Executive Director, PowerMyLearning
PowerMyLearning is a national education nonprofit that strengthens the triangle of learning relationships between students, teachers, and families so every child succeeds. To learn more about PowerMyLearning, visit www.PowerMyLearning.org.
Elizabeth oversees PowerMyLearning’s operations, development, and programs in New York City, while strengthening relationships with community partners, school districts, and political leaders. Previously, Elizabeth served as the Director of Education Programs for New York Cares, where her team implemented over 8,500 educational volunteer projects each year in partnership with hundreds of schools and agencies in New York City. A former New York City Teaching Fellow, Elizabeth also taught sixth and eighth grade Math at a high-needs public school in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Elizabeth holds an M.S. in Teaching – Adolescent Education from Pace University and a B.A. in History from New York University.
I started teaching math after I graduated college through the New York City Teaching Fellows program. I knew I wanted to be in education since high school, but I didn’t realize that there were so many ways to get involved outside of teaching. I started at my first nonprofit in 2007 managing educational programs, and have been in the industry ever since. What brought me to was their holistic approach to improving education by strengthening the relationships between students, teachers and families.
I think people are realizing that technology by itself is not the answer to improving education, but it is a powerful tool when used well. More value is being placed on social-emotional learning and learning relationships: we need to see students as full human beings and address their needs inside and outside of the classroom for them to truly succeed.
Family Engagement has been elevated in the national conversation about education. This is important because, for so long, the contributions of families weren’t really recognized, and they were sometimes seen as getting in the way. Karen Mapp’s work on the has gotten a lot of attention and buy-in. Now when we speak to schools and funders about family engagement, it feels like we’re speaking the same language.
At PowerMyLearning, we believe that the most important adults in shaping a student’s education are their teachers and family members. Through our work, we hope to empower these adults to meet the individual needs of each child. We can do this in a number of ways, including coaching teachers and parent coordinators, facilitating bilingual family workshops at schools, and leveraging our online platform, .
We’ve been really excited by the enthusiastic response to our new initiative: . These are mobile-friendly homework assignments in which students complete a set of digital activities in school and then “teach” what they learned to a parent at home. Upon completion, the parent provides feedback to the teacher, which is translated across 12 home languages.
Not only are school leaders excited about encouraging teachers to get more connected to their students’ families, but teachers are trying this out on their own. Our partnership with DonorsChoose.org yielded tons of interested teachers who got their projects fully funded; we cannot wait to see what they come up with for their students! As a former teacher, the idea that I could have a window into my students’ homes opens up a whole new world of possibilities.
We have built really strong relationships with local government officials who are passionate about education. The New York City Council’s Digital Inclusion and Literacy Initiative has been transformational for us. The Council Members can see the immediate impact their support is having on students throughout NYC, so it’s a wonderful partnership. In addition, we get to know new schools in their districts, and we can then expand our partnerships in those schools to provide more in–depth services.
When I first started at PowerMyLearning, the organization was in the midst of a major transition. My job was to build up trust among our teammates and make sure people knew what they were working towards and how they would get there, and though it was difficult, we emerged stronger as an organization. I still sometimes feel like we are figuring things out, as our industry is constantly changing, but we have learned so much since then and can apply what we learned to new challenges.
Our organization is focused on learning relationships, so we make it a point to form strong relationships with every stakeholder we work with, whether it be a student, parent, teacher, principal or parent coordinator. The ideal experience from one of our stakeholders would be to have a joyful learning experience in the moment, while developing skills that they can draw upon in the future. Parents in particular may be used to hearing negative or transactional information from their child’s school, so for them to have a positive experience around learning with their child is so meaningful.
Our team works hard, but we definitely make time for some silliness. Whether it be in team meetings, retreats, or informal gatherings like potlucks, game nights or BBQs, it’s important that we get to know one another as people and not just as colleagues.
Get out there: Spend a lot of time in schools, especially if you don’t have a teaching background. The more you understand the school environment, the more credibility you will have among educators. Also, make sure you visit a variety of schools, not just one type or in one neighborhood.
Be thoughtful about change: Change is a big part of what we do, but in order for it be managed effectively, you need to honor what’s been done in the past and make sure the change you are implementing is meaningful. Sometimes I feel we get pressured into changing before we can even see the costs or benefits of change. This can lead to lower employee morale and retention if it’s not handled thoughtfully. But also recognize that change is hard, and no matter how crucial it is for your organization to change, there will be some pushback and that is normal.
Support a work-life balance: I cannot tell you how many times my staff have let me know that they appreciate our recognition that they are human beings with lives outside of the office. Little things, like encouraging folks to stay home if they’re sick, work from home on days they need a more flexible schedule, or take a well-earned vacation can really make a big difference. Also, if you’re telling your staff to do one thing, but you’re doing another, it’s not going to work. Give yourself a break so you can set the same example for others.