May 29, 2020

Recovering and Reinventing by Communities

By Transcend

How Communities Can Move from Recovery to Reinvention: Three Supports Transcend is Launching

As building closures roll into the end of the school year, one thing seems clear: school communities across the country are in for a summer and next school year unlike anything they’ve ever seen. As we shared recently in “3 Jobs That Matter,” communities have heroically gone into response mode for the last several months and are now facing the urgency of recovering – from learning loss, trauma, isolation, and illness. However, it’s clearer than ever that recovery is not enough – we must seize this moment to reinvent key aspects of schooling that have long failed to prepare all learners for the demands and opportunities of the 21st century. 

But how can this reinvention of schooling happen in ways that are cognizant of the moment, community-driven, and equitable? This has been a central question for our organization, Transcend, over the past five years. Drawing on all we’ve learned, today we are launching V1 of three key supports to undertake community-driven recovery in ways that sow the seeds for the long-term reinvention of schooling:

  • A “playbook” of guidance and tools that school communities can use to develop a ‘Recovery to Reinvention Plan’
  • A library of school designs and resources that enable strong rigorous and holistic learning experiences in ways that can be done remotely or in-person (or both)
  • A national design community for schools across the country to plug into, to find resources, supports, and find like-minded colleagues

We’ll share more about each of these below, but first some context about what we’ve learned over the years and how that informs our approach:


To be sure, any crisis requires coordinated leadership and decision-making at a system level. Examples of this include state and district guidelines for building closures, distancing guidelines to ensure community safety, and technology protocols. Centrally coordinated supports for instruction, schedules, and professional learning are also valuable. However, while necessary, this system-level guidance is far from sufficient to fit the unique needs, assets, and aspirations of each community and their unique stakeholders. 

To that end, we believe that system-level guidance and support must operate alongside community-driven processes to have meaningful and equitable impact. As we’ve partnered with schools and systems across the country to support community-driven R&D, we’ve zeroed in on three key premises:

  • Local conditions matter deeply. When educators partner closely with young people, families, and other stakeholders, and when they engage in ways that are inclusive and focused, then shared conviction and clarity typically arise. Especially in a crisis, it’s tempting to jump into action and make decisions without fostering the coalition and other conditions that undergird lasting and effective change. While all of this does take attention, it can also be done swiftly and in tandem with critical decisions. For example, even one 30-minute interview with a student or parent about what they are experiencing in the current environment can result in vastly more informed decisions and communications. Inviting two students and two parents to join a working session about weekly and daily schedules could massively inform decisions and grow investment. And how much more if each of those students and parents interviewed 5-10 other students and families and brought their perspectives into the working session?
  • School designs must be coherent and concrete to reach intended outcomes and be implemented well. Effective school designs impact the totality of what humans in the community experience and achieve together – from instruction, to culture and relationships, to wellness, and to enrichment. These designs need to be concrete, coherent, and actionable – at a level of specificity far greater than a “roadmap” or “blueprint” can offer. For example, a student is better positioned to catch up on lost math learning if she experiences a curriculum that is customized both for her context and her specific skill gaps; is implemented by an educator who has the appropriate professional development within a schedule that provides the time and space to do this academic work; and is supported by technology for instruction and assessment. All of these elements have to be designed to work cohesively for this student to make the math progress we all know is possible.
  • Relationships and networks make progress far easier and faster. Designing and implementing an extraordinary, equitable learning environment requires a ton of work. Just as every hospital benefits from the breakthroughs of scientists and medical professionals elsewhere, each school community stands to benefit from the breakthroughs of the community next door or across the country. Especially under today’s time pressures, it’s far easier to realize ambitious aspirations if schools can borrow and adapt strong models and solutions with support from a thriving network of fellow travelers. Relationships with other innovators, talented individuals, product providers, and funders can further accelerate a community’s journey. Traditionally, these relationships are not equitably distributed, often resulting in unjust patterns of who does or doesn’t get access to innovation. We’ve seen that connecting a single leader with a dream to another who has an innovative model, or to a talented individual who adds enormous capacity, or to a funder who supports their efforts, can help them create low-cost but game-changing opportunities in their community.


Based on these premises and in response to the needs we see in this pandemic, Transcend is launching three supports today. We hope these supports will be valuable to system leaders, site leaders, and other members of community design teams.

  1. Playbook of community-driven design methods: This includes guidance and templates for communities to assemble an inclusive design team; take stock of what’s happened and who’s been most affected; understand what’s been tried and learned, and develop plans for the coming academic year. Transcend, and our extended network of talented individuals and organizations, can support communities to work through these planning processes to build a “recovery to reinvention plan” or the tools can be used in self-directed ways.
  2. Library of innovative school-level designs: An ever-growing library of examples of school designs – including schedules, role configurations, operational practices, and curricula – that were created by educators to foster powerful academic experiences and trauma-informed wellness in ways that can work in an “anytime and anywhere” setup. Educators know that there’s no point in reinventing the wheel, so our library is a place where school communities can look for examples created by their peers, adapt them to fit their needs, and even contribute their own designs for others.
  3. National design community: Over the last five years, we’ve moderated a community of hundreds of bold-thinking educators, administrators, and other innovators and have seen how valuable it is for people to connect and learn with like-minded colleagues – people who share common situations, challenges, and values –whether they are in the town next door or across the country. Today, we build upon what we’ve done to date and open up the “Transcend Design Community” for people across the country who want to connect, learn, and get resources to help their communities recover in ways that sow the seeds for reinvention.

In the spirit of our core value of “perpetual beta” and the fluid nature of this crisis, we’re erring on the side of sharing early and revising often. These supports are all “version 1” and will continue to evolve as we learn together with our partners. To stay current on new recovery-to-reinvention developments, please subscribe to our newsletter or join the Transcend Design Community.


In education, it is fashionable to say “we do things with, not for communities,” or “with not to communities.” We believe this is a moment to take it even further. Now more than ever, it is essential to come together “as communities” and for plans to be developed “by communities.” We know that Transcend’s supports are only a small part of the puzzle. They don’t substitute for the importance of local leadership and a supportive ecosystem. But we hope that they – alongside others at every level of the system – can support communities to begin, envision, and collectively lead recovery in ways that can sow the seeds for reinvention.


Transcend supports communities to create and spread extraordinary, equitable learning environments.

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Transcend is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit that operates nationally.