Infographic | Engagement in a Digital Learning Environment

In a world where we are inundated with information, messages and media, successfully capturing students’ attention and keeping them engaged can be challenging. Rich, digital content that is scaffolded and personalized for students can be a solution. This is especially true for students who do not always feel like school is working for them or that they are getting the individual support and feedback they need to be successful. All students can benefit from digital learning environments that have great supports, scaffolds, feedback and embedded active learning strategies.

Explore this infographic for more (and click to see the full pdf with links to additional content):

An infographic outlining how a digital learning environment can be used to improve student engagement

This infographic is part of the Apex Learning student engagement campaign. For more, visit the Student Engagement campaign page and join the conversation on social media using #studentengagement.

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Smart List: 50 Advocacy Organizations Making a Difference

Updated: November 2019

We are excited to recognize 50 great policy and advocacy organizations. These are some of the groups that are putting students first, illuminating the path to change and leading the most pressing conversations. Here are some of the missions and visions these organizations are dedicated to, in their own words. 

Equity Voices

  • The 74: a non-profit, non-partisan news site covering education in America. Their mission is to lead an honest, fact-based conversation about how to give America’s 74 million children under the age of 18 the education they deserve.
  • 826: amplifies the impact of the national network of youth writing and publishing centers, and the words of young authors.
  • Education Post: elevates the voices of the people who matter most in the movement to improve schools: parents, kids and teachers.
  • Education Reimagined: advocates for learner-centered education.

National Policy Advocates

  • Aspen Institute: fosters leadership and hosts interactive forums on critical issues. 
  • Aurora Institute: drives the transformation of education systems and accelerates the advancement of breakthrough policies and practices to ensure high-quality learning for all.
  • Christensen Institute: offers a unique framework for understanding many of society’s most pressing issues including education, healthcare, and economic prosperity. Their mission is ambitious but clear: work to shape and elevate the conversation surrounding these issues through rigorous research and public outreach.
  • Achieve: an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit education reform organization dedicated to working with states to raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability.
  • Alliance for Excellent Education: sponsors of Digital Learning Day and Future Ready, their mission is to promote high school transformation to make it possible for every child to graduate prepared for postsecondary learning and success in life.
  • American Enterprise Institute: explores ways of strengthening America’s educational system as a vehicle for upward mobility, examining issues affecting early childhood, K–12, and higher education.
  • American Youth Policy Forum: educates and informs policymakers and policy influencers on best practices, policies, strategies, innovations, and research on positive youth development approaches and effective education, youth, and workforce policies.
  • Center for American Progress: develops new policy ideas, challenges the media to cover the issues that truly matter, and shapes the national debate. With policy teams in major issue areas, CAP can think creatively at the cross-section of traditional boundaries to develop ideas for policymakers that lead to real change.
  • The Center for Education Reform: expands educational opportunities that lead to improved economic outcomes for all Americans, particularly our youth, ensuring that the conditions are ripe for innovation, freedom and flexibility throughout U.S. education.
  • The Education Trust: works to close opportunity gaps that disproportionately affect students of color and students from low-income families.
  • Foundation for Excellence in Education: supports state leaders in transforming education to unlock opportunity and lifelong success for each and every child.

State Policy Networks

  • 50CAN: a growing network of local-level advocates for a high-quality education for all kids, regardless of their address.
  • America Achieves: develops capacity for quality education and clear pathways for economic advancement, civic engagement, and success for all in a rapidly changing economy.
  • Democrats for Education Reform: supports elected Democrats and candidates for office who seek to expand policies and practices that work well for America’s students, and to confront those that do not.
  • KnowledgeWorks: works collaboratively to create policy briefs, engage with legislators and help decision makers develop policy solutions that are more equitable and flexible, paving the way for personalized learning in the classroom.
  • Policy Innovators Network: connects state-level education advocacy organizations with colleagues across the country to amplify their voices and maximize their impact.
  • Stand for Children: their three-pillared approach: Parents, Politics and Policy, has led to policy, legislation, election, and budget wins across nine states.

Personalized Learning and EdTech Advocates

  • Battelle for Kids: collaborates with school systems and communities to realize the power and promise of 21st century learning for every student.
  • Consortium Of School Networking (CoSN): focuses on robust funding for edtech, strengthening E-rate, protecting the privacy and security of student data and promoting digital equity. 
  • Digital Promise: works at the intersection of education leaders, researchers, and technology developers to improve learning opportunities for all and close the Digital Learning Gap.
  • Ed-Fi Alliance: offers state education agencies an easy-to-implement data standard that every school district uses to record and compile student information.
  • Girls Who Code: is on a mission to close the gender gap in technology and to change the image of what a programmer looks like and does.
  • ISTE: inspires the creation of solutions and connections that improve opportunities for all learners by delivering: practical guidance, evidence-based professional learning, virtual networks, thought-provoking events and the ISTE Standards.
  • Mastery Transcript Consortium: made up of a growing network of public and private high schools who are codesigning the Mastery Transcript, a high school transcript that supports mastery learning and reflects the unique skills, strengths, and interests of each learner.
  • The Learning Accelerator: connecting teachers and leaders with the knowledge, tools, and networks they need to enact personalized and mastery-based practices to transform K-12 education.
  • Software & Information Industry Association: provides global services in government relations, business development, corporate education and intellectual property protection to the leading companies that are setting the pace for the digital age.
  • State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA): builds the capacity of leaders to improve education through technology.

Pathways Advocates

  • National College Transition Network: provides technical assistance and professional development services to community college, adult education, and workforce systems.
  • National Council of Young Leaders: low-income young people learn construction skills through building affordable housing for homeless and low-income people in their neighborhoods and other community assets such as schools, playgrounds, and community centers.

Policy Advisors & Resources

  • Bellwether Education Partners: helps education organizations accelerate their impact and by working to improve policy and practice.
  • Center on Reinventing Public Education: informs systemic improvement in American public education so that every student is prepared to solve tomorrow’s challenges.
  • Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO): a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education.
  • Education Council: develops and advances evidence-based ideas at the local, state, and national levels to strengthen educational systems and promote expanded opportunities and improved outcomes for all students in order to close achievement gaps and significantly improve education outcomes for all children from early childhood through postsecondary education.
  • Education First: partners with practitioners, policymakers, funders and advocates to design and accelerate policies and plans that help all young people— particularly students in poverty and students of color—succeed in college, careers and life.
  • Evergreen Education Group: supports, creates, and disseminates collaborative research and understanding of the K-12 online, blended, and digital learning field. They also organize the Digital Learning Annual Conference.
  • JFF: drives change in the American workforce and education systems to promote economic advancement for all.
  • LEV Foundation: provides strategic, accurate, and timely information about research-driven education policies and practices to citizens, educators, policymakers, and the media.
  • National Council on Teacher Quality: proposes new changes to restore the teaching profession to strong health so we can provide every child with the education needed to ensure a bright and successful future and to offer all teachers—from aspiring to veteran—the conditions needed to thrive and succeed.
  • New America: renews America by continuing the quest to realize our nation’s highest ideals, honestly confronting the challenges caused by rapid technological and social change, and seizing the opportunities those changes create.
  • Public Impact: devises and advances visionary but practical ideas to improve K–12 education. Also created Opportunity Culture.
  • Student Achievement Partners: advises educators around the nation as they align content and instruction to academic standards in literacy and mathematics.
  • Thomas B. Fordham Institute: promotes educational excellence for every child in America by focusing on three policy areas: High Expectations, Quality Choices, and Personalized Pathways.

Regional Personalized Learning Support 

  • Highlander Institute: researches, develops, and disseminates innovative methods to improve outcomes for all learners in Rhode Island.
  • Great Schools Partnership: provides school and district coaching, professional development, and technical assistance to educators, schools, districts, organizations, and government agencies in New England states and beyond.
  • Donnel Kay aims to improve public education in Colorado through research, policy, creative dialogue, and critical thinking.
  • SREB:  works side-by-side with policymakers such as state legislators and education agency officials as they implement policies to help students achieve more.

These are just a few examples of outstanding advocacy organizations that are doing urgent and essential work. Who did we miss? Who would you add? We’d love for you to add more local and regional examples below in the comments section below, and don’t forget to check out more of our past lists on our Smart List Series Page.

This Smart List is sponsored by Getting Smart Services, Getting Smart’s consulting division that helps schools, districts, networks and impact-oriented partners create, implement and amplify thought leadership campaigns, education initiatives, powerful learning experiences and forward-leaning strategies. Learn more about what they can do to support your education initiatives here.

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Preparing #LifeReady Students: Creating a Globally-Sourced, Locally-Relevant Curriculum

By Eric Davis, Aparna Rae and Stephanie Leite

“Sixty-five percent of children entering primary schools today will likely work in roles that don’t currently exist.” At Global Learning Models (GLM), we believe it is our responsibility to drive learning in a manner that prepares students for a future that is both exciting and uncertain. To truly prepare #LifeReady students, we need to begin with curriculum that is not siloed or defined by subjects, but is instead integrated and relevant for students and teachers in order to cultivate active global citizens.

We ask: If students are not learning to make the world a better place, then what is the purpose of their education? How can all students find purpose within themselves, with others and in the world? How can we influence student and teacher learning so every day is inspiring, interactive, skill-building and unique to each individual? How can we strategically, effectively and positively transform the experience of learning for more students and educators? How do we turn a community into a classroom?

To begin pursuing these questions, we align courses with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), as well as the US Common Core State Standards, and invite educators to customize curriculum locally so as to maximize relevance and impact.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) says that “without urgent and targeted action today, to manage the near-term transition and build a workforce with future-proof skills, governments will have to cope with ever-growing unemployment and inequality.” We respond to this call to action by preparing students to meet the challenges of the 21st century and supporting educators to redefine teaching and learning.

Inquiry-Based, Project-Based, Place-Based

Ensuring that every student finds their purpose begins with the practice of inquiry and project-based learning. GLM employs Place-based Education (PBE) both locally at our lab school in Chicago and with partner organizations around the country. Each section below offers a guiding framework, a classroom integration example and GLM’s offering.

Blended and Personalized Learning

GLM’s approach to learning is less about gimmicks and more about relevant, applicable content combined with ongoing support. Technology is changing how we learn, and knowing how to use it effectively is a key skillset for success. Our curriculum and professional development provide a model for students and educators to practice blended learning and utilize appropriate high and low-tech applications through digital curriculum, on-site and virtual observations, and personalized coaching.

Student work example: Through our STEAM course H2O, students use technology to bring statistics to life. Learning about global water usage brings the world into the classroom, and data becomes real when students calculate their own daily water usage, compare it to average teenagers around the globe and attempt to carry their own water from a public water source to understand the privilege of having a working water tap at home. Projects range from creating high-tech infographics to low-tech water filters that could be used in a crisis. Whether taking the course in a brick and mortar school or completing it using our self-guided, self-paced digital platform, students experience empathy, reflect on their own consumption habits, and expand their academic skills in Algebra, geology, and biology. See examples of student work on our blog.

Students undertaking Global Learning Models’ H20 class transport their calculated daily water usage from a local water source to experience the weight of their consumption.
Students undertaking Global Learning Models’ H20 class transport their calculated daily water usage from a local water source to experience the weight of their consumption.

For teachers, GLM’s professional development workshops and ongoing support sessions begin with establishing a shared understanding of inquiry and project-based learning, then provide opportunities to model the learning by first becoming a student in the classes they will teach. We challenge educators to walk the walk, practice what they preach, lead by example, know their content and, most importantly, observe and know their students so that they may help make the content come alive. Then, they participate in debriefing sessions that enable peers to share their successes and challenges, make immediate refinements and work collaboratively.

For students, our course catalog and its implementation at the GCE Lab School through digital portfolios are proof that thoughtful integration leads to transformational outcomes.

Local to Global Curriculum

We believe in equipping students and educators with a curriculum that builds critical thinking and cultural awareness so that each child can contribute as a global citizen to today’s increasingly boundary-less world. Students will find themselves confronting questions such as “How might a child in Flint, Michigan relate to one in rural Bolivia who is struggling to secure his right to clean water access?” and “How might a young girl interested in politics draw inspiration from the example of Rwanda’s parliament?” With these questions driving at the heart of instruction, each GLM course is designed to make the world a better place.

Student work example: Our Humanities course, MDGs and You, offers an introduction to the challenges facing the world by examining the United Nations Millennium and Sustainable Development Goals. Students analyze global statistics, unpack their assumptions about other countries and see what we can learn from the examples of other nations, such as Rwanda, where 63% of the Parliament is composed of women. Visit our blog for examples of student investigations into gender equality across the globe.

Breaking out of subject-specific silos is at the heart of GLM’s curriculum. Integration helps students understand the connections between disciplines and how subjects interact in the real world. Learning feels good—when it fits. Our curriculum, combined with our pedagogical framework, leads to the creation of a safe place to ask questions, reflect, experiment, imagine and experience while developing core academic skills and engaging with communities. The course catalog presents ways in which GLM has integrated subjects for impact while maintaining adherence to Common Core, MDG/SDG as well the need for students to earn credits (IES SCED Codes ).

Social Justice and Civic Engagement

Students care about curriculum if it matters to them; they swiftly and informally determine its value based on whether or not it helps them in life. Does the curriculum offer them a pathway to a career, an opportunity to better care for a family member, an enhanced station in social spheres, or a chance to pursue a personal dream? Through GLM curriculum, the problems students grapple to define, understand, and attend to are not immediately resolved at the end of a semester; rather, they persist throughout their lives. Instead of just reading about food deserts, why not map your neighborhood to see how far you have to travel to access essential services? In addition to learning about civil rights leaders, why not write your own book that highlights the accomplishments and struggles of individuals who rarely make it into history lessons? By making lessons personal and relevant, students are inspired to take action outside of the classroom in order to build communities and a world that are more just and equal.

Student work example: In the Equality course, Seniors explore the roots of race, gender and class divisions by conducting simulations, listening to voices of the marginalized and examining the structures that stratify our society. Through interviews and research, students write their own history textbook that bridges the past and present and identify lessons that will help imagine and build a more just future. See an example of student work.

City2Classroom™: Through weekly guest workshops, field experiences and hands-on exploration of real-world case studies, we redefine both the classroom and the educator. Students augment the skills and knowledge they build in the classroom by leaving the school and obtaining insights from established industry leaders. Our City2Classroom™ partners challenge students to question their assumptions about the world around them, discuss practicalities and possibilities in the workplace, and expose students to a wide range of jobs and career prospects. By the time they graduate, students have participated in over 200 field experiences that provide practical applications for everything they learn in the classroom.

College, career and life readiness in the 21st century demand a truly reimagined approach to curriculum, customized to meet the needs of students and educators based on geography, student demographics and learning levels. Our work at Global Learning Models (GLM) provides educators with an opportunity to learn about how inquiry and project-based learning, used alongside a globally relevant curriculum, can help shape #LifeReady citizens.

This blog is part of our “Place-based Education” blog series. To learn more and contribute a guest post for the series, check out the PBE campaign page. Join in the conversation on social media using #PlaceBasedEd. For more on Place-Based Education, see:

Eric Davis is GLM’s Chief Learning Officer, Stephanie Leite is GLM’s Curriculum Designer and Lead Trainer, and Aparna Rae (@appyrae) is GLM’s Director of Products. Follow GLM on Twitter: @GLMeducation.

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For School Improvement, Network Globally

By Bonnie Lathram and David Potter

Here’s why global should be the education movement of 2017: school improvement.

School improvement is difficult. A US Department of Education report released last week on the five-year, $7 billion dollar School Improvement Grants (SIG), highlighted this difficulty, finding that the largest-ever national intervention to improve failing schools was ineffective:

  • SIG-funded models had no statistically significant impact on test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment,
  • There were no statistically significant impacts on student outcomes within student and school subgroups, and
  • In elementary grades, there was no evidence that one model was more effective at improving student achievement than another

We have had several years to look closely at school improvement models. And now we are asking, what is working? What does the research show? Where is improvement happening? How can we collaborate and learn together to share what is working both across the country and around the globe?

The Network School Improvement Model

What we do know is that there are innovations and advancements in networks and platforms that are improving schools. As Tom Vander Ark wrote, “School networks are one of the most important innovations in the modern era of U.S. K-12 education.” School networks have shown and are continuing to show solid results.

Since 2010, we’ve followed the Hewlett Foundation’s quest for Deeper Learning and the 11 school networks that comprise this “network of networks.” During the same time period that the SIGs failed to show significant results, the Deeper Learning network did. A study of student performance in California and New York conducted by the American Institutes for Research found that attending Deeper Learning schools had a significant positive impact, on average, on students’ content knowledge, academic outcomes and social-emotional factors. Three-fifths of the students in the study were low-income, and their scores improved just as much as the scores of the students who were above the low-income cutoff.

More evidence of the effectiveness of networks to improve schools comes from Participate (recently known as VIF International Education). Surveys and studies of the Participate school network of more than 100 global and dual language schools showed significant positive impact on teacher engagement, teacher working conditions, student engagement and student academic outcomes.   Engaged_Teachers (1).pngStudent_Engagement.png

Globally Networked Districts

Edgecombe and Onslow Counties, both in North Carolina, are two examples of school districts that have globally networked their schools to improve outcomes. Edgecombe was honored in 2016 by the North Carolina Board of Education for transforming its high-poverty district through global education. Onslow was honored this month as North Carolina’s first Model Global-Ready District designation. What do these global districts look like?

  • Facing one of the highest dropout rates and having three of the lowest performing elementary schools in the state, Edgecombe made a district-wide commitment to evidence-based global education approaches.
  • The district established an expectation for all teachers in its 14 schools to be global educators and use online professional development to increase levels of global competence and skill in incorporating global concepts into daily instruction.
  • Onslow is home to 52 international teachers hosted across 21 schools, and currently hosts the largest contingency of Chinese guest teachers in the United States.
  • Onslow has formalized ongoing partnerships that connect 24 schools with eight countries and numerous cities.

The Potential of Platforms to Network Networks

Successful school improvement, however, may not come from a specific model, but customized hybrids. Rather than lock districts into inflexible models like the SIGs did, school leaders can explore a global menu of successful, evidence practices, like social and emotional learning and project-based learning. This is where we see the potential of platforms to network networks that are finding success with their school improvement models.

Summit Public Schools’ Basecamp and New Tech Network’s Echo are two examples of platforms that are designed to scale learning networks. Participate is another example of a platform that increases opportunities to connect school networks worldwide. Participate is a “continuous learning platform” that allows schools, districts like Edgecombe and Onslow, and organizations to network and maintain public and private learning communities where educators share resources, ideas and interactive courses. Continuous learning platforms are designed to harness connections to power teacher learning and classroom practice in order to achieve better student outcomes across the world.

Call to Action

Research points to connecting teachers within a school through district, regional, national and global networks to support collaborative professional learning as an effective school improvement strategy. Twitter chats and EdCamps have shown that we can do this widely and inexpensively nearly anywhere, anytime.

Let’s connect high achieving school networks around the world. Connecting school networks will accelerate school improvement through enhanced teacher learning and better classroom practices, and thus improve student outcomes everywhere.

This call to action to connect high achieving school networks is not a nice-to-have, it’s a need-to-do. it’s imperative that nations that agreed to inclusive and equitable quality education for all by 2030 seek out school networks to connect with and learn from, and share their models and practices widely. Individual teachers and schools connecting will only have limited impact on Global Goal #4. To deliver quality education for all worldwide, we need exponential growth in collaboration among educators, students, parents and communities. Only connected networks of schools, districts, regions, states, provinces and national educational systems can deliver connections at that scale.

School improvement is difficult, but connecting school networks worldwide is an opportunity to make it less so.

Join Us

We challenge you to join us in creating a #SmartPlanet. Be a globally connected educator and invite others to join too.

  • Connect. Sign up at Participate to access FREE online resources and join in the conversation with other globally aware educators.
  • Create. Create a resource on Participate to share, or comment on someone else’s. Check out the specific resources for our #SmartPlanet series.
  • Share. Join a chat to share your own best practices and learn from others.
  • Guest post. If you are interested in sharing your story about innovations in learning and global competence, please email [email protected] with the title “Smart Planet.” See our guest posting policies for more.

This blog is part of our #SmartPlanet series in partnership with Participate. Check out #SmartPlanet on engage in the conversation on social media. Head over to to view and create lessons and join a community of educators to promote global education, in the US and around the world.

For more, see:

Dave Potter is Director of Global Schools Network at Participate. Follow him on Twitter: @GlobalReady

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Increase Social Awareness and Build Culture: Action Steps from 4 Schools

As schools across the country seek to integrate social emotional learning (SEL) strategies, increasing social awareness is an integral component. This is particularly true because social awareness is a prerequisite for treating all people with respect and building strong relationships.

A great starting place is to replace unconscious assumptions with curiosity. This is particularly compelling, because curiosity leads to questions that create understanding and expanded awareness. This is a much needed contrast to comparison, which can lead to potentially misguided judgements about the meaning of someone’s looks, actions or words.

Building social awareness takes enough humility to know you don’t have all the answers, and the confidence to admit it. It also takes dedicating time and energy to increasing awareness. Mayerson Academy is challenging EdLeaders to take 5 minutes per day (#5toThrive) to build SEL skills—and the non-profit organization, based out of Ohio, is also providing a free Toolkit to help.

Utilizing toolkits, SEL curriculum and other resources is invaluable—and so is the opportunity to gain understanding of how other schools are increasing social awareness.

1. Shaw Middle School: Social Intelligence

Principals Jon Swett and Shawn Jordan of Shaw Middle School are dedicated to promoting SEL. At Shaw, staff members teach students the term social intelligence as one of the character growth traits emphasized. They provide real-life examples of criteria for students:

  • Was able to find solutions during conflicts with others
  • Showed that he/she cared about the feelings of others
  • Adapted to different social situations
  • Chose peer group wisely

20161213_123939.jpeg20161213_123949.jpegStudents set social goals based on the growth traits they recognize are needed not only for personal growth, but specifically to help them accomplish their academic goals. Jon says, “We consider social growth the ‘how’ and grades as the ‘what.’ Further, academic and social goals are connected to students’ Education to Career Plan and their dream statements.”

Staff deliberately model through their own behavior in the classroom, and students thank their teachers by filling out a “Staff Recognition” bookmark, identifying a trait noticed and a short personal note of appreciation.

These sorts of activities are also included in Mayerson Academy’s Thriving Learning Community program.

2. Grandview High School: Culture of Kindness

According to CTE Director Steve Long, “proactive” is a word that describes their approach to social awareness. Students are at the center, with the Associated Student Body (ASB) taking the lead on many activities to address social awareness. Examples include bully awareness week, special needs awareness and service projects. Grandview has leveraged the College Spark Washington college readiness grant to build its advisory structure and academic supports, and promote access for all students. A couple of examples of social awareness focused initiatives that were supported through advisory include:

  • Respect for all. “Spread the Word to End the Word” focuses on integrating students with special needs into the school’s mainstream so that they feel accepted. Part of that includes choosing a duke and duchess for the homecoming activities. Student are encouraged to sign a pledge to abolish the word “retarded.” The week ends with an assembly where students with special needs compete in floor hockey with leadership students. It is annually one of the school’s most spirited assemblies.
  • Service Projects. Grandview uses its advisory program to facilitate Adopt-A-Family efforts at Christmas time, and to combat hunger through the March Madness to Give. By leveraging the event to coincide with the NCAA basketball tournament, advisory groups participate in a tournament to see which class donates the most items to combat hunger. Last year, students raised over 4000 items that were donated to a local food bank. The friendly competition was exciting, including a fantastic “Final-Four” battle.

3. Burlington Edison School District: Diversity as Solution

Burlington Edison School District’s Executive Director of Teaching and Learning, Casey Knudsen says, “I believe that the upside of America lies within our diversity.” The district is committed to living out this important value, and accordingly, students understand the expectation and opportunity. Casey cites research that has influenced his commitment:

“Beyond changing the futures of individual students, investing in diversity is critical to the future of the world, let alone our country. Scott Page, who directs the Center for the Study of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan, has conducted research on the link between diversity and improved problem solving. In his book, The Difference, Page explains that the problems that we face in the world today are inherently more complex and more connected, and, therefore, more difficult to solve. His research shows that when solving large complex problems, diverse groups of thinkers outperform highly intelligent individuals working alone.”

Burlington-Edison recognizes that, in order for groups to capitalize on the full benefits of their diversity, they must know how to work together. The only way that this can happen is if students are provided the time and opportunity to work together in diverse groups. This means that we must eliminate the sorting mechanisms inherent in our schools.

4. Deer Park Community City Schools: Thriving Learning Communities

As described in an EdWeek aricle, Deer Park Community Schools and other schools across the country are taking an innovative, blended, and strengths-based approach to improving school culture. Thanks to a partnership between Mayerson Academy, VIA Institute on Character and Happify, students are identifying and developing character strengths.

The Thriving Learning Communities curriculum—which addresses themes like self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and more—is at the heart of Deer Park’s SEL efforts. Mayerson Academy provides an easy entry point with a set of simple five minute activities to promote emotional well-being and social awareness.

School leaders are encouraged to access the related toolkit for use with staff.

Click the icon to download the 5 to Thrive 30 Day Culture Challenge Toolkit.

Social awareness is sure to increase when school leaders access great materials and learn from the examples of other schools

Read More:

This post is a part of a blog series highlighting the 5 to Thrive School Culture Challenge produced in partnership with Mayerson Academy (@MayersonAcademy). Download the free Toolkit and join the conversation on Twitter using #5toThrive or #EdLeaders.

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures, please see our Partner page.

College Ready: Choosing The Right Online High School

By Alison Mistretta

There are more opportunities for pursuing an online high school education than ever, but not all online schools are created equal. School accreditation is a very important issue when you’re considering online options for your children, especially when your young learners are interested in applying to competitive universities and colleges.

Here are four things to keep in mind when you’re researching online high school options.

1. Accreditation shouldn’t be optional.

Accreditation lets you know the online school you’re considering for your kids takes education as seriously as you do.

When a school is accredited, it gives a stamp of approval on the diploma and helps families recognize it as a legitimate institution, as accredited schools must meet certain curricular guidelines, ensuring that a student is adequately prepared to take the next step in their education. Online high school accreditation can impact post-graduation opportunities for students.

2. Different types of school accreditation are valued differently.

Not all online high schools offer the same value to every college admissions department. It’s not uncommon for secondary institutions to reject credits from schools that are not accredited. While there are several different accrediting agencies, some of the most recognizable include MSA-CESS, NCAA and Advanced Ed.

3. Look to states and regions for accreditation.

Where is the online high school registered and accredited? Since there’s currently no single governing accreditation standard set within the United States, the various states and regions are usually your most reliable option for finding legitimate accrediting agencies. Also, consider accreditation agencies that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

4. Do your research.

Before you register your child for an online high school program, consider the quality of the program. Accreditation can play a key role here as well. Here are a few factors to weigh when looking for an online high school:

  • Who is the school’s accrediting body?
  • How often is school accreditation reviewed?
  • What is the school’s standing with the accrediting body?
  • What specializations are available (i.e. engineering, math, arts)?
  • What is the rate of successful completion of the program?
  • How flexible is the school with class delivery options or individualized programs?
  • Does the school offer extracurricular activities, clubs, tutoring or counseling services?

Parents and students love online high school because of the flexibility and freedom that these programs offer. Online high schools also give highly motivated students an opportunity to get a top-notch education when the local options just aren’t competitive enough.

An online education does require a lot of additional responsibility, however, for both you and your child — and those obligations start before the first class ever begins. Make sure you’re registering with an online school that offers the quality of education that you and the eager student in your family demands.

A version of this blog originally ran on

Alison Mistretta is Head Of School and Administrator at George Washington University Online High School. Follow them on Twitter: @GWUOHS

For more, see:

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Three Ways to Help Tie Listening and Writing into Language Learning

By Scott Evans

Think of the skills necessary to be a great basketball player. Although players can only score points by making a basket, they must also master skills such as dribbling, passing and defending. Without fundamental skills, a player won’t even get the chance to shoot.

Like basketball, language learning requires balanced proficiency in all areas of the subject. Students have to practice reading, writing, speaking and listening to fully comprehend a language.

Whether instructing a composition class or teaching foreign-language skills, educators must focus on all areas of language instruction. One intersection of language learning that’s often overlooked is the connection between listening and writing. 

Connecting Input and Output Language Skills

While teachers have long taught the four basic pillars of language—reading, writing, speaking and listening—the past few decades of research in writing instruction have shed light on how interdependent input and output skills are when it comes to language uptake.

Researchers have primarily focused on the connections between reading and writing. For example, research has shown that effective writing instruction can lead to improvements in reading comprehension, reading fluency and word-solving skills. Such findings have led teachers to develop activities that incorporate both reading and writing skills to improve both sides of language learning.

Similar to the reading-writing connection, teachers can highlight the relationship between listening and writing to help students develop complex language skills. Listening to writing can be advantageous in the revision process, and is especially helpful to a beginner or basic writers. Listening-writing activities can foster more inclusion in the classroom, as some students excel more in listening than they do reading.

Bring Listening Into Writing Instruction

Many language teachers are already utilizing listening activities in the classroom. Students might have to listen to a conversation in a foreign language, and then discuss the exchange among their peers. Reading instructors might also incorporate listening in their assessment practices.

While these practices certainly can be effective, they rarely encourage a connection between listening and writing. With the right tools and thoughtful lesson planning, teachers can easily incorporate listening-writing activities into their curriculum.

Here are three ways that teachers can more closely tie listening and writing activities into the classroom:

1. Writing Revisions

In high school writing and composition classes, focusing on “listenability” in student writing can hone revision skills. Students can either record themselves reading their own paper, or have a classmate read their paper to them. In this process, students can determine if their paper has a strong flow and structure.

By reading their paper out loud and then listening to it, students are also unable to skim the paper, as they might when just reading for revisions. Students must pay attention to each word and punctuation mark, noting if it sounds natural when all of these components are read together.

2. Multimedia Projects

Group projects such as a buddy journal, in which students converse with each other like pen pals, have been used to encourage the reading-writing connection and enhance literacy learning.

With today’s multimedia platforms, students can create a similar literacy project, but incorporate speaking, listening and writing skills. By recording spoken messages to each other and formulating written responses, students can make a meaningful connection between audio and written communication.

3. Podcasts

Podcasts have already become a powerful source for learning in the K-12 classroom. By connecting podcast-listening to writing projects, educators can drive a stronger connection to listening and writing.

Teachers can use podcasts to elicit written responses from students or require them to write a piece that evokes the tone and sentiment of a podcast. Resources such as NPR or an app like Listenwise can help you bring listening content into the classroom.

The Takeaway

As teachers develop lesson plans in a language classroom, it’s critical to make sure that students practice all elements of language. With each activity, teachers should consider how to incorporate multiple skills—like listening and writing—to boost language mastery. Just like a basketball player who excels in dribbling, passing defending and shooting, a student has to gain speaking, reading, writing and listening skills to become a language all-star.

For more, see:

Scott Evans is an AV expert at Califone. Follow them on Twitter: 

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Five Types of Students Who Benefit from Online Tutoring

By Brett Montrose

I joined an online tutoring startup while it was in its infancy. The platform was just leaving beta and our team was onboarding the first waves of tutors, constantly fine tuning the website, and genuinely looking forward to eventually seeing our infrastructure flooded with knowledge-thirsty students.

Thinking back to that phase in our company’s growth is an incredible reflection. It’s interesting because we knew we wanted to help students, but we didn’t know what types of students were going to (a) be attracted to our online tutoring service and (b) benefit most from connecting with tutors in our classroom. We had no clue how much learning we ourselves were about to do.

Since then, we’ve been able to gather a lot of data about the students using our site analytics and through thousands of conversations with them. These experiences have allowed us to develop a much more thorough understanding of our user base. In turn, we’ve noticed that there are certain characteristics of the students visiting our site that we encounter far more often than others.

I’ve used these characteristics to identify the following five types of students I often see who benefit the most from online tutoring. These student descriptions could be helpful for parents, teachers, counselors, school administration and students themselves, who are considering online tutoring as an academic resource. If a student you know falls into any of the categories below, online tutoring could be a good way to help them boost their academic performance and confidence.

1. The Struggling High School Math Student

High school math is probably the subject that we most often see as a pain point for students. When these students get behind in class, it’s tough to catch up without a lot of extra effort and one-on-one time with their teacher or a personal tutor. We find that once these students spend time learning with a licensed math teacher who teaches at the right pace and to the right learning style, students are able to grasp the same material as their peers who happened to find success learning solely in a traditional classroom model.

For the struggling high school math student, success in math could be a gateway to their desired college. On the other hand, failing to recognize and be proactive about the in-class struggle could prevent the student from doing what they’ve got their post-secondary hopes set on.

2. The ESL Student

Learning English as a second language is extremely challenging, so finding the right ESL instructor is absolutely crucial to a student’s success.

A qualified and experienced ESL instructor has the ability to predict where a student will struggle based on their native language. For example, a student who is a native Japanese speaker will struggle with different English language concepts than a native Spanish speaker. Further, a good teacher will plan lessons for their students that are engaging and add an element of fun; well versed ESL instructors will often integrate pop culture that interests the students to teach key language concepts.

Using an online tutoring platform to connect with an ESL instructor allows the student to bridge distances, so that he or she can learn with one of these hard-to-find instructors from anywhere in the world.

3. The Last Minute “I Need Help!” Student

Whether they’re in middle school, high school or college, we see a lot of this student. This is the student who realizes last minute that they need homework help. The scenario is typically something like this: It’s too late for the student to ask the teacher or instructor for assistance, their parents or peers don’t have the expertise they need and even an in-person tutor is out of the question.

Online tutoring is effective here because the student is able to connect with a tutor who could be located anywhere in the world while the student is on their computer or mobile device at home (or on campus, or on a sports road trip). Further, the student is able to ensure that they are learning with a professional tutor who’s qualified and experienced in tutoring the specific subject and grade (or higher ed) level they need help with.

4. The Homeschool Student

Homeschool students often have specific and unique individual learning goals. They work closely with their instructor—often a parent—and sometimes with a handful of other specialized educators. Naturally, the composition of their education means that there could be an academic subject that they don’t have a teacher or tutor for, so they often go online in search of a tutor who can support them in a very specific area of their studies. Online tutoring is a brilliant resource for homeschool students – a fantastic online tutor with the right set of credentials can fill gaps in a student’s education without costing a fortune.

5. The Adult College Student

An “adult college student” is someone who hasn’t been active in the world of academia for several years. Maybe they graduated high school 15 years ago and recently decided that pursuing further education was right for them. Perhaps they started a degree they’ve decided to go back and finish. Or maybe they could open up new career opportunities by pursuing college education.

There are a couple of reasons why online tutoring is such a good fit among these students. The classroom has changed a lot since they were last in school. Whereas everything used to be pen(cil) and paper, the college campus is now a digital place—assignments are completed and submitted entirely online. These students often need one-on-one support while working on connected devices. Online tutoring is able to help with digital and computer literacy while also helping the student with their assignments and test preparation.

Many adult college students have jobs, careers, or children to be concerned with. As a result, they often elect to attend online colleges or simply to take online courses from their local college. Whether their courses are self-paced or not, these students don’t have an instructor to help them when they’re stuck. Weekly sessions with a professional online tutor has proven to help students avoid getting stuck in these online courses, and also to help them get un-stuck.

Of course, it’s important to note that each and every student is unique and encounters their own speed bumps, roadblocks and traffic jams on their educational journey, so these categories are meant to be broad boxes, not narrow student descriptions. However, learning one-on-one with a brilliant instructor is one of the best learning experiences a student of any discipline or level will benefit from.

For more, see:

Brett Montrose is a marketing specialist at Skooli Online Tutoring. Follow him on Twitter: @brett_nineone

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Four Key Ingredients For The Teacher PD Revolution

By Jennifer Pieratt

The Teacher PD Revolution is a movement sweeping our country. It’s truly the collective unrest of teachers in the realm of professional learning opportunities. There is a lot of contradiction between what learning should look like for our students and what it currently looks like for us as adults.

We have all sat through countless PD workshops that are top-down, sit-and-get sessions—not reflective of our needs, not clearly aligned to everything that is being asked of us and, to put it bluntly, a waste of our time. Not to mention that as we push further into 21st-century learning, we are living a contradiction by going about our own learning in ways that do not reflect the deeper learning practices we are being asked to facilitate for our students.

I first learned that the teacher PD revolution was “a thing” during a PBL twitter chat co-hosted by New Tech Network and High Tech High. The recipe for a revolution was brewing. Teachers began using the hashtag #pdrevolution and #reimaginepd in tweets to share their frustrations with trainings they had attended.

But more importantly they also coupled them with incredible ideas for revisioning what engaging professional learning should look like for adults. Ideas such as badging, passion-driven professional learning plans, inquiry based learning opportunities provided by their leadership, and MOOCs to support their self-identified Problems of Practice.

The message was clear: Teachers are tired of PD that doesn’t honor or empower them to improve their craft, and that’s what makes this an opportune moment we are in right now.

The following is what I’m calling “The Recipe for a Teacher PD Revolution.” When these four key ingredients are present, you will know your community is ready to take up the cause of a teacher PD revolution:

1. Teacher Leaders are Empowered

Put simply, “when school leaders empower teachers, better ideas emerge.” In my time in schools across the country, I have observed that when teachers do not feel empowered to make decisions about their classrooms, they in turn lose ownership over their own learning and that of their students. With this lack of ownership comes a lack of engagement that is at the cost of the outcome we all seek: deeper learning.

When teachers are honored as professionals, given voice and trusted for their experience and talent, an inspiration is ignited that is passed on to students—this is the ultimate goal of the teacher PD revolution. This synergy moves beyond a basic distributed leadership model and truly allows teachers to share leadership over learning-both students and adults. To see this work in action check out how Bulldog Tech or Denver Public Schools is going about this work.

2. A Learning Organization Foundation Exists

A learning organization is an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.”

– Harvard Business Review

As we’re in the business of learning, it seems only right that we live the model and go about our own learning in intentional ways. Unfortunately, the work of upholding a learning organization is easier said than done. David Garvin explains that new ideas are essential to becoming a learning organization, and equally as important are the structures which uphold those new ideas.

Jim May of New Tech Network does a great job of transferring this organizational concept to the work of schools in this quick video. May helps us see that a clear focus is also integral to the work of learning together as adults.

This case study shows us May’s ideas in action in a New Tech School, and also highlights what an incredible effort it takes to collectively learn and improve. When ideas and focus meet action and intention, the infrastructure for coming change is established.

3. Adult Agency is Nurtured

With a growing body of research and interest in growth mindsets, the phrase has become mainstream across most schools in our country. As school leaders and teachers begin to ask more from our students in this realm, it is becoming increasingly apparent that we as adults must model what we are asking of our students: agency. The most comprehensive definition I have come across for the term “agency” is actually laid out in the form of a rubric by New Tech Network here.

In the places that are ripe for a revolution, this tool is being used not just for students but teacher behavior as well. District and school leaders are looking to teachers to seek challenges and find personal relevance in their work. In these same places, teachers are supported in their learning and honored for modeling what is being asked of students through any of the following:

  • Certification for MOOC participation
  • Extension units for self-paced tutorials such as PBL in your PJs
  • Release time for Problems of Practice in which colleagues learn and improve alongside one another
  • Staff time dedicated to Virtual PLCs
  • Micro-Credentialing (ie.,badging) recognitions such as this one

4. Deeper Learning is Modeled for Adults

So often when we discuss deeper learning we tend to only think about K-12 students. However, when we step back and review this definition, it’s easy to see that what we believe about quality learning applies to all ages. So what does this look like when it comes to professional development?

Well it doesn’t look like the typical trainings and conferences where teachers sit in rows and take notes in provided workbooks. Rather, the teacher PD revolution looks like adults engaged as learners through things like project slices that are debriefed to analyze implications for teaching practice. It looks like educators in the community engaging in fieldwork as a learner to better understand the needs for scaffolding deeper learning for their students. It looks like teachers building and making prototypes of projects. And in all of these examples, the adults are collaborating, reflecting and analyzing (amongst many other skills)—in other words, they are embodying the Deeper Learning Competencies we hope to see in our students.

Once the above ingredients are in place, then your community is ready to join the progressive groups in our country that are currently churning the teacher PD revolution. I look forward to marching on with you all as we work toward domination of deeper learning for students and adults! Be sure to follow the movement on Twitter with the hashtag #pdrevolution.

For more, see:

Jennifer Pieratt is the Founder and President of CraftED Curriculum and a former teacher. Follow her on Twitter: @JennyPieratt.

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Smart List | 60 People Shaping the Future of K-12 Education

Innovation in learning—we think it’s the most important stuff happening on the planet. As a result, we’ve updated our Smart List of the people doing the best work on the planet. Every month, we will publish Smart Lists celebrating people and organizations doing good work in specific areas of education.

Today, we are recognizing 60 thought leaders and change-makers shaping the future of K-12 education.

Nonprofit Thought Leaders Defining What’s Next in K-12:

  • Russlynn Ali, XQ Institute
  • Amy Anderson, Donnell Kay Foundation
  • Matt Candler, 4.0 Schools
  • Andy Calkins, Next Generation Learning Challenge
  • Karen Cator, Digital Promise
  • Stacey Childress, NewSchools Venture Fund
  • Barbara Chow, Hewlett Foundation
    • See Barbara’s post on helping all kids succeed (and thanks to Barbara for her work at Hewlett)
  • Nicholas Donohue, Nellie Mae Education Foundation
  • Jeff Edmondson, StriveTogether
  • Ethan Gray, Education Cities
  • Brian Greenberg, Silicon Schools
  • Virgel Hammonds, KnowledgeWorks
  • Bryan Hassel, Public Impact
  • Alex Hernandez, Charter School Growth Fund
  • Bob Hughes, Gates Foundation
  • Neerav Kingsland, Arnold Foundation
  • Robin Lake, CRPE
  • Bob Lenz, Buck Institute for Education
  • Jamie MacMillan, J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation
  • Janet Mountain, Dell Foundation
  • Susan Patrick, iNACOL
  • Mike Petrilli, Fordham Institute
  • Jim Shelton, CZI (OK, it’s an impact org and not technically a nonprofit)
  • Andy Smarick, American Enterprise Institute
  • LaVerne Evans Srinivasan, Carnegie Corporation of New York
  • Marc Sternberg, Walton Family Foundation
  • Tim Taylor, America Succeeds
  • Beth Rabbitt, The Learning Accelerator
  • Roger Weissberg, CASEL
  • Gene Wilhoit & Linda Pittenger, Innovation Lab Network
  • Connie Yowell, LRNG

Regional and rising nonprofit leaders:

Lots of school district and network leaders belong on this list–stay tuned for upcoming Smart Lists!

More Relevant Than Ever in K-12

  • John Bailey, experiencing the gig economy
  • Sir Michael Barber, Pearson
  • Cynthia Brown, Center for American Progress
  • Tony Bryk, Carnegie Foundation
  • Howard Fuller, Marquette University
  • Linda Darling Hammond, Learning Policy Institute
  • Michael Fullan, Canada’s gift to EdReform
  • Scott Hartl, EL Education
  • Katie Haycock, Education Trust
  • Paul Herdman, Rodel Foundation of Delaware
  • Rick Hess, AEI
  • Michael Horn, Entangled Solutions
  • Gisele Huff, Hume Foundation
  • Alex Johnston, ConnCAN founder
  • Suzanne Tacheny Kubach, PIE-Net
  • Kim Smith, Pahara Institute
  • Deborah McGriff, NewSchools Venture Fund
  • Nina Rees, National Alliance of Public Charter Schools
  • Andy Rotherham, Bellwether Education Partners
  • Jon Schnur, New Leaders and America Achieves founder
  • Tony Wagner, author of Most Likely to Succeed

Share your additions in the comments below, and on Twitter using #GSSmartList!

This Smart List is sponsored by Getting Smart Services, Getting Smart’s consulting division that helps schools, districts, networks and impact-oriented partners create, implement and amplify thought leadership campaigns, education initiatives, powerful learning experiences and forward-leaning strategies. Learn more about what they can do to support your education initiatives here.