By Margaret Angell, Director of the Education Innovation Fellowship, CityBridge Foundation

As the sun sets behind the Santa Monica Pier, we get on the bus for the final time to head to the airport and fly home to Washington, D.C. Matt Kennedy, a tenth grade teacher at Eastern Senior High School, turns to me and says, “After what I have seen this week, I’m never going back. I just can’t go back to the way I was doing things before.” The others in our group nod and laugh in agreement. I do too. This is the moment I have been working towards since the CityBridge Foundation launched the Education Innovation Fellowship last fall.

Matt is one of our twelve Fellows, a group of D.C. teachers with a track record of leadership and an entrepreneurial streak. They have committed to a year of exploring and driving innovations in blended learning models that integrate online and face-to-face instruction to personalize learning and drive student achievement. When Matt expressed his desire to change, we had just completed an intense week-long tour of Bay Area and Los Angeles schools that are experimenting with a variety of blended models We spent a full day at the Stanford Design School, talking about the applications of design thinking to education—and specifically, to the process of redesigning classrooms to meet the needs of students more effectively. We engaged in product demos with entrepreneurs who are developing the platforms and content to support blended instruction.

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The first cohort of the Education Innovation Fellowship completes a design thinking workshop at the Stanford Design School.

The whole week was the culmination of four months of experiences we had developed for our Fellows to get them to start thinking differently about education. Fundamentally, we are asking them through this Fellowship to answer one big question: how can you personalize and accelerate student achievement through breakthrough uses of education technology?

The Fellowship, which was created by CityBridge Foundation and NewSchools Venture Fund, launched in January 2013 to empower teachers to lead instructional innovation in their schools. Rather than tell teachers ‘what to do’ in a traditional approach to professional development, the program exposes them to new models and challenges them to design new instructional practices themselves. In selecting the 2013 cohort, we sought out innovators who not only think outside the box, but want to throw away the box entirely. The twelve 2013 Fellows, who represent a cross-section of grade levels, subject areas and experiences, have exceeded our expectations in this regard.

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Fellows engage in a conversation with Jason Singer, education technology entrepreneur and founder of Gobstopper, a new online tool for Humanities teachers.

In May, we announced a three-year, million-dollar partnership with Microsoft to expand the Education Innovation Fellowship in D.C. Our partnership is an investment in our collective belief that excellent teachers innovating in their classrooms have incredible potential to build the classrooms and schools of the future. Microsoft’s grant will allow us to double the number of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers in the program and push our Fellows to develop models that prepare students for the careers of tomorrow.

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Fellows Shane Donovan and Matthew Kennedy facilitate a discussion during a workshop by Education Elements on designing blended models for classrooms.

In the weeks since our return from California, the Fellows have been designing blended learning pilots that they will implement in district and D.C. public charter schools across the summer. We are excited to see them launch their pilots and channel their learning to identify new high-potential practices for classroom instruction.