Scaling for System-Level Change: A conversation with Suzanne Donovan and Vanessa Coleman

February 9, 2024 | By Morgan Solender

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Suzanne Donovan, executive director of the Strategic Education Research Partnership (SERP) Institute, and Vanessa Coleman, co-director of SRI’s Center for Education Research & Innovation, recently sat down for a conversation with LEARN Network’s Kori Hamilton Biagas to discuss scaling innovations that disrupt inequity and create system-level change.

SERP Institute is an education research and development partnership organization incubated from the National Academy of Sciences in 2003. SERP Institute is responsible for developing the Strategic Adolescent Reading Intervention (STARI), a LEARN Network Product Team. STARI is a targeted reading program for students who read two or more years below grade level.

In this blog post, we highlight some of the key takeaways from this conversation.


Center the needs of teachers while opening the door for deeper change. Teachers are unlikely to adopt solutions to problems they do not think they have. Successful scaling happens when developers listen to teachers and design solutions that both address teachers’ needs and meaningfully change students’ experiences.


Create partnerships that bring together diverse expertise. The design process is most successful when developers create partnerships that bring together many perspectives to create mutually beneficial solutions. Designing with those you intend to serve and going in with flexibility and genuine curiosity will help you develop solutions that are responsive and address the complexities of educational contexts.


Center student voice. When students have ownership over their learning environment, classrooms become more productive. Centering student voice in the design process helps teachers implement successful strategies to manage behaviors and focus more time on learning.


Seize the moment to scale equitable policies and programs. The rapid advancement of technology since the COVID-19 pandemic provides an unprecedented opportunity to create new educational tools. Developers can harness this technology to create educational experiences that are accessible, equitable, and responsive to the needs of diverse learners.


Support students’ sense of self to change the system. A focus on changing the entire system can be too broad or overwhelming. Instead, a focus on outcomes with systemic impacts, such as developing students’ positive academic identity and sense of self, can create systemic change.

Watch the full conversation here!

Tags: Access and equity Evidence-based Liberatory design Literacy Policymakers Research & Developers Research and evaluation