What We Built and Why It Matters

December 18, 2013

As I reflect on our years of work to create Pivot Learning Partners, I am always humbled by what I hear about the large number of adults whose work we’ve influenced and, through them, the much larger number of students whose lives we’ve touched.

At our best, we’ve been able to help create schools that put learning at the center for both children and adults. And, since learning is a fundamental human activity that is fun, challenging, creative and moving, our impact has been memorable for people. All this matters.

As I look back, I’m also struck by something that people rarely note: we’ve done work that matters, but we’ve built an organization that matters as well. Improving our schools is both difficult and, given the rate of change in our society, never-ending.

Both research and experience tell us that large, complex organizations cannot succeed at dramatic improvement without outside help any more than individuals do. Athletes hire trainers, dieters join Weightwatchers, and Fortune 500 companies hire consulting firms. And sometimes – but not nearly often enough – schools and districts hire an outside support provider.

Right now, outside eyes and expertise are more important than ever. No one in a district with a full time job can know enough or can learn fast enough to seize the opportunities represented by the Common Core and Local Control Funding Formula. It makes sense to bring in help that can provide professional development, coaching to help people apply new knowledge and skills, and technical assistance to help people re-think roles, structures, processes, tools and agreements.

Too often, though, districts hire helpers and are disappointed. Professional developers teach what they know rather than what people need; coaches become compliance monitors with checklists; and consultants deliver reports full of recommendations and then depart. Pivot Learning Partners is proud to be a different kind of organization, one that combines the wisdom of experience with cutting edge tools and ideas.

Our network of experienced practitioners and our library of professional development materials allows us to customize the professional development programs we offer quickly and without asking our clients to pay us to reinvent the wheel. Our coaches are able to meet clients where they are, but also develop innovative solutions to the real problems they face.

And our consultants never deliver a report and leave: they stay, helping schools and districts create the new structures, processes, roles, tools and agreements they need to thrive.

Finally, Pivot Learning Partners is a significant example to the field because of our unique business model. Our clients pay the actual cost of the services we provide, while foundation, corporate and individual donors underwrite the costs of program development. Our fee-for-service relationship with our clients ensures that our programs are practical and useful, while our funders help keep us on the cutting edge.

Our dispersed structure for service delivery allows us to cover the state and, since the vast majority of our coaches work on a daily rate basis, we can expand or contract our service delivery capacity quickly as needs shift. Unlike some of our competitors, we are not a government agency and cannot be assigned to take on a compliance role, but instead are free to develop trusted advisor relationships with our partner districts. The model we’ve created works: we contracted through the lean years and are now growing – with the business model intact.

While a lack of competition is convenient for us, in fact schools and districts need more organizations like Pivot Learning Partners.

The situation that districts face today is a particularly cogent example of why: during the financial crisis of the last few years, districts understandably dismantled their improvement infrastructure, cutting back on district-level staff with a focus on curriculum and instruction, sending teacher coaches back to the classroom and postponing investments in technology infrastructure.

Now, they are faced with the imperative to implement the Common Core, rethink budgeting processes and involve communities in new ways, and they are struggling to respond.

Organizations like Pivot Learning Partners can help public education leaders to create improvement infrastructure that is both flexible and sustainable. When I stock of the work we’ve done, I am proud of the impact we’ve had, but equally proud of the organization we’ve created.