter your email address.
  4. Click Vote Now.

Your support will help us become a 2016 fellow and enable us to grow our reach to impact more educators + students! Please share this article or voting link with your friends and family to amplify our reach!

 

“The Mirage” or The Dream? A discussion of what might be if we think boldly…

TNTP’s “The Mirage” sets out to identify bright spots of teacher growth to determine what type, frequency and delivery of teacher professional development yield the most improvement. Researchers identified “improvers,” as 19-30% of teachers in 95% of schools they surveyed and compared their experience to “non-improvers.”* Surprisingly, both groups had very similar levels of engagement and satisfaction with professional development activities. The key differences between “improvers” and “non-improvers” are openness to feedback and awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses. TNTP’s deeper investigation revealed an underlying lack of trust or confidence in evaluation practices, no clear standards for improvement, and disjointed support efforts prohibit meaningful teacher growth.

“The Mirage” illuminates the lack of understanding about what makes professional development effective, and more importantly, ignites a broader discussion about where we go from here.

We believe the best way forward is to set a bold vision for reimagining the teaching profession and defining mindsets, skills, and competencies needed to educate 21st century students.

At TrueSchool we have hypothesized several core mindsets and competencies for education innovation. This is just a start to how we might frame teacher mindsets of the 21st century:

  • Demonstrate deep empathy with students and community
  • Identify and seize opportunities from change
  • Collaborate, create and problem solve as a team and community
  • Actualize a vision by taking a big goal and breaking it down into specific actions
  • Leverage existing resources and assets
  • Take risks, fail forward fast
  • Measure, track, and reflect on impact
  • Continuously iterate and adapt based on findings
  • Lead implementation, impact and sustainability at scale

As a nation, we have redefined what it means to be a student in the 21st century through the adoption of rigorous standards and a shifted focus to critical thinking and growth-oriented learning. Teachers need aligned standards that clearly define what mastery of teaching and instruction now require.

Schools can create the cultures to cultivate human potential and excellence, for both students and teachers. School leadership that promotes excellence, and encourages learning forward rather than attaining perfection, cultivates a growth mindset and creates safe space for people to test, challenge, and improve themselves. Schools can reorganize education by studying the current experience and needs of their students and crafting new roles for teachers that allow for specialization and diversification of responsibilities. For example, teachers could specialize in an area like data and evaluation, innovation, or curriculum and become the expert for their grade or school, assuming the responsibility to ensure all teachers are moving toward mastery of that competency and provide additional coaching or support.

Districts are key levers for transformational change at scale. As districts have a broad reach over access to resources and data for many schools, they can critically study all efforts that improve student and teacher growth, and facilitate cross-school collaboration to test and scale effective systems, tools, trainings, and innovations, to ensure that all schools deliver an excellent education to each student.

The findings of “The Mirage” undoubtedly ignite the need for a fresh look at how we evaluate and support teachers. If we reimagine the status quo and explore approaches that align the evaluation to what teachers need, just like we do with our students, we can create a more effective, rewarding, and just education system for students and teachers alike.

 

* TNTP identified teachers who improved significantly using multiple definitions of growth. They analyzed simple and detailed change in the district rating and grouped teachers into quartiles, assessing who was making the most and least growth over a two- to three-year period. TNTP tracked this type of movement across four different measures of growth: change in total observation scores, change in value-added scores, change in total evaluation scores and change in standardized overall evaluation scores. For a detailed explanation of TNTP’s methods for identifying “improvers” please see page 44 of “The Mirage.”

“Build Better Edtech Products By Connecting Early And Often With Teachers”

Startup Stock Photos

Many edtech developers create what they believe is the best and brightest edtech solution only to find that teachers aren’t using it at the rates they expected – one of the reasons this can happen is when developers have not developed understanding of the teacher experience. Falkenthal of UP Global names the top reasons to engage with educators both early and often.She also includes the best strategic questions to ask teacher to elicit the feedback you need. 

“100 Schools Worth Visiting”

100 schools

Tom Vander Ark has compiled 100 schools worth visiting across the US all the way from elementary and K-8 schools through high school. One of the most-prized association skills innovators possess is to see awesome ideas in other settings and fields and steal them to apply to a new context. This list provides lots of opportunities to learn and adapt new models or programs to your school!

“Why Aren’t More Schools Using Free, Open Tools?”

open software

Penn Manor School District in Pennsylvania is exploring what it means to use open source tools rather than closed systems whenever possible.It has seemingly led to more student ownership over devices and their learning. “While we have the ‘must do’ layer, there’s also that little bit of subversion here, giving kids that little bit of creativity and maybe a ray of hope,” Reisinger, the district’s technology director, said. “I want them to learn that learning is not all about what someone else preordains for you. It’s OK to tinker and play with things.” How might using open tech turn students into creators rather than consumers of technology while also meeting rigorous standards?

“Classroom technology can make learning more dangerous, and that’s a good thing”

tinkeringGreg Toppo says, “Good teaching is not about playing it safe. It’s about getting kids to ask questions, argue a point, confront failure and try again. More teachers might be willing to embrace technology if they saw it as a way to inject more of the dangers of learning into their classrooms.”

Read on to hear from game designers David Langendoen and Spencer Grey – they have seen surprising results in how students engage with their Mission US game at home versus at school and when those students are willing to take more risks.

“13 Barriers to Education Innovation”

barriers to edu innTom Vander Ark shares his opinion on the top thirteen barriers facing innovators in education. The list includes little R&D in schools, limited capacity, and a compliance mindset rather than an approach of getting it done no matter what. A common theme is the fear and lack of acceptance around failure to learn.

 

On the flip side, Carri Schneider shares 12 Education Innovation Mindsets for Leaders.

Which barriers are you challenging in education?

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