Last year in New Orleans, as Big Picture Learning was planning for Big Bang--our international conference on student-centered learning-- our conference partners at the Ashe Cultural Center informed us that there was a high school doing powerful, transformative work just up the street from them. We made a connection with the Net Charter School as we began planning the conference, and found a long-lost cousin to Big Picture.
At The Net, we encountered students engaged in real world learning through dynamic, interest-based internships in their community. The relationships between students and staff at the Net were clearly based on deep understanding, shared values and thoughtful communication. The team at the Net are truly dedicated to their vision of connecting at-promise youth with personalized pathways to a brighter future. All of these approaches are well-aligned with Big Picture Learning’s mission, yet The Net was not a school that was created under the Big Picture umbrella. It’s an amazing school that was founded as part of the same movement to provide student-centered, authentic educational options—part of the movement that spawned Big Picture Learning, and the movement that drives all of us daily to “fight the good fight” for our students.
Over the past year, I’ve had the good fortune to work with Elizabeth Ostberg, the Net’s Principal, and her incredible team, and we’ve been able to learn from each other. The Net team opened up their practice to our conference-goers at last year’s Big Bang. Visitors from all over the world were able to get to know the Net team, to make connections between the values and challenges at the Net and the values and challenges we all share. The exchange of ideas, resources and inspiration with this school has been a two-way street, and working with the Net has been nothing short of gratifying. Just last month, I was able to return to the Net to engage in thoughtful, vital work with advisors and leaders there, as they re-examine their practice of exhibitions, pushing that process toward more authenticity. We are excited to have found a sister-in-arms with this school.
I remember when I began my Big Picture journey at MetEast in Camden, New Jersey. It was the first time I heard the expression ‘crabs in a barrel’ used to describe the forces that can conspire against one’s success. As crabs are purported to do in nature, when one individual rises above the fray, s/he will be pulled back into the barrel by the others below. It’s unfortunate, but there are times when working under the broad blanket of education reform can serve to set us apart for our work in ways that are not always positive. Challenging the status quo, and looking to do something different, can paint a proverbial target on one’s back, and can sometimes feel quite alienating.
But being part of a movement in education—part of a change toward equity, creativity and powerful learning—means we connect with “family” schools outside the Big Picture network. We connect with our bigger family when we engage with partners like The Net, or like High Tech High, which every year convenes a broad swath of progressive practitioners at the Deeper Learning conference in San Diego (which just happened a couple of weeks ago!), designed to help drive improvement across our various networks. We learn from so many other partners and allies in this work, and we all strengthen each other’s practice and each other’s spirit. As our family continues to grow, so does our collective impact.Thus, all of us at Big Picture Learning are excited to announce a new affiliation option for schools looking to join us in our work. And we are as equally excited to announce that the aforementioned New Orleans Net Charter High School is the first school in the nation to affiliate! We are welcoming a host of new schools into our family—schools that stand with us in our mission to transform education. As we prepare to embrace our new affiliates, I’m thinking about the crabs in a barrel analogy. In our family of schools, we do behave like crabs. The truth is, if you research our crustacean brethren, you’ll find that instead of pulling each other down, crabs often work together to provide food and protection for their larger family. As our family grows, so shall we also sustain each other.