February 27, 2020

The Magic – and Challenge – of Sharing + Spreading Extraordinary School Models

By Transcend

Why do I (and why does Transcend) believe in helping schools and other communities sharing and spreading their innovative models to others? Why does this matter at this moment in time?

When I was a middle school teacher, I had an extraordinary day as a student. I was part of a lucky group chosen to observe a neighboring independent school’s approach to seminars. These seminars were things of legend among teachers. “The children are so engaged! And thoughtful! Maybe even happy to be there!” we all heard. “The rigor bar is astounding! Highest level of Bloom’s! They’re doing college-level thinking over there!” The night before the visit, I did the pre-reading provided by the school. I read about their storied history, their belief in developing ethical citizens, and so on. Nothing particularly remarkable struck me about these poetic aspirations. I had read dozens of the like before. I figured these seminars would be good, the basis of their hype derived from our lowly societal expectations for young people’s engagement. Admittedly, I didn’t expect these seminars to be spectacular. And yet, they were. 

Fifteen minutes into the visit, I could feel my own skepticism melting. There was something special going on at this school. And it went beyond the deeply insightful discussion on crime and punishment in Herodotus’s histories. There was something palpable in this school’s quest for ethics. The way that young people and their instructors engaged with one another. The reflective moments between peers as they analyzed each other’s seminar participation. The deliberateness of the Morning Meeting where everyone was challenged to surpass yesterday’s best deed. This school had figured out how to do something amazing – and as a matter of ethics, they believed it to be their duty to share what they’ve learned by opening their doors to others. 

All across the country there are remarkable school communities who have figured out how to cultivate exceptional and equitable learning environments. There are an equal number who are hungry to learn from them, and adopt their approaches. The non-romantic next step from my learning day was an attempt by my colleagues and I to bring the morning meeting and seminars to our school. After weeks of bedlam and uneven results, our experiment ended. It just wasn’t clear to us how to get from where we were to where we wanted to be. It felt impossible and irresponsible. We joked about writing a letter to the other school demanding to know if paid actors roamed their halls. 

This is likely a familiar scene for many communities on the precipice of innovation – you’ve heard about and seen the incredible things another school is doing with young people, and you want to adopt and adapt them for your own community. But how do you do this without support? What does it mean to responsibly integrate another school’s “model” into your own? Where do you start? 

Schools who want to share their models with others face a similarly deep and defining set of questions. How do they go about understanding what their model is actually doing for young people and adults? What are the unique drivers of impact within their approach? How do they know? At Transcend, we are taking these questions head on as we believe that sharing and spreading innovative, equitable, learner-centered models is an indispensable lever in re-envisioning what learning and school can be. Sharing can flatten the steep innovation curve and make it more likely that communities can engage in their own design journeys without starting at zero. 

We think there is exceptional promise in systematizing how schools learn and adopt from one another. We have some early thinking around what it might take to realize this for the education sector. I’m excited to share these thoughts in future posts; in the meantime, and to give shape to the rest of the series, I welcome your questions and reflections in the Comments. 


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.