7th Grader Shares What School Should Be Like

By: McKinley, 7th grade student in Bethesda, MD 
In elementary school, school was so much fun. For everyone. It was interactive, we worked in groups, it was fun and exciting. Every day I learned something new and did something fun. Then I went to middle school. It was the opposite of elementary school. Classes were boring, there were no fun activities, even some of the teachers seemed disinterested. There were some days when I came home and my mom asked me what I learned in school that day. I replied honestly, “I forget,” or, “I don’t know.” Nothing was interesting enough to capture my attention. I found myself liking school less and less, and everyone I know agreed with me. This is what it would take for me to like school again.
In middle school, we don’t really do projects anymore. My teachers’ idea of a project is writing a long, boring paper about a slightly irrelevant topic that nobody really cares about. This is not how it should be. Projects should be creative and engaging, where people work in groups and make something very creative that relates to what they’re learning about. This will help solidify what they’re learning in a different way, and because kids are in groups, they can help each other and end up having more fun than they would have if they were working alone. Speaking of groups, working in groups is very important. If kids sit in groups instead of rows, they will learn how to work together, get help from each other, and be more engaged because everything is way more fun when you’re with your friends!
School should be more interactive. Lessons should involve everyone in the class to ensure that everyone is engaged and learning. We should play lots of games and do other fun things where you actually have to think and be involved. There should be little to no worksheets. Worksheets should only be used to reinforce another activity or to capture ideas from research. There should be a good balance between figuring things out on your own and a teacher explaining things. For example, a teacher could put up a new math problem on the board, and using what you know, you try to figure it out by yourself. Then you could get in groups and share ideas, which will take what you’re thinking even further. After that, the teacher will explain the correct way to solve the problem. This will teach kids how to think instead of just being told things, but in the end they will also know the correct way to do it and will learn even more about the topic.
Kids and teachers should have a real relationship. Kids will learn better if they feel they know who their teachers are and their teachers know who they are. If teachers really know who their kids are and what they like to do, they can adjust their lessons to make them more engaging. Also, it feels good to have a teacher really know you, and it puts kids in a more comfortable environment. If kids feel very comfortable and free to be themselves, they are more involved in the lesson which will take their learning experience further. The classroom environment should be very low pressure. Everyone should know that it’s okay to get an answer wrong, and that everyone’s ideas are appreciated and useful in discussions. Teachers should make sure that kids are comfortable with the material before giving tests, and they should really prepare the kids for the test and tell them what the test will be like before they take it. Also, they should only assign a little bit of homework, and only assign it when it’s absolutely necessary. Homework doesn’t do very much. People say it cements what kids learn in class, but kids are so focused on just getting it done that they don’t try their best. Most of the learning should take place at school. That’s the whole purpose of going to school- to learn. Homework is just another reason that kids really dislike school. We should have a lot less.
Having school be engaging and interactive is much more important than people think. People say that the sole purpose of school is to learn, and that’s true. But how are we supposed to learn if we’re bored all the time? We should be excited about school. We should play games and do fun projects and cool activities. This will help everyone learn more and will make kids actually happy about going to school. That is how it should be.
For more on student voice, check out:


Good Work: Grateful for 5 Signs of Progress

In the last few weeks I’ve visited a couple remarkable schools while attending some great meetings. The Environmental Charter School (@ECSinnovator) in Pittsburgh is a good example of a school promoting Deeper Learning with powerful questions and applied learning–often in 561 acre Frick Park next door. The featured image is the Thinking Lab–a cool art and STEM mash-up space.
At the Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference (#TRETC2014), I spoke about 10 EdTech Impact Opportunities and Deeper Learning strategies including Posting, Publishing, Presentation, & Portfolio.
In New Orleans, I visited Arthur Ashe Charter School, where Firstline Schools is introducing NOLA to blended learning. The lab rotation model–featuring i-Ready, Think Through Math and ST Math–is showing promising results. With our friends at 4.0 Schools, we co-hosted a Smart Cities Summit (like the Smart Cities discussion at #iNACOL14).
In DC we took two dozen policy makers to Hart Middle School where the individual rotation math program is powered by New Classrooms. We saw a great station rotation model at Ketcham Middle school powered by CityBridge Fellows. Reflecting on the school visits, we co-hosted a policy hackathon with the ExcelinEd team. We closed last week by extracting 10 Lessons from the National Summit on EdReform.
5 Signs of Progress. The opportunity to visit great schools with smart people is a real gift–and a sign of progress. With a month left in 2014, it’s clear we’ve seen progress in five area:

  1. Student access to internet devices dramatically improve–at school and at home. Most districts dropped their cell phone bans and gave teachers the option to bring their own device (BYOD) to school.
  2. Next gen schools have popped up everywhere, many supported by NGLC grants and networks (see 100 Schools Worth Visiting).
  3. Districts making progress as a result of skilled leadership, foundation grants, and supportive networks (see 25 Districts Worth Visiting).
  4. EdTech investment continues to support entrepreneurship, new apps, and broader adoption.
  5. Affordable HigherEd options continue to proliferate. We visited College for America from SNHU last month and like the competency-based model and focus on low wage workers.

We’re also seeing more people talking about cities as the most promising locus of progress including a World Bank conference earlier this month. Check out #SmartCities for an interesting dialog between planners, civic leaders, and technologist–and a few of us interested in the role of learning ecosystems. We see urban partnerships attacking poverty and developing talent.  We hope you’re part of sparking an urban revolution.
What progress has made you grateful this year?
 Curriculum Associates, MIND Research Institute, and ExcelinEd are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners.

Vote Now for the #SchoolInfo Challenge

Green Schools

The climate crisis is the most complex challenge mankind has ever faced. It will require collaboration, shared truth and innovation at a scale that has yet to be realized. We’re covering what edleaders and educators can do about it. 

Invention Opportunity

An exploration of new agreements, new practices, new tools and new opportunities with support from the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Difference Making

Focusing on how making a difference has emerged as one of the most powerful learning experiences and how in this current moment it’s never been easier, or more important, to make a difference.


New learning models, tools, and strategies have made it easier to open small, nimble schooling models. We unpack the benefits and the challenges of these intriguing new models.

Data Science Education

In order to combat the most pressing challenges of today, young people need a deep understanding of complexity, data literacy and scale.

Power of Place

A comprehensive and compelling case for making communities the locus of learning for students of all ages.

What If?

This series asks weekly What If? questions to reimagine what learning and education could be. 

Schools Worth Visiting

The result of our hundreds of yearly school visits where we get the opportunity to see high-quality teaching and learning in action. We share stories that highlight best practices, lessons learned and next-gen teaching practice.

View more series…

The Skills Students Need to Survive and Thrive

Gayle Allen
Hiring well is a challenge for any organization. If a company’s success depends on hiring employees with strong technical capabilities, high-level design skills, and an entrepreneurial mindset, the challenge gets that much harder. As a leader at BrightBytes, an educational technology company, I’ve experienced these types of hiring challenges firsthand.
To address the growing skills gap, some organizations are developing in-house professional learning programs. Others are reaching out to colleges and universities to build a stronger pipeline. To address the problem in a more proactive way, what if we built relationships even earlier? How about at the K-12 level? Together, we could learn from each other and connect students to an entrepreneurial culture at a younger age.

Project 2025

Michael Kris, Middle School Principal at Trinity Valley School in Texas, is a K-12 EdLeader who is leading the way in building these types of connections. This year, he kicked off a project titled, Project 2025: How Teachers Research the Future. As part of the project, he shared three key goals:

  1. Strengthen understandings of twenty-first century skills so that they can connect with the needs of students’ future selves and equip them with the skills they need to face the modern workforce with confidence;
  2. Use this new understanding to augment academic programs and create additional innovative and robust experiences for students; and
  3. Build connections between his school and the external community in ways that might be mutually beneficial.

To achieve these goals, Mike asked teachers to schedule a call with an industry leader outside the field of K-12 education, so that they could learn, “What skills, habits, or mindsets make people successful in your field.” I learned about the project after speaking with one of the teachers. It gave me the chance to share the skills we look for when we hire.

The Skills All Students Need

While there are no substitutes for the high-level technical skills associated with programming, statistics, applied mathematics, and design, there are additional skills students need in order to survive and thrive in technical and non-technical fields. Without them, students will flounder in what is becoming an increasingly uncertain job market. These skills include:
Communication. Demonstrate strong writing, speaking, and listening skills. These skills are game changers for employees with strong technical skills, since their work often impacts members of other teams, technical and non-technical, across the company.
Critical thinking. Assess a situation and determine whether or not to ask for help, seek additional information, or forge ahead. Recognize when to “pull the cord” and stop the bus.
Ownership. When taking on a project, own it from start to finish. Be reliable and know what needs to be done to complete the task, project, or initiative, whether alone or as a member of a team.
Leadership. Act as leader, with or without the title. Recognize that leadership lies in how you behave and how you conduct yourself as much as it does in the title that you hold.
Creative problem solving. Enjoy solving problems and doing so in creative ways, especially when resources may be constrained, time short, and expectations high.
Self-directed learning. Own professional learning and stay up-to-date on new trends in the field. Participate in ongoing learning through online and in-person options, and be willing to share what you’ve learned with colleagues.
Curiosity. Get stumped, but never get overwhelmed. When stuck, turn to personal and professional learning networks to problem solve. Failure is a part of the learning process.
Collaboration. Contribute to larger projects and meet game-changing goals. View collaboration as a key part of the job, especially when it comes to achieving outcomes.
High threshold for uncertainty. Be comfortable with the uncertainty that often accompanies problem solving, innovative and creative work. Uncertainty is what drives leaders to seek answers and solve problems. Recognize that setbacks and dead-ends are part of the process.

What the Future Holds

Preparing a skilled workforce is a daunting challenge. To address the gap, organizations will need to strengthen the pipeline to learning opportunities in K-12, postsecondary education, and on the job. This includes building relationships with colleges, universities, and the growing body of non-traditional learning organizations, such as boot camp, data analytics, and design programs. Companies also need to develop in-house mentoring and professional learning programs. But waiting until employees are in the pipeline or already employed is too late. We need to start earlier. Mike’s Project 2025 is an outstanding example of how we can build the real-world learning relationships we need to empower our students and ensure their success, starting in K-12.
For more on job skills and student entrepreneurship, check out:

Gayle Allen is the Chief Learning Officer and Director of BrightBytes Labs, at BrightBytes. Gayle tweets with @GAllenTC and blogs at Connecting the Thoughts.

Smart List: 24 Cool Sites We’re Thankful For

In the spirit of thanks we’re wrapping our 2nd Annual Smart Lists with 24 sites, foundations, leaders, companies and organizations we appreciate doing great work.
During October and November we released about 20 ‘Best of’ lists, not in order, not exhaustive, just people we appreciate doing innovative work.

Habits of Success

Deeper Learning

Whole Child

Developing Entrepreneurship

Learning mindset

  • Carol Dweck: MindSet
  • Paul Tough: How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, & the Hidden Power of Character

Civics & Citizenship


  • MobLab: social science simulations *
  • Phet: science sims from CU

Interesting School Networks

Preschool and Daycare Info

Learning Through Travel

International networks

Career Awareness

This Smart List was published in partnership with Getting Smart Services. Getting Smart provides advocacy, advisory, consulting and public relations services to turn ideas into impact. We help for-profit and non-profit organizations construct cohesive and forward-thinking strategies for branding, awareness, advancement and communications.

* Learn Capital Partner, # Getting Smart Partner, ** Board member or Advisor

5 Social Media Must Knows for Every Teacher

Social media in the classroom reminds me of the saying, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Instead of perceiving it as a distraction or a hindrance to learning, we must embrace opportunities for social media to expand capacity and facilitate education. Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and YouTube can become an integral part of enhancing the 3 C’s of successful teaching: Communication, Collaboration and Coordination.
Real-time access to visually interesting material & resources, guest speakers, community members and industry leaders are possible. And, its being readily available and ease of access makes social media a viable communication tool between teachers and parents.
For dynamic learning experiences to engaged students and parents, let’s look at 5 different tips for teachers on how to apply social media in the classroom.

1. Build Strong Communities

One of the key benefits for utilizing social media is the sharing component the online community offers to students. Let’s look beyond the Instagram and Twitter type of sharing to the project-based learning type of sharing. Students can learn from one another as they evaluate the work of others, share ideas and connect with their peers in a familiar setting.  Sharing via social media is a natural function for students. Why not take advantage of this propensity?
Some popular platforms for building safe, online communities for teachers are:

2. Communication and Discussion

Social media is inherently designed to instigate conversation and communicate ideas.
Pinterest and Tackk are good for:

A few of the communication uses for Twitter are:

  • Keep students current on assignments and due dates
  • Follow current events and stimulate debate
  • Ask questions during a streaming lecture
  • Take and share notes
  • Chat and follow industry professionals for career planning
  • Connect with other classrooms to collaborate on projects
  • Research trending ideas, movements and opinions
  • Engage with parents.

An easy way to communicate with parents is to create a Facebook page or classroom blog for your class. This will help to keep parents up to date with daily lessons, assignments, announcements and activities.
Google Hangouts are another way to communicate with students face to face, particularly effective for those in remote areas.
And the hugely popular Edmodo allows teachers and students, as well as parents, to connect via digital classrooms for communication and collaboration on projects.

3. Creative Applications

Use the creative properties of Pinterest and Instagram to:

  • Showcase a student’s work,
  • Capture the memories of a field trip,
  • Step into the shoes of a historical figure to gain their perspective,
  • Record the steps in a science experiment as it unfolds, and
  • Find pictorial inspiration for writing prompts and brainstorming sessions.

And, YouTube is a natural platform for dramatic and musical performances, ‘how to’ instructions and for coaching athletic techniques and methods.

4. Collaborate

Collaboration is one of the most exciting properties of social media. In addition to the channels mentioned above, programs such as LinkedIn, WhatsApp and Remind expand opportunities to reach students, teachers, and parents.
LinkedIn also provides a professional network to share ideas and stay current in your field. And WhatsApp can be set up for a lively group chat of up to 50 people. While Remind provides a one way texting service that won’t display your phone number and doesn’t allow for replies.

5. Coordinate

Use social media for a call to action. Reach out to your parent following to request volunteers for class outings, classroom assistance, coaching, chaperoning and other activities through SignUpGenius. You can enter dates and times, post on your website or blog to invite groups and send customized reminders. And VolunteerSpot offers a similar service with an option for setting up parent/teacher conferences.
With any new technology, following guidelines and codes to get the most out of it is always within our best interests:

  • Choose the right platform for the task. Use the most appropriate platform for the assignment or project.
  • Set guidelines for appropriate and responsible use and be consistent in applying your classroom policy.
  • Keep parents informed. Send out regular updates to parents to keep them in the loop on their children’s social media activities in the classroom.
  • Follow the rules. Be informed of your school and district’s policies regarding social media.
  • Use them responsibly to help your students understand their purpose and function.

Clearly, there are a lot of benefits for teachers to incorporate social media practices into the classroom. By strategically planning and leveraging the most appropriate platforms, not only will teachers have a greater resource base, students will too. And in the long run, everyone will benefit from that.
For more on social media, check out:

Cari-75x75Cari Bennette, active blogger, writer at Jet Writers and ghost author. She covers wide range of topics in her articles: from writing tips to social media to educational tools. Cari tweets with @CariBennette.

EdTech 10: Goes Good with Turkey

In our fast-paced, quick to act world there are few times when we get to step back and take stock. Despite the fact that gratitude has been proven to be good for us, it’s often after the fact or forgotten. That is why Thanksgiving is increasingly important as we innovate, create and work together. This year, our team took to Twitter to share the love we have for each other. THANK YOU everyone who has contributed to our community this year. Here’s a special Thanksgiving EdTech 10 we hope you can enjoy alongside the cranberry sauce and Turkey.

Blended Schools & Tools

1. Better Than Ever. It’s back. The comprehensive online hub for blended resources, the Blended Learning Universe known as the “BLU” has expanded with new tools and resources.  

2. Blending in DC. Following our visit to DC schools, we couldn’t agree more with John Rice (@johnricedc), as quoted in a Washington Post feature, that blended learning can free teachers up so they can spend more time doing what they are best at: facilitating conversations, helping students who are stuck, or designing and assessing projects and writing.

Dollars & Deals

3. New on the Block. Online programming bootcamp, Bloc, announced that they’ve raised an additional $6 million investment bringing their total funding up to $8.5 million. With the Hour of Code just around the corner, this is another great resource for those about to code.

4. Pathway Up. Those looking to combine social networking with LMS have reason to celebrate with the recent launch of Pathgather, that like Schoology, was founded by Wash U grads hoping to leverage social learning like Edmodo.

Digital Developments

5. Greenwich Village Gearing Up. 1,000 NYU students per year will now learn startup concepts with the university’s adoption of Lean LaunchPad’s class as a standard entrepreneurship course. This is another example of New York City’s leadership in innovating.    

Smart Cities

6. Smart Development. In continuing coverage of Smart Cities, this week Tom described how teacher and leader development should be approached as a regional effort in both defining competencies and creating provider compacts.    

Power To The Parents

7. Future of Parent Info. Increased attention and evidence to role the of parents as leading advocates for high-quality learning opportunities was center stage as GreatSchools and Fordham Institute collaborated in a live web-event.

  8. VOTE or Turkey Fry. Polls for the My School Information Challenge (#SchoolInfo) close on Tuesday, December 2! Get out the vote to reimagine school report cards.  The finalists include some great designs.    

Skills To Pay The Bills

9. Mad Skills. Trends and important considerations for schools in supporting and assessing a more comprehensive set of Pre K-12 skills was released by EdCentral in a report aptly dubbed Skills for Success.

Policy Pieces

10. Looking Back, Pushing Forward. This week we returned from #EIE14 with MANY takeaways. Here are our top ten.

Bloc and Edmodo are portfolio companies of Learn Capital where Tom Vander Ark is a partner. The Foundation for Excellence in Education is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.

10 Smartest Cities: Leading on Innovation

Stanford’s Rick Hanushek said, “The future of every city depends on skills.” That’s the premise of our new book, Smart Cities That Work for Everyone. Our three year investigation chronicled innovations in learning in America’s great cities. Based on obvious best practices and hunches about emerging trends, we identified seven keys to improving education and employability:

  1. Innovation Mindset: Cultivating effort, initiative and collaboration in kids and adults citywide
  2. Sustained Leadership: Building political capital to create great learning options
  3. Talent Development: Developing great teachers, leaders, and edupreneurs
  4. Collective Impact: Partnerships and community engagement
  5. Aligned Investments: public and private investment
  6. New Tools & Schools: New tools and new learning models
  7. Advocacy & Policy: Pro-growth, pro-achievement, and pro-innovation policies.

It’s not a simple formula but it’s one that, with local adaptations, every city can embrace to lay the groundwork for dramatic improvement in access and outcomes. In the long run, it’s all about learning–it’s the best formula for promoting economic growth, reducing the crippling effects of poverty, and improving safety and security.
Most of the seven keys are conventional wisdom but an important emerging issue is the need to incubate new tools and new learning environments (#6). Not every city needs to be an EdTech hotspot but all regions need a network of capabilities that translate opportunity into action. That starts with civic and education leaders that share an innovation mindset (#1) and translate that into an innovation agenda.
We ranked cities on a dozen dimensions including the level of innovation in school districts and charter schools; foundations and nonprofit innovators; the presence of EdTech companies, startups and investors; university leadership in learning innovations; and the state policy context. The top 10 Smart Cities are:

  1. New York: EdTech and venture hotspot but the school district’s interest in innovation appears to be on the wane. A dozen intermediary organizations and a few universities play a constructive role.
  2. Silicon Valley: The most innovative place on the planet with some charter schools that have adopted lean iterative development and some districts beginning to innovate. Stanford plays a critical role in talent development and idea generation.
  3. Washington DC: Great charters and district schools on the move with innovation advocates like NGLC, CityBridge and NewSchools and a growing EdTech presence.
  4. Boston: Leading universities with a strong EdTech presence.
  5. San Francisco: An EdTech and venture hotspot.
  6. Chicago: #2 for startups and headquarters to lots of EdTech and some great charter schools.
  7. New Orleans: Great charters and turnaround story with a great EdTech incubator, 4.0 Schools.
  8. Denver: Most aggressive portfolio with elected board supported by great advocates.
  9. Oakland: Where social justice meets a vibrant EdTech community.
  10. Houston: The best urban district and school networks with foundation and nonprofit partners.

The regions that skill up fast by improving K-12 and creating early and ongoing access to career education will flourish. Schools and colleges can’t do this alone, it requires civic leadership, business partnerships, and continued public, private and philanthropic investment. Learning is the best investment a family, a community, or a state can make.
For more on Smart Cities, see:

Coding in the Classroom: Here to Stay

Eric Nentrup
The value of computer programming has been rising exponentially for decades. To the point where now coding has gained traction in mainstream media. TV shows like CBS’s The Big Bang Theory or HBO’s Silicon Valley are good indicators of computer science careers are taking center stage. The domino effect created by the demand for amazing technology is likewise leading to a demand for skilled workers to engineer and program. Whether training comes through a high school certificate program, or a degree in computer science, the need for project-ready coders is only increasing. The bottom-line: All schools at all levels are kicking coding into overdrive.
This growing cultural campaign for coding has influenced universities, technical schools, and even high schools and middle schools to make coding part of core curriculum. School leaders are recognizing the need to prioritize the teaching of software languages and programming skills. This is concurrent with an emphasis on STEM courses in general. The shift towards STEM curricula is influencing updates in education policy as well. In fact, earlier this fall, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that allows computer science classes to count as mathematics on school transcripts. The demand is simply that great.
Embracing coding may seem like a daunting task to a classroom teacher. In fact, spreading some of this zeal for code can be a cultural challenge within schools who’ve yet to embrace it. On the surface, it might appear that not every school has the staff know-how or collective confidence to wade into such an undertaking of launching a coding program for the general audience. But that’s changing thanks to organizations such as Code.org and their annual event Hour of Code.
Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have put their clout and money behind Code.org, leading a slew of other tech giants to contribute as well. They have deliberately taken an approach that’s more friendly for schools looking at choosing a non-traditional coding program for their students. Promoting the message that coding is a critical thinking skill, the Hour of Code is an effort building towards a movement. Code.org’s ambitious goal for the second year of the global event is 100 million participants, each completing at least an hour of tutorials.
At Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Indiana, where I am an eLearning coach, teachers are planning their second year of participating in the Hour of Code event. Physics, engineering and business computing departments, are starting to see events like the Hour of Code as a chance to involve even more of the student body in the computer sciences.
In fact, instructors are beginning to envision the Hour of Code as a district-wide initiative where young elementary students join in logging sixty minutes of work in age-appropriate tutorials provided by Code.org. Some teachers already use Code.org’s tutorials and other resources in instructional activities. Many students are familiar with the structure of Code’s lessons, and with guided support from experienced facilitators, they’ve applied lessons to programming tasks in the real world. Teachers also make use of the materials in planning coding lessons provided by Project Lead The Way and desire for students to be exposed to an even broader application of coding skills.
Their fervor for participating in the Hour of Code has caught the attention of the district and even a local IT business. District cabinet members have been briefed on the event and buy in for participation beyond the high school is developing. A fellow Instructional Technology Specialist has joined the effort by ensuring that Hour of Code resources are available to the district’s 400+ teachers. Likewise, communication with building leaders and efforts to publicize the event on social media through the hashtag #CGcodes, are being put into play to improve awareness. Support of these teachers’ vision for infusing their instruction with technology is exemplary of leadership in our district. Together, teachers and school leaders are using the Hour of Code to reach beyond current rosters to have an even wider impact within the district.
Beyond the broader district support, networking to find local businesses willing and able to support the event has led to a partnership with Kinney Group, an Indianapolis IT firm. The business is sending one of their engineers to work alongside students and field a question and answer luncheon with students interested in IT.
This support plus the tools at Code.org are making such a vision, realistic and achievable, even with just weeks before the event. Follow along at #CGcodes to keep up with their progress.
It’s not too late to participate in the Hour of Code. Here’s how:

  • Sign up at HourOfCode.Org and explore their resources
  • Start with your own classroom and make time for upwards of an hour of tutorials
  • Partner with a colleague and another classroom
  • Communicate to your school leaders: dept. chairs, principals, tech. dept., superintendent
  • Reach out to the local business community and media for publicity.

Not convinced this is worth participating in? Watch this:

Computer Science, and coding in particular has hit a tipping point and it’s impacting the culture of education. Whether you treat computer programming, web design, or mobile apps as a computer science stronghold or a variation in our application of mathematics, coding is here to .
For more on coding, check out:

Eric Nentrup is an eLearning coach in central Indiana and advocate for teachers and students.  Follow Eric on Twitter at @ericnentrup

How Smart Cities Develop Teachers & Leaders

Talent matters–that may be the most important lesson of the last two decades in US education. It is even more important to the blended future. Fortunately, the explosion of EdTech in the last four years has drawn a new generation of edupreneurs into the sector. With district and network leaders, edupreneurs are building professional learning platforms and partner organizations.
Talent development is one of the seven keys discussed in our new book, Smart Cities That Work for Everyone. For school districts and networks, talent development is a critical success factor. Given the emerging opportunity set, talent development should be regional, blended, and work-based.
Regional. Given a mobile workforce, talent is a regional issue–one where strong, focused partnerships can quickly make an enormous difference in the level of initial preparation of teachers and leaders. Following are six examples of regional talent development partnerships:

  • Hiring entity (districts & networks) partnerships between to define required competencies
  • Hiring entity compacts with traditional and alternative preparation programs based on delivering required competencies
  • Teacher recruitment partnerships (e.g., Teach For America, Teach Louisiana, California Teacher Recruitment Program)
  • Developing teacher leaders (e.g., Leading Educators, CityBridge Innovation Fellows in Washington DC, see feature)
  • Developing central office talent (e.g., Broad Residency, Education Pioneers,)
  • Providing teacher housing incentives (several states and regions offer housing assistance, tax credits, loan forgiveness, etc to attract and retain teachers)

Blended. Like student learning, the new opportunity with teacher and leader preparation is a triangle of talent development with:

  1. A competency map: what teachers need to know and be able to do with some speciality variations (e.g., elementary, blended, online, special needs)
  2. Multiple ways to learn: formal and informal, online and blended, individual and cohort learning opportunities
  3. Demonstration opportunities: pre-service and practicing teachers should have frequent opportunity to demonstrate knowledge and skill within a competency recognition system (micro-credentialing or badging).

Key to a blended approach is a personal learning plan for every educator. Platforms like Bloomboard (where I’m a director) connect learning plans to a marketplace of resources.
Work-based. Generic, theory-based preparation is becoming less relevant. With the proliferation of blended models (see Blended Learning Universe for examples) it’s more important than ever to make a large percentage of preparation linked to specific pedagogies and school models. Because the sector is in the early years of incorporating learning technology, preparation and ongoing development must remain dynamic with frequently updated competency maps that reflect new tools and school models.
An intentional and supported sequence of work experiences is more important to educator development than the accumulation of credits and degrees. As recently noted, districts and networks should identify teacher leaders and provide broadening experiences, on-the-job training, and more constructive feedback. Leading school or districtwide innovation or improvement projects can provide a relevant growth experience and a chance for the teacher to consider other full or part time roles. For example, a teacher leader could receive a stipend to lead:

  • A grade span reading improvement plan
  • A school committee to review and select a grade span blended learning model
  • A faculty conversation about extended reach strategies
  • A community conversation about social emotional learning
  • A district conversation about competency-based progressions
  • A chamber of commerce partnership to secure student internships
  • A grant writing team to secure digital conversion funding
  • An effort to expand affordable home access to broadband

Imagine if each time a teach leader is assigned a project management role, they receive a digital playlist of learning experiences to support their new role (both content knowledge and process skills) and an experienced mentor to provide real time support and guide reflective learning. A relevant sequence of supported projects would be far more valuable than a masters degree–and better preparation for being a principal than conducting student discipline as an assistant principal.
Leading a rich series of projects with aligned learning experiences could be incorporated into a competency-based sequence like the teacher development system at Summit Public Schools which covers seven dimensions of teaching–Assessment, Content, Curriculum, Instruction, Knowing Learners and Learning, Leadership, and Mentoring–spanning four levels: basic, proficient, highly proficient, and expert. Summit founder Diane Tavenner said, “Teachers are charged with gathering and presenting evidence of their performance as demonstrated in student work and achievement.” The system, “Empowers teachers to present any and all evidence they believe is valid and appropriate to judge student performance, while simultaneously ensuring that objective student performance data is always included. Teachers embrace it and respect it because they have control over presenting a total package of performance.”
A regional approach to talent development can share the load and create an ecosystem that continues to improve. A blended approach to talent development creates the opportunity for personalized learning. A job-embedded approach to talent development ensures a highly relevant just-in-time support for real challenges and quality preparation for extended impact.
For more on Smart Cities, check out: