Leading for Transformation – Part 3 of 3

May 17, 2022

By Rebecca Holmes, CEI President and CEO

CEI President and CEO Rebecca Holmes

This month’s newsletter closes a three-part series on exemplary actions we’re seeing from those leading for transformation in this moment – celebrating our wins.

Celebrating big and small wins and shining a light on bright spots to inspire possibility have been cornerstones of CEI’s 15-year history as a partner accelerating school and district change.  In policy conversations that tend to turn toward what might not be working in education, CEI leaders are among the first to point to dozens of shining examples of what’s possible – because it’s happening – in schools across Colorado. Doing this doesn’t just matter for our state and national narrative, it matters in district and school leadership, too.  Leaders who intentionally celebrate and create space for their teams to do the same value the importance of bright spots to provide focus and motivation.  

In this moment of possible reinvention, focus and motivation matter a great deal.  Our most innovative post-COVID year is likely the one right ahead.  As an El Pomar Regional Council Member, I was recently interviewed about what is top of mind at CEI – naming dropout and disengagement, youth mental health, and educator shortages as major challenges and opportunities that are likely to not only outlast the pandemic but upend components of learning and instruction as most students experience them today.  Others will frame innovation in more novel ways or will arrive with pre-packaged solutions, but innovation at CEI means finding new ways to solve long-standing intractable problems – leaning in with those closest to them to co-create change.

This work won’t always feel dramatic or like reinvention all at once.  It starts with bright spots.

With June around the corner, we’re reflecting about where 2022’s bright spots might be signs of early breakthroughs.  Some examples of bright spots we see occurring and emerging in areas that are ripe for real change include:

  1. Increasing student engagement through cross-regional collaboration – spotlight on Fremont Multidistrict Initiative
  2. Improving mental health through technology enabled skill-building – spotlight on Nod high school pilot
  3. Fueling teaching careers through design-based research and partnership – spotlight on Colorado Youth for a Change AmeriCorps Program

Summarized below, each example involves seeing a solution through a different frame – expanding access beyond current boundaries, adapting use for a different population, or rethinking existing assets to shape new norms – and reaching across systems to connect people and resources toward common goals

Increasing student engagement through cross-regional collaboration

The Fremont Multidistrict Initiative (FMI) is reinventing the way schools and higher education collaborate to increase student access to, and engagement in, college and career pathways in rural Colorado. Formed in early 2020, the three school districts in Fremont County – Cañon City Schools RE-1, Fremont School District RE-2, and Cotopaxi School District RE-3 – came together with Pueblo Community College’s Fremont Campus (PCC) to develop a regional approach to accelerating student success. Believing the region is stronger through collaboration than isolation, and that student opportunities are greater when resources and programs are shared, FMI partners opened their college and career opportunities to students across districts to enable credit-bearing learning in concurrent enrollment, internship, P-TECH, and other career pathway and work-based learning programs. The FMI partnership has been planning for shared programs in Medical and Agriculture pathways throughout the 2021-22 school year and will pilot a newly built Environmental pathway through the Climatarium in the 2022-23 school year.

The FMI partnership is a first of its kind collaborative in Colorado. In addition to modeling deep cross-district collaboration, FMI reaches across K12 and higher education systems and leverages partnership through organizations like Empower, Lyra, and Colorado Succeeds to develop not only shared value but aligned capacity that is transforming the experience of, and opportunity for, relevant learning for students across the region.

Check out this video shared by Colorado Succeeds: Fremont Multi-district Initiative: Work-based Learning Collaboration

Improving mental health through technology enabled skill-building

Eight Colorado high schools are piloting a new approach to supporting and empowering students struggling with loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Launched by a partnership between CEI and Grit Digital Health in 2021, students across these schools are the first in the country to access Nod, an app that supports relationship building, goal setting, developing and practicing social skills, and sharing stories of resilience with peers.

Initially developed by Grit Digital Health and Hopelab in 2019 for use on college campuses, students using Nod to help tackle loneliness and depression have also seen improvement in their sleep quality, social support, and intent to remain enrolled in school. Recognizing these positive impacts on college students, Colorado partners believed high school students transitioning from remote learning could experience similar benefits. Early results of the pilot show success in students feeling reconnected, relearning communication and relationship skills, and increasing confidence in social situations.

The Nod pilot is a first of its kind in high schools – leveraging the science of social connection, use of technology for student agency and empowerment, and partnership across health and education organizations. Insights from the pilot will inform a larger rollout of the app for Colorado high schools, with the end goal of scaling the reach and impact of Nod across the country.

Check out recent media coverage at: The opposite of a social media app, ‘Nod’ helps students engage in person; New app to help teens battling loneliness; In the age of social media, a new app aims to help Colorado teens make friends off their phone.

Fueling teaching careers through design-based research and partnership

Colorado Youth for a Change (CYC) is leveraging its AmeriCorps Programs to surface untapped pathways into teaching careers. Launched in 2021 through a joint research and design project with Serve Colorado and CEI, CYC is leveraging its Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) grant as an opportunity to not only address immediate impacts of COVID on learners and teachers but inform opportunities to bolster Colorado’s teacher pipeline into the future. Recognizing the value and relevance of AmeriCorps members as individuals who are already in schools, CYC and CEI developed an empathy-based research project to identify and reduce barriers to pursuing careers in teaching. Using insights about members’ aspirations, supports, and needs, stakeholders from across K12 and higher education systems came together to design and pilot potential solutions. Early indicators are showing increased inspiration, engagement, and enrollment of CYC members as a result of targeted coordination, networking, mentorship, and knowledge building enabled through this pilot.

Given the high need for new models to attract and retain teachers, CYC’s AmeriCorps Program and partners are helping to reimagine where passions and interests in teaching might come from, and how to surface and support these in ways that reach untapped audiences.

Site applications for partnering with CYC AmeriCorps in the 2022-23 school year are now open! Check out this flyer to learn more.

Our May newsletter is full of new resources and connections for leaders and teachers.