Collaborating through difference: How a community of diverse non-profits are working together to improve student outcomes

SSN is a community of diverse schools and nonprofits who acknowledge their differences but pool their knowledge and strengths to put all students on a path to success. SSN’s Collabs, small groups of practitioners that meet monthly to achieve shared goals, are spaces where this collaboration happens.

In the fall of 2018, six Collabs met across NYC to drive student and staff social-emotional learning (SEL), pursuing different goals through a similar, shared journey. Learn more about Collabs through one group of collaborators:

Meet the Growth Mindset Collab:

Joie, Manager of Programs Outreach & Engagement at ENACT

Joie, Manager of Programs Outreach & Engagement at ENACT, an organization that utilizes drama therapy and creative theater approaches to deliver trauma-informed social and emotional learning to transform learning communities into safe spaces where all students can thrive.

Alisa France, SSN Innovates Fellow
Chelsea, Program Manager, Curriculum and Student Events, at Opportunity Network

Alisa, Senior Program Coordinator, College Success and Chelsea, Program Manager, Curriculum and Student Events, at Opportunity Network, a college access and success program that works with students from historically and systemically underrepresented communities to develop their skills, knowledge, and passions to achieve their college and career goals.

Mwenye, Youth Development Director at Hudson’s River Community Sailing

Mwenye, Youth Development Director at Hudson River Community Sailing, an organization that uses sailing STEM and SEL activities to foster a love for learning in the NYC public school system.

Zoe, College Access Manager at Let’s Get Ready

Zoe, College Access Manager at Let’s Get Ready, a college access and success organization.

The journey starts with data…

Each Collab member analyzed their student SEL data to identify an SEL competency to target for improvement.

Members initially met to explore drivers, or ways they could impact student SEL growth, and to choose a driver to focus on for the semester.

SSN members share a mission, use data to focus on specific SEL Competencies (Growth Mindset), and Collaborate around key drivers that affect SEL Development (Explicit SEL Instruction for Staff and Students).

We saw a decline in growth mindset in our surveys. We wanted to help increase it in our students and thought introducing it formally to our college student staff and volunteers was the best method.

Zoe, Let’s Get Ready

Co-creating solutions and testing best practices

Over the next three months, the Collab members met monthly at each others’ sites to share their unique expertise, analyze student responses from our shared SEL survey, design small programmatic shifts, and provide/gain feedback on the shifts.

The research and ideas generated each session have greatly influenced my approach to my work and I have enjoyed bringing back nuggets of ideas and information back to my teammates at ENACT to inspire them as well.


It was great to have the different perspectives in the room to challenge our thinking and push our change idea design to be practical, informed, and relevant. Sharing my change idea and discussing progress made with the others in the group also helped me form my ideas more fully — it allowed for the “reflection” time that I don’t often make time for in my work!

Chelsea, OppNet

Growth Mindset Collab at the February Think Tank

Each Collab member designed and implemented a small programmatic shift focused on either staff or student growth mindset. Zoe and Mwenye designed and facilitated growth mindset trainings for staff and volunteers. Joie, Alisa, and Chelsea infused growth mindset language into small group conversations, with Teaching Artists at ENACT, and with 11th grade students at OppNet.

For a long time we would dance around Social Emotional Learning in our trainings, but Student Success Network, the networks, and Collabs pushed me (and Let’s Get Ready) to think about being explicit in our trainings around the SEL factors that we wanted to focus on with our students.

Zoe, Let’s Get Ready

I feel like the Collab made significant progress in building a foundation for relevant SEL practice in the field of youth development, and I’ve been able to see it take root at the Opportunity Network. Working in the Collab was also an opportunity to work more closely with a colleague (Alisa) in productive and inspiring ways. We don’t often get to collaborate together because of our different specific responsibilities, but the results of our collaboration were evidenced in our stronger, more connected programming that we’ve been able to strategize and implement.

Chelsea, OppNet

Each Collab member designed and implemented a small programmatic shift focused on either staff or student growth mindset

I absorbed a lot of information to inform the trainings I facilitated.

Mwenye, Hudson River Community Sailing

This is just the beginning…

The changes implemented through this collaboration were added to our Network’s growing library of practices so that future Collab members do not have to start from scratch. The early learnings this group uncovered were shared at the SSN Think Tank in February and have become the impetus for further change ideas.

OppNet implemented a 12th grade class called “Applying Growth Mindset to College” which stemmed from the initial small group conversations with 11th graders.

No extra programming or time needs to be created [to implement growth mindset]! Awareness of, and adopting, growth mindset naturally enhances the programming and work with youth that you already do. It is a frame of reference for staff and students to use, and while it requires an introduction of concept and terminology and sustained reference and re-framing, it does not require additional time or resources.

Chelsea, OppNet

In February, ten new members joined this Collab to deepen their shared knowledge of growth mindset and further make programmatic improvement to better serve their students. Check back in June to learn where this collaboration journey goes!

How can our field do a better job sharing practices and lessons learned instead of constantly re-inventing?

Interested in learning more about the changes the Growth Mindset Collab tested? Comment below or reach out to

Are you an SSN member? Interested in joining a Collab? Reach out to

Related Posts:

Ali Slack

Ali’s goal is to promote a culture of continuous learning and improvement among SSN organizations and practitioners. She believes that those who work closest with youth hold a wealth of knowledge and experience, and thus is passionate about empowering practitioners to be the change makers their students need. Prior to joining SSN, she taught high school as a TFA Corps Member in Atlanta, GA, and later worked as a management consultant where she learned tools and strategies to lead improvement efforts.

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