December 2016 Newsletter

What Difference Does a Longview Grant Really Make?

I first heard about Illinois Global Scholar from Randy Smith and Seth Brady in 2014. Seth had returned from a U.S. State Department teachers exchange known as Teachers for Global Classrooms (TGC). Run by iREX, what is unique about TGC is the year-long wraparound professional development teachers are required to participate in, much of which is designed to occur prior to ever stepping on an airplane. Seth, a high school teacher in Naperville, whose instructional course load includes comparative religions, came back wanting to bring a new learning opportunity to students in Illinois. He and Randy got together and settled on creating and implementing a global certificate distinction for high school students in Illinois.

Once they had the idea, leadership at iREX referred them to Longview. After receiving a Longview grant, they recruited additional teachers to work on the design and implementation. They assembled an advisory committee and reviewed other state approaches to creating a certificate program. The group then went to work on finding champions within the Illinois legislature. All of this, and a rigorous social media campaign to recruit daily votes, led to an application for the $100,000 grant from Farmers Insurance that was awarded in early December 2016.

Think of the amazing progress this group has already made! A law signed by the governor, a growing network of educators, leaders, and policymakers supporting the work, $130,000 in grant funds to launch a program that potentially has big impact for students in the state. Think now of the organizations who contributed to this work – the amazing team of teachers who did this beyond classroom responsibilities, foundation and the Illinois State Board of Education staff who have been key advisors, and other states that have shared their own approaches to creating a global diploma distinction.

What are the lessons in this story?

  •  Foundations can and should take chances on grants that don’t fit their normal giving pattern: From a foundation point of view, this was an unusual/risky grant – awarded not to an established non-profit or long-time partner with a solid track record of performance, but to a group of teachers with a bold idea and a sense of how to get there. Even if the work had stopped before it’s current stage, awareness and the additional supporters would have made for a successful grant.
  • Teachers have room to grow their careers and remain in the classroom when supported by administration: From the educator perspective, this effort has been one long haul, countless conversations, meetings, tons of work, and still much more to go. Seth, Randy, and the team leading the effort have been amazing. It is difficult for teachers to accomplish what they’ve done with full teaching loads. A nod of gratitude must be made to the administrators in the buildings and district that have supported this work. Principals are a fundamental gateway to giving teachers latitude to pursue even the first stop on this path, the TGC trip. With continued support, great teachers remain in the classroom and have the chance to improve offerings from the inside out.
  •   Long-term impact can take a while to realize: From a  U.S. State Department perspective, this is the kind of amazing work it wants to see TGC alum do (and are doing). It takes time to see this kind of impact – Seth traveled in 2013 with TGC and it is now the end of 2016. If future program budget justification had required immediate and exacting outputs, Seth might not have had the opportunity to work with Randy and the crew to develop this effort. Kudos to the U.S. State Department for its continued support of work like this. I expect we will see similar impact from other alum in their respective disciplines in the future.

The final takeaway of this brief look at an evolving project is the simple reminder that together, each contributing in our own way, we can all make a difference! Longview’s piece in this story is a small one, but we celebrate the chance to play that role in the context of a much larger network of organizations and individuals all supporting our mission. Let’s all keep our eyes open for opportunities to stay the course, play our part, and look for more ways to collectively support visionary educators.