It’s easy to think of a system as a series of cogs and wheels: mechanical components that work together to get something done. In reality, the systems we work within are more diverse, complex and robust than anything we could imagine. They’re comprised of people with different perspectives, motivations, and behaviors. This means that changing those systems requires a new way of working, and a system of changed behaviors, practices, and policies that lead to deeper impact.
The StriveTogether approach is about positively improving the educational experiences of every learner from cradle to career. We believe that no matter what a student looks like, where they come from or what challenges they may face, they deserve fair access to resources and opportunities that can help them reach their goals in life.
We also believe that this kind of change cannot happen unless we remodel the systems that exist today.
Collective impact partnerships in communities across the country have shown that education equity can become reality, supporting every child from cradle to career. Though changing systems is a long, continual process, these communities are seeing early wins by illuminating disparities, shifting student supports and testing ways to improve.
Stories from communities give evidence this change is happening. From reducing chronic absence in San Antonio, Texas, to creating new public funding for preschool in Dayton, Ohio to changing the teaching and learning approach for middle schoolers in Austin, Texas — systems are changing to support better outcomes for students.
Through our work, we’ve gained a better understanding of what it actually means to sustainably change behaviors, practices and policies to support student success. We’ve recently updated the Systems Change gateway of the Theory of Action to reflect the learnings we’ve acquired over the years. Built on lessons from StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members, the StriveTogether Theory of Action offers quality benchmarks that distinguish this work, not only from traditional collaboration, but from other collective impact approaches
We’ve learned that systems change requires the entire community to change or adapt in ways that best support learners — and we wanted the indicators to better reflect this collective effort. The new indicators in the Systems Change gateway essentially provide a more comprehensive picture of sustainable systemic change throughout a community:
- Organizations, institutions and community members align their work to support the cradle-to-career vision
- Partners effectively communicate in ways that demonstrate shared accountability for results and build community engagement
- Student-level data is accessible and used regularly by relevant partners to inform actions to improve outcomes and narrow disparities
- Partners use a variety of data to continuously improve and implement strategies that intentionally accelerate outcomes for populations facing persistent disparities
- Collaborative action efforts are sustained to improve outcomes and narrow disparities
- Community members are involved in the co-development of solutions to improve outcomes
- Public and private dollars are targeted to spread and sustain data-driven practices
- Partners consistently build capability and staff are supported with sustainable funding to implement the evolving partnership strategy
- Public and organizational policies change to support improvement of community-level outcomes and narrow disparities
Our new indicators make room for the diversity we expect to see in the unique work partnerships take on to change systems and allow for flexibility while staying focused on the impact that is vital to see real, sustained change.
The actions that must be taken to change systems look different in every community. Cogs and wheels may come in standard shapes and sizes, but people and communities don’t.