For our new blog series highlighting innovators and brands making a difference, we recently sat down with Gina Condon, co-founder and President of Construct Foundation, an organization we’re excited to be working with this year.
What inspired you to create Construct Foundation?
I’m passionate about improving education for kids. Our public education system was created to address the needs of our world 100 years ago, and while the world has changed, education today often lacks relevance. Teachers are passionate about preparing kids for the demands of today, but the educational system isn’t keeping up. Construct Foundation is addressing these issues by bringing new education programs that prepare all Oregon learners for what the world expects of them after they complete school.
Having been out of the education field for several years, I began to reexamine schools and how we educate our children in 2011 when my eldest child was entering kindergarten. I was introduced to project-based learning and observed constructivist education first hand. I could see its relevance for creating learners who are problem-solvers and know how to adapt to our changing world. Looking across Portland and the state, it struck me that our teachers were doing all they could, but deeper, constructivist learning experiences were not reaching all kids. I wanted to be an ally to teachers, and because of my background in psychology, education and business, I felt I could be a unique bridge between educators and other key stakeholders in the community, like funders, parents and business people.
What has been the most inspiring thing about your work?
There are a lot of people trying to fix education. We’ve learned a lot about how to find alignment and create benefits for each other.
We partnered with young programs that are transforming teaching and learning like KairosPDX, 3 to PhD, and Breaker. Because we are small and nimble, we can find new ideas and try them out then explore how to bring them to scale working alongside other stakeholders and big organizations like The Chalkboard Project.
What success are you most proud of?
Our biggest partnership has been with Breaker. We began working with their founder, Dr. Juliette LaMontagne, in 2013 when Breaker was a new program with potential to become a disruptive educational model. Their curriculum teaches a creative collaborative problem-solving methodology to student and teachers, one that combines design thinking and entrepreneurship with project-based learning. Beginning with a real world problem, participants learn the skills and mindsets of the innovator and are tasked with designing a triple bottom line product or service solution. All the while they are building key 21st Century skills like empathy, collaboration, end-user understanding, and problem solving. Kids love the rigor and feel empowered when they get to solve real problems. One student said, “If school were like this, I’d stay forever.” And teachers feel a boost in their own creative confidence from using the Breaker methodology and see the relevance of modeling it for their students.
What is one significant way your brand or marketing has evolved over time?
Initially, we were focused on identifying, incubating and implementing one-off programs at different schools. Since then, we’ve learned that until a school has a culture of innovation, we’re not going to be able to introduce new ideas because it’s tough to change and turn on a dime, and we’re asking teachers to do a lot already. So now we focus on first creating a culture of innovation with teachers and administrators. Then you can bring in new models in partnership with them. This shift completely changes how we talk about what we do.
What frontier or threshold are you most excited to cross in the next 12 months?
We’ve been working with the Dayton School District, and we’re really excited that all of the teachers will be integrating design challenges into their classes. We’ve started working to replicate this in other districts and regions.
A first step is to work with school leaders in these regions through a program we’re introducing to Oregon called School ReTool. Like Breaker, it was developed in partnership with Stanford’s d. School and IDEO. Where Breaker targets students and teachers, School ReTool teaches school administrators the principles of design thinking to build that culture of innovation in their districts and schools, paving the way for teachers to get involved.
To make a system play across the state we see these two programs working synergistically. In 24 months we expect to reach another 10 schools while growing our reach in the Portland Metro area where we already work with Franklin and Faubion schools.
We’re so excited to be partnering with Gina to bring her work to a wider audience. Look for future updates on work we do with the Construct Foundation.
Welcome to the KO family, Gina and Construct Foundation!