Ashley Beckner
Principal, Investments
&
Isabelle Hau
Investment Partner

Why We Invested: Wildflower Schools

January 22, 2018
Children are naturally curious. Interacting with their world and their teachers can ignite that curiosity. But they need the space for the spark to occur, and too often our youngest learners don’t have access to the high-quality settings in which they can explore all of their questions, and set the foundation for the strong development of their brains at this critical period in their lives. 

The Wildflower Foundation provides this space through their ecosystem of decentralized Montessori microschools. The schools are grounded in the Montessori Method that believes that with the appropriate freedoms and support, children follow their own interests and learn from one another. Those freedoms and support are guided by teachers who are also running the microschools with decisions being made by the person closest to the students and families. Wildflower Schools commit to remaining small, non-hierarchical, and responsive to the needs of children as they start on their learning journey.

At Omidyar Network, we believe deeply in the capacity of individuals, families, and communities. We are thrilled to partner with an organization that puts the power in the hands of their teacher-leaders, with a focus on one of our key priorities — improving access and quality in early childhood education. While Wildflower Schools currently serve children from birth to age 17, as the schools grow, a majority will focus on those youngest learners during the years of critical brain development, providing access to authentic Montessori environments. This approach has been shown to provide better outcomes in traditional academics, creativity, social skills, and behavior than traditional methods.

It can be tough to teach and care for young children in the United States. The early learning workforce suffers from low pay, poor working conditions, and limited professional development, resulting in high levels of turnover and reduced quality for kids. When teachers do go it alone, they can often feel isolated and unsupported. Through its decentralized network, Wildflower is providing administrative tools that help teachers start and run their own programs more quickly and easily, helping with school startup, admissions, enrollment, and financial management. They also become part of a “hub” — a local community of practice where they can trade professional tips with fellow educators. Wildflower teachers also have the opportunity to earn a higher income than they could as a teacher in a larger school.

Wildflower’s innovative school model has the potential to prepare more children for a lifetime of learning as well as provide school leaders with a more efficient, effective, and sustainable model. Read on for some of our other favorite Wildflower core principles.

Commitment to Equity

Montessori education dates back to 1907 when Maria Montessori opened the Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, in a low-income district of Rome. In the US today, few appreciate the earliest roots of Dr. Montessori’s work with low-income children. Wildflower is working to create diverse, inclusive learning environments that work for justice as the foundation of peace. The average US school is highly segregated by socioeconomic status. Wildflower is opening intentionally socioeconomically diverse schools. Rather than being tied to one specific model, schools look different by location and may take the form of a district school, a charter, or an independent school, to ensure that they can provide access to all students who want to attend. In addition to providing access to families who may not be able to afford a Wildflower-quality education, Wildflower’s learners will have the opportunity to expand their networks and learn more about others from the youngest ages.

A Laboratory for Innovation

Wildflower is committed to exploring new ideas and grounding their practice in the scientific principles of open inquiry, thoughtful reflection, and continuous improvement. With roots in the MIT Media Lab, it’s no surprise that Wildflower strives for cutting-edge innovation while remaining grounded in a 100+ year old curriculum. One of the most exciting innovations in the works is wearable and classroom-embedded technologies that will support teachers’ extensive observation efforts. Best of all, all of Wildflower’s development will be shared open source for use by other schools and teachers.

A Decentralized Network

Technology has fundamentally changed the way we think about work, and that change will continue to accelerate. While Wildflower’s technology tools enable a more efficient, decentralized network, they have also made an active and intentional choice to structure their organization to empower individuals and facilitate their support of each other for the betterment of the entire community of Wildflower Schools. Inspired by the research behind Reinventing Organizations, Wildflower is a pioneer in a management style that respects the expertise and motivation of the individual contributors.

The Wildflower Network currently consists of 14 micro Montessori schools led by teachers, together serving approximately 200 children, ages six weeks to 17 years, in Massachusetts, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, and Kentucky. We are excited to watch as they continue to grow their footprint with new schools in the coming years, including expansion into Minnesota, as Wildflower seeds continue to spread and bloom.

Image Credit: The Wildflower Foundation 

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