Forging new connections among educators to support first generation and lower-income students

Theory of Change

If we, as institutions of higher education, begin to offer our most outstanding and pivotal secondary educators serving first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students the acknowledgment, support network, and professional development they deserve, we will be able to further support and empower more students of these demographics throughout the college access process and systematically begin to alleviate the crisis of undermatching among first generation and low-income students. 

Our Plan

For the 2019-2020 academic year, we are collaborating with high school teachers, college professors, and students to fully develop the network’s structure and support system. By working with an initial cohort of Pivotal Educators, Georgetown faculty and students who will serve as a small co-working group, we will be able to design, test, and launch the network with the needs of its core constituencies in mind. 

In the fall of 2020, The Pivotal Network will launch with an expanded cohort of Pivotal Educators. The network will be mostly virtual with frequent online connectivity and a large scale network-wide conference for all educators, faculty, and thought-leaders a part of the network to come together. Professional development will support teachers’ teaching and mentoring work – both to their students and fellow educators. 

Recognizing the newness of this work – and the importance of providing the most effective and least intrusive means of support for already overworked educators – we take seriously our responsibility to continually evaluate the impact of The Pivotal Network and to refine our practices.

We also anticipate rapid growth of The Pivotal Network, seeking to enroll a new cohort of Pivotal Educators each year and to welcome other colleges and universities to join Georgetown University in this work. Eventually, we anticipate the creation of a free-standing nonprofit to accommodate a fully active Pivotal Network. 


Identifying Pivotal Educators

We are able to conduct an initial analysis of an educator’s ‘pivotal’ qualities through the outstanding letters of recommendation they wrote for students who are now enrolled at Georgetown. After our confidential review, followed by a series of interviews with both the educators and their former students, we are able to identify the first cohort of Pivotal Educators to join the network. We are also interested in inviting teachers to take part in the network who make their way to us via recommendations, word of mouth, or other means!

Identifying Georgetown Partner Educators

We will identify faculty and staff members with roles focused on first-year students to serve as the higher education nodes in the network. The faculty will be drawn from academic disciplines matched to those of the high school Pivotal Educators (e.g., English, History, Mathematics, Science) to anchor each of the academic clusters of the network. 

Building The Pivotal Network

The work of the network in the first year will revolve largely around conversations and trial runs with our co-working group of Pivotal Educators and Georgetown faculty. Through these collaborations we will conduct a needs assessment and determine the logistical constraints of time and effort for the Pivotal Educators. This will prepare us for our official launch in the fall of 2020, and allow for the first annual convening of The Pivotal Network participants in the summer of 2021.

Evaluating The Pivotal Network

We will employ a mixed research methods to monitor and evaluate output and outcomes in real time. We are interested in the impact of The Pivotal Network on five outcomes: 1. students’ higher education destinations, 2. high school educators’ sense of worth and identity, 3. college students’ sense of agency regarding their ability to “pay it forward” and their belonging in college, 4. the changing pedagogical and advising practices in both the college and high school educators’ classrooms, and 5. the ripple effect of peer mentoring by the Pivotal Educators.

Expanding The Pivotal Network

The model is replicable at any number of institutions, but we believe its real strength lies in a shared model of The Pivotal Network in which multiple schools collaborate to build and lead the network of educators. We anticipate using the two pilot years of the program as an opportunity to educate and recruit peer institutions.