My Quarter in Review: Winter 2015

My greatest accomplishment last quarter was clarifying what we do at #NYCEDU. We curate, coach, and connect community organizers who work across lines of difference in NYC education.

We find the community organizers who are aligned with #NYCEDU core beliefs. These are:

  1. We are a collective.
  2. Everyone is a founder.
  3. Lead with love.
  4. Be creative. Be bold.
  5. Evaluate impact. Acknowledge intent.

Effective community organizers have a toolbox of skills they can draw from in order to be effective. These include, but are not limited to, the ability to establish rapport quickly, align incentives, manage various stakeholders, manage complex projects, and coach others. As a community of community organizers, we are able to support one another in acquiring and practicing these skills.

Creativity, innovation, impact — these all explode when people are brought together across lines of difference. Spaces where people connect are spaces where assumptions are questioned, different strengths are brought to bear, and networks collide.

This clarification was a result of a lot of one-on-one conversations with NYC’s amazing community organizers, including Alli Dunn, Kate Del Priore, David Fu, Mikey Muhanna, Jamaal Bowman, Laura Patterson, and Juliette LaMontagne. Of course, these conclusions may change significantly, but at least there’s something clear that we can now test.

Other things that still need to be clarified include:

  • Yes, we curate, coach, and connect community organizers who work across lines of difference, but to what collective impact? And, how do we measure the impact of our work?
  • What’s our theory of change?
  • Who are we actually serving?
  • How do we measure the impact we have on those we serve and on the broader education ecosystem?
  • What are the greatest needs in NYC education?
  • What’s our corporate structure?
  • etc.
  • etc.
  • etc.

I have some hunches. These hunches include:

  • The ultimate agent of change is the school principal, so school principals, and by extension, the school community they lead, is who we serve.
  • School principals face barriers to innovation. One such barrier is lack of discretionary funding due to lack of trust in a compliance based education system. There’s a way to substantially increase discretionary funding at the school level which:
    • Elevates the entire education ecosystem
    • Builds community across lines of difference
    • Leads to better student well-being
    • Makes #NYCEDU a sustainable organization
  • #NYCEDU will never take donations to fund its infrastructure (technology and long-term staff), but it will help funnel donations straight into the hands of school principals who will lead their school in democratically deciding where those funds will make the greatest impact in their local community. The financial suitability of #NYCEDU will come from schools paying for our services, much like we imagine the rest of the ecosystem of school support services being paid in accordance with the value they bring. A major implication of this is that #NYCEDU might actually NOT be a non-profit. Both to send a clear signal that we do not accept donations, but also to be flexible with our funds as well and ensure that there are no martyrs in this work. People who do good in education out to be compensated, and compensated well.

The next quarter will be about testing all of the above, and more.

Last Quarter, my goals were to push on the following fronts:

“In consulting, building a process for innovation within education communities that allow for early stage teams to get the feedback and establish the partnerships they need to build products and services that truly meet the needs of that community’s children.”

I’m still working on this, slowly but surely. I have a hunch that one thing #NYCEDU will do is help schools become systematically innovative, and perhaps that will be the best way to building a process overall. Organizations hire Nexus Works partly because we are able to find and build relationships with the most innovative schools. When a  greater percentage of schools are willing to be pioneers for innovation, we’ll see a commensurate increase of innovation in non-profits, for-profits, and government organizations.

“At #NYCEDU, I want to shift more and more from being the doer of projects to being the catalyst of projects.”

This is happening! The only thing I’m lead organizing right now is the #NYCEDU business model. Everyone else is working on amazing projects, including Code Brooklyn’s Hour of Code, redesigning the #NYCEDU website, and bringing design thinking into schools.

“For Edtech Efficiencies, I want to continue doing problem interviews to discover the major roadblocks edtech companies face in building and scaling their product.”

This is currently slow work. I’m okay with that. One, I realize that this is not the business I want to start, but one that I want to help someone else to start. Two, the projects I’m working on will absolutely lead to efficiencies in edtech companies. More about these projects later. Trust me, if successful, they will completely transform the edtech landscape.

I also promised to keep focused, assume the best but plan for the worst, and practice discernment. I’m doing pretty well! I’m still a little nervous about my finances — they’re okay, but like I said last quarter, I sink a ton of time into #NYCEDU that I am betting will pay off, both in impact and in finances, but it’s not a given. Meanwhile, consulting projects are on a case-by-case basis. They’ve lined up so far, but that won’t always be true, either!

Next quarter:

  • I will continue to choose projects that make me incredibly excited to be doing what I’m doing. These are projects that take down systemic barriers to education innovation, where I get to work with empathetic, strategic, brilliant people, and that will build the Nexus Works and/or #NYCEDU brand.
  • I will confront my fear about finances by being much more diligent in my budgeting. Because these last six months were great financially, I relaxed my hold on budgeting. I completely changed my wardrobe, which had been sadly neglected for two years. I funded my trip to Thailand. I took more liberties with eating out. However, my fears are telling me something. So, moving forward, I’m going to think much more carefully about whether I need to buy something right now, or whether I can simply put it on a wish list and get to it later. Hint: I can put it on a wish list.
  • I will be even more disciplined with my time. I will spend my time on sleeping, exercising, and eating well. I will spend it on making money while doing work I love to the extent that I need to confront the fear I detailed above. And, I will spend it building strong relationships with people, both professional and personal (and many times people are both).

Finally, I cannot end this post without acknowledging that it’s Thanksgiving! I am thankful for a lot this year. I’m thankful for friends, for family, for community. I’m thankful for experiences, for clarity, and for a huge amount of growth and learning. Finally, I’m thankful that I continue to have resolve in tackling the world’s most systemic problems. I count on having that resolve for life.

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