4 Steps to Reorganize Schools Around Learning Relationships

By Gunnar Counselman
Last week, Tom Vander Ark issued a radical challenge to schools: to ensure that every single student has (1) an important purpose, (2) a clear pathway to prepare for that purpose and (3) a network of people to support them. He claims these three P’s–purpose, path and people–are what students need to succeed in life after school, and a school’s job is to equip students to do just that.
I agree with him 100%–schools SHOULD apply this simple framework, and doing so would make their students more successful. Teachers apply the three P’s every day both in and out of the classroom, but so often they do it without real support from the schools themselves.
A quick glance at most schools’ organizational structure as they exist today makes clear that they are designed to transfer knowledge to motivated and well-supported students, not to motivate and provide support to students. To consistently do so demands that we redesign our institutions.
Any organizational redesign must be done slowly and with care–especially when we’re talking about schools. More than just about any other kind of organization, schools are about people and their relationships to one another, and relationships take time to form and are stubbornly resistant to rapid change.
This article is intended to provide a simple roadmap for building organizations that can consistently imbue students with the motivational assets that they need to succeed in school and in life after school: a motivating PURPOSE; a clear PATHWAY of goals, content and credentials; and a support network of PEOPLE uniquely well-qualified to help the student to pursue their purpose.
4 Step Template for Organizational Redesign Effort
1.  Inventory current practices relevant to the three P’s.
2.  Align the leadership.
3.  Design the student experience so that it ensures all students get the three P’s.
4.  Train everyone from faculty to advisors on their rolls as it pertains to the three P’s.

STEP 1.  Inventory Current Practices


Interview. A great way to start this process is by interviewing top leadership and “field personnel” (i.e. the people who work directly with students). Your goal is twofold: first to make sure that people feel heard, and second to ACTUALLY hear what’s working. As we pointed out above, people are 3P naturals. In almost every situation we’ve ever seen–even if the organization has no formal mentoring program, poor advising and no social-emotional learning effort–people are taking it upon themselves every day to fill in the gaps. Even when they’re not formalized in writing, people stand up communities.  Where there’s no paid tutoring, you’ll find teachers after class doing whatever they can.
Survey. Find out what people are doing to support students and look at the trends. Both qualitative and quantitative data matter. A survey can also help provide a baseline to refer back to as you move forward in implementing a learner relationship strategy.
Technology. Find out what technologies everyone is using, even the stuff that’s not being paid for. In other words, if Google and Facebook are not on your list, your list isn’t complete. Good people will find a way, even when their organizations make it hard.  The technology that they’re using will paint a picture of how they’re doing it.

STEP 2. Align the Leadership

Organizational Priorities Assessment. Schools, more than any other type of organization, are inherently intensely relational and human. People deeply care about their students, about their jobs and about their organizations. It’s unwise to propose changes without understanding what the organization thinks. Formally collecting data about what the various silos within the organization value and prioritize and then making that data transparent will go a long way towards two important goals: building trust and identifying where there is real disagreement vs just organizational friction. We’ve found that more often than not, organizations agree on the big things, but let organizational politics get in the way of action. An organizational priorities assessment can make that clear to everyone involved and provide focus.
Persona Development. An important part of design thinking is developing user personas; in this case, student personas. Figuring out the types of students you serve and how many of which type gives you a starting point for the design effort, and it allows you to evaluate various student experience designs in light of who your students are.
The most important question on the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) is “If you knew then what you know now, how likely would you be to repeat your decision to attend XYZ university.” This question gets to the heart of value proposition, but it’s buried on page four of NSSE. We suggest using a survey called the Net Outcomes Score (NOS) to better understand which Personas you perform best with and why. We’ll explore the NOS further in a future post, but at its core it’s like Bain and Company’s famous Net Promoter Score, but focuses not on what matters most in business referrals, but on what matters most in education success.

STEP 3. Design the Student Experiences

Leaders Workshop. Starting the student experience design with the most senior leaders is about more than optics and politics. We’ve found that VPs, Deans and Provost level leaders are usually the best people to start with because they have both the ground level insights from talking with and interacting with students, and they have the senior level perspective about the organization. Similarly, the people who interact with students all day, every day figure out how to make the organization work for students–even when it doesn’t. It’s the middle managers that are frequently too busy handling their bosses and their subordinates to develop real insights. Have the leaders lay down the major muscle groups of the student experience first, then go department to department adding details.
In-Silo Workshops. Senior leaders are the best place to start, but the reality of most organizations is that the senior people don’t know all of the details, and you need the details. So take the design workshop on the road, not to sell it, but to improve it – to admissions, advising, student affairs, career services, to academic departments and to alumni affairs. Take it to every part of the organization that doesn’t normally communicate well with one another and use the process to begin breaking down the silos.

STEP 4. Train Everyone

We’ll let this final point stand on its own, saying only that in our experience, you can’t over-invest in training, and when done right training is more like a football practice than it is like a lecture. Establish plays, run drills and build the confidence of the team. Keep in mind that everyone is part of the team–senior leadership, professors and advisors, even incoming students.
My company, Fidelis built software to support this transformation, but we have learned that software is just a small part of the need–essential but not sufficient. Don’t fall into the technology trap. Technology is essential, but it can’t lead. The educational philosophy itself must lead and then technology can be the vehicle to help scale the ideas.
More immediate than the need for software is the requirement for change management consulting and support. We’ve found that more often than not, organizations need to build both the will and skill necessary to establish student a student life-cycle able to imbue students with a motivating PURPOSE, a clear PATHWAY of content, credentials and goals, and a strong support network of PEOPLE to help .
One of the hardest parts of the above 4 steps is figuring out the student personas. Coming next in this series, a deeper look at student-centered design and how using student personas might help you develop a learning relationship management strategy and organization design.
This post is a part of a blog series in the upcoming “Getting Smart on Out of Class Student Support Services” Smart Bundle produced in partnership with Fidelis Education (@FidelisEd). For more information, contact [email protected]. Join the conversation on Twitter using #OutOfClassSupport. For more see:

Gunnar Counselman is founder and CEO of Fidelis Education. Follow him on Twitter:.

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Superintendents Aim to Redefine Readiness

One of the unintended consequences of the standards movement was to narrow student progress to a test score, and there’s growing evidence that a single test score is a poor measure of readiness for college, careers and life.
The subject of readiness has never been more important; the new economy requires all postsecondary learning for family wage employment. Dr. David Schuler wants students and their families to know that postsecondary education is a viable option. As superintendent of Township High School District 214 northwest of Chicago, Schuler’s team conducted research into readiness.

When Schuler was elected president of the superintendent’s association (AASA) he proposed #RedefiningReady, a campaign to redefine what it means to ready for college, work and life. With the reauthorization of federal education policy, Executive Director Dan Domenech thought it was an opportune time to redefine readiness. The Board of District 214 was the first local Board of Education to pass a resolution in support of the national initiative. Hundreds of districts have followed their lead.
Redefining Ready! is a national campaign launched by the superintendents association to introduce new research-based metrics to more fully communicate readiness for college, careers and life. Following is a recap of what the superintendents and others have learned about readiness.

College Ready

Students are college ready if they complete required coursework with at least a 2.8 GPA and pass a college readiness placement exam. Completing college level coursework (AP, IB or dual enrollment) is another great indicator of readiness. ACT scores of at least 18 in English and 22 in Math. Other factors that contribute to college success including enrollment in career pathway courses, senior year math class and completion of a math class after Algebra II.
Colleges increasingly appreciate broader indicators of readiness including a portfolio of artifacts, evidence of service and leadership.
Advisor Alex Ellison said the most important college readiness factor is the individual pursuit of a passion. “Students who create, build, invent and lead SOMETHING in high school are those who not only stand out in the college application process, but they are also those who are more sure of themselves and more confident about their abilities. These are the students who will thrive in college, regardless of where they are.”
Without the persistence that Ellison describes as a key element of readiness, students run the risk of the new worst case scenario: racking up debt and not finishing a degree.

Career Ready

Students are career ready if they have identified and explored a career interest. Other ways to demonstrate career readiness include an industry credential and dual credit career pathways.
District 214 Career Pathways Booklet aligns school, work and extracurricular opportunities to 16 nationally recognized career clusters. The guide is used by D214 students as a roadmap to preparing for postsecondary goals.
Mickey Revenaugh, co-founder of Connections Education, said we should be “Remixing ‘college readiness’ and ‘career readiness’ to give every one of our students real options for success after high school.”

Life Ready

Being life ready means “students leave high school with the grit and perseverance to tackle and achieve their goals.” Life ready youth possess a growth mindset and the “ability to apply creative know how in new situations” which is “at least as important as historical and technical knowledge.”
Good habits, as noted in December, are at least as important as basic skills when it comes to success in college and work. The ability to apply creative know-how in new situations is at least as important as historical and technical knowledge.
In his new book, Personalizing 21st Century Learning, Dan Domenech describes how personalized and project-based learning develops college readiness and life readiness (watch him discuss it here).
“It’s time,” said Mickey Revenaugh, “to expand ‘our vision of school,’ to imagine personalized learning pathways that rebundle the best of the community and the classroom.”
Listen to Dan Domenech discuss #RedefiningReady in this podcast.

Lend Your Support

  • Use #RedefiningReady on social media to add your voice to the conversation. Download and modify a sample Board of Education Resolution:

Sample K-8 Resolution

Sample 9-12 Resolution

Sample K-12 Resolution

For more see

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3 Learning & Development Tips for Creating Powerful Teacher PD

By Blake Beus
The Learning and Development (L&D) industry is built on time-tested principles of education–at least insofar as the products and services that L&D professionals and corporate trainers deliver to clients are based on empirically-validated models developed by educators and learning experts.
Indeed, one of the most critical responsibilities tasked to L&D professionals is to gather findings from educators, administrators and researchers, and then translate those findings into effective training solutions within the context of adult learning and corporate development.
Although educational research is the wellspring that nourishes the design and development of effective training solutions, what gets lost is a discussion about the ways that the L&D world can return the favor to the education sector. What, in other words, can the industry of L&D offer to educators and, in particular, the training and development of teachers at all levels of the K-12 system? Three employee onboarding best practices come to mind: blended learning, personalization and portals.

Blended Learning

The concept of blended learning has circulated for decades, although recent studies have routinely concluded that a blended approach to learning significantly enhances knowledge retention and student engagement. Defined as the use of multiple content formats combined with in-person instruction, blended learning features a combination of web-based and instructor-led training approaches within the same learning experience.
In our current cultural moment, a blended approach that leverages the educational potential of web-based technologies with the proven results of instructor-led classroom is particularly promising, because teachers are increasingly accustomed to gathering information and analyzing the world through a range of web-based and mobile devices.
Look: if your training design and delivery are not adapting to educators’ learning preferences and expectations, then it is probably missing the mark. Moreover, the growing popularity of online learning through university programs, nonprofit organizations such as EdX and private businesses such as Coursera evidences that a blended approach to education training yields promising results.
Finally, a blended approach to training educators may expand the learning life cycle as teachers can access the training content outside of traditional work hours and during times that are suitable for their schedules.


One of the most effective approaches for increasing learner motivation and engagement is to design the curriculum so that it provides a personalized learning experience for each learner. When an educator feels as though a training session is designed with their interests in mind, and when a learner has more control over when and how they learn, then the educator is more likely to see the training session as an opportunity for growth rather than a senseless chore.
Due to the face-to-face environment of instructor-led training courses, trainers can easily incorporate personalization into the curriculum. Fortunately, personalizing courseware is also a useful technique within a blended learning approach. Courseware personalization can include allowing users to set up a profile or avatar (“Welcome back, Kris!”). It can also include enabling users to have a degree of control over what content they want to engage and when. For example, encouraging educators to customize their learning paths – within particular constraints, of course – is a powerful way to personalize the learning experience and activate learner engagement.


In addition to courseware personalization, portals and learning management systems (e.g., Canvas) are increasingly popular within K-12 education systems, and they portend considerable potential in customizing and personalizing the training sessions for educators. More than just a tool for organizing and delivering content, portals can make learning more resonant, targeted and enduring. Taking into consideration that portals vary in their technical support capacities, they nonetheless offer a rich set of sources to enrich education training by:

  • Allowing learners to set up user profiles
  • Recommending training content to learners based on profile information
  • Sending email and text reminders to learners
  • Supporting online social learning such as a message board or gamified leaderboard
  • Report user data back to the administration so that they can oversee the effectiveness of the training

Ultimately, these L&D tools and resources can help revolutionize education training beyond a stagnant one day lecture into an interactive, personalized and media-rich learning experience that significantly increases retention and learner engagement.
For more, see:

Blake Beus is the Director of Learning Solutions at Allen Communication Learning Services. Follow him on Twitter: .

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EdTech 10: #ISTE16 #NCSC16 & More

It’s peak summer announcement season. Both ISTE and NCSC are in full swing. ISTE unveiled its new Standards for Students this week–created by more than 2,700 people (including approximately 300 students) from 52 countries–as a blueprint for innovative educators worldwide to guide education transformation and meaningful, future-ready learning.
NewSchools Venture Fund released a final report for the $40 million DC Schools Fund yielding 14,000 high quality student options and announced a harbormaster spinout, Education Forward DC led by uber-talented Maura Mario.
Read on to see what other announcements topped this week’s list.

Blended Schools & Tools

1. Discovering Techbook Updates

2. Amazon Gets Inspired to #GoOpen (check out our blog on this here)

3. Digital Museum Resources

4. ClassLink Links to Mackin Educational Resources

5. Microsoft + edX = Online EdLeader PD

6. New Google Tools for Teachers

Dollars & Deals

7. Learn Coding Through Minecraft

The Big “D”

8. Pearson Realize Powers Mix & Match Curriculum

Movers, Shakers & Groundbreakers

9. Top U.S. Charter School Award

10. iNACOL Accepting Innovator Award Nominations

For more, see:

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Supporting Mix & Match Digital Learning

It’s a step in the right direction.
Pearson announced last week that Realize, its main K-12 content delivery system, is fully compliant with IMS Global’s Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standards.
Why is that a big deal? Let’s start with some background:

IMS Global Learning Consortium is a nonprofit membership organization that strives to enable the adoption and impact of innovative learning technology through open architecture standards that improve learner experience and reduce provider cost.
Learning Tools Interoperability is a spec developed by IMS to establish a standard way of integrating rich learning applications (Tools) with learning management systems or learning environments (Platforms or Tool Consumers).
Pearson Realize is a content management system that, because it’s LTI compliant, makes almost all of the company’s K-12 content and data easy to use, access and analyze, regardless of what other systems a school is using.

We called Marc Nelson, Pearson’s VP of Product Management, in Phoenix (where it was 115 degrees) to get the details.
“Fidelity of implementation is everything in digital,” said Nelson. He explained that how print content was deployed made a big difference, but now that everything is mix and match digital interoperability is critical.
“To fulfill the promise of digital, we’ve got to be able to work hand-in-hand with districts,” said Nelson. “We can now support customers differently based on how they use the content.
“When a district like Houston chooses a LMS like its learning they do so so that over a four- or five-year rollout, they can gain consistency. They don’t want publisher platforms getting in the way.”
Houston ISD was the first big district to adopt the IMS thin common cartridge so that content would be compatible with and accessible through itslearning (what they call PowerUp HUB) which houses teacher and student learning content, as well as third-party applications, such as ABC Clio, Gradespeed and Kurzweil.Unknown.jpeg
Pearson supports IMS by contributing resources to the IMS Question and Test Interoperability specification (QTI) working group, supporting development of IMS Caliper standard for data exchange, and offering new curriculum up on any LTI certified platform. Pearson has two million tech enabled items all scorable by the QTI standard and exportable in several formats.
“We’re committed to LTI to it because it makes sense for teaching and learning, we have to be aware of the barriers to implementation teachers face.”
Realize also uses IMS OneRoster, a common approach to rostering students. OneRoster, supported by Pearson EasyBridge, allows this work to be completed quickly with drag-and-drop simplicity.
Publishers have noted the growing number of IMS districts to gain single sign on and interoperability.
While Pearson may be the furthest along of large publishers in data sharing, McGraw recently introduced Access Manager, a rostering tool designed to simplify the process of moving student rosters into McGraw-Hill Education digital tools.

Serious About Interoperability

Using the IMS thin Common Cartridge, LTI and OneRoster standards takes most of the cost and time out of integration while at the same time enabling school district control of rostering of the digital assets,” said IMS CEO Rob Abel.
Beaus schools get the ability to search for content at a granular “learning object” level from within the learning management system (LMS), Abel sees these standards bolstering the K-12 LMS market (see a review of platforms).
“For a decade states and districts have had to deal with the ‘claim of standards and interoperability’ but with the IMS focus on neutral third-party certification suppliers are actually doing things in a way that enables interoperability among a large number of products,” said Abel. IMS certifies products (416 currently) and IMS stands behind those certifications.
It’s clear that all the major publishers agree that custom integrations are a waste of everybody’s time and have lined up with IMS, “truly like night and day compared to three to five years ago,” said Abel.
IMS Global is approaching the size of W3C now in terms of number of members and revenues–a noteworthy development, according to Abel “because it means that the EdTech sector now ‘owns’ a standards initiative of the size of the world-wide web or healthcare.” It suggests that EdTech is getting serious about interoperability. And, as Rob Abel notes, “We are just getting going in EdTech.”

Road Ahead

On the road ahead, Nelson acknowledge that most schools will want to use content from many sources and combine multiple forms of data to make mastery judgements–and that is still challenging.
Nelson suggested that the step after that would be adding some intelligent recommendations for the next assignment based on a broad range of assessment data.
LTI integration is a step in the right direction for Pearson. Nelson said the destination is clear: “We want to be first in digital learning.”
For more, see

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Smart Review | Tech Out Your Class: 6 Projects to Meet Common Core & ISTE Standards

As parents and teachers, we know that we need to help children become competent and comfortable with technology. But knowing and doing are two different things.
Amy Prosser’s book Tech Out Your Class: 6 Projects to Meet Common Core & ISTE Standards is a practical guide that can help both teachers and parents incorporate more technology into the work they do with children.
Prosser stresses the importance of using technology in all classes, not just dedicated technology programs. In order to really understand what various programs and tools can do, students need to see them at work in their science labs and their humanities assignments. She also points out that the Common Core standards on technology are incomplete and should be supplemented with the standards developed by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).
Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 4.21.10 PMThese standards focus on digital creativity, problem solving, digital citizenship and technology operations, giving students a foundation that will serve them throughout their education and their careers.
Each chapter focuses on a project:

  • Research papers
  • Presentations
  • Digital storytelling
  • Spreadsheets
  • Screencasting
  • Blogging

Projects are broken down into steps, with detailed guidance along the way about everything from digital concepts to grading rubrics. At the beginning of each chapter, you will find a useful, up-to-date list of tech tools, tagged with icons that tell you at a glance whether a tool is paid or free, if it is an app, and if it can be used collaboratively.
A section at the end of each chapter zooms back out to capture the big picture ideas Prosser wants readers to come away with, and will help guide parents and teachers in teaching technology as a set of skills and concepts and not just a series of tools to master.
Prosser’s tone is warm and encouraging throughout the guide, and she provides step-by-step advice that will be helpful for those who do not feel tech savvy. For beginners, Prosser recommends these tutorials , and she has her own set of helpful online resources and YouTube tutorials.
For more, see:

Get the Culture Right: The Most Important New School Factor

“Attend to your culture,” said Jim May who supports about 25 new schools each year for New Tech Network. “From certificates of occupancy to emergency plans to hiring, the list of operational realities that must be addressed when starting a new school is immense. Thus, it can be easy to overlook the importance of your staff and student culture during those early days. However, it is imperative that even amidst the swirl of starting the school that you are intentional about establishing a strong set of cultural norms and rituals that can animate your work in the coming year.”
What’s most important when opening a new school? I asked 20 experts who have collectively opened more than a thousand schools. They shared 70 hard-won lessons and it’s clear that getting the culture right is the single most important factor in the long-term success of a school.
Opening a great school is an enormously complicated project. It involves real estate, construction, financing, logistics and marketing, which most educators don’t initially know anything about.
“Most of us who want to start schools because we like instruction, but the one thing no one tells us is that when you start a school, 90% of what who do early on has nothing to do with instruction,” said Dr. Nicole Assisi, Thrive Public Schools, who has opened five southern California schools.
Andy Calkins, whose Next Generation Learning Challenges has sponsored 100 new schools said, “You will be tempted to immerse yourself in the vast sea of logistical details starting a school entails, to the point of losing sight of the big picture: focusing on orienting your students/families and immediately establishing the culture-building that is so crucial to school and student success. Don’t lose sight of that. Everything else at the start is a detail.”
“Pay attention to culture,” said Pat DeKlotz, Kettle Moraine School District, who has sponsored four charter schools that operate inside district schools (like KM Global, right). “Listen to students and take the time to nurture the human element. People want identify and purpose. Build that into the culture of your school and you will go far. The processes are important only as long as they bring people along.
If the students are engaged in the learning, they will communicate their success to the parents. A shared vision isn’t shared if it is told. It only becomes shared when people participate in making meaning of it, together, co-creating the work. The “why” of what you are doing needs to permeate each individual involved, students, staff, partners.”

Making the Best of a Bad Situation

More than slogans on the wall or values in a brochure, culture comes down to what you do and say. “Build the culture you want because if you don’t a culture will form and you might not like it,” said Diane Tavenner. “The thing about culture–values, beliefs, behavioral norms, traditions and rituals– is you ALWAYS have to make decisions and behave in alignment, even in the 90 day countdown.”
“There is no version of launching a new school where something does not go wrong,” said Jim May. When something goes wrong, think of it as a culture-building opportunity, a chance to “strengthen relationships and foster resilience.” (Bulldog Tech in San Jose, right, is part of the New Tech Network.)
If you want a culture that values innovation you need to identify the process that your school will use to manage it. “The most innovative schools succeed because they consistently improve their 1.0 school models,” said Alex Hernandez. “It’s easy for innovation to stop once the kids show up because the team gets overwhelmed with the demands of running a school, particularly when something goes wrong. And, it always will when you’re opening a new school.”

Culture On-Ramp

“Spend quality time on-boarding ALL, not just new teachers–emphasizing a ‘high expectations and whatever it takes’ culture,” said Terry Grier, former Houston ISD superintendent.
“Invest heavily in the orientation experience,” said Jim May. He noted that it is common for new school staffs to benefit from only a couple of hours of orientation before the first day of school. “This represents a monumental opportunity missed. There are very few moments over the course of a school year where you can frame your mission, catalyze the collective energy of your team and set a direction for the school as a whole.”
“If your school is pursuing personalized, next generation learning, teachers need to experience it fully themselves, as learners, before they can enable their students to embrace it,” said Andy Calkins. “Don’t think in terms of hours of PD, think how can we develop, with teachers, a strong culture of on-going professional learning?”
“Think about how to help students acculture themselves to your learning environment,” said Alex Hernandez, Charter School Growth Fund, has supported more than 500 new schools. “Will there be a bootcamp or other introductory experience? How do you want to set the tone around student voice, student agency, joy, etc. To borrow the popular phrase: culture eats strategy for lunch.

Culture as Precondition for Great Teaching

“Great teaching and learning is built on a foundation of great culture, so start with culture as a critical path for your teachers, parents and students,” said Mike Feinberg, co-founder of KIPP, a national network of 183 high performing schools.

“Teaching and living the values should be intentional, explicit and full of joy,” said Aaron Brenner of 1 World Network of Schools, a nonprofit sharing lessons from KIPP with communities worldwide (including a school in Israel; see student picture, right). Brenner added:

  • Mission Orientation: Ensure everyone on the team is orienting their work around the successful execution of the mission beginning with preparation and organization of the classrooms, planning of an outline for the year, planning of detailed lesson plans for the first month of school, visiting the homes of the children who will attend your school (if that is a component of school start-up which I highly recommend). Every action in those last 90 days should be a reflection of the belief in and commitment to that mission.
  • We Watch What We Do To See What We Believe: Beliefs (why) with values as actions (what) with operating norms (how) with artifacts (daily reminders) with the development of character (where). In recruitment of teachers, in personal development of teachers, in training of teachers, there should be an emphasis in the alignment of the school culture. Everything should align and everything should help lead to the achievement of shared beliefs.
  • Teaching and Living the Values Should be Intentional, Explicit and Full of Joy: Building on the cultural alignment above, leadership and teachers should plan lessons that teach the values in an explicit, intentional and joyful way. Lesson Planning of Values Lessons should have criteria of success: Rich literature; Integration of Local Community; Integration of Heroes; Opportunity to be Creative through writing, singing, dancing, performing, drawing, painting and/or beyond; a song that connects to the value; specific behaviors/operating norms that the students practice as a reflection of strengthening their living of the values.
  • Artifacts Should Celebrate the Mission, Vision and Values of the School: Whether it is classroom doors decorated with a college pennant that are also painted to match the color of the university, the value books blown up to banner size, quotes that align with the values on every door and when you enter the building, symbols of the values throughout the school, and uniforms that celebrate and support the mission and values. This intentionality makes the classrooms, other learning spaces, entrances, play areas and every part of the school come alive.

If you’ve opening a school this fall, Brenner suggests getting away from everything in the middle of the 90 day countdown. “It will give you the space to breathe again, to reflect on what is needed to do in the final 40 days before launch, and the renewed strength to do it.”
Good luck and remember: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
For more, see:

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3 Questions to Innovate with Impact

By Nathan Martin
Meaningful innovation in education comes from “responsible and intentional experimentation.”
Whether policy or practice, to make a difference you first need to know what outcome you want to deliver for learners. That provides direction. Once you know where you’re going, you can focus and measure all of your imagination and actions against achieving that goal.
A seemingly simple recipe, captured eloquently by Jim Shelton (heading up education efforts for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative), but one which requires tough questions, a few helping hands and a willingness to learn.
So on a Saturday morning last month I found myself asking someone called Jaidon a few of those tough questions, focusing on the poetic complexity of Kendrick Lamar, the lyrical structures of Chance the Rapper and whether rap could be used to deliver greater achievement in English through a new robust and rigorous curriculum.
Jaidon is the founder of the fledgling Rap Association, a social enterprise using rap to encourage creativity, positive expression and (potentially) academic achievement. He was one of the more than 200 education entrepreneurs gathered at Teach First’s London Bridge for the workshops, 1:1 sessions and meetings which comprise the Innovation Booster.
The Teach First Innovation Unit offers helping hands to entrepreneurs like Jaidon “to find and nurture great ideas for solutions to the problem of educational inequality.” Help might look like events (like the Innovation Booster), on-going network facilitation or the annual Innovation Awards (for the U.S., Social Innovation Award).
Meaningful solutions are cultivated by ensuring that the passion of the innovator is channeled through rigorous design principles, business practice and careful research. They provide the tools and guidance to foster “responsible and intentional experimentation.”
If the goal is to close educational inequality, each idea or tool presented should clearly show how it helps deliver an impact on learners and achieve that goal. For Rap Association, closing educational inequality meant focusing as an organization on the activities that could deliver impact on achievement.
The tough questions allowed us to focus on the outcome that Jaidon wanted to achieve, and think about what he would need to do to get there. In education, growing in size means little if you aren’t growing in impact.
This might mean prioritizing curriculum development over expanding the number of motivational workshops or community performances conducted by Rap Association. It might mean embedding research earlier in the growth of the company. Hiring fewer staff members. Waiting to make bold claims of impact.
A good example of growing with purpose is hip-hop supplementary curriculum provider Flocabulary. Bootstrapping for 12 years, the group developed a lightweight product, tailored to the needs of its customers, which customers believe delivers learner outcomes.
They grew slow, focused on developing a product that students and teachers believe delivered impact. Proof of that impact drove sales. Profit was reinvested in the product (engineers) and growing its impact. Impact prepared Flocabulary to scale and they’ve now taken $1.5m of new investment to expand its product and reach.
At Pearson, we’ve been asking tough questions as part of our efficacy work. To make a real difference to learners, we want to ensure we define the destination–our intended impact .We can then measure and see how our experimentation is helping us reach our intended goal.
I’m curious to learn–whether at the Innovation Booster or in the wider-education space–how other companies and organizations intentionally experiment. What tough questions are they asking? How do they measure their experimentation? Are there “helping hands” (like the Innovation Unit) to help develop and tend their innovation?
So here are three sets of questions that I’ve recently been reminded to ask:

1. What experience do you want the learner to have? What can technology do to help achieve that goal?

London-based Uplearn wants to disrupt private tutoring. Through the use of neuroscience-rooted adapted learning–driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI)–this beta-stage startup promises to provide virtual world-class tutoring and deliver A* for students taking their GCSE’s.
A flashy claim bolstered by a slick website, but when I met with the co-founders–Guy and Andrew–what I found compelling was their focus on learner outcomes, not the technology, marketing or “disruption.” They are  focused on the steps necessary to create the perfect learning experience, which would culminate in the student achieving their desired outcome.
Technology was only a tool to enable access to quality content and instruction which would lead to meaningful progression.
By defining this outcome at the start–rather than solely focusing on a business goal like growth  or market share–UpLearn can track and measure all actions, development and innovation against learner improvement. For UpLearn, AI is one part of answering the question of “what would it take for each student to have access to not one, but 50 world-class tutors?”
It’s a similar approach to that which emerged from our recent paper, Intelligence Unleashed, framing AI as providing the promise of empowering teachers with a fleet of learning and improving assistants (rather than threatening to replace them).

2. Is it practical? Is this tool likely to empower or slow teachers down?

Traveling through Iowa City, Iowa, I happened to walk into the offices of Pear Deck–a group focused on making in-class slide presentations more engaging for students and actionable for teachers. The concept might seem simple, but Pear Deck has created an intuitive and compelling tool  that sits within Google Apps  to facilitate inquiry-based learning.
Talking to the COO and chief educator, Michal Eynon-Lynch, showed Pear Deck’s focus on access and the learning experience allowed the company to prioritize delivering a delightful product for educators, amplifying student voices, without trying to add too many features or components. Data on the classroom experience is collected and reported to educators in a light-touch manner, offering tangible measures for tracking the goal of “engagement.”

3. Where are the “fingerprints” of the teacher? How do teachers know you listen?

To intentionally and responsibly experiment, you need feedback–both on where you want to go, and how you’re attempting to get there. This means listening to the people who are critical to delivering outcomes–namely educators. A colleague once told me educators should see their fingerprints and footprints on our products–their feedback should impact product development.
At Pearson, this comes through working with educators to develop, implement and evaluate our products through our customer journey and our “educator studies.” In the United States, education innovation zones (or clusters) provide a local environment for that type of feedback. The clusters connect educators to edtech developers, researchers and the local community.
While supporting the World Economic Forum and its Education Global Agenda Council, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Joel Klein who, while Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, established the original i-Zone. The zone was a global lighthouse on scaling innovation, improving procurement and edtech design.
Today, the i-Zone focuses on feedback–both in edtech innovation and efficacy. It helps edtech companies develop products in response to the needs of teachers while providing capacity and support for teachers in effectively implementing those solutions.
This feedback, whether in these zones or in general, is only valuable if it results in action. Talking to the team in New York City, the team stressed the importance of staying focused on the problem the tech was trying to solve — not the technology. And focusing on that problem meant listening and acting on any feedback. There were few things more damaging than teachers providing feedback and not seeing improvements in the products.
I am continually reminded of the truth that defining the outcomes doesn’t force a set answer or stifle creativity–rather it provides focus, guiding invention towards a wider and more impactful end. This ethos should be adopted universally across education.
To that end, innovation thrives when there are gardeners cultivating this type of responsible and intentional experimentation– whether it’s the unit at Teach First or a zone in New York City. Meaningful innovation and useful technology thrives within parameters.
This is true whether you’re starting a new edtech company, setting up a blended learning environment or if you’re the world’s largest learning company trying to help more learners learn more. Making a difference starts with knowing where you want to go.
For more, see:

Nathan Martin is a senior researcher at Pearson. Follow him on Twitter: @nathanmart.

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The World is a Classroom & the Possibilities are Endless

We often think about virtual field trips as an innovative way for traditional classrooms to explore places and experiences that they may not be able to get to physically. But virtual field trips can also be a game changer for virtual classrooms.
K12 Inc. is accustomed to innovating education through the use of technology. Since the turn of the 21st century, the company has provided online schooling and curriculum for kindergarten through twelfth grade.
More recently, K12 Inc. educators have begun to explore the possibilities of virtual field trips, a great opportunity for their student population. Virtual field trips allow students to learn about everything from science to the arts, all without leaving home. For K12 students, virtual trips allow online students to connect with both the curriculum they’re learning and with their fellow classmates, which provides excellent socialization opportunities.
In 2015, Wyoming Virtual Academy (WYVA) music teacher and high school advisor Jennifer Schultze brought her class to the University of Wyoming to learn about the instruments in the Gamelan orchestra. With the help of ClassConnect, Schultze helped students from 15 states and several different countries to learn virtually, in addition to the 15 students who attended the trip in person.
23f97d96-6843-4cc7-b2b2-51e8885c6ab5_VFTAnother school utilizing virtual field trips is Idaho Virtual Academy (IDVA). In the 2015-2016 school year, teachers explored the opportunities in making hybrid field trips with the option for students to attend in-person or virtually.
In science teacher Michelle Boggs’ Earth and Environmental Science class, IDVA students were able to visit the Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology in Boise in order to learn from geology expert Coyote Short. Short guided the students through the nearby foothills in order to view Lake Idaho. While many students attended in person, many others were able to attend virtually using Periscope. Boggs was able to stream the field trip live so students from all over the state could log in and learn about the rocks and gems housed in the museum. Periscope stores the videos for up to 24 hours and allows the user to create a YouTube link to save the video.
1b4592da-84eb-4d6d-9f00-7ec692015246_20151016_120336IDVA social studies teacher Carolyn Fabis is a strong believer that “the world is the classroom,” and students in her class also had the opportunity to virtually attend a field trip this past fall. Fabis planned a trip to the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in Boise, and was able to offer the option of virtual attendance through Periscope to students who could not make the trip. Students in her class live all over the state and it isn’t always feasible for them to travel great distances to attend an in-person field trip. With a tool like Periscope, even when attending virtually, students can feel present, ask questions and get live answers.
And while there are plenty of videos a teacher could use to enhance students’ learning, Fabis believes there is an added validity to the experience when students know their teacher and classmates are present, they can interact with the tour guide and when the video being created is original content and specifically created for their class. Another perk? By asking permission of the tour guide to take video and being able to record the trip, students are afforded the added value of being able to access the video and recall the information later.
Fabis knows there are great possibilities with virtual field trips. She has plans to explore other apps that can refine and streamline the process in the upcoming school year.
For more, see:

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How Do We Prepare Teachers to Teach Coding?

By Dr. Megan Nickels
The need for teaching computer science and coding in K-12 classrooms has become a national priority. Subsequently, many teachers are now faced with preparing themselves to teach a subject for which they may have little or no experience.
Naturally, this begs the question:

How do we prepare teachers to teach computer science? And, how do school leaders support teachers in taking the risks associated with incorporating this new discipline into their classrooms?

Generally speaking, I think we are most effective as teachers when we adopt a philosophy of teaching which views the teacher as an expert learner as opposed to the transmittal philosophy of teaching wherein “all-knowing” teachers deposit their knowledge into the minds of students.
Teachers who model and embody the ideals of an expert learner help students learn to strategize and persevere in constructing their own rich, contextualized knowings. While this philosophy of teaching is certainly applicable to each academic discipline (e.g., mathematics, science, language arts), it is especially significant in regards to K-12 computer science education, where there should be no expectation that all (or any) teachers begin as proficient coders.

Just Begin: Learn to Code by Coding

And for the bold and the zealous, learn right alongside your students. There are many wonderful sites and applications at no cost available to help you as you hone your skills such as Code.org and MIT’s Scratch. If you are one of the growing legions of teachers and schools using Wonder Workshop’s Dash and Dot robots, learning to code is quite simply embedded in play through the various puzzles and free play opportunities found in their suite of five apps.
The bulk of what teachers need to know in order to teach computer science (whether teaching computer science entails computational thinking, logic, programming or computer science in the truest sense of the word) is already in their arsenal. It amounts to best pedagogical practices in setting expectations, curriculum planning, pacing and assessment. Here too, teachers will find an abundance of high-quality materials, each readily available on the web.
In support of risk taking, school leaders and administrators should work hard to establish a culture of experiential learning where teachers and students alike feel safe in trying new things and ultimately, safe in making mistakes. We learn from our mistakes, and mistakes will be certain in any computer science endeavor. School leaders should also be tasked with helping teachers locate computer science resources beyond those made freely available and provide quality professional development related to computer science.

Next Steps for Teachers and School Leaders

To start locally, seek out computer science educators and researchers from your nearby universities and/or private sector companies. It is often the case these individuals are very willing to assist in creating computer science and computational thinking experiences for K-12 students. They may even bring the added benefit of external funding to the table.
School leaders, help enable your teachers to make the jump to computer science by taking advantage of the host of professional learning communities and organizations available nationally, such as:

Whatever your entry point into teaching computer science or supporting teachers to teach computer science, my advice is plain-spoken: Just begin.
For more, see:

Dr. Megan Nickels is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Central FloridaFollow her on Twitter: .

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