Monday, November 6, 2017

SBISD Collaborative Reimagines Learning

Barbara Bush once said, “The Texas Medical Center is Houston’s gift to the world.” In October, it was also a gift to Spring Branch ISD staff members who are looking at reimagining and redesigning schools to better meet the needs of every child.

Everyone knows the world’s largest medical center for its life-saving medical treatment. Most people know it’s an academic center where medical professionals are educated and trained and where researchers make life-changing discoveries. Fewer people know about TMCx Innovation Institute, which shapes the future of health care by connecting visionaries with the best minds in academia, science and medicine.

TMCx was the ideal setting for 53 SBISD employees who gathered to give birth to the Collaborative School Redesign. This is a strategic initiative intended to actively engage school communities in creating the best possible learning experiences. Funded by the New Schools Venture Fund, the initiative is led by SBISD’s Research and Design team, under the direction of Associate Superintendent Elliott Witney.

Participants agreed TMCx was the perfect venue for this creative work.

April Falcon-Blanco, principal of Terrace Elementary, said, “It was wonderful to be in a completely different arena and see how others go about their work. Yet, there are parallels to our fields. The medical field saves lives. Education builds them. Both are important.”

Ten schools were chosen to participate in the Collaborative’s first Cohort: Buffalo Creek, Hunters Creek, Nottingham, Pine Shadows, Ridgecrest, Sherwood, Terrace and Wilchester Elementary Schools; Northbrook Middle School and Spring Woods High School. Collectively, the schools serve 15,510 students; 64.5 percent are economically disadvantaged; 38 percent are English Language Learners.

The Collaborative is engaging in a rigorous, year-long design process that will produce two results: 1) a vision for the school’s future that aligns with the community’s wants and needs, and 2) a responsible, cost-neutral, plan of action for making the vision a reality.

That’s a tall order, but the Collaborative’s first three-day meeting put the task in perspective. The group discussed educational models; current trends in globalization, technology and employer priorities; Houston’s shifting demographics and more.

The discussions inspired Robye Snyder, principal of Hunters Creek Elementary. “For most of an afternoon, we moved from station to station examining trends: economic, health, demographics and others,” she said. “At each station, I felt an urgency to make a difference. As educators, we don’t have to produce students who test well. We must produce students who are problem solvers. Students who are creative, collaborative, resilient. Students who persist when things are hard.”

The Cohort also prepared to engage their communities in empathy work: holistically understanding how the schools’ stakeholders – students, parents, alumni, community leaders, families opting out of the public school system or whose children are not yet school age – perceive what works and what could improve.

One exercise, described by Innovation Liaison Jennifer Hickey, involved genealogy work with participants looking at their family’s origin stories. She explained, “As we learn more about ourselves and our team, we realize we’re more alike than different. This is great preparation for conducting empathy interviews.”

Principal Falcon-Blanco said the design process aligns with her staff’s goal of reaching Every Child. “This is a different way of going about our work, taking it step by step, beginning with empathy work, then moving forward with what we learn. The human-centered design concept designs with, not to. We are not saying to our community, ‘We have this great program…’ We’re asking our students, families and community what they need, then designing the program.

“My team walked away energized and hopeful for the opportunity to learn about teaching in a different way to meet all students’ needs. This is a chance to recreate what school can look like. Traditional school works well for many kids, but not for all.”

Principal Snyder wondered if the Hunters Creek community would ask, “Why change an already great school?” Yet, as she contacts parents to enlist help with the empathy work, she is met with support and excitement. The enthusiasm is similar to what she experienced at the October meeting. “Everyone on my team left ready to get started,” she said.


Post a Comment

Do you have feedback? Tell us.