The Key to a Bolder Version of the Future of School is the Teacher Hacker

I wish I had a dollar for any time I heard a teacher describe themselves as “just” an educator.

In fact, educators are just the opposite. Educators are experts at managing a world of constraints. You don’t have enough books for your first period developmental reading class, what do you do? How do you create an environment of joy and delight in a classroom with cinderblock walls and no windows? These constraints are small potatoes in the spectrum of constraints managed by teachers.

The feat of managing constraints is not unique to educators. A hacker is someone who builds dynamic, creative solutions under tight constraints to achieve the outcomes they desire. Hackers like Anonymous, Edward Snowden, Alan Turing, Steve Wozniak, and for the fans of hacker fiction, Mr. Robot, all go by a pretty strict definition, but really being a hacker is a mindset that anyone can embody.

Regardless of their intentions, hackers are toe-to-toe with the issues, and they’re able to iterate much faster because they’re so close to those issues. Many hackers have changed the world with their efforts.

Much like hackers, teachers are toe-to-toe with the issues, and because of their proximity to constraints, teachers are constantly iterating, refining, in order to build stronger solutions to support students in their classrooms.

The 4.0 Schools Community is ripe with teacher hackers.

For over five years, 4.0 Schools has worked to cultivate a community where educators and entrepreneurs alike can build the future of school. Teacher hackers play a critical role because they understand working within constraints and are ready to spring to action.

If you’re a follower of The Future of School, Eric’s story is a familiar one. When Eric first started teaching, he learned he would have to use shower backsplashes for white board walls. He also learned that high schoolers in his social studies class were constantly consuming media. However, they were not accessing it to understand the latest global affairs. Instead, his students bounced between the latest Kardashian scandal and checking likes on Instagram.

Eric Nelson, founder or Fantasy Geopolitics and Fan School at a 4.0 Schools pitch event.

“When you don’t have much, you also don’t have much to lose, so you either choose to create a culture of experimentation and learning or everyone complains about how much everything ‘sucks’ all the time.” Eric’s t-shirt-worthy sentiment continues, “brainstorming is much more powerful than blame-storming!”

Eric channeled his frustrations about students not knowing what was happening in the world and decided to experiment. What followed was Fantasy Geopolitics and Fan School, fantasy sports-like platforms that help students learn about what’s going on in the world. Eric was able to hack on his students’ interest by inserting his content into a format they were already using and familiar with.

While Larry Liu was teaching in Harlem, he jumped to action when he learned his seventh grade Supplemental English class referred to themselves as the “idiot class.” Deeming that title unacceptable, Larry shifted entirely from teaching English and began experimenting to see if he could get his kids to believe they could succeed. Larry leveraged his classroom as a place to prototype lessons using growth-mindset strategies, as well as others to try and improve the learning outcomes for his students.

Connor Koblinski with Larry Liu at graduation.
Larry’s lesson prototypes showed results, as he saw his students outpace their peers the following year in English. From there, Larry decided he had enough evidence bring on his former student and now co-founder Connor Koblinski, and bring Pomegranate Lab to life.

Larry and Connor looked at their resources differently than they had before. They looked at time with Larry’s students, and hacked on that time to address a larger problem that limited his students in their efforts to effectively achieve proficiency in English class.

Pomegranate Lab supports educators with practical resources and targeted coaching as teachers implement growth mindset strategies alongside their existing curriculum. Both in-person and remotely, they help manage, and record the changes in classrooms and then facilitate the shift in the school’s culture as a whole.

Both Eric and Larry are teacher hackers that received support from 4.0 Schools. At 4.0 Schools, we believe we need more people to try bolder ideas in education, and the most critical pieces of this puzzle are the folks closest to the constraints; that includes teachers.

“Who, me?” You may be asking yourself.

While it’s easy to golf-clap the efforts of Eric and Larry and get back to your summer vacation, the buck does not stop there. At 4.0 Schools, we need more teacher hackers like Larry and Eric. We are ready to make tiny bets on a community of teacher hackers being the key to creating the future of school.
Even those who do not consider themselves teacher hackers (yet) can bring their seedlings of an idea. We help teacher hackers gain clarity on the problems they’re solving and whether their solution fits a need.

In New York City, we have one such an opportunity coming up during our Essentials workshop in September (applications are due August 5). Each month we host Essentials, which alternates between New Orleans and New York, and we invite people from all over the country to come test ideas in a community and build a road map to move forward.

If you are running an after-school program that kids are excited to come to every day, and have a hunch it might make a really cool school, or if you’ve built a social-impact curricula that you want to test out as an after-school program, or have an instinct about something entirely different that will help students or their families, and need a little push, we are ready to help you get started.

Alli Dunn is the New York City Community Manager at 4.0 Schools. She supports educators, parents, students, entrepreneurs, technologists and other curious people ready to build the future of school. Reach Alli via email at alli@4pt0.org or on find her on twitter, Alli Dunn

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