Collaborative Partnerships for Leadership Development

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by Meg Robinson-Li
Associate Director, Talent Management

Rocketship schools are places of constant collaboration, where educators share ideas with each other and classroom doors stay open. Every day, this collaborative learning brings positive change for our students: feedback that takes a lesson from good to great, brainstorming that more fully engages a family in school, a time-saving trick that helps a hard-working first year teacher save a few minutes of planning time.

We know collaboration and community are key to eliminating the achievement gap in our lifetime; to that end, the doors of our network are open to outside collaborators so we can continue to refine and grow our own practice, infuse our organization with new ideas and invest deeply in our educators.

Over the past year, we have partnered with a variety of organizations that have pushed the thinking of our leaders through high-impact adult learning experiences. The core of our learning will always come from the learning we do as a network through on-the-ground experiential learning, ongoing professional development, coaching and informal conversations among colleagues. However, the work we do is challenging and no single teacher, leader or organization can do it alone.

During the 2013-14 academic year, we launched a number of partnerships to support the learning and development of staff, with a special focus on investing in strong, experienced teachers and school leaders looking to take their practice to the next level. The greatest impact of these programs will be felt as our leaders implement their learning in the coming months, but the summary below gives a brief look at a few of these partnerships:

National Academy for Advanced Teacher Education (NAATE)

naateThis summer, veteran teachers Lauren Taylor (Southside Community Prep), Chioma Umunakwe (Spark Academy) and Chelsea Graeff (Los Sueños Academy) attended the first part of the yearlong NAATE Fellowship. This program draws teachers from the top 10 percent of their organizations and focuses on their development through rigorous case-based discussions. Through the program, these dedicated educators were able to work on their classroom practice and also step back to explore broader issues facing education.

“At NAATE, I discovered a community of amazing teachers from around the country who teach different ages, grades, demographics and in very different settings than I do, but with whom I could have rich and meaningful discussions,” says Graeff.

“The continued collaboration and discourse has reinvigorated me as an educator and I believe NAATE has built upon the development I have received at Rocketship both as a teacher and as a teacher leader.”

We are excited to continue our partnership with NAATE this year and have more Rocketship teachers participate and share their learning across the network!

Relay National Principal Academy Fellowship (Relay Graduate School of Education)

relayThis year, three Rocketship principals were selected to participate in the Relay National Principal Academy Fellowship. Sharon Kim (Alma Academy), Jaclyn O’Brien (Spark Academy) and Brittany Kinser (Southside Community Prep) spent two weeks of their summer learning alongside effective principals from all over the country.

For Kim, this was an opportunity to build an even deeper understanding of best practices related to data-driven instruction (DDI): “Our multiple [professional development sessions] at Relay exposed me to a bigger bank of best practices to engage in strong DDI at our campus,” she told me. “It also helped me parse out ways I could up the rigor within our DDI practice like evaluating the power of the question when crafting aligned assessments.”  

From DDI to teacher coaching to student culture, our participating principals have been eager to take the lead on bringing new best practices into the network.

Innovate Start-up Schools Fellowship (Innovate Public Schools)

innovateIn 13-14, Maricela Guerrero and Juan Mateos joined the inaugural cohort of Innovate’s Start-up Schools Fellowship to hone their skills as visionary leaders and plan for the opening of our newest school in San Jose: Fuerza Community Prep. Innovate’s focus on school design grounded in mission and alignment across all components of the school helped the team lay the groundwork and write “playbooks” for Fuerza. Additionally, Innovate has a powerful commitment to community and family engagement, making them a well-aligned partner to Rocketship. This year, we’ll continue our partnership with Innovate to support our 15-16 principals in school design, vision-setting and ensuring all aspects of school – from staff training to community meetings – start strong.

New Leaders

newleadersLast year was a big year for Rocketship Assistant Principals (APs). After we updated the role to make APs leaders and managers of full grade level teams and added more common planning time for teams, we saw a unique opportunity to provide these leaders with more development on team leadership and use of grade level data to inform teacher coaching. Working closely with New Leaders in the Bay Area, we built a customized version of their Emerging Leaders program to support these development areas through cohort sessions, lots of on the ground practice and structured time to reflect through video and group discussion. The work of our APs in this program coupled with a network focus on formative assessment was a strong lever for improvement in this area. This year, New Leaders has expanded their Emerging Leaders program to the South Bay and will be including Jason Colon from Mateo Sheedy and Chioma Umunakwe from Spark Academy in their first San Jose cohort.

We owe it to our students across the nation – the current and future Rocketeers – to bring our brightest ideas, our newest practices and our sharpest plans to our work. And we can only do this when we make it a priority to seek out opportunities to collaborate, renew, grow and open the doors of our organizations to each other and the strengths we all bring.


Meg joined Rocketship in 2010 and recently transitioned from the Leadership Development team to her current role as Associate Director of Talent Management. Meg started her career in education as a middle school English teacher and Teach for America Corps Member in the Bronx ten years ago and has worked in education ever since, with a focus on ensuring all students have access to outstanding teachers and school leaders. Meg holds a B.A. in comparative literature from Brown University and M.Ed. in education policy from Stanford. When she’s not working, Meg loves to hike, cook and spend time with her husband, Harry, and ten-month-old daughter, Siena. 

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