Category Archives: Uncategorized

COVID-19: Pro Bono Advising Available Now

Like many nonprofits, Bellwether’s operations are impacted by COVID-19. In particular, the academic advising, strategic planning, and evaluation work we do inside schools is paused, and we’ve shut down team member travel.

Short term, this means we have unexpected surplus capacity which we’d like to make available, pro bono, to school districts and charter school networks that are figuring out how to address a variety of issues related to operations, strategy and decision-making, state and federal policy guidance, curriculum and instruction, and financial planning.

Across our team of more than 60 full-time professionals, we have former school leaders, nonprofit leaders, media professionals, and experienced strategy consultants. Our team members have worked at the Department of Education, The White House, top-tier management consulting firms, and state education agencies around the country. Three-quarters of our staff have worked in the classroom, and some still teach part-time now.

To learn more, please tell us about your district or network and what you need. We cannot service all requests but will take on as many as possible and farm others out to peers as we are able.

If you’d like to share this news with someone in your network, we also posted this update on LinkedIn.

Announcing Three New Members of Bellwether’s Partner Team

I write today to share some exciting news: Gwen Baker, Jennifer O’Neal Schiess, and Juliet Squire were promoted this summer, joining the partner team here at Bellwether. We are thrilled about the strong contributions these individuals have made to Bellwether and the field — and for the contributions they will make as part of the partner team.

Bellwether partners lead high-impact projects seeking to improve education outcomes for underserved students. They conduct research, produce publications and other work to share ideas, support clients’ business and strategy needs, and develop our team by investing in the growth of other staff. When we founded Bellwether almost 10 years ago, we always said we wanted this to be a place where people could build meaningful careers and hone skills that would enable them to serve in other leadership roles throughout the field. This news affirms that we are cultivating strong talent who see Bellwether as a valuable place to grow and lead, even as many of you have had the opportunity to work alongside our former teammates in different roles outside of Bellwether. 

Learn more about our newest partners below, and please join me in congratulating Gwen, Jennifer, and Juliet on their new roles!

Continue reading

How Can We Extend the Reach of Great Teachers? A Q&A with Stephanie Dean on Opportunity Culture

How should we train teachers? How do we ensure that all students have access to great teaching?

Those questions are at the heart of many education policy debates. While it may be difficult to “raise the bar” on the teaching profession by erecting barriers to entry, recent studies show that teacher coaching and teamwork offer more promise as ways to help young teachers improve their practice and to create a real career ladder within the teaching profession.

Stephanie Dean

In order to find out more about how this work is going in schools, I reached out to Stephanie Dean, the vice president of strategic policy advising and a senior consulting manager at Public Impact. In that role, Dean is working with schools and districts to implement what they call “Opportunity Culture,” a way to re-organize schools into collaborative leadership teams.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Tell us about Opportunity Culture. What’s the theory behind it, and what are you hoping to accomplish?

Opportunity Culture schools create high-pay, high-impact teacher leader roles. The cornerstone role in Opportunity Culture schools is the multi-classroom leader. Districts and schools must begin with very careful selection and design. They are selecting candidates who produce greater-than-expected student growth, and they’re also looking for competencies that are needed to lead adults and students. That’s the selection side.

On the design side, a school team creates a staffing model and a schedule that ensures each multi-classroom leader — who continues to teach in some way — has time during the day to work intensively with a small team of teachers. This means time to analyze data, plan instruction with the team, observe and offer feedback, and model and co-teach. The staffing model keeps the team size small to ensure the multi-classroom leader is able to provide the level of high-impact leadership that’s needed. We’re talking about a team of 3-8 teachers, similar to the standard we see in other professions.

Two things happen in this type of school staffing design. First, the school gains a powerful group of instructional leaders. They’re powerful in the sense that a multi-classroom leader shares accountability for their team’s student learning outcomes. They know the students, they’re working with them in small groups, they’re analyzing data, and they’re in the classroom helping teachers. This model helps create a sense of “being in it together,” and ensures teachers on the team are getting relevant coaching every day to help move their practice along.

The second thing that happens in this model is that a career path emerges for teachers. Too often teachers are forced to leave the classroom to pursue advancement in their careers. We know many of those teachers would stay in classrooms if there were some way to advance.

Multi-classroom leadership means taking on an essential role in your school’s leadership team for a very large pay increase. A multi-classroom leader will see their influence spread to more teachers and students, and in return the average pay supplement they earn is $12,000. The range nationally (among Opportunity Culture schools) is from $6,000 to $23,000. Those stipends are funded out of existing school budgets, so they’re designed to last, creating a meaningful job and a meaningful pay increase. That changes the way the profession looks today and the way it looks to prospective teachers as well. Continue reading

Media: “New Report Shows 4 Ways States Can Innovate and Improve Their Exams — Even Without Joining ESSA Pilot Program,” in The 74

Today in The 74, Brandon Lewis and I summarize key findings from our recent report, “The State of Assessment: A Look Forward on Innovation in State Testing Systems,” in light of news about two new innovative assessment demonstration projects:

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education approved proposals from Georgia and North Carolina to pilot innovative models of student testing. When the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) authorized its special program for innovative assessments, many states expressed excitement and interest. But more than a year and a half after the Department of Education started accepting applications, Georgia and North Carolina are only the third and fourth states to take advantage of the program. Does that mean that innovative assessments are dead in the water?

No. Exactly the opposite.

Read the rest of this piece in The 74, and dive into the details with the full report.

Design Convenings You’d Actually Want to Attend


via GIPHY

It’s an unfortunately familiar story. You’re invited to a convening on a topic that you’re interested in. When you get the agenda, you notice that the day starts with an 8 a.m. breakfast and keynote speaker, which wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t 5 a.m. your time. After that it’s back-to-back sessions, some of which are good. In the others, the topics aren’t relevant or facilitation is shoddy. A working lunch, reception (with speaker), and dinner are all mandatory, forcing you to choose between skipping out for a break, catching up with colleagues, or giving away every minute of your day to the organizers. When you get back to your office and reflect on the experience, you want to connect what you’ve learned to your daily work but “135 unread emails” is screaming out in bold font.

Why does this happen? The impulse to program every minute of every day surely stems from the desire to take advantage of the unique time together, but it often ends up backfiring. People check email, skip out on sessions to talk with colleagues, or are too mentally and physically fatigued to fully engage with the content.

In a recent series of convenings I organized focused on increasing multiagency coordination and effectiveness, my team and I tried to design the kind of convenings we’d like to attend. That is to say, ones where the content was timely, relevant, and rich. The agendas took into consideration human needs such as movement, rest, and nourishment. The schedules balanced deep learning, reflection, peer-to-peer sharing, and direct application to daily work.

Here are five lessons that we’ve learned creating adult learning environments where critical work can get done: Continue reading