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Building Iowa’s Education Ecosystem Together


Last October the ThincIowa event, hosted by Silicon Prairie News, had entrepreneur and ecosystem creator Brad Feld as a speaker. Feld shared his “Boulder Thesis” and how a few powerful ideas created a powerful ecosystem of entrepreneurs that changed the landscape of Boulder, Colorado. Since that time, a group of Iowa educators have been working to translate and bring this thinking to Iowa’s Educational Ecosystem. As a group committed to the transformation of education, Feld’s argument was compelling. He graciously gave us an hour of his time this winter when in essence he said, “Create a parallel universe for how and what school and learning can be. Over time, your universe will be louder and bigger than the existing universe.”

Here is Feld’s brief introduction to his “Boulder Thesis.” As you view it, convert “entrepreneurs” and “startup community” with “educators (particularly those on-the-ground)” and “educational community”.


In addition, Trace Pickering had an article on ecosystem development and community building published on the F.M. Duffy Reports. You can access the  article here.

How to play:

Playing is simple – Are you actively engaged in conversations about transforming education in Iowa? Are you an example of the future we want for our children and schools? Do you want to better connect to a network of passionate educators, parents, students, legislators, and business and community leaders? Then this might be the community for you! IowaTransformED is beginning the transition to become a gateway into the educational ecosystem in Iowa. The goal is to not control or lead it, but simply be an entry point into all of the wonderful people and resources available to us in Iowa. Soon an easy to use and add-to calendar will be a part of this site and we will explore ways to keep us connected, powerful, and moving forward.

Below is a statement of what our Ecosystem is and the roles and ways in which you can play. An important first step is to make sure you are a part of the Iowa Teacher Database where you can more easily find kindred spirits and support for your efforts. Just a few things going on that demonstrate our growing ecosystem: the 8pm Sunday evening #iaedchat on Twitter led by three outstanding educators Jimmy Casas, Matt Degner, and Aaron Becker; the IowaEdCamp held this winter in two locations simultaneously, led by AEA 8’s Jeff Herzberg and Scott McLeod; last week’s SBG conference at Grant Wood AEA designed and delivered by Solon, Clear Creek Amana, and Van Meter schools; the “Back-to-School” project, formerly known as the Billy Madison Project has taken root in Cedar Rapids and is moving to Des Moines and Waterloo/Cedar Falls; the Bacon-Wrapped Workshops helping teachers design awesome, student-cured lessons, and; an active Twitter universe under the #iaedfuture tag are but a few examples.

Developing Iowa’s Educational Ecosystem to Advance Transformative Education for Iowa’s Children

PURPOSE: to develop a vibrant ecosystem of Iowans passionate, committed, and actively engaged in living into the possibilities of an educational system worthy of our children.


We envision an education system where:

  • learners and educators co-design learning experiences that engage passion and interest
  • learners develop conceptual understanding and transferrable skills through exploration and customization that happens anytime and anywhere
  • children are hopeful about their future and their ability to participate in it
  • children develop the capacity to create and re-create a positive and productive place in our world
  • we measure what matters


Participation and membership in the ecosystem is completely voluntary. Individuals need only desire to be an active agent – in some capacity or another – for helping to bring into being a system of learning worthy of our children.

Membership means you are willing to:

  • share your gifts openly and widely with all who seek them
  • share your efforts, iterations, approximations, struggles and failures in order to advance the learning of the ecosystem, its members, and yourself
  • step up to lead and support efforts, projects, conversations or tasks when it becomes clear that others wish to follow you or you have something you want to do
  • cultivate other leaders who enhance, deepen, and advance the ecosystem
  • remain open minded and willing to explore viewpoints other than your own and share your learning and development
  • openly celebrate your successes and shine bright lights on your students, colleagues, community members and schools who are striving and acting to bring our vision into being.
  • actively participate in the activities happening throughout the ecosystem
  • invite others in your network “to the dance floor” and continually develop ecosystem participants and leaders
  • choose when, where, if and how long you wish to be a member of this ecosystem
  • openly share your vision for the education of our children and connect it to the larger vision to enrich, enhance, and deepen it
  • help us create and sustain meaningful relationships  through respectful discourse, conversation, and share among educators, students, parents, businesses, citizens, and legislators
  • add to the resources of the ecosystem


To help engage new members immediately, we provide a set of potential roles you can play. The roles are highly integrated and overlap often. The name of the work you engage in is not important – that you can and will play one or more of the roles is!  Take on a task and put your personal stamp and perspective on it!

  • Agenda Activists/ModeratorsTake the lead on shaping our joint learning agenda
    • Agenda activists help facilitate and outline the community’s learning agenda. They are responsible for capturing and driving it. They pay attention to emerging learning needs and opportunities: productive themes and questions, key insights and promising  lines of thought, as well as requests and possible action steps.
    • How you can fulfill this role: point out trends and topics you see emerging and connect with others to co-host or set up a Tweet-up on it; push forward interesting questions; post stories, blogs, and articles that push thinking in new directions; share the ideas you hear with the ecosystem; continually press the community to openly challenge assumptions. (“What does school look like if we deny the assumption that kids must be assigned to a specfic attendance center?”)
  • Community Keepers/ConnectorsTake the lead in ensuring all voices are at the table
    • Community keepers are custodians of the dynamics of the community and their effects on its learning capability. They think about the nature of the community being built, what brings it together, and what prevents its development. They pay particular attention to voices, levels of participation, and issues of power. They develop and ensure trust and positive relationships in the group.
    • How you can fulfill this role: introducing people to one another; calling out “bad actors”; recruiting people to the ecosystem; making calls for greater diversity; finds ways to promote duplicative power (the more power you give away, the more you and everyone else gains)
  • Critical FriendsTake the lead on noticing what’s working and what’s not
    • Critical friends pay attention to the process and capture feedback about what’s working well and what’s not. They monitor the level of engagement, the response to activities, and the general atmosphere. This is an important part of the self design of the community. Their role is not simply to give feedback, but to collect it from all participants, collate it, present it, and make sure it is somewhere that can be referred to over time.
    • How you can fulfill this role: share community trends and behaviors that affect the culture of the ecosystem – good or bad; call continual attention to the principles of abundance, gift-giving, and co-creation
  • Social Reporters/StorytellersTake the lead on creating a shared, internal memory
    • Social reporters help their community generate a history of what happens from the different perspectives of the members. The genre of social reporting tends to be informal, visual and a representation of perspectives from different places and angles. The shared memory provides an entry point for newcomers and an evolving reference for old-timers.
    • How you can fulfill this role: sharing and posting stories from the ecosystem; encouraging other to blog, video, and/or narrate their stories; find “the bright spots” and help shine a bright light on it
  • External Messengers/Writers/Bloggers/CheerleadersResponsible for crafting a public narrative
    • External messengers are responsible for identifying who the potentially interested parties are, what types of outputs or communication would be valuable for them, and how best to present the community’s messages. They pay attention to insights, statements, or documents that could be shared more widely. And they craft products for these external audiences.
    • How you can fulfill this role: work closely with storytellers to build and share stories, events, and personalities; pose a provocative blog; start a Tweet-up or chat; tell the story of the ecosystem
  • Outreach Specialists/BrokersTake the lead on negotiating the interface with organizational stakeholders
    • Organizational brokers help guide the interface between the community and organizational stakeholders. They are responsible for finding ways to highlight and connect the community’s agenda, activities, and outputs with organizational strategies—and how the work of the community can feed back into strategy. They pay attention to references to strategic capabilities, resources needed, support desired, infrastructure, formal structures, expectations, recognition and certification, and channels of communication with the formal organizations feeding the educational ecosystem. They seek ways to engage stakeholders and clarify and promote the relationship between the ecosystem and the relevant organizations.
    • How you can fulfill this role: provide ideas and suggestions for interfacing with legislative/government bodies; provide suggestions for how to help the ecosystem’s feeder organizations connect, communicate, and support the ecosystem; call out organizations attempting to misuse the ecosystem for their own gain or benefit.
    • Note: organizational brokers are responsible for finding ways in which the community/ecosystem work relates to the strategic plans and  organizational structures within the current systems we represent.  E.g.-  how does the work of the Iowa Ecosystem movement support and relates to a given district or other relevant organizations   (see also System Conveners)
  • Value DetectivesTake the lead on making the value created by the community visible
    • Value detectives attempt to make the great things emerging from the ecosystem visible, through an appropriate mix of stories, assessments, and measurements. They apply the methods and ideas outlined in the community to suggest key indicators, highlight relevant stories, and develop data-collection plans and recommendations. They assess who needs to know what and assists the ecosystem in serving the needs of various constituencies.
    • How you can fulfill this role: identify and share how schools are utilizing indicators matching the emerging goals and work of the ecosystem; highlight relevant data; find ways to help the ecosystem easily share the data they are collecting
  • Systems ConvenersFinds ways to have meaningful encounters across boundaries
    • Convening learning processes and spaces across complex social learning systems/organizations with difficult or complex boundaries.
    • How you can fulfill this role: help recommend and organize workshops, retreats, conferences, and meet-ups; find ways to bring diverse ecosystem members together; highlight events and happenings across the ecosystem that promote connection and sharing
    • Note: system conveners are responsible for finding ways in which the community/ecosystem work interfaces and has meaning across boundaries- e.g. relates and has relevance to organizations and systems outside of the boundaries of education
  • Researchers/CuratorsManages and seeks resources and information pertinent to the focus and needs of the ecosystem/community
    • Researchers/curators are on the constant look out for relevant and emerging research and help share it and make sense of it.  They identify stories and share them across the ecosystem. They help connect researchers to folks in the ecosystem looking to conduct research.
    • How you can fulfill this role: Tweet research links and findings; challenge/expose faulty or incomplete research; help the ecosystem be better consumers of research; curate and organize stories and information for the ecosytem
  • Provocateurs–  Deliberately behaves controversially in order to provoke discourse and elicit strong beliefs and passions
    • How you can fulfill this role: play contrarian in a discussion; pose a challenging question; play devil’s advocate to help members dig deep; challenge assumptions.
  • MentorsInformally transmits the knowledge, social capital, and psychosocial support needed to fully engage new members or learners
    • How you can fulfill this role: respond to others seeking support, assistance, or advice; encourage members to become more active; coach members
  • Technology StewardsAids individuals or groups with adopting or supporting some aspect of technology use in a specific context.
    • Technology Stewards are a specific kind of techne-mentor, working on behalf of a community, mentoring and being mentored in the context of the community. A technology steward is influenced by their social context. The job of technology stewards is partly to make technology disappear. The more intuitive and habitual a community’s technology infrastructure becomes, the more authentic and direct the experience of being in the community.
    • How you can fulfill this role: find and share technology tools and applications and its appropriate educational use; promote technology for learning practices and shine lights on people doing awesome things with it; mentor members of the ecosystem

The above was excerpted/modified from:



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