Saga co-founder Alan Safran spoke about innovation in education on a panel at the ASU GSV Summit for technology in education investors. The panel of respected industry professionals discussed how Saga’s vision for the classroom of the future could benefit students and teachers alike, and the crucial role personal connection still plays in education, even while employing technology.
Saga’s High-Impact Tutoring model is a great example–bringing effective technology into the classroom while increasing students’ consistent connections with people who are invested in their success.
Highlights from ASU GSV
Co-Founder Alan Safran's Background
Alan started the panel by presenting his vision for the classroom of the future, where students are given the tools, connections, and opportunities they need to learn, thrive, and move forward in their education. A future where high-impact tutoring is woven into the fabric of the school day, and schools are overcoming learning loss and closing opportunity gaps.
In 2004, Alan was the Director of a small charter high school in Boston. Recognizing a need for personalized instruction and caring connections for students, he implemented a high-dosage tutoring program for every student in the school.
AJ Gutierrez came to that school as a 9th grader. Every teacher dreams of having students come back to say thank you, but AJ came back and co-founded Saga Education with Alan to provide high-impact tutoring to students on a larger scale.
Speaking to the audience on the need for caring teachers and consistent connections, Alan stated that many kids in the US are experiencing poverty and may not have the privilege of a caring teacher who can provide them with a consistent relationship.
Alan’s parents taught public school. He’d had roles in education at the state and local levels. He wanted to make an impact. He saw that tutoring provided an opportunity to bring caring adults into kids' lives.
He described how other organizations had entered the education space to improve learning outcomes for kids. Teach for America was an early organization that opened doors to careers in education that weren’t previously considered. Alan mentioned fellow panel members who were involved with Teach for America who made a huge difference in the future of education by thinking outside the box.
Alan differentiated Saga from Teach for America by the support it gives teachers, tutors, and students. Saga offers school districts benefits that some other organizations or educational models could not. Other organizations and models struggled with operations and efficacy as the reality of managing full classrooms of kids, developing curriculum, and teaching lessons without tutoring support was overwhelming and inefficient.
Saga’s tutors are fully supported, work closely with teachers and districts, tutor in small groups, and support the work of the classroom teachers.
He explained to the audience that Saga’s high-impact tutoring is not only proven effective in addressing learning loss and closing opportunity gaps, but it also offers professionals a different pathway to education and provides the education sector with a different pipeline of talent.
Alan’s Vision for the Classroom of the Future
Alan referenced his vision for the future, saying that the central idea is that having a caring, qualified adult to connect with during the school day makes all the difference. That someone who knows a kid's name has chatted with their mom and smiles at them at the start of a lesson is crucial to success.
The next idea that Alan presented was that embedding tutoring into the school day supports teachers who are stretched beyond capacity. As an example of his vision, he proposed changes. Traditionally, one teacher leads instruction in front of a room of around 28 9th-grade Algebra One students. We expect students to focus, participate, and learn in this setup. We expect the teacher to help all students master the lessons.
Alan proposed an alternative learning model–instead of 28 students focused on one lesson, smaller PODS of four students with devices listen to their Algebra 1 teacher, wearing a headset, give instruction for 10 minutes.
Now, the classroom teacher stops instruction, and a remote tutor helps each POD of students. They personalize the lesson for the small group and help with practice and individual needs. Classroom teachers are freed to assist students, coach tutors as needed, plan lessons, and use their teaching skills without being overwhelmed and underresourced during instruction.
Alan proposed his vision could be a reality within the next five years and concluded that Saga’s model has the power to make the greatest difference in student outcomes because it supports and connects with teachers, tutors learn in real-time from the classroom teachers, and students get access to caring adults and personalized tutoring they don’t have to seek out.
Panel Discussion on High-Impact Tutoring
- Bob Runcie, Interim CEO at Chiefs for Change and former school superintendent
- Brooke Stafford-Brizard, VP for Research-to-Practice at ChanZuckerberg
- Jeff Riley, Commissioner of Education for Massachusetts
- Jennie Magiera, Global Head of Education Impact at Google
- Thomas Arnett, Sr Research Fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute
Social Emotional Learning & Technology
Jennie started by stating her interest in the work at Saga and wondered if AI models and tutors could achieve the same purpose while providing kids with more comprehensive education, social-emotional learning, career prep, etc. She asked Brooke for her thoughts.
Brooke said that the powerful outcomes with tutoring are due to learning in deep relationships. She wondered aloud how tutors could be used to communicate with families and teachers. She said teachers and tutors could work together to meet students where they’re at. She asked how Bob and Jeff felt high-impact tutoring fit into the classroom.
Jeff, Massachusetts Commissioner of Education, spoke next, referencing plummeting engagement rates from when students start in elementary school to the time they reach high school. They lose personal connections with teachers.
He stated that the two biggest lies people tell in education are that all teachers are equal and that instruction is differentiated. He says there are ineffective teachers, and we should be learning from the advanced teachers and raising the standards. He proposed that implementing high-impact tutoring provides differentiated instruction and help for classroom teachers.
Inequity & Systemic Change
Bob added his thoughts, saying that equity is the biggest issue. As an example, he spoke about how many students receive outside tutoring or help, potentially skewing perceptions of outcomes. He said equitable access to tutoring should be a national priority and that more caring contact is necessary for kids.
Finally, Bob added that systemic change is needed in public education, and that making parents, organizations, and communities aware of these opportunities and resources so they can demand change and access is important to disrupting the current educational system.
Classroom Implementation & Teacher Support
Next, Tom started his commentary by relating that he was one of the teachers who struggled to teach content, manage his classroom, and get to know each of his students personally. He said that while he struggled, he had a teacher in the classroom next door who was hitting it out of the park.
He realized that the limited class time, prep time, and resources made his aspirations more difficult. He stated that while tutoring positively impacts education, many innovators need help to implement and run into roadblocks, process issues, and bureaucratic red tape. He asked how to implement programs like Saga to overcome competing priority tensions in districts.
Brooke suggested that technology is there to make tutoring easier to implement in the classroom. She added that power and trust come into play with these kinds of tense dynamics and similar dynamics in tutoring relationships, like trust, risk, and vulnerability. The opportunity also exists for feedback, coaching, and students to voice their opinions. She sees value in these discussions as opportunities for dynamic relationships between adults and potential for coaching relationships between teachers and tutors.
Alan agreed and said that in Saga’s vision for the future, he sees teachers’ work changing to include coaching other instructors rather than just students.
Bob affirmed that change is necessary, as education is in crisis and experiencing a massive human capital crisis. He believes that in-class tutoring using technology can help.
Jen said teachers might feel threatened by adding tutors and hanging instruction, but explaining the profound benefits to students often helps get them on board. Showing how this frees up teachers to get excited about teaching and learning again.
Jeff added that freeing up time for teachers can bring less restrictive dynamics to the classroom and allow for play and relationships.
Final Thoughts From Panelists
Each panelist wrapped up the Fireside Chat with a final thought.
Brooke said caring is a path toward accountability by developing deep enough relationships to hold someone accountable and take risks. She believes that high-impact tutoring could be a pathway toward that.
Bob said there isn’t a secret about the solutions to inequity in education, but people must have the will and fortitude to do it.
Tom stated that the opt-in from teachers is powerful. This could provide them with a path toward making a difference. He suggested helping teachers discover high-impact tutoring so they can share it with other teachers.
Jen proposed that it will be successful as long as innovation starts with the need, prioritizes what’s being built, and is followed with technology and then structural change.
The discussion panel discussed important topics, issues, and ideas about high-impact tutoring, learning in deep relationships, and closing opportunity gaps with technology and systemic change. Visit our site to learn more about high-impact tutoring and how Saga works to close the opportunity gap and help all kids succeed.
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