School change happens when communities unite and share ideas. This November 30, a national live-streamed conversation will explore how we can change our schools, led by educators on the cutting edge of school innovation.
When I made my first film, Race to Nowhere, in 2009, I knew absolutely nothing about filmmaking; all I knew was that school culture needed to change. I picked up a camera to document the unhealthy educational culture we were immersed in, in hopes of bringing communities together to galvanize change at a large scale.
Now, seven years and two films later, I’ve been heartened by changes transforming schools around the country. Everywhere, in rural towns and big cities, in districts large and small, schools are transcending outmoded and harmful education policies, introducing programs that put children’s health and learning first.
But how are these changes happening? How can a single public school radically change how students learn, even while navigating vast bureaucracies and thin budgets, entrenched policies and overextended staff?
This November 30, 2017, we’re hosting a special live-streamed national event to help answer these kinds of questions, to spark local conversation about innovative learning and student engagement while also creating a national forum for dialogue.
Hundreds of schools and organizations will screen Beyond Measure throughout this month, each in their own local communities. On November 30 we will connect them all in one virtual post-film discussion, to be led by High Tech High founders Larry Rosenstock and Rob Riordan, and former Monument Mountain Regional High School Principal Marianne Young, who piloted a groundbreaking school-within-a-school at her school in Massachusetts.
These educators are on the cutting edge of school innovation in America. Their schools’ challenges and changes are featured in Beyond Measure and are inspiring thousands of schools across the nation. On November 30, they’ll take live questions from audiences across the country, sharing their insights and experiences, and fostering more opportunities for diverse schools to learn from one another.
This is the first time we’ve done something like this, and we were inspired to do it by the dynamic relationships we’ve seen developing between schools creating more student-centered programs.
One of these powerful partnerships is between High Tech High and Cheltenham High in Philadelphia. I first met the team at Cheltenham a year ago; the school had screened Beyond Measure for its local community, and staff and community members had started talking seriously about how project-based learning might be introduced to their school. A grassroots mobilization began among teachers, administrators, families, and the Cheltenham community.
This September, 63 ninth graders at Cheltenham walked into a completely new learning experience: a program that would encourage them to critically and collaboratively explore and tackle real-world problems. Cheltenham had created a school within a school, founded on project-based learning.
About the new approach to learning, one student said, “I think it’s a lot better than reading in a textbook and filling in blank spaces in a worksheet. You get to learn with other people.” You can see other Cheltenham students respond to the approach here.
Cheltenham didn’t need shiny new classrooms or major renovations to make this bold change. They didn’t need a school-wide programmatic overhaul. What they needed was courage from administrators and educators, community support from parents and students, and—perhaps most important—inspiring examples from other schools who’d tried and tested innovative models before them.
The way they got from here to there rested on relationships. Inspired by the film and the conversations it sparked, Cheltenham sent a cohort of enthusiastic teachers and school board members to San Diego to experience High Tech High firsthand. They got an immersive introduction to project-based learning, seeing multidisciplinary, hands-on projects and meaningful collaboration in practice in High Tech High’s classrooms. They took those lessons back to Cheltenham, and returned to High Tech High for mentoring again. And again.
Then, with the help of Philadelphia’s Workshop School, Cheltenham’s staff members began building the same kind of students-first culture. “Teachers have poured themselves into this work,” said Matt Pimental, Cheltenham’s supervisor of professional learning and K-12 gifted education. “They heard the call and have taken it and run with it beyond our expectations.”
This is a phenomenon I’ve seen again and again while making my films and hearing from parents and educators across the country. School change happens when people within a community—teachers, families, administrators, and students—work together to make it happen. And when communities reach out to one another, sharing both pitfalls and positive stories, they form the kind of long-term alliances that shift the culture of how we collectively define real, deep learning in America.
Let’s be those people on the ground, putting our heads and hearts together for the well-being of all students. To join our live, national conversation on November 30, register here.