At Highlander Institute, we strive to learn, grow, and expand our own understanding of what is necessary to create a better student experience for learners and families – in Rhode Island and beyond. Over the years, as we have expanded our expertise around blended learning strategies, personalized learning practices, and the role of culturally responsive teaching, only one thing has remained constant – the fact that systems level change is slow and complex.
We have found that our education systems, no matter how well-intentioned, are designed to get in the way of change. There are legacy barriers blocking new approaches from getting off the ground. There’s a very limited research base validating the exploration of new classroom practices, coupled with a lack of scaffolded professional learning supports. Too many educators are actually incentivized to keep things safe, secure, and business as usual.
While the overall arc of change is slow, we have seen individual teachers managing herculean change efforts in their own classrooms. We have witnessed these efforts firsthand and listened to students, families, and educators rave about the results these changes have brought to their schools. We have seen student outcomes soar and engagement thrive; however, without a systems-level approach we have seen these efforts stagnate in one-off classroom isolation.
In 2014, we launched the Fuse RI Fellowship as a means to recruit, train, and support educators as leaders beyond their own classrooms and school buildings. Across Rhode Island we identified a large number of teachers who could manage change efforts with their own students in their own classrooms, but we needed them to do this work with adults, moving their energy and ideas around the state in a way that would catalyze a bigger conversation.
We are proud to say that five years later, you cannot go anywhere in Rhode Island without bumping into a Fuse Fellow, a Fuse Classroom teacher or coach, a Fuse Leader, or a Fuse Professor. We have Fellows winning teacher of the year awards at the building, district, and state levels. Our Fellows have led beyond our fellowship as RIDE EdPrep Fellows, TeachPlus Policy Fellows, and RI Learning Champions. They have won awards that have brought dollars back to their schools, and have founded and led new organizations like EdCampRI, YES RI, and PBL RI. When RISTE needs professional development facilitators, they lean on our Fellows to deliver workshops. Fuse Fellows have moved into new positions driving change management and coaching work across their home districts, leveraging the leadership experiences they gained through this program. More than anything, our Fuse network has become its own infrastructure for moving ideas, research, and practices around the state. We are a system of roads and bridges allowing ideas to travel from school to school, classroom to classroom and most importantly, teacher to teacher. We could not be more proud of our Fellows and the work we have done together.
We have partnered with 39 of the 66 LEAs in the state through Fuse RI. Every district that has wanted this free service has signed up and gone through this program. We have seen districts like Central Falls, Chariho, and Cranston mount incredible blended and personalized learning change efforts after having the Fuse program in their district. We have seen Fuse spread to New York, California, and Massachusetts. We set out to run Fuse for five years and we never imagined the impact it would have.
Now, as we come out of our first spring in five years without a new cohort of fellows, there is a tinge of sadness that we all feel. We know there are more educators in our state who would make incredible Fuse Fellows. Teachers crave this community and leadership opportunity. We have been hearing them asking: “When does the application launch?” Well, like all things at Highlander Institute, we believe in continuous improvement and iteration toward a better and more powerful model. After hitting our initial goal of running five cohorts through this fellowship, we have elected to sunset the Fellowship in its current form.
We believe in this model, but we also recognize the importance of reflecting on program impact, and adapting to accommodate the evolving needs of school stakeholders. It is for this reason that we are shifting Fuse to become a building-level initiative wrapped around our Pathway to Personalization Framework as outlined in our recent book. Starting next month, we will once again be hitting the road to talk with educators about their most pressing challenges as we redesign the Fuse RI Fellowship around school-based design teams looking to enact change. We are eager to reconnect with our Fellows in their home schools and meet new teacher leaders in classrooms and schools that we have yet to reach.
We will be sharing a one pager with more detailed information next month. If you are interested in guiding us as we build this new model, reach out to Program Manager Maeve Murray who will continue to drive this work. In the meantime we will continue our Fuse Massachusetts program and the Fuse cohort at Rhode Island College, which engages professors eager to explore and research practices for classroom instruction. Fuse will never go away. The network we have built will outlast any funding opportunity or state-level leadership change. We are a community of learners committed to making schools work better for all students and families. Thank you!