This school year is a busy one for me. I‘m finishing up my residency requirements as a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education by working as the Senior Director of Public and Private Sector Support at Teach For All, a network of 27 social enterprises around the world working to expand educational opportunity for their nations’ children.
In my role, I get to work with education leaders in a variety of countries, including Japan, India, Brazil, Spain, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines. Using the adaptive leadership framework developed by Ron Heifetz, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, I’m helping coach partner and Teach For All staff in tackling some of the biggest challenges they face in securing public and private support for their work. The adaptive leadership framework is an approach to leadership that deals with change in systems at the level of values, mindsets and beliefs.
As I travel the globe, I’ll share my reflections on the education systems I encounter and the insights they offer for those of us in the United States working to transform our education system. Starting with India.
Last month, I spent a week with members of the Teach For India team at their annual InspirED event. Teach For India is a national movement of outstanding college graduates and young professionals who teach full-time for two years in under-resourced schools—the beginning of their journey as lifelong leaders who will fight educational inequality from within various sectors. Started in 2009 as a part of the Teach For All network, Teach For India is now in 5 cities: Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai. The organization currently has a total of 550 fellows and 196 alumni working towards eliminating educational inequity in the country.
Teach For India’s InspirED event was designed to jumpstart India’s own education reform movement by bringing together a wide network of educational innovators and leaders, along with students, parents and community members.The education crisis in India is staggering. Four percent of children never start school – that’s 8 million lost students. Fifty-seven percent don’t complete primary schools – that’s 74 million. And 90 percent don’t complete school – that’s 172 million.
These numbers in many ways don’t seem surmountable, but the Teach For India team believes they are—so much so that the organization’s a goal is to close the achievement gap in the country in the next 50 years. But during my visit with Teach for India’s CEO, Shaheen Mistri, also shared just how important it is that Teach For India collaborates with other organizations working in education, government, the communities where their teachers and alumni work, with students, families and with funders and business. She (rightly) pointed out that Teach For India will not be able to reach that ambitious goal alone. It will take multiple partners working together towards this same vision.
Because of that, the Teach For India team focuses a great deal of time on cultivating values and beliefs, not just in the training and development of their teachers and alumni, but also in the work they do with other stakeholders in their system. At the InspirED event, attendees spent days reflecting on what “sense of possibility” meant to each of them. As Heifetz would say, this is the level of real adaptive change—which is what is required when you face complicated adaptive challenges, such as transforming a country’s education system.
I left my visit to India inspired by their focus on system-wide collaboration and on change at the level of values. I also walked away reflecting on the truly ambitious goal that the Teach For India team had set of closing the achievement gap in the next 50 years, feeling as if by setting that goal they had started a movement in their country.
I also wonder what it would take for leaders in education in the United States from different perspectives and beliefs to come together to set a similar goal. What would be our goal? Who would be at the table? Would it include students, parents, community members, educators, business and government leaders? Who else impacts the education of our children? What would it take for us to put a timeline on transforming the education system in the United States? What would be the values that we would need to adapt or let go of so that we could meet our goal as a system?
Diane Robinson is a 2013 Candidate for the Doctor of Education Leadership at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.