I wasn’t sure what to expect as I rode down the elevator. I had gotten into Houston late the night before, having missed the initial meet and greet opportunities. I was sliding in that morning without the bonding time some of the other participants might have experienced. However, as we gathered to get breakfast and took our seats on the bus to travel to our first school visit, I listened to the infancy of the conversations that were beginning. I quickly realized that this was going to be a magical experience.
On the Great Schools Visit to Houston I found a rare moment where a wide range of individuals where on equal footing, addressing a central question: How can we improve education back home? Throughout my career, I have had many conversations with city and civic leaders, philanthropic partners, and other individuals of power, discussing tactics to authentically engage community. Many of these conversations get trapped in semantics, attempting to define community or clarify politically neutral terms, but rarely did they actually lead to real authentic engagement.
The Great Schools Visit was different. The group was truly a cross-cut of Kansas City, representing a range of social-economic, ethnic and racial identities. We all came from different backgrounds, careers and positions within the community. Yet, at dinner that evening, we were all fully engaged in a conversation about the opportunity within our Kansas City education system—independent of a specific district or school, since multiple districts were represented.
The visit was not about traveling to Houston and experiencing a few of their high preforming school. It wasn’t about extracting a model to fix the challenges that are being faced. It was a moment to pull back, see a broader picture, and share ideas and plans with new found friends, allies, and collaborators.
Solving complex challenges takes a complex range of people, learning and working together. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation understands that our efforts must be in partnership with people facing the challenges we wish to solve and with people ready to make changes to the status quo.
Finding time to share our unique views was essential to the Houston experience. After every school we visited, the facilitator would walk us through an exercise, identifying one thing we knew about the visit, one thing that we wanted to bring back from the visit, and one thing we wondered. Since my visit to Houston, I have considered these three questions often. Back in Kansas City, I have landed on these three statements:
What are your I Know, I Will, and I Wonder?