Collaboration: The “Old-School Charter” Mindset

During the Education Innovation Fellowship’s recent visit to Intrinsic Schools in Chicago, an administrator’s statement really stuck with me: “We’re like an old-school charter school,” he told us, referencing the school’s collaboration style.  “They’re always looking for ways to partner with district schools, other charters, and even private schools.”

It reminded me of the humble origin charters had—they were created to act as collaborative spaces that could spread their learnings back to districts. At some point, though, this got muddied and (in some cases) wholly forgotten. So often, I’ve seen charter schools and networks do something great and then hold it as an industry secret, on a hunt for ever-higher student achievement compared to those “other schools.” But it was inspiring to hear that a school trying unique things around individualized learning is not just willing to share with others but is actively seeking collaboration.

Considering how new and complex blended/personalized/individualized learning is, the “close to the vest” approach just isn’t the most efficient. In fact, I’ve had more ideas for improving my teaching and classroom practices from spending hours on a bus with fellow D.C. educators than I have in discussions with coworkers in my own school. That’s the tricky part, though: This year, I have the incredible opportunity to spend more than a dozen days with other 2015 Education Innovation Fellows, but such concentrated time and human capital is a rare experience, particularly in schools serving low-income students.

But what I’ve realized is that while a dozen days together outside of school is amazing, it doesn’t have to be the only starting point for collaboration. Upon my return from Chicago, I’m looking forward to committing myself to weekly outreach to my colleagues outside the Fellowship. It might look like coffee with a friend who is at DCPS, or a phone call, or a quick Google chat conversation with a friend who teaches in another city. Whatever it is, I want to commit myself to following the “old-school charter” mindset of constant collaboration with anyone who has something to teach me.

Blair Mishleau, 2015 Education Innovation Fellow
KIPP DC Heights Academy


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