5 Tips for the 2016 Education Innovation Fellows

The piece originally appeared on the CityBridge Foundation’s blog as a welcome to the 2016 Education Innovation Fellows. 

To the 2016 class of Education Innovation Fellows,

I’m going to assume that you applied for this fellowship because you’re not 100% happy with the way education is currently run and delivered in our country’s public school system. You’re in good company—I’ve met few educators who are wholly satisfied with it.

I’m also going to assume that you see some amount of promise and potential in technology and individualization as a lever to drive student achievement and teacher effectiveness/satisfaction. You’re in growing company there!

This fellowship was a life-changing experience for me.

Honestly. I have a feeling of restlessness around the learning I see happening at my school that keeps me up at night. I can’t stop looking at other schools, reading about innovation, and asking neat people for informational interviews. I have a sense of drive, an optimism, and an absolute obligation that was little more than a vague thought when I first applied for the fellowship.

So, with that, I have a few tips for you to get the most out of the fellowship:

1. Before a program day or trip, get plenty of sleep, and treat yourself well.

CityBridge knows how valuable your time is. They will not be wasting it. With that said, you are in for a long day (or, for your travel portion, days) of learning and absorbing lots of information. Treat yourself well.

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2. Please, take notes on all your school visits.

We went on about 30 school visits throughout the year. They start to blur together. There’s nothing worse than trying to pitch a pilot or modification to your principal, referencing the evidence you’ve seen at a school visit, and then forgetting the school. So make sure you label the note with the name of the school—especially because you might see three schools in one day!

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3. Build relationships with your fellow…fellows!

Honestly, one of my biggest regrets from my Fellowship experience has nothing to do with tech or individualized learning. I honestly wish I had gone more out of my way to build relationships with my co-fellows. They are absolutely amazing people, with a crazy amount of combined teaching experience. You never know what a bumpy bus ride conversation between school visits might bring up, but I want you to go further than that. During the fellowship, email them. Reach out to them to go get a drink or some supper. You might even find a TechBFF.

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4. Blog at least once a month.

Taking something you’ve learned about/experimented with in your classroom/failed at and writing about it is helpful to you and helpful to others. It also builds your tool belt of teacher-leader experiences and opens you to collaboration, discussion and growth.

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5. Embrace the messy.

So much of what you see will be in its first few years, in a pilot, in revision, or being wholly changed. You may run a pilot that is really messy. You might will have a scenario where ten students can’t log in to their reading program at the computer station. And this is all okay. Embrace the mess. Lots of schools haven’t even touched individualized learning with a ten-foot pole. This is your permission to feel like you have no idea what you’re doing, make mistakes, learn, and pivot!

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