One week ago today, I walked around a Microsoft conference room full of 22 DCPS and D.C. public charter school teachers (the third cohort of the CityBridge-NewSchools Education Innovation Fellowship)—who had been together since 7:00 a.m. and had already toured two different D.C. schools before noon—eavesdropping on reflections from their week in California this past February. Last week’s session was only the third time they’d convened as a cohort, and yet they were as animated and comfortable as if they’d known each other for years (and hadn’t been awake since pre-sunrise).
The California trip has become an integral and often transformative part of the Education Innovation Fellowship experience: We started the Fellowship in 2013 in part because we actually had to go all the way to California to see innovative teaching practices. And we didn’t think it had to be that way.
Now, in 2015—and especially in that conference room—it’s not that way. If I told you that the classrooms the Fellows had visited that morning were located in the Bay Area or Los Angeles, you’d believe it. Ingenuity Prep, a public charter school in Southeast D.C., utilizes a fully blended model (walk into any classroom, and you’ll see kids working solo, in small groups, and with teachers—each receiving notably more one-on-one time with adults than I ever did growing up!). Randle Highlands Elementary, a DCPS school, uses a school-wide station rotation model, which the Fellows got to see implemented in their colleague Alex Brown‘s class.
So as I walked around the room on Monday, listening in on conversations, I realized that the “wow factor” of California hadn’t hit the Fellows in the form of shiny tech or classroom configurations—they’d seen a lot of that already, and some were already implementing it. What I kept hearing about was culture: The schools they’d seen in California just felt different. Samantha Ellerbeck (Center City PCS—Brightwood Campus) wanted to create the feeling of having a learning community that she’d experienced at USC Hybrid High. (She “changed everything” about her classroom when she returned from California in order to help her students learn soft skills like independent motivation and to help them advocate for themselves.) David Gesualdi talked about focusing on empathizing with his students (step one of the Stanford d.school’s design process) at Walker Jones Education Campus in order to design his lessons better. Nicole Welsh (DC International School) wondered how behavior management factors in in a personalized model, because every school she saw seemed to have it down pat. And Nick Ford (Ballou Senior High School) grappled with changing the culture for teachers—not just students—so innovation can thrive school-wide.
The first third of the Fellowship year is designed to give Fellows the opportunity to soak in the best of what’s happening in personalized learning around the country, but this group has already begun implementing new models and programs to address specific needs in their classrooms. I think that’s fitting: After all, innovation is a process, not an end. It’s going to get messy in here, and I—for one—can’t wait.
Alli Wachtel, Manager, Communications