You brought defining moments to 4.0 Schools, our community and each member of our team. Some of those moments we shared with the world and others we experienced alone. We struggled, blossomed and tumbled through changes and pivotal experiences that made us question our abilities, impact and purpose on a few days. We pushed ourselves and each other to ask tough questions even when we didn’t know where to find the answers. There were days filled with excitement and hope, days we wrestled with doubt and days we went back and forth between the two. The strength of this team and our community, has always been the ability to embrace change. So as we enter 2017 as a team, we want to share a few experiences you provided that have refreshed our view of the world and the work we will be doing for and with our community.
In 2016, we replaced the five-year-old Launch program with the Tiny Fellowship. That it took five years to get to such a forehead-slapper is embarrassing.
Launch was great, but only for a few. Quitting your job wasn’t a formal requirement of Launch, but we certainly assumed it was really the best way to do it. Turns out we were, unintentionally, affirming yet another structural bias against people who had neither privilege nor deep pockets nor backup plans. Those numbers on diversity we said we wanted to hit but kept missing — turns out the barriers being thrown up were ours.
So we changed the program.
The Tiny Fellowship is designed to give people with promising ideas for students and families four things they need to test their idea in the real world — community, capital, coaching and credibility. Without quitting their job.
This tiny change has been, well, huge. Huge impact on our whole shop, our whole process — What exactly is hospitable? What’s subtly, or not so subtly not that welcoming? I’m only starting to realize how intentional I have to be, for the rest of my life, about the privilege, the bias, the unnamed.
Now I understand how serious we must take the shift from doing innovation WITH, not, TO, the students and families we say we serve. I’m realizing how thankful I really should be to the courageous people of color who shout, who fight, who march, who sit, who give me and others yet another chance. I’m digging deeper to find a better response than thinking someone else should change — a response that will never suffice, never show respect that’s deserved, never right the wrongs, but that might, if I own it, be my best, my part in making the future — of school, of me, of 4.0, of this great country — better than the past.
In 2016 we elected one of the most troubling, racist, misogynistic, and deeply unqualified candidates in U.S. history.
Now more than ever, I understand how important it is to engage with folks in my community to make change. I’ve too often retreated into my own enclave of righteous indignation. We have to bring more nuance to our conversations and fight for a more educated, informed, and involved community.
I believe my role at 4.0 allows me to do that. The government can, has, and will shape public education. The people shape the government, however, and entrepreneurs are a powerful slice of ‘the people.’ If entrepreneurship is a power structure in and of itself, I want 4.0 to democratize that power, to make it more accessible and useful to communities as a way to make their voices heard. Half of the voting eligible population didn’t vote last year (as per usual). What percent of our population is involved in the education of students and families in their communities? Can entrepreneurship be a lever to up that engagement and amplify it?
In 2016, I became a mom. We prepared for 9 months to welcome a tiny roommate into our life at home. We took the natural childbirth classes, assembled a crib, prepped meals and installed a carseat. What I didn’t expect was how in one day, my identity would shift. I now call myself a parent-and increasingly more important-a parent of a girl.
I have felt like I don’t totally deserve the parent title yet since I’m pretty new at this game. I was asked to weigh in as a mom during one of our selection meetings with a partner for a pitch competition and couldn’t help but feel totally under-qualified to be the one parent voice in the room.
I have found myself saying that I don’t have margins these days. If a meeting runs over into the time I’ve protected to pump for my baby, my day has to shift. If my girl gets sick and can’t go to daycare, I am left wondering how to juggle a fussy child and my team. I used to tell our participants in Essentials that creativity loves constraints. I am still learning how to be creative and lead my team in this new margin-less constraint of motherhood.
Because of this, I hope to be more inclusive of the balancing act that working moms have to navigate each day. I want to reflect that in both the small things, like creating a place for nursing moms to feel comfortable at work to big things like how we communicate sustainability to our internal and external team. The quest for work/life balance has shifted from something I’m seeking to attain to something that is completely driven by the needs of my family to shift the balance needle towards life. After working at 4.0 for 5 years, I want this needle shift to not just sit with me but inform our team culture + schedules as well as how we coach our entrepreneurs who are building baby organizations and beginning to shape their culture as well.
On Friday, September 27, 2016 Solange released an album, A Seat at the Table. Prior to listening to the album I ASSumed it would simply be a funky and rhythmic selection of songs that I could jam to for a month or two till the next “hit” song came out. What I did not realize was that this album would be the anthem for me as a Black woman navigating: life, love and work. I could go on and on about life and love, but I feel the most interesting connection I made with this album was through my work. At 4.0 schools, I serve in this role of a “Community Manager.” For quite some time I have been thinking critically about what it means to “manage” a community that you were not born/raised into but relocated to and now call it home… As I wrestled with my transition into this role, and still continue to, Solange dropped an album that allowed me to take a step back and realize what it meant to do things WITH and not FOR. I have never been a “FOR” the people, but as I listened through this album and thought about my interactions I realized my yearning to help, could and may very well be perceived as FOR. That had to change!
Weary: “Be weary of the ways of the world.” As I take to the streets to chat with the people about the work I/we, do, some folks are weary because the world, folks in education here, have not always had their best interest in mind. As I keep this in the back of my head, I now seek to approach situations and opportunities differently. I am never trying to push my agenda on them, but to listen. Not listen so that I may quickly give my “two cents,” but instead to listen for the deeper problem. Listen for clarity. Listen…. Because I care.
Because of this I will strive to have more conversations with children/parents/community members about Where Do We Go from here. Instead of me leading the conversation, I want to move the needle to me doing less leading and more supporting students/parents/community leaders in these conversations. I do not wish to speak for someone, but instead to amplify what is being said and voiced. For they are The Chosen Ones.
In 2016, I was told, “If you went back into teaching, students would never hate school.” Seemingly magnificent feedback to get after facilitating three days of adult learning, so why did it leave me crushed? I love my former students more than anything, and thinking about leaving them makes my heart ache, even after about a year and half after leaving the classroom. On my search for personal and professional happiness and growth, I chose a career outside of the classroom, and I still have a lot of unresolved feelings about that career shift. This comment awoke in me feelings that I have purposefully not revisited as I’ve thrown myself into a new piece of the education world. If adults appreciate my quirky teaching style and suggest that I would make students enjoy school, why am I not still in a classroom with those little humans I loved? It’s hard to see the positive effects of my daily work empowering people to create new innovative education ideas because I am so many levels away from those whom I want to impact: the students.
Reflecting on this made me interrogate my theory of change. Is the work I’m doing with the leaders of these soon to be education ventures causing positive effects for students in vulnerable populations? If not, this work, quite frankly, doesn’t matter.
Because of this push, I want to focus on better tracking impact to make sure that we are helping to bring opportunities and joy to students across the country. We are redesigning the way in which we coach Essentials participants towards running the first test of their model. I want to be sure that they are receiving the best coaching possible by looping in experienced entrepreneurs to support them. I want to turn my uncertainty into curiosity and figure out what it looks like to create positive change for students from a distance; after all, if that’s not happening, what are we doing?
On January 1st 2016, I uprooted my life, packed up my Honda Civic and left my hometown. I said goodbye to friends I’d known since childhood, my very nervous parents and the rest of my family and hello to New Orleans. For me, 2016 represents the scariest adult decision I have ever made.
Since leaving Tallahassee, my voice has grown stronger. In 2016 I found myself facing my fears and saying things I previously only had the courage to think. I found myself thinking ‘why not?’ anytime there was an opportunity on the table. I am living my life fully by embracing ambiguity.
In 2016 I have come to understand and appreciate the value of community, but not because I left mine behind. I understand the value of community because I am now in the position to build my own, piece by piece. I seek a connection to others because I want to belong to something larger, but I also find myself being more selective about what that something larger is. I am eager to have more opportunities to travel down the path unknown.
Now, I will bring more of my learnings to the table and explore the boundaries of that table. 2016 represented growth because I made the leap to expose myself to more. I want to channel that same spirit as I build out the national community at 4.0 Schools.
In 2016, we began talking to potential partners in cities all across the country, trying to answer a specific question: how, if at all, can 4.0 support the work they were doing to create excellent education opportunities for families and students. We believed that our new program structure (Essentials and then Tiny Fellowship) would build a pipeline of individuals ready to be recruited to launch their ideas in our partners’ cities. We thought it would be simple and clean, without us having to really do much work to make it happen.
Now I understand that founders, like many people, are deeply committed to the cities they live in. And partners, while interested in recruiting people to their cities, are actually most invested in identifying and supporting potential founders who are already part of their communities. Many communities don’t have the tools to support those founders. Partners appreciated 4.0’s approach to training founders for three days in New Orleans and then providing the resources and supports for founders to do the real work when they get back home. Hearing tough feedback from our founders and partners was what forced us to shift gears and really think about how our partnership proposals align to partner needs, not just ours.
Because of this my work will focus on approaching partners with the same empathy we coach our founders to do. In short, less talking, more listening.
In 2016, I experienced one of my toughest weeks as a manager — when my team was faced with double the demand we anticipated and had to decide the best course of action. Should I stick with our initial targets, which were already over 2X what we accomplished the previous year? Should I accommodate the excess demand, which would demonstrate our commitment to accessibility and hospitality? My ambition to exceed our targets almost burnt out my team. We coach our founders to not fall in the trap of scaling blindly. This experience was a tough reminder of how difficult it is to practice that discipline when you’re deep in the trenches.
Now I understand the importance of defining the right stretch goals. More importantly, I understand that exceeding targets is not always better than meeting them.
Because of this, our leadership team is approaching our 2017 strategic planning with greater intentionality around where we intend to move the needle. We’re mindful that effective goal-setting requires both focus and peripheral vision.
2016 was a spectacular mess. In 2016, I felt kinship with notoriously cranky New Yorkers, nodding collectively on the street to one another in passing, knowing that we all agreed, this year could go fly a kite*. I could recount the relentless beating we all took in 2016, but I have a hunch it’s still an open wound that many are still nursing. That said, do not mistake this recognition of 2016 as a difficult time, to be entirely pessimistic.
While at 4.0 Schools, I’ve had the pleasure of supporting our community of builders from New York City and beyond. In 2016, I’ve enjoyed listening to the problems people want to solve in their communities, the constraints they manage, and the students and families that inspire them to get up in the morning. What was different, and quite powerful about this year, was the recognition that our founders were knowingly wading into an increasingly volatile atmosphere. Despite the apparent risks, the 4.0 Schools community continues to change minds, culture, and improve educational outcomes for students and the communities they come from.
Our founders and builders are part of a larger movement of citizens demanding change through action, as seen most recently with the rush of protests and demonstrations around the country supporting refugees, women’s rights, and many others. I recognize however, that this kind of engagement can lose momentum once the absurd becomes an every day annoyance, normalized by the onslaught of disappointment, and lack of an explicit connection or implication on daily life. Which brings to mind something a colleague once told me: we all need to show up for all of the marches, not just the ones we feel effect us the most.
In 2017, I promise to do more, to keep pushing for a more honest version of community. One that is truly inclusive, and complete with diverse perspectives and experiences. We all need to show up for each other as we take risks, and change minds towards a more equitable educational future for our students, and we’re not going to do it well without each other.
*I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the one shiny, bright star that made 2016 manageable, and that’s the contract I signed with my now husband to have each others backs until death do we part.