Saul Kaplan named Founding Member of The IEEE Fair Trade Data Initiative

The Business Innovation Factory (BIF) is pleased to announce that Founder and Chief Catalyst, Saul Kaplan has been named a Founding Member of The IEEE Fair Trade Data Initiative, a collaboration to develop a standards framework governing the fair trade of human and personal data.

IEEE is the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity. The Fair Trade Data Initiative is a working group of diverse stakeholders collaborating to create a recommendation for a standard to the IEEE Standards Association intending to help guide consumers, corporations and countries engage in the fair trade of inherent human data.

“It’s an honor and privilege to serve as a Founding Member of the IEEE Fair Trade Data Initiative. In developing global standards for the fair trade of human and personal data, we have the unique opportunity to ensure that the voice of the consumer is at the center of the framework.”  

Initiative Founding Team*:

  • Fahd Beg, Chief Investment Officer at Naspers
  • Dr. Christopher Boone, PhD, Vice President, Global Medical Epidemiology and Big Data Analysis Lead at Pfizer, Inc.
  • Krishna Cheriath, Chief Data Officer at Bristol-Myers Squibb
  • Richie Etwaru, Chief Executive Officer at
  • Saul Kaplan, Founder and Chief Catalyst at Business Innovation Factory
  • Dr. Jennifer Miller, PhD, Assistant Professor at the Yale School of Medicine and Founder, Bioethics International
  • Keerthika M. Subramanian, Esq., Corporate and Securities Attorney at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C.

*All founding team members are acting strictly as individuals and not as representatives of their respective organizations

IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) is a leading consensus building organization that nurtures, develops and advances global technologies, through IEEE. Bringing together a broad range of individuals and organizations from a wide range of technical and geographic points of origin to facilitate standards development and standards related collaboration.

To learn more about the initiative, including how to participate, visit:  Fair Trade Data Initiative


The Integration Design Consortium

We’re in an exciting time, one in which a lot of leaders, educators, families, and students are engaged in advocating for a more equitable education system. Even still, young people are falling through the cracks.

It’s not their fault. We often hear about how students are failed by a broken education system, without fully acknowledging that we are the architects of the system. The onus is on us to change because getting to the outcomes we want for young people will mean transforming the way we operate. This isn’t easy and the answers aren’t straightforward. But now is the time for all of us—from educators to philanthropic foundations—to reclaim our imagination and creativity in service of our students.

In an attempt to do things differently, Carnegie Corporation of New York has partnered with the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) to design and run the Integration Design Consortium (IDC). The IDC is an experiment for the Corporation: rather than funding programmatic proof points, the IDC is giving leaders permission to test various integrative approaches to support students throughout their journey in the education system. It consists of five teams2Revolutions, Bellwether, Education First, FSG, and The Teachers Guildworking from the classroom to the statehouse to explore the structures, mindsets, and processes that can create a more equitable education system. Instead of funding these teams in isolation, Carnegie Corporation of New Yorkwith the help of BIFis supporting the IDC as a collaborative learning network, allowing teams to share insights in real time.

Teams working at the Integration Design Consortium convening


Since June 2017, BIF has been leading the shared learning agenda for the IDC—collecting learnings and uncovering insights from across the teams to share with the field more broadly. The collaborative structure of the IDC has allowed us to observe both what is happening in the individual projects, as well as how the five teams are engaging with one another.

We’ve used the collective structure to experiment with different ways to engage the teams—including gathering project updates and sharing them with the teams, convening teams in person for collective sensemaking, and managing self-organized, cross-project exploration groups that focus on specific areas of overlap. Testing these various ways of engaging the teams will help us understand how we might spark collaboration, inspire reflection, and encourage pivots based on real-time learnings. Ultimately, these insights can be used to create field-facing learnings and tools that can reduce fragmentation in education.


It’s been over a year and a half since we first embarked on this grand experiment, so we wanted to share some emerging questions, reflections, and curiosities we’ve had over the past eighteen months.

Patterns of Fragmentation and Integration

At our second convening that took place in January 2018, we wanted to identify the key levers to integration based on the teams’ project experiences. These real-world examples provided a breakdown of the aspects that are most vital to creating a poor or an excellent state of integration, potentially helping us see how complex systems are changing over time. 

Changing Systems Requires Continuous (Un)learning

Monthly calls with teams have allowed us to peek under the hood of the individual projects and identify common themes that point to potential learnings for the field. One insight that we’ve recognized is that there is some amount of unlearning that needs to happen in order to rethink how the system can work.

These calls have served as a touchpoint for project updates but moreso, they have allowed us to ask other questions, such as: What has surprised teams? What challenges have arisen in their projects? What have they been learning that informs us about the nature of fragmentation? Having this kind of visibility into teams’ internal reflections as they are in the midst of planning and implementing their projects has fueled the collection of insights—like the significance of unlearningin real time.

The Power of Relationships

At our very first convening, Todd Kern from 2Revolutions said that change happens at the speed of trust; and at our latest convening, David Garfunkel from FSG talked about the importance of building relational fieldsor the strength, depth, and quality of how we relate to one anotherto create lasting change for young people. In both cases, it was clear that the connection between people is key when doing system change work.

The IDC is by no means the first to say that relationships are important. However, what has been apparent to us as we’ve been doing this work is that relationships should be the goal, not just a means to an end.


Going Slow to Go Fast

True systems change takes time; we need to know when to move slow and when to move fast. But we’re incentivized, through both structures (like grant cycles and metrics of evaluation) and culture (such as a bias towards action), to actand measure our impactnow. If we reframe our idea of short-term success to bias more towards learning as opposed to measurable outcomes, we can give ourselves the time we need to create the change we want to see.

Moving slowly might mean taking time to 1) build trust and relationships, 2) understand the underlying social forces at play, 3) develop new skills and practice new ways of thinking, and 4) craft a clear, compelling narrative that motivates people to act.

Taking time to build relationships and understand the underlying social dynamics at play might mean taking a look around to see who is in the room (from leaders, to students, to constituents) and valuing both their roles as well as their lived experiences. Doing this can help create a sense of ownership over the work and help people shift from self-advocacy to collective advocacy. While this increased trust isn’t always necessary for the work, it does usually strengthen it.


To learn more about the IDC and see the latest learnings from the teams, visit the website at

You can also find more information about integrative approaches and how the learning agenda operates in Carnegie Corporation’s new report: From Fragmentation to Coherence: How more integrative ways of working could accelerate improvement and progress toward equity in education. This resource—meant for practitioners at all levels of the education system, including those in the public, nonprofit, and business sectors offers practical insights into the causes, consequences, and potential remedies of fragmentation.

Read more about the five projects teams in their own words:

  1. Supporting Community-Driven Solutions to Achieve Equity and Improvement in Education | Rachel Lopkin | 2Revolutions
  2. Redefining Professional Development: Educators as Leaders and Learners | Larry Corio | The Teachers Guild
  3. To Improve the Lives of Students, Two Communities Learn to Relate Differently | David Garfunkel, Peter Senge and Jessica Pizarek | FSG, Systems Leadership Institute and PolicyLink
  4. Helping Education Leaders Build Coherence into Reform Strategies to Support Teachers and Student Learning | Jenn Vranek and Cristina Muñoz | Education First
  5. How Greater Continuity Can Help the Millions of Students Rotating Through Social Services | Hailly T.N. Korman | Bellwether Education Partners


By: Reid Henkel and Isabelle Yisak

Experimenting for Education Equity

Year after year, we see new big hairy audacious goals emerging for our education system. For example, by 2025, we want to see 60% of Americans attaining a higher education degree. Currently, the national average is 46.9%, up from only 9 basis points in 2008, calling the question:

What is it going to take for us to move 13 percentage points in 7 years, given our track record?

The same question emerges when you look at school readiness, 3rd-grade reading levels, and high school graduation rates versus goals. Unfortunately, we have to get our heads around the inconvenient truth:

Unless we do something dramatically different, we can’t get there from here.

So what is that different way?

In BIF’s Student Experience Lab, we understand that the problem exists on two fronts:

  1. The education gaps in attainment (from readiness to degree attainment) are largely the output of inequity.
  2. Transformational activities to close these education gaps are few and far between, and those that do emerge are local and fragmented throughout our education system.

The result is that even our efforts to close the equity gap are inequitable. This is why in the fall of 2017, BIF teamed up with the Carnegie Corporation of New York to explore this very design challenge:

How might more integrated approaches to education transform outcomes, specifically for the children who are being left beyond today? How might we reduce fragmentation in our innovation efforts to spread and scale breakthrough solutions? How might we accelerate collaborative innovation to reduce education gaps across the country?

Obviously, this is a project that is near and dear to me personally, and all of us at BIF. It is structured in a unique way, enabling us to both mirror the problem, create a petri dish for experimentation, and collaborate with some of our favorite innovative designers in education. This is how it works:

Five organizations — FSG in partnership with PolicyLink, EducationFirst, Bellwether, 2Revolutions, and IDEO’S Teachers Guild — received grants to run two-year projects, each one geared at reducing fragmentation in education and accelerating integrated approaches to equity in education. These five organizations form the Integration Design Consortium. BIF serves as the connective tissue of the IDC — connecting, convening, and collecting learnings towards our combined learning agenda. We also serve as the Chief Instigator, running small experiments to understand how we might spark collaboration, inspire reflection, and insight pivots based on real-time learnings. The objective is to create field facing learnings and tools that can enable greater integration in education.

Being 6 months into our grant, we are in a position to begin to share some of our emerging curiosities.

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Fragmentation by Design

One of the challenging aspects of our public education system, as with our government, is that it is fragmented by design. We grant local autonomy to states on many issues, and even further down the pecking order to districts. On the one hand, this enables creativity in responding to context (and much of the challenges in education are about context). Even in the classroom, teachers are often given the autonomy to respond to immediate learning needs in new and different ways. This enables “depth” as it relates to impact on individual students, but it prevents “breadth” in the scale of that impact. It is almost like we’re missing a “hyperloop” in our systems that enable us to quickly move learnings up, down, and out of the system hierarchy. Further, it is indeed a hierarchy which prevents the outward bound mobility of learnings and innovation. When we imagine systems that are well integrated (e.g. platforms), they tend to be flatter with basic protocols (e.g. common languages) that enable users to plug and play, adopt and adapt. This dynamic has us curious:

How might we enable horizontal information flows across a system that is fragmented by design?

Reducing the Hunt

It is rumored that by the time Sir Isaac Newton was 12 he had read every book on mathematics. This is less a statement about his intellectual prowess (albeit undeniable) and more a statement about the availability of information. Today, we are overwhelmed by the abundance of information. This is as true for us as individual players in our education system (teachers, superintendents), as it is for us as organizations exploring and testing innovative approaches in education. We know that innovative methods are out there, but we don’t know where to find them. Further, we are handicapped by our evidence-centric society, that frowns upon “experimentation” in education (i.e. experimenting with our children’s futures), and before innovations can spread or scale, they are put through the “evidence-based” time-consuming process of collecting proof, such that they can be deemed a “best practice.” This slows and curtails the ability for organizations and the system as a whole to get better faster. We’re not the first to ask this, but it remains a question that needs to be addressed:

How might we reduce the hunt for individuals and organizations seeking innovative methods for reducing inequity, thereby accelerating the integrated spread of innovations across the education system?

Catalyzing Learning Organizations

This leads us to a related curiosity:

How might we create the conditions that encourage organizations to learn and adapt in real time to emerging learnings and insights?

Peter Senge framed the notion of a learning organization in The 5th Discipline. It is a framework for understanding how organizations can unleash productivity and success by creating the conditions for adaptive and continual learning. Unfortunately, this is not the norm in a society that is still very much governed by industrial era models — which use business models as the organizational straight jacket in service of organizational efficiency and specifically constrain versus nurture expansive thinking by employees and business units. As a result, we have education institutions which create 5-year strategic plans with lofty success metrics (note the before mentioned degree attainment goal), measuring progress yearly, but not adapting in real time to what is working and what isn’t working.

There are three challenges here:

The first is that we lack the signaling systems and metrics to act in dynamic ways. The second is that learning is a generative act and requires a vulnerability which is often considered a high-risk proposition for organizations. For nonprofit organizations, this dynamic is exasperated by funding models. We are funded to achieve certain outcomes through a specific approach. The conditions are not good for real-time pivots; we perceive, right or wrong, that this demonstrates a weakness, a lack of expertise. Finally, learning networks don’t exist in the wild. Learning networks enable organizations to learn together and from each other, getting better faster. But they are most often catalyzed by an outside force, like a funding partner, and they are exclusive. This exasperates the conditions where some organizations learn and others don’t, and where the benefits of such a network are limited by the funding timeframe to sustain it.

Networking Business Models

Finally, if we can learn and adapt, our growth response is limited by our own organizational capabilities. Collaboration is still understood as coming together and learning together, rather than coming together to network our capabilities to deliver value in entirely different ways. The latter is hard, hard work, and requires a few key ingredients. It requires leadership who is willing and able to experiment with new approaches, and lend the organizational brand and reputation to outcomes that can not be attributed back to a single player. It requires the ability to dedicate a few capabilities, on a small scale, to a new delivery model without disrupting the efficiency of the existing delivery model. And, it requires a new revenue model which will work across organizations.

However hard, it is also essential for the integration of a system. If a business model is a network of capabilities woven together into a sustainable financial model, a system is a network of business models that have learned to collaborate. Until organizations learn how to do this, integration in our education system won’t work, and innovations that fundamentally transform outcomes will remain localized and dispersed. Leading us to wonder:

How might we create the conditions (incentives, resources, leadership, and know-how) to build organizational collaboration and integration?

Above, I framed this all as emerging curiosities, because that is what they are. They aren’t necessarily new insights about the education system or guidelines for closing the equity gap. In the spirit of working out loud, they are the thoughts and wonders that come to us as we explore the intersection of equity, integration, and education.

We do not do this exploration blindly; we are standing on the shoulders of giants who have explored it before us. Many frameworks have been developed that answer and address some of what we are finding. As such, we intentionally look at the work through the lens of these frameworks — from Adaptive Leadership and Coherence Frameworks to Learning Organization Theory and the PELP Framework. Our goal is to suss out what can be bundled into these existing frameworks, and what can’t be answered — helping us define new insights and opportunity spaces to accelerate an integrated approach to equity in education.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be sharing many outputs from this work — from podcasts and interviews with the other IDC grantees to videos capturing our learnings and curiosities. We invite you to help us get better faster —engaging with us along the learning journey. Help us identify more blind spots that might be an important puzzle piece; go a bit further and help us put some of these learnings into action, sharing what happens along the way.

It is, as our partners at the Carnegie Corporation of New York often say, a grand experiment.

And. Experimentation in service of education and equity might be the best alliteration, and purpose, ever.

Thanks to Jessica Brown.


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Finding our Equity Why

Twice recently I’ve been asked to reflect on “my why.” The first time, at a student-led professional development on unconscious bias from Diversity Talks and the second, at a meet-up of EduLeaders of Color RI. I am grateful for these two gatherings because I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself to find words to describe my investment in equity and justice in education (and broadly). Additionally, I’ve been trying to think of ways to bring others on that journey — both friends and opponents.

In short, I’ve been searching for a point of view to ground me and provide direction as I imagine the future of education. As the conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) picks up steam, I have felt even more pressure. It is one thing to talk about these topics with folks that “get it”, are increasing their consciousness, and are actively building equity into their practice. It is another to be in conversations and settings where equity is just a casual topic or bolt-on.

My why: I am angry that students and educators (especially those who are Black and brown, LGBTQ, lower-income, English language learners etc.) are flattened by a system that doesn’t allow them to be their full selves. I love my communities and want to be in the business of co-designing and building an education system where they can thrive—one where equity is at the core.

Most of the conversations and actions in the education sector are not structured with the same ‘why’ in mind. Equity is often a bolt-on added to existing conversations, practices, or programs. This has produced inconsistent, narrow-focused point solutions or top-down mandates across schools, organizations, and policy.

These efforts do not:

  • Combat the root causes of inequity and oppression that are stitched into the fabric of the education system (and our society)
  • Raise the achievement of all students, while narrowing the gaps between the highest and lowest performing students or eliminate the racial predictability and disproportionality of which student groups occupy the highest and lowest achievement categories [Glenn Singleton, 2015]
  • Transform experiences for students, educators, and families

To do that, we need something more. We all need personal and institutional ‘whys’ around equity. And our why has to be stronger than our why not.

Luckily over the past year, the Student Experience Lab has had a project that has helped me imagine what an education system with equity at the core might look like. Throughout the Teachers For Equity project, we developed and tested a model that used a system-focused, teacher-driven approach to advancing racial equity. I have previously written about the conditions that make this model powerful: educators were close to their communities, focused on equity, and were designing with NOT for other educators and students.

Our prototype’s why: We want to transform the values, norms, and practice of the classroom and activate teachers to change not only what is taught, but how it is taught, how teachers and students engage, and how school communities learn and grow together.

Download Our DEI Toolkits

Transforming values, norms, and practices that are rooted in systemic racism is not work that happens easily. It is work that put equity at the core and required every educator to have a strong personal ‘why’. They needed something that rooted them in the work when facing pushback from colleagues or when they did not immediately see results in student achievement.  

As they uncovered, explored, and modified their whys we were able to move from a lens where equity was merely a bolt-on. We were then able to surface other key conditions of an equity-centered education system:

A commitment to building racial consciousness. There is no such thing as achieving complete cultural competence, this work requires being actively adaptive and responsive. In Teachers For Equity that required two things: content and reflection. The content was the “easy” part. There are plentiful resources to get educated on racial dynamics and histories—what’s harder to uncover is what is stopping us from engaging with these histories or conversations about race. Deep reflection on our own racial identity and experience is essential for understanding structures and mental models that perpetuate racial disparities. By creating opportunities for courageous conversations, our racial consciousness grew from a deeply personal place—and I believe our lives and work will be impacted forever because of it.

A transformational point of view. Transformation often feels intimidating. When we are challenged, it is more natural to go to what is comfortable, technical, or measurable. However, just like getting to the core of our personal racial narratives changes the work, so does getting to the core of the system. Combining a strong ‘why’ with a systems focused lens made educators more confident providing leadership to address root issues of educational equity.

An acceptance of losing competence. All of us like to be (or to be seen as) smart, capable, and competent. Throughout this process we had to work through losing competence— discovering all that we didn’t know about race, having vulnerable conversations, and redesigning a system founded on oppression. When facing uncertainty, we had to avoid disengaging or pivoting the work so that we can speak and act with more authority. Spoiler alert: we were not always successful.

A human-centered culture. Teachers are the closest to students and their needs, yet they are often the last to be considered when designing new, equity-centered models. The goal to advance equity must be supported at every level, but most importantly, teachers must be supported in building equitable practices in order for significant impact to take place. This requires institutions to build in time, space, and a culture of design that allows teachers to create and reflect on equitable values, norms, curriculums, and practice. It can also be aided by intentionally pushing the boundaries of professional-personal divides that hinder vulnerable, courageous conversations. Vulnerable sharing doesn’t mean sharing every detail of your life, but wanting and giving permission to bring in your authentic personal experiences to the table as we work to solve some of the toughest issues facing classrooms and education.

Throughout this project, we saw powerful glimpses of these conditions in action. They enabled us to go beyond surface level solutions to think more holistically about how school and communities could better learn and grow together.

Transformation is comprised of actions taken to change the core of how things are done. The conditions above may seem small/intuitive, but because they target the core of the challenges we face around racial equity (mindsets, feelings, and actions), we saw them enable powerful actions. On a large scale, actions like these can make significant changes in student outcomes. They can help us fulfill our “why” and transform how we deliver more value. For me that looks like using these conditions to create more opportunities for students, educators and leaders to be their authentic selves. It is a commitment to have an explicit focus on equity in my work in education.

At BIF, this experience provides guidance as we continue to design with equity at the core. This prototype imagines the future of education. One that is more equitable. One that our students and educators deserve. One that we hope to collectively work towards.

Tell us your equity why! How does it impact how you create and deliver value? And if you don’t have one, how are you going to find it?

Part 1: The Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Imperative

Part 3: The Equity Opportunity in Healthcare


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Escape Boring Learning

You are trapped in a room and you have only two ways to get free: solve a series of problems or wait until the bell rings signaling your freedom leave. Am I talking about a traditional classroom or an escape room?

Many students feel trapped in classrooms where boredom persists — they are being lectured at, asked to memorize information, and to regurgitate it on standardized assessments. Sixty percent of students who consider dropping out report that it is because they don’t see the value in the work they are doing. Student motivation has been a topic of studies and school reform efforts for decades, yet there have been little disruptive system-wide changes in instruction or assessment to increase student engagement.

According to a study done in 2003 by the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University, students are more motivated when one to all of these conditions are met:

  • They feel competent and able to complete an assignment or challenge
  • They understand the relevance of their work
  • They are rewarded for completing the task either socially or academically
  • They understand the cause and effect nature of the work — their actions contribute to an outcome that is predictable.

Here in the Student Experience Lab, we have been on a mission to escape from standard curriculum and assessments and escape into Deeper Learning (DL). Deeper Learning can be a solution for student and educator disengagement. It is defined by the Hewlett Foundation as a set of six interrelated competencies: mastering rigorous academic content, learning how to think critically and solve problems, working collaboratively, communicating effectively, directing one’s own learning, and developing an academic mindset — a belief in one’s ability to grow. Walk into any school committed to deeper learning and you will likely see students excitedly working together on projects, collaborating with their communities, igniting their passions, and guiding their own learning.

Why Escape Rooms?

Escape rooms are an immersive entertainment phenomenon that has sparked a booming new industry all across the country. Escape rooms are live-action adventure games where players solve a set of puzzles, problems, and tasks in order to find a way out. Players have to race against the clock to find hidden clues and uncover the story of the room. Good escape rooms:

  • have a compelling narrative — like searching for a gold prospector’s stash.
  • engage multiple senses — like smelling different ‘wines’ to know which bottle has the right clue or listening to different notes to create a musical masterpiece.
  • are filled with delightful surprises — like trap doors that lead to extra rooms, or secret messages revealed under a blacklight.
  • tap into individual abilities and group collaboration — such as having one person call out instructions and that others execute, or having a puzzle that taps into math, science, or music skills.

Since we are always looking to find exciting, relevant connections from ‘non-school experiences’ we have been exploring how escape rooms offer an opportunity to dive into Deeper Learning and explore its competencies. In the classroom, engaging escape room experiences have everything listed above plus content specific elements that bring learning to life.

Our team went to Austin to challenge SXSWedu participants to escape boring learning with us. In a jam-packed day, we took a trip to an escape room with 25 teachers who all had to escape by solving puzzles within 60 minutes. We then took a trip to a collaborative working space to debrief the experience and assess our learning. After debriefing what made the escape room so engaging, and analyzing how we might hack it for educational purposes. Then it was time to try those ideas out and create puzzle rooms for the rest of the SXSWedu attendees in hopes that it would inspire them to recreate similar experiences in their classrooms. At the end of the day, more than 100 teachers went through the three escape rooms that participants created and debriefed their experiences using a Deeper Learning rubric that helps assess which Deeper Learning competencies participants were using while in the escape room.

So how can you continue to escape boring learning?

  • Take advantage of our open source Deeper Learning Escape Room toolkit — co-created with teachers and students this document contains analysis, insights, and ideas for the creation and implementation of an escape room at your school.
  • Get a window into our experience at SXSWedu by watching the video below
  • If you like what you see, vote for the next stage of our work — DeeperLearning Escape Pods — to be showcased at SXSWedu.

Let us know how you plan to escape boring learning at your school, email me at!

Cooking with Heat

I watch a lot of competition cooking shows — to the point where I feel like I have an intimate understanding of knife cuts, reductions, and how to confit duck. Without any formal education and very little dedicated practice, I yell at my computer screen and judge contestants from afar knowing that I would be able to handle the pressure if I were in the kitchen. You see many folks like me appearing on these shows and getting hit with a strong dose of reality when they did not have the skills they needed to create beautiful, thoughtful, and — most importantly — delicious meals in that environment. And those with experience, judges and other contestants, will usually call them out for it or will pointedly glance.

What happens when the stakes are higher than a cooking show? What happens when power and responsibility are put into the hands of those without experience or knowledge of an environment?

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Teachers and students are at the heart of our education system but are often overlooked when brainstorming how education should be transformed. Most are never asked their opinions on how to improve different environments — from their classroom to district to national oversight. Similar to my yelling at chefs through my screen, decisions and priorities within education are decided by those who are watching, rather than those who are closest to it. Even more disconcerting is that individuals watching often have the power to set standards and judge progress.

You can not create successful, equitable solutions unless you are proximate. You can not cook without heat.

The work to be done is both complex and simple: let educators and students design and lead the future models of education. The Student Experience Lab (SXL) operates from a lens informed by what educators and students care about. We are excited that the folks at Teacher2Teacher have also been researching and mobilizing around similar themes. Recently they hosted a webinar entitled “What Teachers Care About” that explored which narratives matter to teachers (measured through online platforms) and how those of us who design with educators can leverage different topics to foster connection and learning for all.

The presenters talked about both positive narratives that reflect optimism and confidence and negative narratives that reflect concern about future direction. In 2014, teacher narratives were 54% negative, with top concerns being that teachers deserve professional respect, need opportunities to learn, and must focus on teaching the whole child.

Since then, narratives have shifted towards a more positive, hopeful language. Integral to this shift has been the presence of social justice focused narratives — specifically those surrounding racial and socioeconomic equity. Educators have explicitly named poverty, racial biases, structural influences, representative staff, and many more examples, as influential issues that need to be tackled. They have also been telling us that education is a right and that all students deserve both access and success within the education system.

So how do we get the experienced cooks in the kitchen to design thoughtful and lasting solutions? How do we make sure that educators and students close to issues surrounding equity have the power to create change?

Unlike a fancy competition kitchen, we have all had access to education from some angle — student, teacher, parent, etc. Unfortunately, a lot of folks in education are cooking without heat: they are not close to the environment, they aren’t focused on equity, and they are not listening to what students and teachers need.

Right now, and hopefully forever, many educators are hungry for resources that bring equity out of a solely learning space and into their practice. We believe that the work we are doing with our Teachers For Equity (T4E) Fellowship will begin to bridge those worlds in a meaningful way.

On an unseasonably warm weekend in February, BIF hosted 20 teacher leaders, one district leader, and our partner Pacific Educational Group. We took a deep dive into exploring racial equity, ourselves, PEG’s courageous conversations protocol, design thinking, and building communities of practice. The T4E Fellows will lead communities of practice that can include students, teachers, community members, administrators, and anyone else with a stake in creating equitable educational environments in their regions.

“Everything we need is in the room” -Leidene, PEG Equity Transformation Specialist, validating how much knowledge and experience we have to share with one another.

In the first few months of the fellowship, not only have these educators told us what they care about, but they have also shown us. These fellows have the will to engage topics of racial equity, understand their environments, and are prepared to cultivate communities that can create stronger, more supportive educational spaces. They have also shared stories with one another about successes and missteps as they build up equitable practices. The range of experience, both in teaching and life, has created a community where we all are empowered to teach and learn from one another.

Although they are experts in their experiences, the T4E Fellows have started by expanding their understanding of others in their environments. They have initiated conversations with both those who will inform their communities of practice work and those who will be active participants in it. They have already taken what they have learned and found ways to apply it to their leadership. One fellow has proposed that a good way to kick off their community would be by sharing those research conversation findings so that the group is informed by more than just one opinion of what matters. Others have recognized the powerful role students play in the communities, but also in emphasizing why this work is so important. In stepping back, the T4E Fellowship is modeling how to value student agency and strength. In short, the T4E Fellows are cooking with heat and I am excited to see what ideas and inspiration come out of their communities.

Bringing “Hip-Hope” To Underserved Communities

Roberto Rivera’s personal story is about the expansion of true consciousness in one young person, who was tagged early on as learning-disabled, then shunted from one alternative school to another. He got into trouble, and almost slid into an abyss of statistics that presumed his ultimate disconnection from family and community — from the “good life.”

Now, he says he is learning about love.  How to love other people, how to love himself.

A turning point for Rivera was the death of his grandfather, who saw young Roberto in his wholeness, simmering and on the brink of something. “He didn’t just see the talent and passion in me,” Rivera says of his grandfather, “He saw my pain.”

Rivera is the president and lead change agent of The Good Life Organization (GLO), a social enterprise that catches young people who slip through the cracks of our educational and social systems.  He catches them with hip-hop, storytelling, videography, and personal connection. He does it because he stepped out of the cracks himself in a journey that took him from “dope dealer to hope dealer.”

That’s how Rivera sees students in GLO’s afterschool Fulfill the Dream workshops, a series of encounters that draw out the genius of young people who are considered “at-risk”, but who have the impulse to give and create. Seeing the beauty beneath a rough exterior is what Rivera calls “Michelangelo vision” —the ability to look beyond like his grandfather could.

“He was my Michelangelo,” Rivera says. His grandfather was the son of immigrants. He went to college against the odds, sent money home to his siblings, and led an altruistic life grounded in the community. His death took Rivera off the “track to distraction,” the path that seeks a pleasure-centered life, filled with fleeting feel-good moments that leave an emptiness in their wake.

Ten years ago, Rivera started GLO as a service born out of love, he says. He works in underserved communities, mostly with young people of color who struggle as he did. “All that work is bursting out of the heart of a big brother who is trying to love these kids,” he says. “I want them to be great, to be walking in their dreams.”

As he pursues a Ph.D. in educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rivera applies empirical evidence to what he already knows through experience: “Education can have the most profound impact on people’s lives.” But he is careful not to fall for clichéd strategies aimed at pulling kids from one side of the achievement gap to the other.

He notes that standard educational goals can produce high-achievers who go to Ivy League schools, earn their MBAs, join blue-chip corporations, and devise brilliant financial schemes that build immense wealth for the few on Wall Street, and chaos for everyone else.

It’s not enough to be smart, self-satisfied, and successful, Rivera says. “We want all kids on both sides of the gap to have a moral compass, to think critically, and to make the institutions that they’re a part of and the communities that they serve to be more just and more humane.”

At GLO, he reminds young people of their heritage in hip-hop, the most innovative cultural movement of this age. He tells them about the Jamaican-born, Bronx-raised DJ Kool Herc, who transformed the turntable into an instrument, got everyone break-dancing, and brought hip-hop into being. Kool Herc opened a space for joy and expression and thus transformed a culture. And he started out just like them.

“This is their history, and it’s important that they know it and claim it, and build off that foundation,” Rivera says. “If our kids today can recapture that narrative, realize their link in the chain of tradition, it’s not so farfetched that they might have the idea for the new Facebook.”

Rivera helps young people find their “inner GPS” and turn it up so that the reality of love dominates all others. “There’s a real clash of realities happening right now,” he says. “The one that will win is the one that people embody and live.”

TD4Ed Overview: A Look Back

What do you get when you put 5 classroom teachers, 6 teaching artists, 3 youth development staff members, 3 graduate students, 1 coach, and 1 parent in BIF’s office space for a 2-day intensive “design jam”?  What if they all come with a problem they’re currently facing and want to tackle? During the last weekend in March, we found out.

Fueled by caffeine, collaboration, and adrenaline, these 19 dedicated educators worked in teams of 2-6 to tackle their chosen challenges, using our Teachers Design for Education (TD4Ed) curriculum. In the week leading up to the event, the teams conducted qualitative research to explore their issues and develop a deeper understanding of what they meant to various stakeholders. At the design jam, they reflected on what they had learned, generated and evaluated 60-70 new ideas to solve their challenge, built 3D prototypes of a new solution, tested out their concepts with a partner team, and plotted next steps to implement what they had created…all in just over 8 hours.

Sound intense? It was. But all five teams walked away with a tangible solution they were excited to test out and implement on their own turf, and it was an inspiring way to wrap up the work we’ve been doing on the TD4Ed project over the past six months.

As our current phase of work on TD4Ed draws to an end, we wanted to share some of the things we’ve done, how our thinking has evolved, and where we see TD4Ed going next. Beyond just what we’ve learned specifically about TD4Ed, we think the larger lessons we’ve learned about the fields of blended learning, professional development, and education innovation have broader applicability, especially for those who are playing in these spaces.

Want all the insights and details? Use the links at the bottom of this post as an index to jump to more in-depth information. Interested in just the highlights? Well, here’s the quick version:

Where We Started

In round one of work on TD4Ed (November 2013-June 2014), BIF’s Student Experience Lab (SXL) designed, tested, and launched a free, collaborative platform that teaches educators design thinking skills and empowers them to create, test, and implement solutions to challenges they face in their classrooms, schools, districts, and communities. Through a series of pilot programs in Rhode Island, Chicago, and Philadelphia, the SXL co-created this platform with teachers and with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

Round two of our work, which we started in October 2014 and are now wrapping up, gave us a chance to strategize around how to partner with other organizations to get TD4Ed into the hands of more teachers, make it even more valuable to them, and create a sustainable model for TD4Ed going forward.

At the start of this second phase, we had in mind a variety of partnership types that could increase the impact of TD4Ed in different ways: integrating TD4Ed with a high profile crowdfunding site to attract new users and offer them funding for their solutions; offering blended in-person professional development trainings; rolling TD4Ed out across an entire school, network, or district; working with other organizations to create sponsored design challenges around specific problems; embedding TD4Ed into existing tech platforms that educators are already using; and/or offering micro credentials to teachers that complete the TD4Ed curriculum. Our goal was to figure out which combination of partnerships would be the right mix for TD4Ed, and make those partnerships happen.

What We’ve Been Doing & What We’ve Learned

We started by identifying who the major players were in each category and looking into the unique elements they brought to the table that could deliver value to our users. After getting an overview and deeper understanding of the potential strategic value of each partnership type, we began having conversations with representatives from the organizations that seemed most promising and experimented with what form these partnerships could take.

Through this process, our biggest and most generalizable learnings have included:

Learning #1: Experiences must be personalized.

Educators need choices, and it’s wise to accommodate a variety of levels of desired time investment and learning outcomes. With TD4Ed, we found that the full 6-8 week curriculum works great in a blended, facilitated model. But not all teachers have 6-8 weeks to commit to learning a new process. To give such teachers a chance to use aspects of design thinking in their practice, we played with a spectrum of engagement options. These ranged from bite-sized individual downloadable guides and activities to concentrated one-off workshops and the above-mentioned weekend-long design jam, and finally to more extensive blended professional development training.

        Learning #2: Engage teachers early in their career.

Working with individuals while they are training to become teachers is a particularly powerful time to make in a difference in their practice and mindsets, and ultimately in their students’ learning. Teachers-in-training are looking to add new skills to their teaching arsenal, and are more likely to have the time to try out resources. From the ways we’ve seen education students engage with design thinking and the TD4Ed platform, we recommend that others working in the education space think about how they might bring their tools to teachers-to-be.

Learning #3: Teacher-designed solutions — and the teachers behind them — are powerful.

This comes as no surprise, and we’ve seen it time and time again both in the initial round of work on TD4Ed and in everything we do in the SXL. But it bears repeating. In this phase of work we’ve seen over and over how educators take the solutions they’ve developed — and the design thinking process itself — and run with them.

We had been tossing around the idea of involving TD4Ed teacher “alumni” in our blended professional offerings for a while but got serious about it after an illuminating conversation with    Wendy Sauer, our Program Officer at BMGF. She thought incorporating teachers into our PD facilitation could be a great model for TD4Ed, and so we decided to experiment with what that could look like. At our design jam, we invited one of our pilot teams, a group of teachers from Warwick, Rhode Island, to join us to offer tips, share about their TD4Ed experience, and describe how their solution has grown and evolved over the past year. It was a powerful moment in which the new participants saw just how significant the effects of their solutions could be.

Learning #4: Professional development training and edtech platforms must deliver learning experiences that are relevant, interactive, and ongoing.

The BMGF recently put out a report on teachers’ views on professional development, describing how teachers believe that PD is effective when it involves “learning that is relevant, hands-on, and sustained over time.” This finding resonates deeply with what we’ve seen from TD4Ed. Whether learning is delivered via online or in-person methods, it must align with educators’ existing skills and capabilities, as well as the challenges they are currently facing, and provide ways for them to collaborate and learn actively. Much of the power of TD4Ed lies in how it enables teachers to take on challenges of their own choosing through an ongoing, hands-on process.

Learning #5: There’s a productive tension between integrating into what teachers are already doing, and offering them a completely unexpected experience.

There’s great value in incorporating learning opportunities for teachers into the things they’re already doing and the online and in-person spaces they already inhabit. Meeting educators (or any users, for that matter) where they are is critical to making new experiences valuable to them. At the same time, creating new and unexpected experiences can inspire creativity and open novel pathways for collaboration. In our design jam and workshops, we’ve taken teachers out of their everyday contexts, and as a result, have seen them develop new and enriching ideas and connections. Creating unexpected experiences is something that can be done in online spaces, too.

Where We’re Going Next

In the end (or at least for the time being…iteration is never complete!), most of our energy is going toward offering blended professional development training on TD4Ed. We’re also pursuing a few other complementary avenues, including delivering TD4Ed via existing edtech platforms (look for us on BloomBoard!), offering TD4Ed to teacher credentialing programs, using TD4Ed as a way to engage networks of teachers around larger challenges, and continuing to offer micro credentials to recognize educators who complete the curriculum. Crowdfunding and rolling TD4Ed out across a model school, network, or district fell out of the running for us as pathways to pursue for TD4Ed right now, but looking into these areas taught us useful lessons.

We still believe that storytelling can spread the impact of TD4Ed beyond individual teams, schools, and districts. As educators continue to use TD4Ed to tackle the challenges they face, we hope it becomes a free marketplace of ideas, where teachers, administrators, policymakers, and others can learn what effective, teacher-designed solutions look like.

Looking for all of the blog posts in this series? Use the links below: