Catalyst Innovation Pilot: Launch Update

Imagine a world in which building robots with engineers or creating advocacy campaigns with elected officials was the expectation in middle school classrooms?  And a world in which every teacher had the training, tools and robust community support to bring this idea to life?  That is the exact set of questions Citizen Schools' school and school district partners posed last year -- and the impetus for our newest design innovation: Catalyst.

This summer, Citizen Schools launched Catalyst as a two-year pilot, with a cohort of teacher design partners from across the country, to develop and test a new approach to teaching and learning by pairing classroom teachers with community experts to deliver engaging, real-world projects in middle school classrooms.  It's our effort to bring to life and influence a world in which schools, districts, employers, community-based organizations, and families work together to provide equitable deeper learning experiences that connect to career pathways, empowering youth to choose their brightest futures and achieve social mobility.

How Is Catalyst Expected to Drive Student Impact?

Catalyst will help build the capacity of teachers, schools, parents and volunteers, while bringing learning to life for our students, by integrating Citizen Schools’ signature apprenticeships into the traditional school day classroom for students in 5th through 9th grades. Data suggest that educators recognize the importance of and are interested in accessing development opportunities related to deeper learning practices. For example, 90% of teachers believe social and emotional skills can be taught and that it benefits students and 80% want more supports to address students’ social and emotional learning including.  Similarly, 85% of teachers in a recent Education Week poll reported wanting more professional development related to growth mindset.

Citizen Schools engaged the consulting group Inspire to conduct a market assessment of Catalyst based on interviews with school and district leaders. Inspire found interest in the teacher training component of the Catalyst model and similarly found, based on interviews with school and district leaders, interest in professional development for school staff related to deeper learning practices.

What is a Catalyst Project?

Through Catalyst, Citizen Schools will provide a set of targeted supports for teachers, volunteers and parents including training and ongoing professional development for teachers and volunteers on how to plan and facilitate deeper learning experiences with students, project planning tools and resources for teachers and volunteers plan and evaluate projects using evidence-based practices that drive students’ social emotional learning (SEL) and 21st century skills; and a virtual community of practice where teachers and volunteers can access coaching, inspiration, and tips from the community of peers implementing Catalyst projects in classrooms across the country.

With best-in-class partner organizations including Transforming Education and The Bridgespan Group, over the next two years, we will iterate, refine, assess, and grow this model in sustained collaboration with an experienced group of certified classroom teachers. Citizen Schools is partnered with Transforming Education to develop learning goals and evaluation metrics and use co-designing tools and processes to gather feedback from Catalyst teachers. Citizen Schools and The Bridgespan Group are partnering to refine the Catalyst go-to-market and scale strategy and the organizational implications for Citizen Schools of the Catalyst model.  

Learning Goals for Year 1

The questions below will guide the learning agenda for Year 1 (the 2017-18 school year) and provide a basis for continued learning in Year 2 (the 2018-19 school year).

Launching Catalyst

The Citizen Schools and Transforming Education team created an initial suite of tools for the pilot launch by identifying a foundational set of instructional practices to influence student growth in a set of core SEL and 21st Century skills:  Self-Efficacy, Self Management, Social Awareness, Growth Mindset; and Collaborative problem solving.

The team then used this foundational set of instructional practices to develop a set of three curricular resource units: Science Fair, Entrepreneurship and Community Problem Solvers. Additional units will be developed in Year 2.

Next, the team selected appropriate and actionable tools and measures for student and teacher growth (these tools and measures will be tested and refined in Years 1 and 2). The project plans to utilize at least three methods to collect feedback on students’ deeper learning development: a student survey, exit tickets as checks for understanding, and an end-of-unit game-based performance assessment. The survey was originally created for California’s CORE districts and utilizes questions developed by leading researchers including Carol Dweck, Camille Farrington, and Angela Duckworth. The survey has been administered to over one million students in California's CORE districts beginning in 2014-15 and has considerable validity and reliability evidence. The CORE survey includes scales for four of our five core skills: Self-management, social awareness, growth mindset and self-efficacy. The survey will be administered in fall and spring and takes approximately 20 minutes to complete, which allows for relatively easy and scalable implementation. Further, benchmark data from the CORE Districts can be used to compare performance in our partner schools. The performance assessment of the fifth core skill -- collaborative problem-solving -- will be a game-based assessment that can provide an innovative and common assessment across all of the students and schools in the project. There are currently two different game-based tasks being considered, one developed by ACT and the other developed by 3C. Together, both measures will allow us to infer about the ways in which the Catalyst project supports students’ deeper learning competencies.

Implementation and understanding of changes in teacher practices will be measured using end-of-lesson teacher exit tickets and end-of-unit teacher surveys for feedback on teacher engagement and buy-in and to provide formative feedback on project implementation in their classrooms and additional supports needed. The teacher surveys will also measure teachers’ deeper learning competencies such as growth mindset, based on the hypothesis that participation in this project will promote their own personal development of these competencies.

Teacher Design Partner Cohort

In June 2017,  the inaugural cohort of teacher “co-designers” from Boston, Charlotte, and the Bay Area gathered in Boston to launch visioning and planning for Catalyst educator training (Cohort 1), who represent a cross section of disciplines, grade levels (6th through 8th grade) and tenure. Nearly all of the teachers have significant teaching experience (more than five years) and many currently serve in instructional leadership roles at their schools.

In Spring 2018, we will add an additional six teachers from Boston and San Jose for a total of 15 teacher design partners in Year 1. We have also learned that with new initiatives at the school or classroom level, such as initial implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards, participation in a pilot like this can be challenging in a given year although in the longer-term there is clear alignment between Catalyst and these initiatives.

Through the fall, teachers will contribute to the development of training tools, resources, and strategies under the leadership of Citizen Schools Director of Program Innovation. Through the winter, a series of surveys, coaching calls, webinars, peer feedback, and practice share sessions will be developed, implemented, and revised. In the spring and summer, training tools and materials will be finalized.

Volunteer Recruitment and Initial Training

In October, the first volunteer training workshop took place in Charlotte, North Carolina, with 15 new and returning volunteers. We aimed to build and model a learning community by inviting these volunteers into the pilot year’s design and iterative testing efforts and to begin to learn as early as possible from their reflections and feedback on this initial training as well as their ongoing experience to inform the development of the Catalyst pilot.

During the training, several volunteers questioned whether they had the specific skills or specialized content knowledge required to support projects. This prompted a rich discussion around how impressive one’s skills and experiences can be to an 8th grader. Citizen Schools’ staff emphasized, and several returning volunteers agreed, that even if one’s background or experience is not perfectly tailored to students’ projects, there are many skills volunteers have honed throughout their professional lives that can greatly support students’ work.  Collaboration, project management, oral and written communication and self management skills are just a few examples of skills volunteers bring that are essential to project-based learning. Sharing stories of successes and failures -- personal and professional -- can illuminate potential educational and career paths and highlight the power of learning and growing from mistakes. Our volunteers have been vetted for expertise and skills to leverage, so in this case, we want to reassure our volunteers that their skills more than measure up and are more than enough, though their humility is helpful! We were glad for this opportunity to build volunteers’ self-efficacy through concrete examples of how they will work together with students. In future trainings, we plan to engage volunteers proactively in reflecting on skills they bring that can support students’ project work and social emotional growth.

There was a tone of recognition in the room when a veteran Citizen Teacher volunteer shared the impact of just being present for students, and supporting their project work with intention as a way to support their development and mastery of their project content. We will look to integrate stories and video clips that emphasize this key message as we continue to refine training content and pre-work as well as our volunteer recruitment materials.  

We are also exploring whether a longer session would offer more time for volunteers to advance their own SEL development and reflect on their own current SEL competencies. We know from existing research that the development of adults’ own SEL competencies is imperative to helping students grow. In the limited time we had, we had a number of opportunities for reflection and sharing, but will be looking to build out more specific pre-work and concrete strategies to help volunteers grow their own skills over time. Potential options include  pre-work to complete prior to attending the session and/or in-session activities that are more directly aimed at volunteers own growth mindset, self-efficacy, collaborative problem solving and social awareness.

Similarly, as we consider ways to leverage technology to personalize training content, we will utilize feedback from the volunteers to determine what content could be “flipped” or shared as a pre-read or online module to then discuss in person or modified for returning versus new volunteers to best meet their unique needs.

Following the training workshop, excitement and connection flowed at our informal happy hour, and both our teachers and volunteers had a chance to learn about each other’s skillsets, interests and why they are participating in the program. We will think even more about the best ways to encourage this relationship building as part of all future events, potentially as a way to access professional networks and meet ups, and to utilize this opportunity to connect new volunteers to more veteran volunteers and grow our pool of interested volunteers and teachers as well. The teachers were eager to learn more from professionals and understand what they may have to offer their students.

Priority Next Steps

In the coming months, we have identified a set of key objectives as Catalyst projects are implemented in classrooms and as the tools and supports are codified and refined further based on initial feedback:

DESIGN: Teacher Support and Feedback

  • Complete recruitment of additional teachers for design team cohort and hold second in-person workshop
  • Engage in customized coaching plan with a monthly scope and sequence informed by input gathered from Teacher Design Team
  • Facilitate 2 webinars to support/gather feedback from teacher design team
  • Curriculum Resource Tour and Effective Collaboration with Volunteers

ASSESS + REFINE: Evaluation and Assessment

  • Select the game-based assessment of student collaborative problem-solving after completion of review and beta testing of the two potential assessments.
  • Clarify required or optional teacher and student assessment administration and provide detail on expectations for number and timing of  surveys, performance task assessment items and optional exit tickets

GROW: Strategic planning and organizational capacity

  • Define the longer term organizational structure, governance, and culture that will propel the ongoing growth and evolution of our Catalyst model

  • Refine our understanding of the core value proposition Catalyst offers key stakeholders

  • Further vet and weigh options for strategic partnerships that can complement our service offerings and/or support distribution of the Catalyst model

  • Further refine our economic model and revenue strategy to support growth

As the Catalyst pilot continues, Citizen Schools and our partners look forward to continuing to share future updates in a format similar to this to describe our progress and what we are learning through this iterative design pilot of Catalyst in hopes that what we are learning is useful to our peer organizations and to the field. We are appreciative of your interest and welcome your ideas and questions.