Lessons from Innovators: STEM Learning Opportunities Providing Equity (SLOPE)

The process of moving an educational innovation from a good idea to widespread effective implementation is far from straightforward, and no one has a magic formula for doing it. The William T. Grant and Spencer Foundations, with help from the Forum for Youth Investment, have created a community composed of grantees in the federal Investing in Innovation (i3) program to share ideas and best practices. Our Success for All program participates in this community. In this space, I, in partnership with the Forum for Youth Investment, highlight observations from the experiences of i3 grantees other than our own, in an attempt to share the thinking and experience of colleagues out on the front lines of evidence-based reform.

2013-12-05-Slope2.jpgThis blog post is based on a conversation between the Forum for Youth Investment and Sharon Twitty, Project Director for the STEM Learning Opportunities Providing Equity (SLOPE) i3 project based at the Alliance for Regional Collaboration to Heighten Educational Success (ARCHES). SLOPE is a development project designed to help students succeed in Algebra in the 8th grade and to prepare for careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Throughout the conversation, Twitty reflected on how relationship building and her background in communications have helped her successfully navigate a complex and geographically dispersed effort. Her reflections and advice to others working to implement and evaluate interventions are summarized here.

Set realistic goals
The SLOPE project is currently active in 17 districts around the state of California and is serving close to 3,500 students. Although SLOPE has met all of the participation targets identified in their i3 proposal, and although Twitty feels implementation has been rigorous, she notes that their three-tiered model is quite complex and that it is too early to determine whether the intervention is worthy of further expansion. Her team has learned a lot during the first year of implementation, in particular about what to expect from schools and teachers. “We know from change theory that it takes people 3-5 years to get comfortable with an innovation of this nature. The more traditional your values and the more ‘stand and deliver’ your method, the harder it is to acclimate to an intervention like this. Change is hard and people change slowly.” She suggests that building in a planning and development year for any complex change effort is important because it can help keep expectations realistic and give teachers time to adjust and prepare for new practices and tools. Twitty notes that — especially for complex projects — piloting in the field for refinement prior to implementation in the “study”-type environment is essential.

Relationships are the work
“Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Relationships are the work. You move at the speed of trust. Without relationships, any intervention, no matter how strong, is going to fail,” says Twitty. That is why she did everything she could to nurture and build personal relationships with every school and teacher involved, from big schools in a city to the single rural teacher implementing the intervention by herself. Twitty did a combination of small and big things to foster communication and engagement. She personally does a site visit at every school at least twice a year. Whenever possible, she highlights the good work of schools in newsletters, in local newspapers, and with policymakers. Sometimes she brings congressional delegates with her on site visits to highlight the project and show the schools she values their work. “I am not constantly in their face, but rather I focus on being responsive, respectful, and trying to make it as easy as possible for participants. I let them know that I need them and I thank them regularly,” says Twitty. Twitty has also learned that the more time principals spend in classrooms with SLOPE, the more they learn about the project. One strategy Twitty has used to encourage time in SLOPE classrooms is to send administrators a list of questions they can only answer by visiting classrooms and observing teachers in action. This makes participating teachers feel valued and generates useful anecdotes for communications with other sites, funders, and policymakers.

Be efficient
One concern with a relationship-intensive approach is that it may not be scalable. Twitty isn’t worried. In her opinion this just requires working smarter, not harder. “It is not that hard to build relationships. People just want to feel taken care of. Be deliberate and strategic, and watch for opportunities to do little things.” In fact, she has found that in some cases, just giving out her cell phone number and being responsive on email (which she tries to do within 24 hours), have been enough to garner support. In addition, she is intentional about making sure every school and every member of the team feels they have an important role to play. That’s why every school engaged in the project, whether in a small town or a large district where multiple schools participate, gets a site visit from someone in a leadership role. As the project grows, regional hubs can be established for personal contact and the project director can make their presence felt from a distance — through webinars, email, and Skype or other video-chat services.

Don’t forget the control group
One thing Twitty has learned directing this project is that teachers and schools are not used to participating in projects that include a randomized controlled trial. She has found that it is important to nurture relationships with teachers who were part of the control group as well as the treatment group. She has found this helps to maintain their willingness to participate in the study and provides valuable information about what happens when the intervention group is not in play. “You have to keep them engaged,” Twitty notes. “Just getting a stipend is not enough. I’ve worked hard to build community among the comparison teachers by empowering them to feel good about the project. I send them information about the intervention and how it is part of a national initiative, and explain why it is important to keep their classes ‘uncontaminated.’ I explained the What Works Clearinghouse and why it is a big deal for a little development project like ours to meet their evaluation standards. It is amazing how far a little personal attention and explanation can go.”

The bottom line in this day and age is time. People value their time and want to participate in something that is relevant and significant. Having respect for that concept and building relationships goes a long way.

Advertisements

Lessons from Innovators: Collaborative Strategic Reading

2013-09-25-HPImage092513.jpg

The process of moving an educational innovation from a good idea to widespread effective implementation is far from straightforward, and no one has a magic formula for doing it. The William T. Grant and Spencer Foundations, with help from the Forum for Youth Investment, have created a community composed of grantees in the federal Investing in Innovation (i3) program to share ideas and best practices. Our Success for All program participates in this community. In this space, I, in partnership with the Forum for Youth Investment, highlight observations from the experiences of i3 grantees other than our own, in an attempt to share the thinking and experience of colleagues out on the front lines of evidence-based reform.

This blog is based on an interview that the Forum for Youth Investment conducted with Janette Klingner and Alison Boardman from the School of Education at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU). They are working closely with Denver Public Schools on an i3 validation project focused on scaling the Collaborative Strategic Reading (CSR) instructional model across middle schools. As lead partners in a district-led initiative, the two reflect on the dynamics of collaborating across research and practice, as well as the critical importance of embedding new practices within existing district infrastructure. Some of their lessons learned are summarized below.

Project “home” matters
Unlike many i3 projects, the CSR grant was submitted by and awarded to Denver Public Schools, with the university as a subcontractor. The project “home” has influenced dynamics in important ways and at multiple levels, beginning with a basic level of buy-in and ownership that is not always present in school improvement projects and studies that the CU team has been involved in. In university-led projects, as Klingner pointed out, a district can simply decide to back out for any number of reasons. Though there are obvious downsides to “outsiders” coming in with an intervention for people to adopt, being district-led as opposed to university-led hasn’t necessarily meant smooth sailing. Some teachers, Klingner noted, expressed resistance because they were being told by the district to implement yet another program. Despite occasional resistance, CSR is making good progress on ambitious expansion goals laid out by the district, and in fact the project is ahead of schedule in terms of middle school expansion. “We are moving faster than we envisioned. We have teachers and schools really wanting to learn CSR, and we are adding them sooner than planned,” said Klingner.

Rethink traditional research-practice relationships
The CU team brings a “design-based implementation research” perspective to this work, which is based on the idea of collaborative, iterative design and implementation, focused on a district-identified problem of practice. “We know that handing schools an innovation in a box and seeing how it works is not effective,” said Klingner. “We are trying to be intentional about scaffolding from the validation stage, where there is more support available for an intervention, to scale-up, where the new practices become integrated and can be scaled and sustained. Working closely with the district seems like the only way to do that successfully.” While there are clear advantages to this approach, there are instances where despite the close partnership, conflicting priorities of the partners emerge. For example, in an effort to implement consistently and in a coordinated fashion across a large group of schools, the district sometimes imposes strict guidelines, such as requiring all science teachers to implement CSR on a given day. While this helps with knowing where and when to deploy coaches, it doesn’t necessarily make sense if your goal is to better understand and support teachers’ authentic integration of a new instructional model into their classroom practice in the context of their curriculum. Despite occasional bumps in the road, the project is built upon a strong partnership, and that partnership is critical to how the team thinks about scale and sustainability.

Embed within existing structures
The CSR team has been intentional from the beginning about embedding the intervention within existing district and school infrastructure. “We are very aware that this needs to become part of the daily practice of what the district does,” said Klingner. From working to maximize teacher-leader roles, to housing a principal liaison within the district as opposed to at the University, the team is constantly re-evaluating to what extent practices are being embedded. “Sometimes it feels like this is becoming part of the ongoing infrastructure, and then there will be some change and we’re not so sure. There’s a tipping point and even though we have a lot of great buy-in, I’d say we’re not there yet.” Boardman noted that making sure that everyone working in support roles with teachers is trained in CSR would be ideal. “Ideally all of the different coaches in the district would be able to coach for CSR. So the literacy coaches that are in schools, the teacher effectiveness coaches that visit schools, those supporting classroom management or use of the curriculum – all these different existing mechanisms would be able to support CSR. We are trying to do this and have done a lot of training for people in different roles, but we are not there yet and the plan for how to get there is still evolving.”

Align with existing initiatives, tools, and processes
In addition to extensive training, linking and aligning CSR with other district initiatives has also been a priority. For example, it was clear early on that for teachers to engage in a meaningful way, any new instructional model needed to align with LEAP, Denver’s teacher effectiveness framework. This makes sense and has been a priority, though LEAP itself, in addition to its uses, is still evolving. As Boardman put it, “Maintaining a consistent research design when everything around you is changing is a challenge. That said, we are working hard to understand how our model aligns with LEAP and working with teachers to help them understand the connections and to ensure they feel what they’re doing is supported and will pay off for them.” Implementation of the Common Core standards has been another new effort with which the project has had to align. The team’s commitment to link CSR to existing or emerging work is consistent and laudable, though they are aware of potential trade-offs. “We are rolling with the new things as they come in,” said Boardman, “but there are pros and cons. Sometimes we become overly consumed by trying to connect with district initiatives. We have to be careful about where things fit and where they simply might not.”

Find the right communications channels and messengers
Just as important as trying to figure out where CSR fits is making sure it doesn’t become “just another add-on.” One thing the project team feels is important for sustainability is figuring out at what point information needs to be communicated and by whom. As Boardman said, “Things have to be communicated by the right players. We and our district colleagues are constantly trying to figure out where and by whom key information should be communicated in order for teachers and others to feel this is the real deal. Is it the district’s monthly principal meetings? Is the key that we need area superintendents to say this is a priority?” The team is thinking about communications and messaging at both the district and the school levels. “At the school level, there is also a great deal of integration that needs to happen, and CSR people can’t be at every meeting. So which meetings are critical to attend? Which planning sessions should we prioritize?” Keenly aware that change happens in the context of relationships, the CSR team is being as intentional about communications and messaging as they are about things like tools and trainings.

Lessons from Innovators: EDUCATION CONNECTION

2013-08-27-HPImage082713.jpg

The process of moving an educational innovation from a good idea to widespread effective implementation is far from straightforward, and no one has a magic formula for doing it. The William T. Grant and Spencer Foundations, with help from the Forum for Youth Investment, have created a community composed of grantees in the federal Investing in Innovation (i3) program to share ideas and best practices. Our Success for All program participates in this community. In this space, I, in partnership with the Forum for Youth Investment, highlight observations from the experiences of i3 grantees other than our own, in an attempt to share the thinking and experience of colleagues out on the front lines of evidence-based reform.

This blog is based on an interview between the Forum for Youth Investment and lead staff from the Center for 21st Century Skills at EDUCATION CONNECTION about their i3-funded project, which involves the implementation of a technology-enhanced blended learning STEM curriculum. The exchange, however, does not focus on teacher practice. Instead it is about the challenges and possibilities associated with changing beliefs about teaching and learning and shifting long-standing system norms defining “the classroom” and other tradition-bound paradigms.

Focus on Changing Beliefs, Not Just Practices
The Center for 21st Century Skills at EDUCATION CONNECTION is focused on equipping students with the creativity and technical expertise to compete in a global economy. Part of their work, and in particular their i3 project, involves redefining traditional assumptions about classrooms and teaching. They have designed a 12-course high school Academy that takes a blended learning approach to STEM education, where students leverage technology to extend learning beyond the four walls of the classroom. The model creates a non-traditional, student-centered environment that redefines learning from seat time with teacher-centric instruction to flexible and adaptive use of time. Not everyone thinks the approach makes sense. For some, the idea of students being in charge of their own learning, combined with a concurrent loss of teacher control, is uncomfortable at best. Jonathan Costa, Director of School and Program Services at EDUCATION CONNECTION, talks about this challenge. “Changing peoples’ beliefs is extraordinarily difficult and labor intensive. People have to feel this model is the future.” He also happens to think it is worth the time it takes to change thinking. “Getting on the right side of history before the center of gravity on the issue has shifted is hard. The good news is that once you do it, you don’t have to go back.” In several schools in Connecticut where the model is being implemented, they have begun to see that kind of philosophical shift.

Allow Multiple Entry Points
Because their model is not always easily accessible for teachers and administrators, the Center offers different ways for schools to get involved. For example, some schools may not want to take on the full 12-course Academy, but might be willing to test out some blended learning approaches on a unit-by-unit or course-by-course basis. Currently, EDUCATION CONNECTION is working with the CT State Department of Education to put the state’s new model algebra curriculum into Moodle, an open-source web platform. “We are still in pilot mode, but anticipate a lot of interest,” says Director of the Center for 21st Century Skills, Frank LaBanca. “We see it as an on-ramp; if they see kids engaged and interested, maybe they will be ready to go to the next level. We are encouraging people to interact with us on a smaller scale at first so they can see the value and then hopefully will be convinced to go big.”

Be Patient but Ready to Move Fast
In Connecticut, as in every state across the country, massive changes are afoot in education. This makes it difficult to anticipate or plan for a fixed timeline. Innovators need to be patient and persistent but willing to move quickly when opportunities arise. Costa points out, “We have had a lot of traction with our approach to digitally based STEM education, but we are currently tacking into the wind. Connecticut is caught up in implementing the Common Core, doubling down on accountability testing, and building a teacher evaluation model that is still grounded on analog instructional assumptions. In that environment it is challenging to introduce innovation that is student-focused, digital rather than print, and requires a bit of a leap of faith. But once we get in the door, we have to be ready to move quickly to get the innovation up and running and demonstrating results.” The Center continues to pursue public and private STEM funding and to pursue rigorous evaluations so they will be ready to move quickly when opportunities arise. This is challenging with a small staff and limited time and resources, but being ready to respond to emerging opportunities is important.

Don’t Forget the Students
“We are in this for the students, but kids can also be our best advocates,” comments LaBanca. “The work they are doing in our i3 STEM curriculum modules would blow you away. The sophistication of what they are learning, the skills they are developing, and the way they can present that to others speaks volumes.” The Center showcases student learning whenever possible to make the case for why a blended learning approach that pushes the bounds of the traditional classroom is worthwhile. They focus on promoting student engagement and self-direction and coach teachers to figure out when to facilitate, when to let students flounder, and when to intervene. Students help to make the case for the approach, not only to teachers, but to administrators and others with influence over funding and district policy.

Lessons from Innovators: Reading Recovery

2013-07-17-ReadingRecoveryHP07172013.jpg

The process of moving an educational innovation from a good idea to widespread effective implementation is far from straightforward, and no one has a magic formula for doing it. The William T. Grant and Spencer Foundations, with help from the Forum for Youth Investment, have created a community composed of grantees in the federal Investing in Innovation (i3) program to share ideas and best practices. Our Success for All program participates in this community. In this space, I, in partnership with the Forum for Youth Investment, highlight observations from the experiences of i3 grantees other than our own, in an attempt to share the thinking and experience of colleagues out on the front lines of evidence-based reform.

This blog is based on an interview between the Forum for Youth Investment and Jerry D’Agostino, Professor of Education at the Ohio State University and Director of Reading Recovery’s i3 project. A persistent challenge for programs that have scaled up is how to sustain for the long term. In this interview, D’Agostino shares how this long-standing literacy intervention has dealt with the challenge and how it has reinvented itself over the years in order to stay current.

Stay Fresh
Reading Recovery is a research-based, short-term intervention that involves one-to-one teaching for the lowest-achieving first graders. It began in New Zealand in the 1970’s but has been in operation in the United States for 30 years and has spread across the country. Over the years, Reading Recovery has expanded and contracted depending on funding, interest from school districts, and our capacity. Today there are training centers at 19 universities that equip teachers to deliver the intervention and the program has a presence in some 8,000 schools across 49 states. With that kind of scale and longevity, it can be easy to become complacent and assume the intervention speaks for itself. D’Agostino says just the opposite is true. “We know that being the old brand that has been around for a long time can be hard,” he notes. “You have to think about how to keep the brand fresh. Superintendents want the newest hot thing. Teachers have to know it will work with their kids in their classrooms. We have spent time focused on how to adjust the model to offer new features and respond to current education trends such as the Common Core. You always have to show teachers and administrators how the intervention addresses the issue of the day. For example, it isn’t enough that the intervention produces strong effect sizes. For teachers, that is a meaningless number. They want to know that the program will help their third graders achieve the literacy level now required in nearly 40 states to be promoted to 4th grade.”

Be Flexible but Maintain Your Core
Reading Recovery has taken seriously the idea of identifying the intervention’s core elements and also responding to the educational system’s current needs. They know that one-to-one instruction and 30-minute daily lessons are non-negotiable, but they also recognize that adaptations are needed. For example, innovations in the lesson framework have resulted in a design for classroom instruction (Literacy Collaborative), small groups (Comprehensive Intervention Model), and training for special education and ESL teachers (Literacy Lessons). “Our innovations have come as direct requests from schools,” says D’Agostino. “For example, a school says they need something for English Language Learners and we develop something new for that one school that then becomes a part of our overall product line. It allows growth for Reading Recovery and flexibility for schools.” Another non-negotiable is keeping training centralized. Although teacher leaders can receive training at one of the 19 partner universities, there are only a few places where trainers of teacher leaders can get certified. That allows Reading Recovery to maintain some quality control and fidelity over teacher leader training. “I’ve always been impressed with the fidelity of Reading Recovery instruction,” said D’Aogstino. “I’ve seen Reading Recovery lessons in Zanesville, Ohio and Dublin, Ireland. The framework is the same, but each lesson is different in terms of how the teacher interacts with the student to scaffold literacy learning.

Combine Historical Expertise with Fresh Perspective
D’Agostino is quick to note that one of Reading Recovery’s strengths and challenges is the longevity of its founders and senior leadership. Many of the original developers of the intervention are still in leadership positions. This allows for a historical perspective and continuity of purpose that are rare in education these days. It can also hinder innovation. That is why the organization also tries to find leadership positions for newer faculty and teachers with recent teaching and administrative experience who can bring fresh ideas and a willingness to push for some of the new adjustments to the model that schools are requesting.

Adapt, Adjust, and Meet Schools Where They Are
D’Agostino emphasizes that Reading Recovery’s current success and long history is no reason to sit back and relax. “We have survived a lot of changes over the years. We’ve grown, we’ve shrunk, we’ve survived major threats to our program from other national initiatives. Right now with our i3 grant, we are in a great position. We are going to reach our goal of training 3,700 teachers and producing good effects. But I don’t know that that will position us well for the future. In fact, I won’t be happy if we just reach our goals.” Sustaining an effective intervention and bringing it to more schools and students around the country means innovating, moving, pushing to the next level…and spreading the word. “Schools don’t necessarily hear about government funded initiatives that achieve high evidence standards according to the What Works Clearinghouse,” muses D’Agostino. “They hear from hundreds of vendors each year citing their effectiveness, so how do we distinguish ourselves? We can’t just assume success in our i3 grant will lead to sustainability. Sustainability is all about results. For example, we know that the outcomes are remarkable – most of the lowest-achieving first graders accelerate with Reading Recovery and reach the average of their cohort – but we also know from our annual evaluation that there’s a great deal of variation across schools and teachers. So right now we want to know, what do effective Reading Recovery teachers do and how is that different from less effective Reading Recovery teachers? Knowing more about that black box of teaching will help the intervention overall. And understanding how to foster local ownership will give the intervention its real staying power.”

Lessons from Innovators: The National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform

2013-06-19-HP06_19_2013BlogPicture.jpg

The process of moving an educational innovation from a good idea to widespread effective implementation is far from straightforward, and no one has a magic formula for doing it. The W. T. Grant and Spencer Foundations, with help from the Forum for Youth Investment, have created a community composed of grantees in the federal Investing in Innovation (i3) program to share ideas and best practices. Our Success for All program participates in this community. In this space, I, in partnership with the Forum for Youth Investment, highlight observations from the experiences of i3 grantees other than our own, in an attempt to share the thinking and experience of colleagues out on the front lines of evidence-based reform.

This blog, based on an interview between the Forum for Youth Investment and Debby Kasak, director of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform, shares how school-to-school mentoring is both bringing about substantial improvements and itself serving as an important sustainability strategy.

Mentoring is Good for Mentors and Mentees
Coaches and mentors, whether at the individual or school level, can improve their own practice by helping others. That is what has begun to happen among schools involved in the National Forum’s i3 project. The National Forum is an alliance of educators, researchers, national associations, and officers of professional organizations and foundations committed to promoting the academic performance and healthy development of young adolescents. Through its Schools to Watch (STW) program, the National Forum has developed criteria for identifying high-performing middle-grades schools and created tools to help schools use them.

The National Forum’s i3 development grant is focused on improving 18 low-performing schools in three states using the STW framework and criteria. The goal is for those schools to learn from other STW schools that have been performing well. “We are inspiring schools to change their practice through whole school intervention,” says Kasak. “Each i3 school is matched up with demographically similar STW schools so they can see that it is possible to make change, even with a tough student population. It helps bring the theory to life for them. Given all the things that teachers get confronted with, they really respond when they see other teachers who are getting results.” But it isn’t just the low-performing schools and their teachers and administrators who are benefitting. “Successful schools can be powerful change agents in the lives of schools that need help, but interestingly, we’ve found that those mentor schools are improving their practice too,” reports Kasak. By helping others – coaching and sharing tools and strategies – schools and individuals within them are reminded to shore up their own promising practices.

Building Relationships is Key
“It sounds like a cliché, but one thing we have learned that can’t be underscored enough is that relationships matter,” Kasak shares. “The first six to seven months that we were involved in this project it was really important that we had coaches in the buildings who could form good relationships with teachers and principals. We needed to take the time to nurture those relationships. And as we did that, we saw the culture and climate of those schools changing.” Supportive relationships help schools weather the inevitable transitions that occur at the senior administration level. If teachers and coaches have a strong network and are committed to the work, it is less disruptive when a principal or superintendent leaves. A cadre of advocates for the initiative remains to educate new leaders. According to Kasak, that is exactly what happened in Chicago. “In Chicago, schools across the city are divided into networks. Originally, all of our schools were part of one network and we had a really supportive network leader. When the district administration changed, the networks were reorganized and our schools were no longer in the same network. One of our new network leaders wasn’t as supportive. But in one school, a teacher invited the Mayor to come visit the school; low and behold he did, and he brought the network leader with him. Seeing the school in action, hearing the teachers talk about their experiences, and building that relationship with the school staff made all the difference. He (the network leader) has been much more supportive since.”

Evaluation Can Be a Powerful Tool
Another way the National Forum has built relationships is through evaluation. Although it may sound counterintuitive, Kasak has found that working with the project evaluation team to look at what they are doing in a developmental way has helped them to share more information with schools than they might have otherwise and to build trust and commitment to the effort. “We are finding that in the second year we have gotten much better participation rates – almost 100% of the faculty in our 18 buildings – than we did the first year,” reports Kasak. In speculating why that might be, the National Forum came up with a couple of explanations. “In part, we know this has to do with being in our second year – teachers understand the process better. But we also credit our evaluation team. They regularly give data back to the schools which helps them better understand how all this work is impacting their school culture. Our evaluation team has really helped us to ask: Are doing what we said we would? Is it working? And how can we improve?”

Participating Schools are Part of the Sustainability Pipeline
The National Forum has an innovative approach to scaling their innovation and sustaining those schools where they are already working. Their two networks – low-performing schools supported through the i3 project and higher-performing Schools to Watch schools – create a natural pipeline toward STW status. The goal is to have all of their i3 schools eventually become STW schools who then mentor and support other low-performing schools that may receive funding through additional i3 funding or other sources down the road. Only three years into the i3 initiative, this pipeline is already in action in North Carolina. “We have one rural school in our i3 project that has just been terrific over the past several years. Recently, it applied to be a Schools to Watch school. They were evaluated and received a very high score, so were designated as a STW school. Now they are in a position to mentor other i3 schools in North Carolina. They benefit from the mentoring process itself, and then every three years will have to go through a re-designation process to maintain STW status, ensuring they are always on their game and thinking about how to get better. This school just went from being one site in a project to being part of a sustainable system of reform. We hope to do this with all of our i3 schools.”

Lessons from Innovators: eMINTS

2013-05-14-Emints.jpg

The process of moving an educational innovation from a good idea to widespread effective implementation is far from straightforward, and no one has a magic formula for doing it. The W. T. Grant and Spencer Foundations, with help from the Forum for Youth Investment, have created a community composed of grantees in the federal Investing in Innovation (i3) program to share ideas and best practices. Our Success for All program participates in this community. In this space, I, in partnership with the Forum for Youth Investment, highlight observations from the experiences of i3 grantees other than our own, in an attempt to share the thinking and experience of colleagues out on the front lines of evidence-based reform.

This blog, based on an interview between the Forum for Youth Investment and eMINTS leadership, focuses on what the eMINTS National Center has learned about scaling a technology intervention in the sometimes low-tech environment of schools. eMINTS provides professional development for K-12 educators using interactive group sessions and in-classroom coaching/mentoring to help teachers integrate technology into their teaching. Their i3 validation grant focuses on expanding an intensive professional development model for teachers in rural middle schools.

Plan for success. Thinking about scale and sustainability starts long before a funding stream is coming to an end. As Lorie Kaplan, Executive Director of the eMINTS National Center notes, “Even in the very early stages of developing and testing your innovation, it is important to ask yourself – if we are successful, is this innovation scalable?” Even prior to receiving the i3 award, eMINTS leadership began considering the options for expanding their work to all 50 states. Five years ago, they went through Joel Barker’s Implications Wheel process – a software-enhanced group process for discovering and mapping the implications of change. They have goals to expand both nationally and internationally. The process required them to look at emerging trends, their strategic objectives, innovations they could make, and changes to policy and practice required for change.

Expand with fidelity and flexibility. Even as they envisioned a program that reached across the country and internationally (they currently have a partnership with a school in New South Wales Australia), eMINTS staff were aware of the broad implications of scaling. They knew that trying to grow too fast without a support structure would be devastating to the fidelity of the program. “It is critical to identify which parts of the program must be held constant from one implementation to the next in order to maintain quality, while also maintaining flexibility to adapt successfully to each new context,” said Christie Terry, eMINTS Associate Director. Building in local support strategies has allowed the program to scale effectively. These supports vary depending on the locale. In Utah, where they have had more requests for training than they had the capacity to offer, for example, they began to approve local experts to train trainers. Hoping to build on that success, they are exploring establishing regional hubs and have tried to secure additional funding to support that process. Kaplan notes that although they didn’t receive a second i3 grant to develop regional hubs in school districts in Utah, Delaware and Alabama, the three districts are committed to the concept and hope to push on to develop regional hubs even without the funding.

Make the case for value early and often. Many initiatives with sound evidence and great materials bump up against shrinking school budgets. In some cases, the funding stream that seeds a project is no longer available two or three years down the road. In other cases, schools silo interventions and miss opportunities to fund programs through alternative sources. eMINTS faced both problems as they began to scale their intervention. They found that schools didn’t have a dedicated funding stream to support the model, especially after a key federal technology funding stream was defunded by the Department of Education. To cope, they had to work with schools to understand the multi-faceted value of the program and find resources that connect to the goals of eMINTS. For example, they have had to demonstrate how technology impacts instruction in a variety of ways – from increasing student motivation and achievement, to developing 21st century skills, to supporting common core implementation. Similarly, they have had to work with schools to understand the full intervention. “We had to convince schools that eMINTS isn’t just about hardware and equipment,” says Kaplan. “The professional development components of the model are as critical as the technology going into the classrooms. Unless you have the essential supports for how to use the technology well, you aren’t going to get anything out of it.” Once they were able to make the leap from equipment to the broader initiative, schools began to see beyond technology-only funding streams and are more supportive of the program overall.

Be high tech and high touch. Educators need personal attention to succeed in trying and implementing new program – even when they are high tech. One major component of the eMINTS professional development program is the in-classroom coaching that teachers receive on a regular basis. This one-on-one time with their trainer allows teachers to have support as they implement the new technologies and teaching strategies into their own context. The eMINTS staff use a wide variety of free, online collaboration tools, such as Skype, Moodle, Google Apps, and Edmodo, to do more personalized, just-in-time coaching and mentoring with teachers. According to Terry, “It’s important to be available to teachers as they encounter challenges to help them move past barriers and sustain their enthusiasm. Using these types of tools gives teachers concrete ways to build and sustain their personal learning networks.”