Given the emphasis on real world learning at the iSchool, developing partnerships with the outside world has been extremely important. The school relies on individuals, other schools, local businesses, service organizations, and large corporations to support our internship programs and to provide the "challenges" that our students get to solve through modules.
One outstanding example of these partnerships has been iSchool's relationship with Cisco. As a thought partner from the early days of planning the school, Cisco listened carefully to the instructional vision of the school leaders then leveraged their resources and networks to support the school. Members of their executive and global education teams acted as sounding boards for the leaders' vision and implementation plan, providing perspective as parents, community members, and business leaders. Additionally, they offered problem-solving sessions with iSchool and DOE leaders around technical challenges, infrastructure set-up, and tool selection. Based on their own experiences in the business world, Cisco was able to help the school and system determine how those lessons could be applied to schools.
The support of a large and powerful corporation can also provide the impetus for swifter and more radical change in school systems. Cisco executives garnered support for the school vision from the highest levels within the Department of Education, providing the school leaders with broader and deeper support, helping them innovate more quickly despite the large and often slow bureaucracy of which the iSchool is a part.
Cisco also provided some tangibles, which for a large corporation is relatively easy and inexpensive, but very meaningful for educators. They invited the iSchool to use their space for school planning sessions, faculty "retreats," recruitment events, and parent meetings, providing an environment conducive to teambuilding and productivity. Because the iSchool was unable to move into its building until several weeks before the school opened, this offering of space was invaluable.
Finally, Cisco leveraged its connections with other educators from around the country and world to help iSchool learn about other approaches and to share its vision to get feedback from other educators taking on similar initiatives. Cisco set up networking opportunities, through email introductions, video conferencing, and school visits, with other schools and school leaders around the country to facilitate the sharing of ideas. They also supported the iSchool's participation in regional and national conferences, providing opportunities for dialog around lessons learned from various initiatives being implemented elsewhere. The diverse perspectives gained, and the lessons learned, would not have been possible within the insularity of most local school systems.
While many school-corporate partnerships have been based on a school's endorsement, use, and showcasing of the corporation's product, the partnership between Cisco and iSchool redefines this notion. The iSchool-Cisco relationship demonstrates the varied ways in which businesses and corporations can support schools and school reform efforts and provides a model for what these partnerships can look like.