The Building Blocks of Change
Every organization is so different that I imagine the process of growth looks equally different. In order to try and foresee where and how the Blended Learning program at Envision Schools may grow, I find myself reflecting on the ways that we have already grown. Because Envision Schools is a relatively small organization I realize that change can occur pretty quickly. In the spring of 2011 Brian Greenberg had a vision, an idea for an innovative way to teach summer school. By that summer, not a few months later, that idea had come to fruition. This transition was able to occur because there was an administrator who believed in the idea, there was a teacher who believed in the idea, there was me (who believed in the idea) and because of this momentum we found an investor (in this case Google) who got infected with our enthusiasm. Because this was a small pilot program it was easy for all the involved stakeholders to work out the kinks, to plan, to find consensus, and ultimately make it successful.
The pilot’s success garnered the attention of more people. Specifically more teacher at the pilot school (Envision Academy) wanted in. Again there was a supportive administrator, teachers who were motivated, me and Google. Although there were more people involved there was a cohort of initial individuals who brought knowledge and expertise to the table. Again decisions could be made quickly and the program was a success.
This brings me to this academic year. In a manner similar to the previous iterations there were just a few more individuals who wanted in. There were supportive administrators, motivated teachers, me and this time The Gates Foundation. So what can I learn from my little ethnography that will contribute to the larger conversation about when and how to scale up a program?
- It is important to have a vision.
- It is really important to have administrative support. This can mean either the principal at the school site and/or at the larger level.
- It is really important that whoever is going to be doing the program, for the most part this means the teacher, has to be pumped for the change, absolutely motivated.
- It is really important to have someone who is providing direct support to the program because change is always hard no matter how excited people are. In my experience building someone capacity to do anything different takes some form of support.
- There needs to be some time for those involved to plan, problem-solve, tinker and engage in constructivist activities just like our students.
- It is really helpful, and often times a necessity, for there to be some philanthropic investment. Most programs are designed in such a way that they will eventually be self-sustaining, but there is often an initial cost, whether capital (to purchase computers, infrastructure, programs) or human (coaches, training for teachers), that needs to be covered. And lets be realistic, schools don’t often have much extra of either.
- Lastly, and probably the most important is building capacity. As programs grow it is vital for organizational knowledge and skill to grow along side so that it can sustain and support the program. Blended Learning is all about self-paced and individualized learning and this should occur at all levels of an organization.
So what is Envision School’s next vision? And how will we get there? Our hope is to continue to provide unique growth opportunities to our staff and students. We have a few ideas competing for center stage at the moment. We have talked about growing our math program so that students at all levels can take advantage of Blended Learning opportunities. We have talked about increasing the number of devices that we have available for students so that we are eventually a one to one organization. We have talked about bring Blended Learning programming to other subject areas. So we have the vision. We have supportive administrators. We have me. Now we need the motivated teachers and external partners to get bit by the-Blended-Learning-meets-PBL bug.