October 12, 2017

What We Learned From Bringing Educators Together To Reimagine School

By Transcend


With a shared vision for building innovative new school models worthy of students’ potential and aspirations, our two organizations joined forces to launch the Transcend + NewSchools Collaborative. This ten-month, cohort-based program engaged educators from ten school districts and charter networks in exploring user-centered design, learning science, innovative learning environments, and best practices in R&D in an effort to accelerate change within existing school systems.

The Collaborative had four core elements:

  1. Three in-person convenings provided the opportunity for shared learning, design work, and visits to innovative schools.
  2. Customized coaching facilitated the work of local design teams.
  3. Self-paced resources and design tools aided teams’ work.
  4. Funding from NewSchools covered all program costs, provided travel funds, and offered grants of up to $50,000 to support learning and innovation.

Some participants just wanted to learn more about innovative approaches in school design, while others were working on immediate redesign projects. We learned alongside them how to catalyze new ways of thinking and support the development of robust visions and plans for breakthrough models. Together we surfaced six key lessons:

  1. Equity matters as a critical outcome of school redesign and is integral to the design process itself.
  2. Productive dissonance catalyzes creative thinking and meaningful paradigm shifts.
  3. Innovation spurs innovation—seeing innovation in action fuels creative thinking.
  4. Customized coaching and support that meets educators and systems where they are fosters thoughtfulness and accountability.
  5. Teams have to be innovation-ready and well-supported to make real traction.
  6. When designing and leading a program like the Collaborative, it’s difficult—but essential—to walk the walk by modeling the practices participants are exploring.

In this report, we share our vision behind the program; how we designed and evolved it; our key results; what we learned; and the stories of four participating teams (District of Columbia Public Schools, Gestalt Community Schools, Hiawatha Academies, and Spring Branch Independent School District.) We hope the work captured in this report will offer something of value to all those who are striving to ensure that our nation’s schools play a meaningful role in preparing our students for whatever lies ahead.


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.