Early in the pandemic, The Learning Accelerator (TLA) launched its “Always Ready for Learning Strategy Lab.” This networked community of school system leaders came together to proactively collaborate and openly share their co-designed solutions for navigating the challenges of COVID-19. The collective work of the leaders in the cohort was also forward looking — to make real-time, meaningful, and lasting improvements towards more equitable and resilient teaching and learning. TLA captured the realistic, inclusive and rapid design process these schools went through over the past year and has made it available to others through its recently launched Real-Time Redesign toolkit.

Leading with a sense of urgency is second nature to district and school administrators. We feel compelled to do all we can to support our teachers by empowering them to make every learning opportunity possible for our students. And we do the same for ourselves, regularly investing in professional learning so we can better understand and implement the findings from research in the learning sciences. With so many concurrent needs in classrooms, finding the right time to deploy a new solution or approach can be difficult. It often seems like there’s a polarizing tension between recognizing equity issues in our schools and delaying a response for a better time or season when wide-sweeping changes are called for. 2020 made clear to educators that confronting systemic inequities is a priority. 

The Real-Time Redesign toolkit from TLA reinforces this disposition and provides support to help educators invest in equity and resilience. It’s a quality resource for driving action because it accounts for those realistic restrictions in our professional culture. In fact, the universal benefit of the toolkit’s process is the healthy way in which it approaches change management with humane and equitable solution design.

Is there really such a thing as “the perfect time”?

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. — Chinese Proverb

There may be no such thing as the perfect time for making change in our schools. We can be careful and deliberate with our priorities and commitments, but when it comes to developing systems with equity and inclusion the best time is always the present and the toolkit helps realize this attitude of action in the face of hesitation and real disruption, like COVID-19, by engaging school and district leaders in three key ways:

Identifying concrete problems of equity and resiliency.Making targeted improvement towards bigger change.Engaging authentically and inclusively with those most affected.

Then, with the toolkit’s modular design, the team can follow the workflow in its entirety or pick the most achievable components to begin with to match current capacity and still generate results. Regardless of a project’s scope, the three phases of the comprehensive Real-Time Redesign workflow are as follows:

  • Come Together: Assemble an inclusive design team while also unearthing challenges your schools are facing, and explore innovative practices around the country.
  • Dream Big: Clarify the targeted improvement you seek and identify potential solutions.
  • Start Small: Build a prototype of a solution and then pilot it on a small scale.

Throughout each phase, the activities and step-by-step sequencing propel participants towards innovative solutions without being an overwhelming process. The toolkit provides a framework for edleaders starting, managing, and reflecting on their team’s planning and design with real world examples from Strategy Lab districts throughout each section. Teams can flex to focus on emerging priorities as needed, while continuing through the process. 

TLA’s CEO Beth Rabbitt offers a simple assessment of the foundational elements that all edleaders should consider before launching initiatives:

    • Do we have the right team?: The right team is one that inclusively brings in stakeholders (parents, families, students, teachers, community members) at the beginning. Then staying mindful to ensure a diversity of perspectives— especially to include those who have been historically left out of the conversation.
    • Do we have the right tools?: Edleaders need reliable tools to execute meaningful change in their schools and districts. The Real-Time Redesign toolkit’s value is that unlike other organizational change efforts, it can be deployed immediately and is scalable across projects differing in scope and forgiving by design.
    • Do we have the right process?: With the right team and tools in place, the right process completes the formula, which is the intent of the Real-Time Redesign toolkit. It’s a thoughtful progression of activities that flexibly leads a team to design and try out solutions while ensuring equity is paramount in both the process and the work itself.

Together, Rabbitt’s triad paints a picture of both the culture and capacity of a team for taking a specific challenge through the Real-Time Redesign toolkit. For example, Austin Independent School District in Texas is using the process to explore whether cycles of student self-reflection (e.g. assessment, instruction, facilitation of learning) could lead to more mastery-based learning. Also, Phoenix Charter Academy in Massachusetts is using the process to identify and spread strategies within their Primary Person Model that increase engagement and accelerate students’ academic progress. In Washington state, Renton School District is using the process to reimagine high school grading practices. 

Additional Strategy Lab districts piloting the process include: 

The last year has been ridden with variables, novel and known, that have disrupted school services. TLA’s Real-Time Redesign toolkit is a helpful contribution to continue progress in the face of these seismic disruptions and work with equity in mind. The examples from Strategy Lab districts using the process shows that even amidst crisis, schools can make positive and lasting change. Now with the Real-Time Redesign Toolkit, others can do it too—with practical, guided activities that can help tackle small and large challenges effectively and efficiently. 

Learn more about the toolkit and other offerings from The Learning Accelerator here, and be sure to share your questions and success stories when you employ it for your school.

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