Built Together, Learn Together

This fall, Innovate Public Schools collaborated with Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, to host the Build Together, Learn Better conference. This work was part of Stanford’s Learning Differences and the Future of Special Education initiative, led by Dr. Elizabeth Kozleski.

Over the course of three weekends, over 100 participants met virtually for a conversation between parents, students, educators, technology companies, and researchers, with the goal of bridging divides and inspiring disruptive ideas for improving distance learning for students with learning differences in San José.

The participants included over 70 families, 14 participants from 7 technology companies, 6 education leaders (including principals and school board trustees), and a team of researchers and community organizers.

Barriers were broken and a bridge was built during the sessions, as our community’s parent leaders were given a unique opportunity to share their experiences and ideas with large-scale tech companies in Silicon Valley with the utilization of translators.

Guest speakers included several parents of students with learning differences who shared testimonies, San José Mayor Sam Liccardo, Dr. Alfredo Artiles of the Stanford GSE, and Dean Dan Schwartz, of the Stanford GSE.

In the two orientations and three formal sessions (conducted in October and December), the conference surfaced challenges facing students with learning differences and the opportunities for technologists to address or disrupt those challenges. During countless small group conversations, participants crossed boundaries that often prevent them from hearing each other and working together.

The key to the productive conversations was the centering of parent and student experience. Given the increased challenges faced by students with learning differences and their families during the COVID era, one of the most valuable aspects of the conference was to ensure that students and families could share their stories, ideas, and expertise as co-educators at the forefront of distance learning. 

The ambitious goal of the conference was to go beyond simply talking about “remedies”, or quick fixes that are like bandaids on a broken system, and instead focusing on envisioning and creating new systems. The conference attempted to surface structural, systemic innovations that would create new pathways for learning.

Participants came away from this conference with strong affirmation of the need for more spaces like Build Together, Learn Better.

Specifically, there is a need for more multi-language rooms and more conversations across cultures, income levels, occupations. Creating a space like Build Together, Learn Better presents many challenges, but we all need to take on those challenges more often if we are going to do better by our most vulnerable students.

Innovate and Stanford’s GSE share the hope that the work of this collaboration can inspire others to create more spaces (online and offline) that bridge social and economic divides.