As the U.S. began to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic this spring, the calls for schools to find ways to learn from the crisis — to not simply return to the pre-pandemic “normal” — have come from many directions. Yet for schools and educational institutions that have just been through the most challenging year in recent history and are still managing the day-to-day work of running schools and educating students in an ongoing pandemic, this is no simple task.
Our team in the Office of Scholarship and Innovation was fortunate to be presented with an opportunity to support schools as they navigate this current moment. Our college had been in conversation with Ted Dintersmith and Tony Wagner, two thought leaders in education who work with schools and educators to reimagine education to better prepare students for the future. They were interested in partnering with us to lead a series of online studios this spring and early summer, as schools and districts were looking ahead to the upcoming school year. At the same time, we were looking for ways to continue developing our learning futures work, with a goal of providing professional learning experiences for education leaders in which they could design and shape the futures of learning. From there, Project Springboard was born.
The goal of Project Springboard is for vertical teams of educators from a school or district to develop short- and long-term actions they can take to reimagine the experience of school for their students. It launched at the end of April 2021 and is structured as a series of four two-week modules, each of which begins with a 90-minute live online session held on Zoom, followed by two weeks of team work time and optional “office hours.” A final live online session will take place in August, to reconvene the group and check in on progress made in the intervening two months. The sessions are led by our “core” leaders: Ted, Tony, and Punya Mishra. We have also engaged leading education practitioners and experts from the field as guest speakers, including Valerie Greenhill from Battelle for Kids; Finnish educator, researcher and policymaker Pasi Sahlberg; and Hawaii’s state superintendent for education Christina Kishimoto. In addition to the live sessions, we are using the pre-existing What School Could Be online community platform to post resources and assignments, and encourage conversation and community-building among participants.
Because we wanted committed and diverse teams from schools or districts to participate, we asked teams to submit a simple application. Our original goal was to accept 12 teams of 4 to 8 people each, made up of school/district leaders, teachers, and ideally students and community members. We were not sure what kind of response we would get, but we ended up with over 50 applications from across the world, and decided to expand the group to accept 22 of them, for a total of 160 participants.
With such a large group, we’ve had to carefully plan how to connect with and manage the teams. We have a group of “guides” from our team and from What School Could Be to help facilitate discussion for each team and be a point of contact. In addition, our live Zoom sessions have been supported by the ETCs (Educational Technology Champions) in the IgnitED Labs. They have the complex task of moving the participants in and out of over 30 types of breakout rooms during the live sessions. We also are sending weekly emails with reminders, providing feedback surveys after each session, and encouraging communication on the What School Could Be site.
One of the challenges of a virtual convening is the absence of physical, tangible materials and connections. We sought to address this by putting together a box of “goodies” that we have shipped to each individual participant. The box includes three books written by three of our presenters (What School Could Be, The Global Achievement Gap, Finnish Lessons 3.0), a customized notebook we created for the project, a book to spark creativity, the School Design Game developed by our team, and a variety of colorful pens and stickers. The logistics of ordering, packaging and shipping these boxes turned out to be a significant undertaking in and of itself, but the work was led by our Coordinator, Enrique Borges, with help from Elizabeth Mirabal, Kyle Wagner, and student workers Alicia, Josey, and Jared. It was worth it to see excited comments from the participants as they received the boxes!
Another challenge has been the limited time we have together in live sessions. Ninety minutes over Zoom every other week is simply not very much time. I have found that time is always our most precious resource in our collaborations with schools and districts: as is true in this case, our projects come on top of already full workloads for the educators with whom we partner. On the one hand, we don’t want to overburden them by adding another lengthy meeting to their schedules. On the other hand, without substantial time set aside for the work, the project is unlikely to progress very far. So far it seems that many of the teams value the time to meet as a team and work together — at the very least, we are providing structured time for them to advance toward their goals of improving education for their students.
We are barely half way through Project Springboard, so we are all eager to see how things progress in the coming weeks and where the participating teams end up. Check back for another post when the project comes to a close in August!