The Consortium works in district and charter contexts to design new public schools and transform existing ones.
Most educational leadership programs we know of are preparing leaders for the schools and systems we have, not the ones our students need.
The Consortium works in district and charter contexts to design new public schools and transform existing ones. Our work with schools is guided by a set of design principles informed by Big Picture Learning's "distinguishers" and refined in collaboration with the Consortium’s national advisors, including founders and senior leadership from High Tech High, EdVisions, Fenway High School and the Boston Arts Academy, and the North Carolina New Schools.
These principles prioritize engagement as the strongest lever for both lasting academic gains and development of non-cognitive competencies (e.g. positive self-concept, realistic self-appraisal, leadership experience, preference for long-term goals, etc.) linked to post high school success and wellness. Our partners are working to create schools that are…
Real. Community partnerships (e.g., internships, virtual and in-person project coaching, and place-based learning) connect students to adults in their workplaces, giving real context to academic learning and supporting authentic career exploration. Students learn to navigate ambiguity and innovate to solve open-ended challenges as they apply skills from various disciplines.
Personal. Learning pathways are highly individualized and personalized, and students are known well by multiple adults in and outside the school. Instruction is grounded in the interests of students, who have a significant voice in what and how they learn. Innovative uses of technology support individualized academic pathways. Families are meaningfully engaged in planning, supporting, and assessing their students’ learning.
Lasting. Long-term college and career planning is integrated into all grade levels. Non-cognitive competencies shown to support life-long learning and post-secondary success are incorporated into academic work through learning experiences outside the school and assessments such as performance tasks, exhibitions, and portfolio reviews. Graduates are tracked and supported in their postsecondary educational and career endeavors.
Equity-driven. Big Picture schools and partners have a mission to serve low-income and diverse students and communities. Viable pathways exist for students whose credit deficiencies would deter participation in a traditional school, and innovative approaches to truancy and discipline (e.g., restorative justice) are components of a tenacious approach to retaining and serving students who have been marginalized by traditional systems.
Most educational leadership programs we know of are preparing leaders for the schools and systems we have, not the ones our students need. They inadvertently sustain the status quo by focusing on tweaking existing school designs for marginal improvements rather than creating and sustaining 21st century designs. We need to create truly innovative new schools and redesign existing ones, and we need to do that work with a much-expanded and strengthened professional, organizational, and systemic competence for innovating.
Two years ago the Consortium initiated a design and transformation module within the University of Washington’s Danforth Educational Leadership Program. A year-long design cycle attached to real regional dilemmas sought to prepare principal candidates to employ design thinking and related processes in their leadership practice. Building on the learning from that pilot, we developed School Foundry, a new leadership incubator in partnership with Gonzaga University's Principal Certification Program. With funding support from the ECMC Foundation, the first cohort of five principal fellows will begin with the 2017-18 school year, with the intent to launch new or transformed schools in 2018-19. The intent of this work is to encourage new breakthrough school designs and immerse principal candidates in the Consortium’s growing regional network of non-traditional schools and school leaders as well as innovators from other sectors through our partnership with Impact Hub Seattle.
Articles and a guest blog describing the first year of the aforementioned Danforth module are linked below:
This short video describes a vision for integrating principal leadership programs into a regional network of innovative secondary schools. It was recorded as part of this impact opportunity convening hosted by Getting Smart.
A well-intended but misguided culture of compliance and accountability pervades professional development for teachers and school and district leaders. Districts currently expend extraordinary resources on professional development, school improvement and turnaround initiatives, leadership development, etc., with at best marginal effects on long term student outcomes. To create and sustain the schools our students need, the adult learning in and around schools needs to be much more creative, inspired, and effective.
The Consortium’s intentional approach to building sustained regional capacity is not to grow a large organization of non-school-embedded consultants or external providers. Our experience suggests that the most effective way for a school to sustain its own improvement is to cultivate staff and students engaged in understanding how to more deeply implement key design attributes both in their own school and in others. By connecting and embedding staff and students across schools to push and teach each other about their respective best practices, and by anchoring this work in exemplar schools through facilitated site visits, we hope to develop a regional network of technical assistance providers consisting of students, teachers, and school-based administrators.
Whenever and however we can, we’re connecting the kinds of student and adult learning happening in our close partner schools with teachers and leaders in public schools generally. The Consortium convenes educators in a variety of venues to stimulate the development of innovative programs and practices and increase teachers’ and leaders’ competence as design thinkers and implementers. Many of these sessions use students from Highline Big Picture School as consultants to adults on issues of personalized learning, relevance, school culture, and restorative justice. As the Consortium develops, this will expand to include students and staff of newly designed breakthrough schools as change agents disseminating new approaches from a growing regional learning lab. We are also helping educators innovate by mixing up their problem-solving and design sessions with people from other fields, through partnerships with organizations like Impact Hub Seattle.
“Critical friends group” (CFG) of innovating principals from area districts and charters. First meeting in February 2014, this group included leaders from Highline Big Picture School; Summit Public Schools (with new high schools in Seattle and Tacoma in 2015 and aspiring to two more in 2016); Rainier Prep, a recently-opened charter in the Highline district; Life Prep Academy in Federal Way (launching a blended learning redesign); Out of the Box Learning Studio; and Seattle Interagency Academy. The latest iteration of this group will also include Excel Charter School in Kent and the Green Dot school in Tacoma.
Innovating district leaders’ critical friends group (CFG). In a monthly virtual meeting, the Consortium convenes and facilitates selected cabinet-level leaders from the Tacoma, Everett, Spokane, Marysville, Bellingham, and Methow Valley school districts to push each other’s thinking about dilemmas and new ventures. This group also includes faculty from the doctoral programs in educational leadership at UW Bothell, Tacoma, and Seattle. The intent is to foster creative thinking and problem-solving among the district leaders while deepening collective understanding of the leadership skills and mindsets needed to innovate districts from within.