Reflections from Sandra written in cursive.

Our education investments have taught us a lot over the past eight years about the challenges teachers and students face. At the same time, the education field has shifted. Previously, a whole child approach in many schools focused primarily on managing student behavior. But today, the whole child approach in many schools has evolved to focus on fostering supportive environments that enable holistic student development — including the importance of relationships, belonging and emotional safety. This is an important step forward, and we are proud to have played a part — alongside a community of partners — in helping teachers center students’ well-being in support of academic achievement and success.

However, in our work and across the field, we’ve seen that even the most promising resources and practices still aren’t reaching enough classrooms. Sometimes, there is considerable investment in implementing a solution in a small number of schools or districts, but less attention to how what they’ve learned might be shared to support adoption elsewhere. In other cases, the products of academic research are too theoretical or time-consuming for educators — or even the edtech industry — to implement. What’s more, the decentralized nature of our education system makes widespread adoption of evidence-based practices challenging.

While these barriers are daunting, they are not insurmountable. We have learned from our partners and their experiences with thousands of schools across the country about how to better support educators.

  1. Technology can play an important role in bringing research-based practices to life in the classroom by making them concrete and immediately implementable by teachers. Instead of being buried inside a research report, well-designed tools can put these practices at teachers’ fingertips so they can use them.
  2. Any solution must be designed and built alongside educators so that it addresses their needs. This isn’t always the starting point for education technology or philanthropy, but it’s essential to ensuring tools can meet the needs of teachers and students and can be easily implemented in classrooms.
  3. Building effective tools requires bringing learning scientists and other experts together with technologists to solve shared problems. A collaborative approach ensures that research informs design, development and testing so that the product is accessible for teachers and improves outcomes for students.

Moving Forward

These lessons are informing our work to develop products to make research-based teaching practices more accessible to all teachers and students. Previously, the bulk of our grantmaking focused on research to practice, where we sought to help partners translate research findings into classroom practices. Now our grants will take that work to the next stage and will support the development of research-based tools that can help accelerate progress. We think of it as research to product.

Our goal is to partner with educators, researchers and students to build tech-enabled tools that support the adoption of underutilized high-quality research and content — including projects CZI has supported over the past eight years. Our work will be driven by the challenges educators face in the classroom and co-built with teachers and students.

We know this approach can work because we have seen it in action. Along demonstrated the power of this collaborative model, and we believe it can be applied to other challenges facing educators. Initially, we will focus on areas we know well — such as whole child development, and student and teacher relationships. We are also exploring how to support other areas, including accelerated academic instruction and career readiness.

To do this, we will continue to partner with Gradient Learning, and schools participating in the Summit Learning program and using Along. Over time, we will incubate new ideas and explore new partnerships with others who value this work of translation from research to practice to tech products.

A Commitment to Learning and Partnership

As a relatively new philanthropy, we come to this work with humility. We recognize that there are no easy answers for the challenges in education, and no single organization can transform our education system alone. That’s why we are committed to using our resources where we can make the greatest impact, to developing collaborative partnerships, to iterating and to sharing what we learn.

As this report has shown, progress toward a whole child approach to education is possible. We are grateful for the insights and feedback from grantees, supporters, fellow funders, educators and students over the past eight years. We will continue to stand in support of an education system that unlocks the full potential of every student, no matter who they are or where they live.

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