Panorama Values: Be Bold, Be Innovative

Panorama Values: Be Bold, Be Innovative

Panorama Education’s Be Bold, Be Innovative company value is an amazing recipe to add to your organization’s cookbook. We use this recipe to build innovative products, have bold conversations with ourselves and our customers, and ultimately improve the educational landscape for generations.

Serves: 1,500+ school districts

Cook time: Variable. We have cooked up some truly amazing products in a very short amount of time, like when we updated our surveying platform to launch anonymous remote learning surveys for the entire NYC school system in response to Covid. Other sessions take longer, sometimes years, as we keep adding ingredients and tweaking the recipe to perfection.

Ingredients:

  • Hundreds of innovative ideas to help improve student outcomes
  • An amazing team dedicated to making an impact
  • Big scoops of empathy, bravery, and determination
  • A commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)

Cooking:

  1. No need to preheat anything. With Covid, interrupted learning, teacher burnout, and a host of other dire challenges, the world of education is already heated enough. At Panorama, policies like unlimited PTO, secondary caretaker parental leave, and two weeks of office closure annually keep the kitchen cool while we cook up bold, innovative solutions.
  2. Start by gathering your ingredients. The innovative ideas can be sourced from anywhere! At Panorama, we source ideas from everywhere from internal Hackathons to unprompted student emails. You can never have enough empathy, bravery or determination. Finally, when it comes to commitment to DEI, never compromise on quality! Hold your team accountable to make improvements to company policies, source talent from diverse communities, and have brave conversations with customers about equity.
  3. Take your innovative ideas and grill them. We even send out company-wide surveys asking for feedback on new product ideas before they get roadmapped. Another good grilling strategy is to interview teachers, guidance counselors and other education professionals to include as many voices as possible.
  4. Take the grilled ideas and boil them down until they become a handful of moonshots. Not every moonshot will turn out perfectly, but even a single amazing moonshot can have a huge impact on the lives of students everywhere. You may recognize a few of Panorama’s ideas that became moonshots and eventually core products: Surveys for Equity and Inclusion, Student Success, Check-Ins, and most recently Panorama for Positive Behavior!
  5. Our team steadily stirs the mixture, constantly tasting and tweaking the product with an agile development system that allows us to deploy new changes every two hours. We enable our team to work fast and fearlessly with an incredible design system, stable Event-Sourced data stores, and blameless RCAs. We like to test our moonshots through pilot programs with partner schools to determine what additional ingredients can be added for the best results.

The final result: An incredible product, built with empathy, bravery, and inclusivity, with enough servings to help every student in the world reach their full potential.

Next up, two of Panorama’s finest tech chefs are here to share their own personal experiences driving forward Bold and Innovative projects across panorama.

Laura Bowman

Software Engineer — Behavior Squad

Laura Bowman photo

Be Bold, Be Innovative is one of our five core values here at Panorama, and truthfully, it has been the most challenging one for me to lean into. The value has two parts: “be bold” and “be innovative”; of the parts, being innovative is a natural fit — after all, I’m a software engineer and Panorama is an education technology company — discovering and applying creative solutions to real world problems in education is what we love to do.

Being bold though? To me, being bold has always seemed like it could quickly veer into a brash overconfidence. This is the kind of boldness we often see portrayed — an at all costs boldness without strategy or careful planning. With a solid foundation and a healthy dose of humility, though, boldness enables us to make things happen. This is where Panorama’s other company values come into play — Focus on Student Impact, Care About People and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging help us stay focused on us what matters most to us, while Progress Over Perfection gives us the freedom to ask where we can take steps to improve.

For me right now, being bold and being innovative at Panorama looks like leading, coordinating, and learning together across multiple teams’ efforts to launch a brand new product: Panorama for Positive Behavior! With Panorama for Positive Behavior we are hoping to help change the conversation around behavior in schools by enabling educators to better understand their students and by helping them shift their classroom habits to nurture better relationships and promote positive behavior. Classroom behavior can be a significant pain point for many educators these days, and trying to step into this area to create effective tools is no small challenge.

We’re also trying exciting new things in terms of technology by launching our first ever mobile app, which will help educators manage classroom behavior whenever and wherever they need to. Our engineering team has been taking on a number of new challenges as we are exploring mobile friendly technologies and designs and expanding and upgrading our existing infrastructure to give us the flexibility to take on more endeavors in the future.

At times, all these big new ideas can seem daunting, and I worry that we might not get them just right at the outset. The truth is that taking big steps is often an imperfect process, and it can feel risky and uncomfortable to put yourself out there and try something new — whether that’s reflecting on your own practices around student behavior, developing a new understanding of how to best serve schools, or exploring technologies that will help you build a better product. Through partnership with schools, frank evaluations of what’s working and what’s not, and a focus on student impact, I am confident that our practices at Panorama will help us achieve our big ideas, and I hope that our example of boldness in the service of what we value will resonate with others as well.

Marc Siegel

Software Engineering Director

Marc Siegel Photo

Supporting People and Teams

With a diverse team across the US, we must constantly apply our value of Be Bold, Be Innovative in how we approach our work together. How do we communicate and make the best decisions, using all the information available to each team member? At Panorama, our engineering team has adopted principles from a field of organizational behavior known as Mutual Learning to enable each individual to operate from assumptions such as: I hold some valuable information for this decision; others do as well and disagreement make me genuinely curious to learn more — what are the others seeing that I am not?

To learn more about these approaches to working and making decisions together, here are some helpful starting points:

As an example of using these principles to surface important issues: we discovered that a common engineering team practice that many assumed to be highly equitable — We volunteer for work tasks that we want to take on! — was actually being individually experienced by some engineers as inequitable. Learning more, we observed that these different experiences had a strong correlation to certain lenses of social identity, such as gender. We observed that comfort levels differed around volunteering in situations where a teammate had already expressed interest, and that this was related to the public nature of the expressions of interest.

We used these techniques to learn together. Today, engineering teams solicit interest in upcoming work publicly, but request that expressions of interest be shared privately, to avoid this inhibition effect. We also have rotations as a norm, with expressions of specific interest resulting in swaps in the rotation, enabling all engineers to rotate through all types of tasks while also making space for individuals to volunteer for their specific interests.

Using team surveys as a way to gather objective metrics, we learned that these changes led to increased perceptions of equity in our practices and access to opportunities.

Evolving Software Architecture

To fulfill our mission to radically improve K-12 education for all students, Panorama Education must accept data supplied by schools and districts in many different formats. We’ve recognized that we can best serve our mission by avoiding any technical assumptions that there is any single model that all education data records can eventually be unified into. In other words, we accept that there is no central schema to organize our products around. We observe that the educational landscape is large, and that the immediately visible surface-level challenges of differing data formats can obscure the more fundamental and deeper challenge of differing pedagogical frameworks generating that data in the first place.

For example: a concept as ubiquitous in K-12 education as Attendance is diverse and varied in its practical application, with a spectrum including traditional full-day/half-day models, per-session tardiness measured in minutes, and even measuring percentage of school day minutes attended.

To evolve software architectures to meet this reality, we needed to innovate. A few years ago, all Panorama products were developed with traditional web application software architecture patterns (e.g. CRUD + REST, etc). Since then, we’ve adopted a pattern called Event Sourcing, allowing our engineering teams to decouple the recording of new data from a constantly evolving view of how that data may be interpreted by our products to provide increasing value to educators over time.

This conference talk video ETL and Event Sourcing (part 1) (part 2) provides an architectural overview of how Panorama (re-)processes data extracted from external information systems. Slides from this talk are available here.

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Stories and musings from Panorama’s design/engineering/research teams

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Tristrum Tuttle

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