“Little known fact,” Roshni Mirchandani of the Highlander Institute joked, “These Warwick teachers were circus performers before they fell in love with educating children. They still use some of their old talents from time to time like juggling, jumping through hoops and clowning around.”
Since February, four teachers in Warwick have participated in a new pilot program, Teachers Design for Education (TD4Ed). Tracy Mollock and Amy Dolan, first grade teachers at Warwick Neck Elementary, Dawn Manchester, a sixth grade teacher for Lippitt, and Deirdre Pesola, also a sixth grade teacher at Norwood, have all been “designing a better education” for their students.
TD4Ed is a joint program run by the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) and Highlander Institute with a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant. TD4Ed ran its first pilot program in Rhode Island with pilots later added in Chicago and Philadelphia. TD4Ed worked with teachers to promote design thinking or what their website claims is “a human centered approach to how we look at problems and enables us to focus on the experiences that we want to create.”
Saul Kaplan, the founder of BIF, explained that BIF has always worked to enhance the student experience. Then the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation suggested working from the teachers’ point of view.
“What if instead of pointing fingers at teachers we enabled them?” Kaplan said. “We should be giving them the tools to prosper because they are the answer to having a better student experience.”
Last weekend, Team Warwick as they became known, attended the TD4Ed culmination conference at the Business Innovation Factory in Providence with all the pilot programs. More than 75 people attended the conference as pilot program managers, participants as well as outside teachers and administrators who had heard and fell in love with the program.
On Saturday each group presented the different programs they created through TD4Ed for a “community critique.” These presentations were recorded and streamed live across the country. They also had a live Twitter feed running. Congressman Jim Langevin tweeted out to the teachers saying, “Good luck to @BIF at Today’s #TD4Ed community critique. Thank you for empowering and supporting RI educators.”
Before the critique began the two MCs, Mirchandani and Sam Seidel, a director for BIF’s student experience lab, welcomed the audience who were there in person and those watching online.
Seidel then said, “Teachers have the ideas, knowledge and the skills to solve the tough issues facing not only education, but society as a whole. We need to empower them to address the problems.”
The Warwick teachers were one of the last groups and shared their underground learning community, Create and Collaborate. They had control to discuss what they saw pertinent with peers that could more closely relate to the challenges in the classroom.
The program invited teachers to a meeting through which they could discuss what does and does not work within their classrooms, whether that was an organizational tip or a certain program initiated in a classroom. The meetings were BYOB – bring your own buddy – so that as many different grade levels and schools would attend the events. The first meeting had about 12 people and the second had over 20 Warwick public school teachers attend. It helped to create a support system, a learning community between teachers and a collaborative foundation.
Kirtley Fisher, a BIF Experience Designer and Co-leader for TD4Ed said, “They really showed what can be accomplished in a short amount of time if you really want it. They made something that wasn’t mandatory but highly engaging so people came out to participate.”
The idea for Create and Collaborate came after Team Warwick had sent a surveymonkey, an anonymous online survey distributor, to almost 150 teachers in the school system at the very beginning of their pilot. The survey asked numerous questions about collaboration between teachers; 93.53 percent said they did participate in collaboration, but 86.03 percent had to do so in informal meetings either at breaks or after school hours. One question, “Does your current organization support you to learn and share with others at work?” received a 57.55 percent “no.” The program Team Warwick initiative wanted to encourage teachers to work together.
“The teachers were so enthusiastic with renewed passion and energy because of the autonomy and control they received through the program,” Pesola said during the presentation.
Manchester explained that the next step for Team Warwick was to expand on the Create and Collaborate initiative throughout the school system. Team Warwick plans to show the data collected by surveys and the experiences teachers had at the meetings while also continuing to hold Create and Collaborate meetings throughout the summer and into the next school year.
“They need to see that we as teachers are making a difference,” Manchester said. “We are doing this on our own time and out of pocket. If we are given the autonomy we will rise to the challenge.”
Their presentation ended with a quote from Helen Keller, “Alone we can do so little: together we can do so much.”
Shawn Rubin, who is the Highlander Institute’s Director for Blended Learning, said that Team Warwick “are really a bunch of rock stars. I don’t think there was another team here who put in so much time and effort. They were just hungry for it. We realized early on that they were just a pocket of teachers with immense potential and opportunity but were lacking a catalyst to begin the change they wanted to see.”
Now with their pilot complete, TD4Ed is beginning to tour the country presenting their program as well as opening an online platform that will be accessible to the public. They are also beginning SD4E, Students Design for Education, that will run similarly as TD4Ed with design thinking at the heart of the initiative, but will involve Rhode Island students finding ways to better their own education. The Rhode Island Department of Education has shown support for the program according to Rubin and a new student engineered school will be created for 24 students with the help of Youth in Action, a nonprofit organization that is teen driven and led to make positive changes for their peers.
For more information on TD4Ed you can visit td4ed.bussinessinnovationfactory.com