“Realize you are the system.” With Penny Bauder & Kellie Lauth

I’d say the first step is to stop seeing education as a bureaucratic system. It is easier to change a system when you realize you are the system. Once we see education as a fluid network that is capable of breaking boundaries and cross-pollinating education with real-life, career-related challenges, we move from mediocre to resilient, scalable and […]

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I’d say the first step is to stop seeing education as a bureaucratic system. It is easier to change a system when you realize you are the system. Once we see education as a fluid network that is capable of breaking boundaries and cross-pollinating education with real-life, career-related challenges, we move from mediocre to resilient, scalable and innovative. Education is the greatest resource we have to combat and engage with these rich and meaty problems we all face today, therefore it should be treated like a treasured commodity worthy of our investment.

As a part of my interview series about the things that should be done to improve the US educational system I had the pleasure to interview Kellie Lauth.

Kellie is the CEO of mindSpark Learning and District STEM Coordinator for Adams 12 Five Star School District. Throughout her career in education, she has been a teacher, principal and now champion of improving educator professional development. She directs the mindSpark Learning team in disrupting the educational landscape, empowering teachers with robust professional learning and creating transformational shifts in the classroom. As the District STEM Coordinator, she oversees STEM expansion in the Adams 12 District and state of Colorado. Lauth played an integral role in opening one of the first K-8 STEM schools in the nation in 2009, serving public school children with no entrance requirement. She has made it her mission to advocate for partnerships with businesses, industry and higher education to support and promote STEM education and address workforce readiness.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Kellie! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?

My background is in science and math. I was actually a biochemical engineer for two years before becoming an educator. I have a profound passion for STEM education and was drawn to teaching. My first role was as a science teacher. From there, I joined a brilliant group of people to create the first STEM schools in the country, both K-8 and high school levels, and was even a principal for five years.

Throughout my tenure as an educator and as I helped create STEM schools and their problem-based learning (PBL) models, I saw a gap in what we were teaching our students and what was expected of the 21st century workforce. It wasn’t the fault of the educators by any means. It brought to light the dire need for professional development resources that are truly scalable and relevant to today’s career paths. I believe the best way to do this is by offering authentic learning experiences, ongoing support and connections to industry and community partners.

When mindSpark Learning, formerly Fair Share Nation, asked me to join as CEO, I jumped at the opportunity to scale our work and deeply impact the educational landscape. Our organization has impacted more than 15,401 educators in 1,041 schools across 41 states in just three years.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The most interesting story I have is also the one that completely changed my life forever. I came to education without an explicit background in education. My passion for science and research was born from industry. The ignorance I brought into the educational realm was quickly realized when I was asked to become principal of a large K-8 school in turnaround. On my first day, I found a large box on my desk filled with keys jumbled together. There were thousands of them all intertwined with a small note, saying, “Good luck — this is the most important job you will ever have!” It did not take long to realize the keys (which went to every door and cabinet in the building, though none were labeled) would be a metaphor for my tenure as a principal of a school located in the largest trailer park network west of the Mississippi, where the violence and turbulent past lived well beyond the headlines.

Before lunchtime on day one, with two weeks before students arrived, our custodians got in a physical altercation, resulting in their firing. We wouldn’t have a clean building. Day two, there was a squatter community living on campus who had been there for nearly a year and didn’t take kindly to being asked to find a new home. By the end of day two, with a deep dive into the data, I realized we had the highest truancy rate in the county, the worst discipline data in the district and most of my students were three years behind in literacy, with more illiterate middle school students than all other title schools combined. We also faced waning enrollment due to a lack of trust historically in the school. By my third day, I realized I had to hire 60% new staff. Many left not wanting to implement a completely new teaching model or under the perception that I didn’t understand the school’s needs, the community dynamics or challenges specific to their student population. Those who stayed are my heroes to this day. They championed the model, rolled up their sleeves for the community and forever changed my view of what is possible.

At my first staff meeting, I said to a room full of hopeful and talented educators, “In order to succeed and prove to everyone that this is the right model and the right work, we have to climb Mt. Everest twice. We are not even to base camp.” I then put up a slide that read, “Do you actually believe students of color, students who live in poverty, students who speak a different language and students who have disabilities can learn?”

There was silence. “If you don’t, you don’t belong here,” I said. “We start raising the bar for all students today. We build bridges and scaffolds to the standards, we do not lower them and it needs to be visible in your actions and intentions.”

I honestly had no formal leadership training but my strength had always been building strong teams and investing in human capital to solve problems. I believe in people and their ability to change a system. I was not sure that was enough to transform this school and community, but the stakes were too high not to try. My brilliant admin team and I were all in.

As you might guess, it wasn’t an easy road. We not only had to improve our academic standing or be in jeopardy of being shut down, we also had to convince an entire community to embrace us and join us in the journey to change what it means to teach and learn. We had to create value for all of our stakeholders. I asked more of my staff than most and they never disappointed. They volunteered, stayed late, arrived early, pushed back in way to make us all better, dismantled and rebuilt antiquated and useless processes and they were facilitators and learners themselves. They were the greatest lever I had for success.

I learned so much in that first year. From how to hire the right people to troubleshooting systematic, school-wide and community issues. I learned how important industry partners were in bringing relevance and authenticity to learning and how to build a talent pipeline and distributive leadership team. I came away with reinforced confidence in my beliefs that agency, resilience and empathy are crucial.

Identity is shaped by the stories we tell ourselves and it can be rewritten. We were proof of that. In one year, we went from turnaround to a performance-rated school. We had the highest attendance rate of any title school and discipline referrals dropped from more than 1,500 to 21. More than 400 industry partners engaged with my students and educators, and 45 after-school clubs and activities were created.

To better support our students for success, we fed all students breakfast, lunch, and dinner and partnered with a local food bank to ensure they had meals on the weekends. We also created a clothing bank on site to ensure every student had access to weather-appropriate clothing.

We went from being seen as a blight in the neighborhood to a community hub. This also transformed the community, as violent offenses significantly decreased. Years later, this model has sustained and is thriving. It is leadership proof and being driven by educators and the community.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes! mindSpark Learning is currently hosting four Education Accelerators across Colorado. We have more than 120 school leaders from 28 different schools involved.

Education Accelerator (EA) is a leadership program designed to provide principals and next-gen leaders with the methods, relationships and skill sets to better support schools in developing innovative cultures capable of elevating their future, empowering their teachers and maximizing student engagement. EA utilizes a cross-pollination strategy that looks beyond education for the support of business and industry leaders as panel members, mentors and scholarship providers for participants.

The cohort works through their biggest problem of practice by investing in their school culture and implementing a blueprint that their leadership team develops at the start of the program. By connecting more meaningfully with the community and local industry, EA fosters a network of businesses, individuals and leaders that are invested in their local education.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are authority in the education field?

I’ve worked in every aspect of education over 20 years — as a teacher, a school leader, a district leader and now as a champion for educators, schools and districts alike. My passion and background in STEM education began before STEM was an acronym everyone was using. I am a biochemical engineer-turned-educator-turned-CEO who grew up on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, riding horses and attending 4H meetings at my local grange. I’m not sure that makes me the authority on anything exactly, but I do know the model myself and two other amazing women built over ten years ago is not only still alive and thriving, but has been recognized nationally and internationally. Our STEM model has been written about, analyzed, researched and thousands of visitors have come from all over the globe to see how, against all odds, our neighborhood STEM schools are shattering the educational landscape.

We built a learning model without exceptions within a system filled with bureaucracy, standardized testing, waning budgets, strong unions and all the barriers and challenges of public school systems so that any school, anywhere would know they could do this. For me, the greatest gateways to equity are career literacy and a pathway to sustained income for my students, closing for them the experience gap, not just the academic gap. It’s crucial that we translate the world of work so they will ultimately have a choice about where they live and how they change the world for the better.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?

To simply say the U.S. education system needs work doesn’t really do justice to the issues at hand. The education industry’s reputation is that it lacks innovation and the ability to adapt to increasing societal demands. I think this is a slightly over-used notion. We talk about education being broken but are only interested in fixing it from afar or maneuvering solutions outside of the current challenges. It is a massive ship that has been headed in the same direction for a long time without agility and responsiveness. It’s quite clear that there is a disconnect between education and workforce development and great disparity between schools and the value education creates. What can we do about it?

I’d say the first step is to stop seeing education as a bureaucratic system. It is easier to change a system when you realize you are the system. Once we see education as a fluid network that is capable of breaking boundaries and cross-pollinating education with real-life, career-related challenges, we move from mediocre to resilient, scalable and innovative. Education is the greatest resource we have to combat and engage with these rich and meaty problems we all face today, therefore it should be treated like a treasured commodity worthy of our investment.

Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?

Recently, renowned educator trainer, Pat Quinn wrote in an article for EdWeek, “One of the factors that make the United States educational system head and shoulders above other countries is the free access all children have to an education. This access is not limited to those who pay, as it is in some countries. This access is not limited to those with transportation, as it is in some countries. It is not limited to those who can afford uniforms, or lunch, or even a home. It is not even limited to those who legally reside in this country. Anyone can access this free education for 13 or more years of their life!”

While this is true, with a system that educates all, it will never be perfect. I do believe now more than ever conversations about the purpose of education is leading ultimately to deeper design conversations. How do we create a more relevant, responsive education system for all?

As our workforce readiness needs are shifting, the US education system is continuing to grow and improve methods and resources available to both educators and students. The five areas in which I think education is gaining momentum include:

  1. Integrating more intentional social emotional learning (SEL) practices in the classroom, discipline methods and across all aspects of a student’s day.
  2. Design thinking and the notion that in order to teach problem solving, we (as educators) must engage in the practice.
  3. Focusing more on STEM than we ever have, while there is no cohesive definition for STEM and the approaches are varied, the resources, discussions and models are expanding.
  4. The notion that we cannot change the system in a vacuum and that partnerships are crucial.
  5. Compared to other countries, our standards (what is taught) are wider, more varied, and inclusive, meaning students are not limited to one set of disciplines but can experience many of them across the grade levels.

Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?

Most education systems across the globe teach according to the question, “How do we prepare young people for the world of 2030 and beyond?” While this is hugely important, it’s missing a crucial component of what defines success in our society — sustained economies and bringing social good to all we do. Educational systems should instead teach according to the question, “How do we mobilize diverse ecosystems to create a sustained economy through education?”

The very definition of schools and their purpose needs an upgrade. Schools need to be viewed as precious economic and social organizations, originating wealth generation and offering solutions to human dilemmas.

The good news is we know what needs to happen. Mountains of research and study guide us to where we should invest our time and talent. The areas for improvement I see are:

  1. Addressing mental health, the lack of skilled employees, the leaky pipeline and increasing equity (access and opportunity) across all sectors cannot be seen or treated in isolation from each other. Meaningful work creates purpose. Education should be the ultimate pathway to gainful employment for all. We should care that our students, families, and educators are happy.
  2. The need for education to partner and collaborate beyond itself. Education cannot adequately prepare our students for the world alone and can no longer be a social by-product, it needs to drive value creation, innovation and disruption. The World Economic Forum’s recent white paper, Schools of the Future, states the focus on intersecting industry, community and education in meaningful, tangible ways is no longer a hopeful state but a must-have design for education. “In the context of job disruption, demand for new skills and increase socioeconomic polarization, schools systems have a critical role to play in preparing workforces of the future.” Education must be at the table.
  3. Eliminating schools teaching in isolation. Schools compete with each other for students and resources. The accountability system is high stakes, often leading to a culture of not sharing best practices and not networking among each other or outside of the walls of the school. This has to change. Sharing robust models, learning from each other, leaning into industry models, inviting community partners to be part of what it means to educate all students is creating an ecosystem of education. Schools must network and learn from each other.
  4. Educating students has to be an “and” model. Education is notoriously fond of swinging the pendulum far to the left or far to the right when something doesn’t work. That giant ship seems to easily sway with changing tides and trends. The race for academic success is often blinding and doesn’t value what we know is best for learning. I often ask my schools, what does it look like to have strong accountability measures (because let’s be honest teaching is the most important and public thing we’ll ever do and we should be accountable to all of our stakeholders) AND create a volunteer premium where all employees feel valued and competent? What does it look like to be innovative and disruptive as a school AND stay within our budget?
  5. Finally, we have to stop seeing “stuff” as the answer. High quality curricular resources are important, as is access to tools and technology. However, if teachers don’t know how to engage with any of this in a meaningful way, it is a waste of time and resources.

We often get paralyzed by too many resources or make excuses because we don’t have enough. We chase the bright and the shiny hoping that we will see better test results each year only to be disappointed. We also often complain our plates are too full because educators are responsible for so much. We must alter this mental model and not see our job constrained by a “plate” piled high. We need to redesign education and learn to say no thank you to things that don’t further high quality, innovative models. We have to stop pointing to outside influences or circumstances for reasons why we can’t succeed.

I strongly believe our greatest investment in education needs to be in two places: 1) thoughtful, well-researched standards tied directly to industry outcomes and needs and 2) upskilling and supporting our educators with job-embedded, intensive, responsive professional learning, not done to them but in collaboration with educators. We cannot expect educators to translate the world of work for students when the majority of them have grown up in only one industry — education.

We know that teacher quality is the single best predictor of student performance in classrooms (Carey, 2004; Haycock, 1998; Sanders & Rivers, 1996), and that research informs professional development approaches that help teachers become more effective at engaging, motivating and facilitating learning by their students (Desimone, Porter, Garet, Yoon, & Birman, 2002; Loucks-Horsley, Stiles, & Hewson 1996). It is time to uplift the what (robust standards) with the how (highly skilled educators).

How is the US doing with regard to engaging young people in STEM? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

According to the 2018 National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators, Americans’ basic STEM skills have modestly improved over the past two decades but continue to lag behind many other countries. The Indicators also found that from 2006–2015, American 15-year-olds scored below the international average in mathematics skills and at or slightly above the international average in science skills. Recent data from a test commonly taken by college-bound high school students found that only 20% are ready for courses typically required for a STEM major.

STEM employment in the U.S. continues to grow at a faster pace than any other field, and STEM workers command higher wages than their non-STEM counterparts. STEM degree holders enjoy higher earnings, regardless of whether they work in STEM or non-STEM occupations. Despite the value and importance of STEM skills, not all Americans have equal access to STEM education or are equally represented in STEM fields. Women, persons with disabilities, and three racial and ethnic groups — Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, and American Indians or Alaska Natives — are significantly underrepresented in S&E education and employment.

As also reported in the Indicators, although women make up half the population, they comprise less than 30% of the STEM workforce. Similarly, underrepresented racial and ethnic groups make up 27% of the population but comprise only 11% of the STEM workforce. People with disabilities and veterans also face barriers to participating in STEM education and occupations.

We have a long way to go to ensure our youth, especially our girls, connect with STEM opportunities.

What impedes student STEM engagement (and therefore the number of students taking on STEM careers) is the lack of highly-qualified, engaging educators. The quick answer to solving the issue is to better prepare our educators to teach STEM. The deeper issue is that existing STEM-focused educator preparation programs are not closing the STEM/CS talent gap effectively because they lack strong links to industry, career and workforce knowledge, or real experiences. Engaged educators beget engaged students.

First, educator prep programs must go beyond the one-to-two-day professional development training. In many states, educators cannot receive an endorsement or certification in STEM areas without already being highly qualified in math or science. We need to diversify our pathways for educators, just as we would for students and create more opportunities for educators to experience industry models. A truly scalable and results-driven approach is to offer educators in-depth coursework, professional learning topics like information science, career literacy, equity-centered design thinking, and work-based learning experiences through industry externships. This approach, though requiring a time commitment from educators, offers a way to upskill them in a way that can lead to promotions, higher pay and overall more in-depth learning experiences to bring back to the classroom.

Second, research has given us ample indicators for re-engineering education, including the need for global citizenship skills, innovation and creativity skills, interpersonal and technology-driven skills. We must move away from process-based learning to problem-based learning (PBL) that more closely mimics the world of work. By engaging students in authentic challenges that affect their communities, they learn to better work together in groups to actively solve problems that are relevant to them. These models draw easily on employability skills as a foundation and put the thinking back into teaching and learning.

In order to create PBL lessons, educators will need a relationship with industry. My third suggestion is to create an avenue for educators to meet and partner with local businesses to engage in relevant problem-solving opportunities. At mindSpark Learning, when we work with schools, one of our impact metrics is designed around the idea that partnerships are forged to sustain change. It coalesces around putting people, planet, prosperity, and peace (happiness) first. You cannot create gainful employment pathways for students without industry. You cannot create intentional models for problem-solving without real-world models. You cannot place students into internships or work-based models without businesses raising their hand to help.

Can you articulate to our readers why it’s so important to engage girls and women in STEM subjects?

Iris Bohnet, professor of public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, puts it like this in the latest Women Matter report: “The evidence is very strong that diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams, whether these are all-male or all-female teams. This occurs across all kinds of different dependent variables, from creative problem solving to analytical tasks to communication skills. Diversity helps because we have a complementarity of different perspectives, or what we call ‘collective intelligence.”

If women equally participated in the global economy, they could generate additional GDP worth $28 trillion by 2025. That amount is roughly equivalent to the size of the Chinese and US economies combined.

McKinsey’s 2018Delivering Growth Through Diversity study of more than 1,000 companies in 12 countries found a correlation between diversity at the executive level and both profitability and value creation. Those companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 27% more likely to outperform their national industry average in terms of economic profit — a measure of a company’s ability to create value exceeding its capital cost — than the bottom-quartile companies. There was also a penalty for lack of diversity more broadly. Companies in the bottom quartile on both gender and ethnic diversity were least likely to record higher profits than the national industry average.

Simply put, girls/women in STEM is a win for the economy. It is also a win for sustainability, not only in business but in education, and it is a win for creating stronger, more resilient communities.

When we work with schools and our industry partners on equity in STEM, I often ask them to think about what they are missing out on by not maximizing the talents of both genders? This creates a real, localized case for why they should care about gender issues is the first step. Diversity does not happen in a vacuum and an entire pipeline must be cultivated to drive change.

How is the US doing with regard to engaging girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

There is an interesting dynamic when we discuss STEM engagement across the US:

  • Men continue to outnumber women in science and engineering jobs throughout the country
  • Women earn only 20% of 4-year college degrees in physics, engineering, and computer science programs
  • Women make up only 24% of STEM field jobs, the discrepancy grows for minority women


  • 74% of teenage girls are interested in STEM fields
  • 82% believe they are smart enough to pursue STEM careers
  • Yet only 13% of girls view STEM as their first option

You cannot be what you cannot see. The need for strong, diverse role models, exposure to careers early on, having time in industry to experience what skills are needed and offering full course offerings to all is critical. Schools cannot limit STEM to be defined by the four letters. It must also embrace the humanities and arts. Understanding the art design process is not unlike the engineering design process and demonstrating employability skills spanning the disciplines is vital to ensuring all students, especially girls can see themselves within STEM opportunities.

Awareness of the issue is the first step before creating a solution. Unfortunately, we’ve known about the STEM gender gap for years and have yet to see a systematic change. I often share with companies we work with that the diversity and equity value chain is very real. Their talent pipeline is my students and they will expect more of you as employers. Engage students with tough questions and make them part of the change. They are the key to helping us solve challenges, like how does a company communicate the economic and strategic imperative of creating a diverse top team and make this a shared goal throughout the organization? How do I make sure that women are moving into roles with profit-and-loss responsibility, as well as roles overseeing support functions, to prepare them for broader executive roles? How can I accelerate the pipeline of female talent while ensuring that fast- tracked women are supported and helped to succeed?

As we work with industry to shift their paradigm, we must also understand it starts with education. When we create models of teaching and learning where girls are taking more computer science courses than boys because they don’t know they aren’t supposed to, where minority students are out graduating their white counterparts because the model is accessible to all, where students work alongside industry professionals to solve problems starting at age 5, where teachers are valued and empowered, we then see that the gap can be closed.

As an education professional, where do you stand in the debate whether there should be a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) or on STEAM (STEM plus the arts like humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media)? Can you explain why you feel the way you do?

If that is the debate, we are clearly missing the point. It’s not about adding to the acronym, but instead defining the purpose of education. All students have the right to be literate: scientifically literate, career literate, financially literate, and to be healthy and thrive. If you believe this, then it does not matter how many letters or symbols you add to “STEM.”

For us, STEM is not limiting but all encompassing. It is a human-centered endeavor. It is a whole school model, not reserved for those who are lucky enough to be accepted into a pathway or join a robotics club after school. My students who take theater get problem-based learning and have internships. They employ the humanities at the same rate they apply their math skills to problem solving. The instructional model of problem-based learning driven by industry outcomes intersects employability skills with robust content and context for learning across all content areas for grades K-12. The tradition of teaching content in discrete silos is replaced with a merging of the content areas while simultaneously creating more time for instruction with a focus on problem solving, iterative process, and relevancy.

Literacy, physical sciences, language arts, social sciences, the arts, math and technology are synergistic and integral. Students learn in both physical and virtual environments that encourage conversation, exploration, and collaboration between students and with both real and virtual teachers. Students (and teachers) are trained to focus their attention, improve self-regulation skills, build resilience to stress, and develop a positive mind set toward all disciplines, learning, and life.

STEM provides the opportunity for students to develop and learn to embrace new identities; rather than perceiving themselves as a student in a school, their perceptions of self become, “I am an innovator. I am an inventor. I am an entrepreneur.”

This occurs through empowerment and immersion in problem-based, transdisciplinary studies, seamless integration of advanced learning technologies into classroom activities and socio-emotional health to develop and support self-regulation and resilience while promoting strands of stewardship and entrepreneurialism.

Imagine a student already having more start-up companies developed by the age of fourteen than the traditional MBA graduate. Imagine a school where neuroscientists co-teach with educators to develop apps for general consumption and engineers present industry problems for elementary students to solve. When educators and students have access to industry partnerships, understand community needs and feel valued and heard, these things are possible.

All of our STEM schools become networked sister schools, cross-pollinating ideas and resources, challenging each other and uniting to expand this model. You might argue that you don’t have to be called STEM to engage in this type of learning. I would say perhaps that’s true, but for us it was a rally cry, an identity we believed in strongly. It created space for us to experiment and disrupt within a traditional model of education and became a pretty darn good PR hook.

Vince Bertra, president and CEO of Project Lead the Way, Inc once explained, “STEM can be found in virtually every discipline and in every product. STEM is not exclusive to the subjects of science, engineering, technology or math. We must continue engaging students in the STEM disciplines and encouraging them to combine technical knowledge and skills with the creativity that leads to innovative ideas — ideas that give the arts new technologies, music new instruments, farmers new machines, and our businesses a competitive advantage. Unless we continue building the STEM pipeline, each profession suffers.”

If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Invest in human and professional capital: shift from managing to leading and shift away from curriculum as the answer to people as the answer. Engaging in professional learning that results in large scale impact (not one size fits all) is not a drive-by, one-day event that leads to an entrepreneurial mindset. Lean into training in areas typically off limits to educators and that focuses on unconscious bias, emotional intelligence, creative agility and creative abrasion. Create pathways for educators to be upskilled. We know there is limitless potential in education and education systems are redeemable. It is our moral, societal and planetary imperative to prove this with our professional experiences and services. We must scale human talent to create better communities and systems, and we must build resilience through shortcomings. We must embrace conflict as an opportunity and honor its purpose to make us better and smarter as an organization. Our greatest inputs as an education organization are relationships, revenue, and talent. Our processes, outputs and impact must match these.
  2. Move from win-lose to win-win: by partnering with industry, educators can scale approaches and innovations that enable their students to succeed for replication purposes, catalytic effects, demonstration effects and positive spill-over externalities. We believe to re-engineer education, we must have an entrepreneurial mindset in which we continually ask, how do we bring industry models to students and teachers? We are anchored by our balance and intentionality of wisdom, love and courage to partner with organizations who make the invisible visible. We must create space within the messiness and chaos of the work for viable solutions to be created and sustained. Upskilling and retooling requires partners, so if we believe in creating these programs, we must ask ourselves, who else should be at the table? Who shouldn’t be at the table, and what is the weirdest connection we can make? We have to strive to create cognitive dissonance because we believe people learn when they are uncomfortable.t is our job to disrupt the systems with which we work. We implore students to be fierce and antagonistic with questions and not sacrifice talent and quality for the sake of being really good at test taking.
  3. Shift away from universal prescription to responsiveness: create better models of accountability and measurement of success aligned to the purpose and value of education in this new industrial revolution. Students have a consumer mindset and the systems need to be agile in their delivery and understanding student voice is the most important. The teacher shortage is a direct reflection on the value we place on education. Succession planning, investment in the leadership pipeline, understanding the needs of different communities and the opportunities that reside within each, compensation, accountability are all interconnected and we must address them as such.
  4. Schools must construct strong foundations for a healthy climate and culture. Strategy matters but culture matters even more and often in schools, it is not explicitly addressed. Build a strong, cohesive frame for learning and empower educators and students to innovate within the frame. We believe educators are the greatest levers to transformation. We must believe relationships not only matter but are our greatest currency. We must believe thriving education is not only the responsibility of communities but imperative to a new paradigm of a human revolution in which we leverage conscious leadership, and an entrepreneurial foundation to change the conversation. We believe the health of communities and our economy is directly tied to the health of our education systems and none of this happens if we don’t pursue an environment with strong agency and honesty.
  5. I equate school “success” with catching a Yeti (my team even developed the Yeti toolkit courses for educators based on my crazy analogy): it is often illusive, only some claim to have seen it, no one can replicate the experience, it becomes a thing of legend and myth, and only those lucky enough to have seen it can describe it. Many don’t believe in it. Does it really exist? The education system would benefit greatly from networking, sharing ideas and best practice and collaborating, and creating models that can actually be scaled and replicated among ALL communities for ALL students. We tend to not fix the system from within but create models outside of it hoping to influence the greater system. We create policy absent of educator input and we build curricular resources in a vacuum, then mandate everyone uses them. Although I believe hope is vital to change, it is not a solid strategy and the “screw it” mentality when it comes to investing in the larger public school system in the U.S. is doing no one any good. If we don’t address the barriers and constraints that are inherently part of the system, innovation and disruption will remain an outsider looking in, with no hope of coming to the table. A system is capable of solving its own problems with the resources it has, but we have to believe that. We have schools and systems on the cusp of greatness just as we have schools and systems on the cusp of devastation. We have a moral obligation to positively impact both. It is no longer about moving the needle, it is about inventing a new compass. Viewing systems as broken helps no one. We must employ high-yield resources, be courageous in our investment and nurture talent to create change. Modeling is good, but empowering systems to solve their own problems is better. So, let’s model innovation, not dictate it in order to truly empower people and unleash impact.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When asked about her educational experience recently, one of my STEM students shared, “When I first got to work side-by-side with the industry experts on an actual problem in our community, I realized that there was real tension, real variables there. I got to actually do something and it felt important, not just throwing up a bunch of information for the sake of a test. STEM has that thrill for me — the idea that the solutions we are designing now are the solutions for tomorrow is why I come to school. It matters. I matter. Sometimes I look at my journey and realize an immigrant, poor Hispanic female is not my sole identity. I have learned how to change the world; this model did not change who I am but what I can do.”

I smile through tears each time I read this. I share this because this is my why. This is why I champion the heck out of education and the possibilities it holds for all.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Michael Jordan (who wouldn’t?) 🙂

Melinda Gates-I would love to share with one of the most influential women in the world my passion for education and how change is possible from the inside out.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow our journey on Twitter at @myMindsparkLearning. You can connect with me at LinkedIn

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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