By Kaylen Auer
PBN Web Editor
By Kaylen Auer
PBN Web Editor
PROVIDENCE – The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded an $800,000 grant to the Business Innovation Factory’s Student Experience Lab to develop and implement a teacher-driven pilot program to encourage more effective, collaborative efforts to improve education.
The program, called Teachers Design for Education, is a response to BIF’s “Feedback for Teachers” study, commissioned by the Gates Foundation in the fall of 2012, which brought together 66 teachers from around to country to contribute their perspectives on how to turn feedback into actionable improvements in the classroom.
Through the study, the Student Experience Lab learned that as methods of teacher evaluation increasingly focus on student performance, many teachers struggle to reconcile formal feedback from school administrators with informal feedback from students and parents, making it more difficult to respond to and implement feedback in the classroom in real time.
Furthermore, the Student Experience Lab said, many formal feedback processes devalue the importance of teachers’ need to enjoy their work, or even discourage teachers from improving and growing in their profession.
“Instead of what’s happening now across the country, everybody pointing fingers at the teachers and blaming them, trying to hold them accountable for the problem, why don’t we have teachers actually be part of the solution?” said Saul Kaplan, founder of the Business Innovation Factory.
Teachers Design for Education aims to build “a design-driven model of learning and professional development” that encourages teacher collaboration and creativity “so that all teachers, regardless of need, issue or circumstance, are able to sustain a deep sense of commitment and connection to the work they do despite ever-changing conditions and increased stress and pressures.”
The $800,000 grant from the Gates Foundation will go toward building a platform through which teachers can develop and test innovative new solutions to the challenges they face in classrooms, schools and districts across the country.
The Business Innovation Factory will recruit teachers from across the country to develop the Teachers Design for Education pilot program, and then implement the program at three locations in the United States with the support of education nonprofit The Highlander Institute.
The ultimate goal is to scale the Teachers Design for Education program for implementation on a national level, Kaplan said.
In coordination with the announcement of Gates Foundation grant on Thursday, the Business Innovation Factory also announced Students Design for Education, a separate initiative launching in partnership with the R.I. Department of Education and Providence-based nonprofit Youth in Action.
The Students Design for Education project will guide 24 Rhode Island students through the process of designing a new school based on the needs of students, as an extension of the Student Experience Lab’s student-led research and development mission.
“Here this is a question of what if we allowed students to design their own school, a school that they would be passionately committed to and engaged in, what would that look like?” said Kaplan. “We will enable them, but they will be the ones driving the design of what this school looks like.”
R.I. Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist has committed to making the student-designed school a reality if the resulting proposal is feasible, Kaplan said, although whether that will mean building an entirely new school from the ground up or transforming an existing school is something that will be decided during the design process.
The project is currently in the early stages of seeking investors and sponsors, and once the project has secured funding, BIF will select 24 students from around the state to lead the core design team. Kaplan said the design process itself could take about a year to complete, and Gist has committed to see the school operational within two years of the project’s completion.