A 'Big Bet' on Educator-Led Collaborations and Solutions

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When the AFT started the Innovation Fund in 2009, we focused first on our members' ideas, ingenuity, and passion for the students and communities they serve. Our bold concept was to make grants directly to local affiliates not only to elevate practitioner ideas, but also to build partnerships with school districts, local government, community-based organizations and even industry that would develop solutions for some of the greatest challenges facing schools today.

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"A 'Big Bet' on Educator-Led Collaborations and Solutions" describes where the AFT Innovation Fund has been and where it is headed. The report features the work of the Innovation Fund and the investments it has made in groundbreaking efforts across the country. Funding has come from the AFT and from education funders that share our belief in the value of public education and educator-led change.

The Innovation Fund and its grantees have tackled important challenges—from designing new systems for teacher development and evaluation, to combating inequity head-on by creating community schools with wraparound services for students; from making that critical link between school and career for students through career and technical education, to confronting disparate treatment of students of color with solutions like restorative justice practices. In all these grants, the role of the union and our work to build strong communities has been central.

Looking forward, the Innovation Fund will closely align its priorities with the four pillars of powerful, purposeful public education that AFT President Randi Weingarten has outlined. These guiding principles answer the question of what it would take for every neighborhood to have a great public school where every child can learn and thrive:

  • Promoting children's well-being by ensuring that great neighborhood schools are places where all students can flourish, where they feel welcome and wanted, and where barriers to learning and excelling are addressed;
  • Supporting powerful learning by insisting on engaging and inspiring curriculum and content that interests, excites and involves students and leads them to work together to explore multidisciplinary concepts and strategies;
  • Building teacher capacity by providing ongoing professional support and development and by ensuring all school-based professionals have dignity and respect; and
  • Fostering collaboration through strong relationships among educators, administrators and district officials working together as partners to improve student achievement and well-being.