Infographic | Connecting Educators Globally

There’s an unmet global demand for access to high-quality education.

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.

Let’s connect high-achieving school networks around the world and ultimately improve student outcomes everywhere. The following infographic shares more information on how we can begin to accomplish this, including four big ideas for all learners on the planet, the power of networks and platforms and next steps for anyone ready to become a global educator.

The global education movement will change the world!

Click to download the infographic here

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 and infographic are part of our #SmartPlanet series in partnership with Participate. Check out #SmartPlanet to 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:

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Personalized Learning Worth Fighting For

By Karla Esparza-Phillips and Ace Parsi

This post is the final entry in a three-part series bringing to a close our February editorial focus of “Readiness for All.” Read the first and second posts, and get ready for March, when our focus will be “Creating Powerful Learning Experiences.”

The goal of college and career readiness for all has been the focus of education reform initiatives and a unifying aspiration, yet attainment eludes us. We can continue to debate how readiness is defined and measured, but time has proven that the traditional, factory-style approach will not suffice. Personalized learning is the next logical step toward the “readiness for all” objective.

Personalized learning is when students are provided flexibility in an environment with simultaneously increased structure and support that aligns with their interests, strengths and skill level. We believe meeting students where they are and providing the individualized supports they need to grow is the desire of all educators, but significant flexibility and system change will be required to reach that vision.

The possibilities of a truly student-centered system seem endless, but the irony is that many coincide perfectly with policies special education advocates have long been fighting for.

  • Inclusion. Historically, specialized instruction resulted in segregated settings. In a personalized setting, it is expected and understood that students will be learning in multiple ways and at flexible paces. When this goal is achieved system-wide, we may at long last be able to reduce the stigma associated with being a struggling learner.
  • Self-advocacy and student agency. These terms and goals have been common lingo in special education for years, but the opportunity to not only recognize them but build them in system-wide for all students could increase the realization of these goals.
  • Strengths-based approach. By definition, personalized learning is based on students’ strengths and interests, and with intentional design, the opportunity exists to finally move away from the deficit-based nature of individual education plans (IEPs). At bare minimum, a system that has truly embraced personalized learning has also embraced a growth mindset. This mindset should be able to permeate IEP meetings and bring about a more positive parent experience.
  • Increased academic achievement. The entire premise of special education is to provide the services and supports students need to access and succeed in school. Ironically, this is the same for personalized learning. Perhaps the opportunity to redesign a system from scratch will lessen the need to see special education as a separate program for “those kids” and a real need for ALL kids.

Personalized learning has the potential to increase achievement not only through flexibility in pace and instruction but also in how students are able to demonstrate mastery. It has been a long understood principle of special education that students with special needs may require accommodations and/or modifications for assessments, but with personalized and competency-based education all students will be allowed to have voice and choice in how they demonstrate mastery. There is also an opportunity with the Every Student Succeeds Act’s requirement to embed the principles of universal design for learning in state assessments.

These goals and dreams may seem lofty, but they should not be optional. Early implementation evidence and beginning research give us hope, but at the end of the day honoring and leveraging the unique gifts and talents of every child is simply the right thing to do.

For more, see:

Karla Esparza-Phillips is the Policy Director for Competency-Based Education at the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Follow her on Twitter: .

Ace Parsi is the Personalized Learning Partnership Manager at the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD). Follow them on Twitter: @ncldorg

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.

Smart List: 25 CTE Innovations and Innovators

Career and Technical Education will become an even more important aspect of lifelong and post-secondary learning as the world shifts toward the gig and project-based economy. Today, we are recognizing 25 CTE innovations and innovators that are educating people of all ages in ways that prepare them for the changes to come.


  • Sarah Raikes, Washington County High School (Kentucky): The ACTE teacher of the year teaches 9 Family and Consumer Sciences courses and is a policy advocate.
  • Ball State University: Administrator Samuel Cotton and Teacher Edward Lazaros were both recognized by ACTE for their higher education leadership.
  • NE Metro ISD 916 (Minnesota): Known for its career guidance process, led by Shelli Sowles.
  • Jacob Ball, Nelson County High School (Kentucky): Agriculture teacher and new ACTE teacher of the year.
  • Leon Grant, Marietta City Schools (Georgia): Leads world-class pre-engineering program with a focused on community service.
  • Jerry Ellner, Universal Technical Institute (Arizona): Connects high school and postsecondary experiences, and champions connection between academics and skills.

Schools and Districts

State Networks

  • Career Tech: Great statewide system in Oklahoma.
  • P-TECH (New York, Illinois, Idaho): Computer science schools that combine high school, work experiences and an associate’s degree, with a good shot at a good job.
  • Louisiana Course Choice: Great example of a state proactively seeking expanded choices for students.
  • GPS Education Partners (Wisconsin): Network of manufacturing flex academies in Wisconsin.

National Networks

Advocacy, and Influencers

Curriculum Networks

Who did we miss? Who would you add? Share in the comments section below, and don’t forget to check out our other recent Smart Lists at our Smart List Series Page.

Our Smart Lists are some of our most popular posts, and upcoming sponsorship opportunities are still available. Interested in learning more? Contact Megan: [email protected]

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.


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

Active Learning Requires Innovative Learning Spaces

A few years ago, there were a lot of traditional classrooms in El Paso with low-level test prep activities in a low-tech environment.

When you visit El Paso classrooms today, you are much more likely to see active learning–engaged students doing challenging work, often in two languages and using the latest technology.

With the recent passage of a $668.7 million construction bond, El Paso students will have the opportunity to learn in modern facilities that reflect our active learning vision. We are thankful for El Paso voters and for their confidence in our vision and ability to provide all students with innovative spaces to learn in.

Here are a few ways active learning spaces differ from traditional classrooms:

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All students deserve modern facilities that are more reflective of what you see on the right-hand side. Active learning requires that students have space to work, build, iterate, communicate and ultimately have learning experiences that are not pre-planned.

Active learning is already alive and well in El Paso classrooms. Teachers like Jill McGee, 2016 El Paso Elementary Teacher of the Year, support that active learning is really helping with student engagement and performance. In the video below, she shares how she has worked to implement these ideas in her classroom.

Teachers are receiving support from coaches and our district partner engage2learn, who is working to help us implement active learning. One of the first examples of new learning spaces in El Paso are the six New Tech Network schools. We took down walls in existing school buildings to create big classrooms for integrated project work. Students and teachers express how much they like teaching & learning in these spaces.

Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 1.41.32 PM.png

Another example of how EPISD is providing students space for active learning is through Project Lead the Way. Students at Chapin High School were asked to create a winter wonderland village resembling the Victorian age. The students said scratch that, let’s use what we have been learning in our six Principles of Engineering classes and make modern, innovative and sustainable winter wonderland villages.

Students created the villages entirely out of recyclable materials. Daniels-Sherman, magnet coordinator, said that students had to incorporate engineering principles that they were learning about such as circuitry, architecture, creativity and design.

I’d argue that if they weren’t in a classroom space that encouraged them to see endless possibilities and where they felt they had the tools to do so, they might not have felt so compelled to create such innovative projects.

The spaces where we ask students to be active learners is almost (if not equally) as important as the ideas behind active learning itself.

For more, see:

This post originally ran on EDU Transformed

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.

Data Interoperability in K-12: Where is the Magic?

By Mike Baur

This is a blog series about interoperability: the seamless, secure and controlled exchange of data between applications. In this series, we will highlight the ways that data interoperability is laying the foundation for innovation and helping enable great classroom instruction. We will also hear from partners who are implementing solutions to overcome the lack of data interoperability today in the K-12 sector.

The growing connectivity of our world is staggering. Experts are now saying that with the surge of the Internet of Things (IoT), 16 billion connected devices will balloon to 75 billion by 2025 and global investment in the IoT market will increase nearly 500 percent! Machines are now talking to other machines, capturing real-time analytics and serving actionable data to organizations whose business models rely upon maximizing efficiencies for the sake of superior user experiences. Big Data firms are touting that more data has been created in the past two years than all human history combined, and these patterns will only speed up over time. As IoT is now leading the way for innovation of smart homes, self-driving vehicles and wearable medical devices, many look forward with hesitant excitement toward a future of interconnectedness that resembles… well, “magic”. However, when we look at the American education system, I can’t help but ask: where is this interconnected magic among educational data systems?

In our first blog in this series, Jami O’Toole defined data interoperability as “the seamless, secure, and controlled exchange of data between applications”. It is this precise, standards-aligned exchange of data that enables the “magical” interconnectedness of data systems we seek in education. It’s not rocket science, but it is computer science. If educators need information about their students’ performance to provide high-quality classroom instruction, then they should have it. And it should be easy for them to gather, organize and analyze that information.

Bringing the magic to education

So, how do we do this? In laying the groundwork for effective data interoperability across educational applications and systems, there are specific market conditions which must be addressed. We look at it this way. The K-12 sector needs:

1. Openly available data standards. Data standards in K-12 education exist today, but the level of awareness and adoption of these standards varies greatly. For these standards to enable data interoperability at scale, they must be widely and authentically adopted in the real-world. They can’t just be standards on paper.

The Ed-Fi data standard was created to do just that: Operationalize data exchange across disparate educational data systems. If implemented effectively, a data standard enables the magic of systems communication, data integrity, and synchronization between applications without the user being aware of the nuanced complexity of data exchange that occurred in the behind-the-scenes transaction.

2. State/district demand of data standards. One of the most fascinating realizations I’ve had in the K-12 sector is that districts and states have not prioritized data interoperability among the vendors with which they do business. In fact, surprisingly, it’s almost the reverse scenario! I’ve witnessed district and charter schools, as well as state education agencies, sign contracts which limit their own ability to access their data and provide aggregate data views and reports to their end users.

Fortunately, the tide seems to be turning, and we’re seeing an increasing number of districts and states now demanding securely accessible pathways to their vendors’ data systems. They are requiring that vendors use open standards like the Ed-Fi data standard so that they can get the data they need, when they need it.

3. Privacy and security of educational data. At the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, we believe that every piece of personally identifiable student data–or PII–must be protected. Between 2013 and 2016, 410 bills were introduced in 49 states and the District of Columbia, resulting in 36 states passing 74 student data privacy bills into law. At the federal level, several student data privacy bills have been introduced, including a proposed update to the 40-year-old Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.

That said, the need for secure data interoperability that adheres to these privacy regulations is not just aspirational among public sector or not-for-profit players. Even the big publishers (i.e. McGraw-Hill) recognize the need for secure data interoperability at scale. Said another way, the premise of secure data interoperability is fundamentally built upon widely approved, adopted, and understood data privacy and security principles. Data Quality Campaign, COSN and Common Sense Media have all contributed enormous research in the definition of these principles and processes. Collectively, we must ensure students are reaping the benefits of data interoperability in a secure way that doesn’t compromise their privacy.


Think about it. What could students achieve if the technology and applications in their classrooms were connected and working together for their ultimate benefit? Or, what could teachers achieve in the time-savings provided by well-connected data systems delivering accurate, actionable, real-time performance information about their students’ learning progression? Or, imagine this: What if the Internet of Things were to be introduced in the American education sector? The possibilities are intriguing, and they are why we at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation invest in data interoperability… or… magic.

For more, view the first post in this series:

Mike Baur is a Program Officer for US Education at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. You can find Mike on Twitter at @mbaur.

This post originally ran on the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation blog.

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It’s Time to Personalize Learning in Alaska

By Dr. Karen Gaborik

In the middle of January, with little daylight and plenty of snow, we began the process of bringing together the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District community to learn about personalized learning.

With a week of workshops, board sessions and community nights behind us, we realized that over the course of a few days we significantly moved forward work that would impact our 14,000 students for the rest of their lives.

When the school board developed their strategic plan in February 2015, they wanted to make changes to the district’s approach to teaching and learning as part of their commitment to providing an excellent and equitable education to students, and to prepare them to succeed and contribute in positive ways to a global society.

It was determined personalized learning would be a key part of our strategy moving forward and district administration set out to make it happen. At the time, I am not sure any of us understood what an exciting journey we were starting.

Building a Student-Centered System

For us, personalized learning is an opportunity to re-think and re-imagine school. As superintendent, I am convinced that our school system can and must do a better job for more students, especially those groups that consistently underperform. I’ve embraced personalized learning because I believe that making a shift to a student-centered system is necessary to meet the learning needs of all students and prepare students for their futures.

While we are at the beginning of our journey, we have a clear idea of where we are heading. We do not yet know what types of models we will design and implement, nor do we know what technology we will use. There are many decisions we will make as a community, learning from other school districts both inside and outside Alaska and from Education Elements,  who are supporting our efforts. It is an exciting time.

Our Current Position

So where are we now? Over the next three years, we will work with 19 elementary schools to design and support personalized learning. Our meetings at each of the elementary schools in January were a great start. We answered questions from teachers and community members.

We also spent time listening to teachers and leaders, observing the wonderful things already happening in so many classrooms and looking for opportunities to do more. We now have an even deeper understanding of the starting point for each school, which will inform the work of Education Elements and our team moving forward.

We also spent time in January bringing together teams from each elementary school for a series of Foundations workshops. During these half-day sessions, we considered “the why” and “the what” for personalized learning. We introduced the concept by experiencing it through a three-station rotation model, considered strategies to support it and created plans to support teachers in implementing it. We outlined next steps for our work, including replicating foundations-style workshops in schools across the district.

Our Next Steps

We will continue to build knowledge and understanding following the introduction of personalized learning in January by bringing together schools to start the design process in March. Through this work, schools will design the instructional models that make the most sense for them, something that is important to us as a district and is integral to the Education Elements approach.

And then, after much work, many iterations and a lot of training, we will launch personalized learning for elementary schools in the 2017-18 school year and for the secondary schools thereafter.

We are so proud to be the first of the “big five” school districts in Alaska to do this work at scale. We see this as a chance to do some trail-blazing but also bring other districts along on similar journeys. This is a moment in time when we can change the trajectories of students in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District and beyond; and it could not have come soon enough.

Our students have been waiting for us to catch up and teach them the way they learn, and we are excited about what’s to come!

For more, see:

Dr. Karen Gaborik is Superintendent of the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. Follow them on Twitter: @fsdk12

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Listening is a 21st-Century Skill

By Scott Petri

In order to be academically successful, students must leave high school with a working understanding of about 50,000 words. Good vocabulary teaching involves a lot of talk and practice using language. Listening to academic vocabulary being used correctly is an important first step in helping students gain confidence before they start speaking with new words.

That said, most social studies teachers probably do not consider themselves ELA teachers or feel the need to teach listening. However, research shows that students learn 55% of their academic vocabulary in social studies. Listening is a key component of strong social studies instruction, and is often integrated into primary learning, but then unfortunately fades away.

Speaking and listening standards have become the forgotten part of the Common Core. Few schools or districts formally assess them. A 2015 UCLA study found a majority of social studies teachers struggled to explain how they helped students develop speaking and listening skills. These teachers reported using small and whole-group discussions regularly, but their students were rarely (if ever) assessed on their participation and only 15% of teachers surveyed spoke confidently about their speaking & listening instruction.

Teach Listening First

Research shows that students can listen two to three grade levels above what they can read. Listening while reading helps people have successful reading events, where they read with enjoyment and accuracy.

Most importantly for teaching students career readiness skills, listening has been identified as one of the top skills employers seek. Although most of us spend the majority of our day listening, it is the communication activity that receives the least instruction in school.

Source: GMAC (2014) Corporate Recruiters Survey. Figure 11, p. 19.

Very few educators provide instruction in listening. We assume that every student can listen, if they will just stop talking. As a result of this, students do not understand that listening is an active process that is under their control. Many students don’t listen to each other simply because no one has shown them how.

Sound expert Julian Treasure implored his TED audience to teach listening in schools. He offers a mnemonic so educators can teach every student to Receive (pay attention), Appreciate (nod at the speaker, smile, make eye contact), Summarize (so?), and Ask questions (about what was said)–RASA.

Just as students struggle to identify inferences and bias in texts, they need practice and extensive coaching before they can learn to listen between the lines and hear the big picture. Students report greater comprehension when they ask questions, manage their interest levels, and discuss what they just heard. Although social scientists report that listening and nonverbal communication training positively influences multicultural sensitivity, more research is needed to examine the link between listening and building empathy, which is presently a crucial component in Social Emotional Learning and Restorative Justice programs.

Embed Teaching Listening Throughout Your Curriculum

I enjoy using a couple of resources for teaching listening throughout my curriculum. Listenwise, a company that aligns National Public Radio content with content standards in ELA, Social Studies and Science, helps my students take this skill seriously. My high school students listen to the selected three to seven minute audio clip and then take a multiple choice assessment to test their listening comprehension.

Overall I have assigned 11 listening quizzes to my students and on average, students have been able to answer 72.8% of the questions correctly. This represents a substantial improvement over a study which found that people could only remember 17.2% of what they heard on the news. The overwhelming majority of my students felt the Listenwise content they listened to in class helps to increase their understanding of the material in their textbooks.

I also use the website 15 Minute History to create note-taking drills that build listening stamina and focus. First, I review the transcript and create questions that test how well students listened for main ideas, point of view, made inferences, and understood academic vocabulary. Then I divide the class into four groups:

  • Group A: Is not allowed to take notes.
  • Group B: Takes notes but turns them in after the lecture.
  • Group C: Takes notes and uses them on the test.
  • Group D: Takes notes, uses them and gets the transcript.

After listening, all of the students take the same quiz. Typically there is a 35% gap between Group A and Group D. This teaches students the value of taking notes and listening intently. I do not grade these activities on a traditional percentage basis. Instead, I look at the distribution of scores, divide them into four to five ranges or listening proficiency bands, and see if I can show growth over time.
Percentage of questions each group answered correctly out of 15 questions

Students need practice listening to each other and many enjoy engaging in whole-class discussions, but this is a difficult format for one teacher to master. Monitoring who participates, how often they participate and keeping the flow of conversation collegial can be challenging. Many teachers worry classroom conversations can veer off course. The Constitutional Rights Foundation offers a civil conversation model to guide students through controversial issues (a recent issue discussing Syrian refugees is timely and necessary for all Social Studies students).

Focus on the Goal of Listening Comprehension

Understanding is the goal of listening. Teachers need to prepare students to actively listen, avoid distractions and engage in conversations around what they just listened to. Author Erik Palmer suggests before students engage in purposeful listening, their teachers should tell them what to attend to. We need to teach students what to respond to, how to respond and when to respond. Fortunately, educational leaders are responding to the emphasis on college and career readiness skills.

What professional learning activities are you creating for your teachers so they can increase their listening instruction? How is your school or district supporting its Professional Learning Communities to assist educators embarking on this journey? Leave me a comment below or tag me on Twitter to let me know.

For more, see:

Scott Petri is a high school social studies teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Follow him on twitter @scottmpetri 

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Getting Personalized Learning Right the First Time

By Karla Esparza-Phillips and Ace Parsi

This post is the second in a three-part series. Read the first post here.

Facing the daunting challenge of preparing all students for college, career and civic success, educators, students and their families are caught in a persistent churn of educational reforms and innovations, one following the other. But have these innovations really moved the needle for students with disabilities? If not, why? For answers, let’s consider the standard playbook for far too many reforms:

  1. Identify a challenge facing the system;
  2. Create a strategic plan to address that challenge with aspirations for how your strategy will address the needs of all learners;
  3. When reality bumps against aspirations, create a subcommittee to think through how the plan and its associated investments can be modified to address the needs of students with disabilities and other struggling learners; and
  4. When that fails, go back to the drawing board and repeat.

The persistent incapacity of the system to change shouldn’t be a surprise—we are often stuck retrofitting well-intentioned ideas for students whose needs were too complicated to fit into our original models in the first place.

Approaches to personalized learning are riding the wave of educational innovation. If implemented well, the benefits for students with disabilities and other struggling learners are numerous and exciting: more engaging educational experiences, systems focused on students’ challenges, strengths and interests, multiple ways to access content, and on-time, targeted supports. It’s because we are excited by this potential that we are adamant that the new approach must be designed for the success of all learners.

Specifically, we encourage implementers to place the challenges that students with disabilities (and other struggling learners) might face in personalized learning systems at the forefront, create a strategic plan to address those challenges, and believe that in the process, it is not only students with disabilities that benefit, but all other non-average learners as well. After all, the fundamental fallacy in our past approaches to reform and innovation—as Todd Rose points out so skillfully—is that while the average learner is convenient for our models, in reality that learner doesn’t exist.

With interest growing and momentum building, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on the five leading challenges educators, schools, districts and states scaling personalized learning must attend to:

  1. Meeting students where they are while maintaining high expectations. -Personalized learning shouldn’t be seen as an exit lane from holding ourselves accountable to high expectations for all learners. States, districts, and schools should set high expectations of knowledge, skills and dispositions essential for 21st-century success of all learners and hold themselves accountable for that success.
  2. Educator capacity must also evolve. Personalized learning isn’t just about new student competencies, but new educator competencies as well. Teachers, leaders and paraprofessionals will need specific skills to support the success of students with disabilities. This includes competencies to collaborate across general and special education, interpret and use new data within these systems, and implement frameworks such as universal design for learning.
  3. Ensuring accessibility must be intentional. Schools embarking on this transition must be strategic and intentional with every decision. Every investment a school or district makes in supporting personalized learning—from learning management systems and blended learning platforms procured to internship programs facilitated—needs to be accessible to the range of diverse learners in our classrooms.
  4. Many struggling learners will still need additional support. The inconvenient reality of personalized learning systems is that many struggling learners enter them in higher grades already considerably behind their peers, and many others will need significant supports to master more rigorous knowledge, skills and dispositions. States, districts and schools interested in personalized learning must make significant investments in 21st-century multi-tiered systems of support to ensure that personalized learning leads to closing rather than widening learning gaps.
  5. Parent engagement must be a priority. Parents of students with disabilities and other struggling learners aren’t new to the educational reform game, and rightfully might approach personalized learning conversations skeptically given past broken promises and failures. States, districts and schools must be intentional about communicating the need for and practical differences in the experiences personalized learning systems invite, and be proactive in engaging parents in the initiative’s success.

Personalized learning challenges us not only to think differently about how we deliver learning, but how we conceptualize innovation and change management. This is a great opportunity, and with this opportunity comes the responsibility to do it right.

For more, see:

This post is the second in a three-part series bringing to a close our February editorial focus of “Readiness for All.” Check back on February 28th to see the final installment, and get ready for March, when our focus will be “Creating Powerful Learning Experiences.”

Karla Esparza-Phillips is the Policy Director for Competency-Based Education at the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Follow her on Twitter: .

Ace Parsi is the Personalized Learning Partnership Manager at the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD). Follow them on Twitter: @ncldorg

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.

7 Ways to Build Strong Relationships with Students

When I began my teaching career, I am not sure I really understood the power of relationships in helping students connect and achieve at school. I was 22-years-old and my age made the relationship development easier and harder all at the same time. I taught at the high school level and the majority of my students were ages 16-18. Hence, they viewed me almost like a peer. I had to establish myself as the adult, the leader, and therefore my focus was on creating a positive relationship with some distance from my students.

As with all of us, time makes us age and so our relationships change as we age. My career took me on the journey from classroom teacher to building and central officer administrator. However, my career journey was in the reverse order of most. I did “time” in central office before my building based experience. My last building based experience taught me the most about establishing relationships with students. I had the pleasure of serving as a K-12 building principal in a school for students with special needs, primarily students with emotional instability and frequent outbursts.

As the leader of a building, everything you do serves as role model for the rest of the staff. Therefore, creating positive relationships with the students was my full-time job. We had a very transient population and so new students came to our school at least three to four times per month. I never knew how true the saying is that one child can really change the dynamic of a classroom until this building experience.

Andrew was one of our students. He was in the fifth grade when I met him for the first time. He was not a particularly strong academic student but he had a caring heart. However, he could also create quite a disruption. Andrew and I established a pretty quick bond. We both liked animals and so we would talk about them frequently. Andrew’s response to getting into trouble was quite fascinating and really demonstrated the power of relationships. Every time he got into trouble he would literally run to the main office to find me. If I wasn’t there, he would run through the building to try and find me – the principal. Who runs to the principal when they are in trouble?

We tried everything we could to break this pattern. We talked about not letting him see me unless he was doing what he was supposed to. However, the day they locked my door and told him he couldn’t see me because he was in trouble again didn’t stop him. He went outside, walked to my office, pushed open the emergency window and came in and said, “Miss, I need to talk to you.” Clearly, Andrew needed our interaction to get through that moment. In the end, we worked with Andrew on asking for me instead of running to me and we did eventually get there. Andrew was truly a catalyst for our conversations about the importance of developing relationships.

As a school community, we engaged in intensive study of the work of Jeffrey Benson around the need for resiliency in adults that can create solid relationships with students. His article on “100 Repetitions” permeated our discussions. We believed that each of us had to try and make a connection and at some point, someone would be the 100th try that got the relationship going. So what did our repetitions look like?

1. Greeting students at the door every day by name. It is in this brief two-second interaction that a student knows you know who they are. You also get to know their tone or lack of response and are able to gauge who needs more immediate attention and who is just ready to sit down and get to work.

2. End each lesson with a good-bye. Stand at the door (or at least close to it) and engage in saying “good-bye”. The thought here is you don’t leave someone’s home without saying goodbye, so why would you let someone leave your classroom without a personal interaction?

3. Ask questions. We asked lots of questions of our students. We wanted to learn more about them and their home lives. We asked these questions as we could and then we shared what we knew with each other at team meetings. Between all of us, we usually were able to put together the essence of each student’s home life.

4. Each day is a new day without grudges. We had to learn to let yesterday be yesterday and accept today as a new day. Relationships ebb and flow and no one likes to start a new day reliving what happened yesterday. As the building leader, I had to model this over and over. That doesn’t mean students didn’t have natural consequences from their prior choices, but they didn’t change our relationship. This really worked. No one exemplified the power of this more than Andrew. He knew that every day was a new day with me. I held no grudges. He really responded to the new day theory (I think at times he wished he had a “do-over” button, too).

5. We meet you where you are. So often as adults we command students come to us into our space, and we then attend to the relationship. We instead went to the students. We spent countless hours on the floor of the hallways engaged in conversations with students. When you force the location of the conversation, you are creating a power source for yourself. When you meet students where they are, you provide them with the power source – controlling the location. I learned the most about the students during those impromptu conversations in the location of their choice.

6. We treat you like you are our own child. As a leader, I often asked the faculty and staff: if that were your child, how would you want them to be treated? What would you want the adults to say or do? As a family member, what would you want to know? So often, we treat other people’s children differently than we treat our own. At times, that may be a good thing, but in general, we have differing expectations for our students than we do for our children. We need to remember that the student is someone’s child. I used to remind the staff (and myself) that families send us the best student they have every day. One of my favorite sayings around this was: “They don’t keep the good ones home and send us the rest!”

7. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Students want to have fun in school. Learning can be fun. Students migrate to the adults in the building who care for them, are fun and have expectations for them. We have to be fun sometimes. We have to be able to laugh at ourselves. I recall as a first-year teacher falling in the middle of the hallway, right before homeroom and having my skirt go over my head. The hallway was packed with students and faculty. Everyone gasped and then asked me if I was all right. I said yes and started to laugh. Everyone else laughed too. The students thought that was great. They commented on it all day–not on the fall but the fact that I laughed at myself.

In the end, every relationship is different because every person and every situation is different. No two people can create the same relationship with a student, but everyone can create a relationship. There are thousands of Andrews in schools, and I am grateful to the other adults who were the 99 repetitions before me with Andrew.

We must believe in the power of the relationships, continue to strive for them and never forget the power of 100 repetitions.

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Dr. Margy Jones-Carey is an Assistant Professor and Program Director for the Educational Leadership Program at St. Bonaventure University. Follow her on Twitter: @DrMargy

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Making Technology Just and Equitable

Technology and free markets helped lift a billion people out of poverty in less than a generation. Cheap devices and ubiquitous broadband have narrowed the digital divide. It’s never been easier to start a business, code an app or launch a campaign.

As we solve old problems, new challenges arise. The previous year has taught us that polling is broken, news is occasionally fabricated and we live in filter bubbles. Now that most people are connected, the new divide is between those who can use new tools to create value in the innovation economy and those who don’t.

Anil Dash

Anil Dash (@anildash), CEO of Fog Creek Software, describes tech as “things invented after you were born,” and admits that what was new is rapidly on the way to being boring. On that path from novel to boring, he asks, “How can I be sure that they are just?”

Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens, argues that our technology has created a set of global challenges that require global responses. That could be a problem given the rise of nationalism evidenced in OECD countries over the last year. Harai argues that challenges like climate change become zero-sum problems if the only way we can address them is locally or nationally.

In his recent manifesto, Mark Zuckerberg echoes Harai: “Our greatest opportunities are now global–like spreading prosperity and freedom, promoting peace and understanding, lifting people out of poverty and accelerating science. Our greatest challenges also need global responses–like ending terrorism, fighting climate change and preventing pandemics.”

Zuckerberg thinks Facebook is the answer–it’s the “social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.” He outlined efforts to build a supportive, safe, informed, civically engaged and inclusive community. He claims job one at Facebook is “to help people make the greatest positive impact while mitigating areas where technology and social media can contribute to divisiveness and isolation.”

Design = Values

Whether you view Facebook as the problem or solution, Zuckerberg’s ambition is grand and his stated intent is refreshing.

Intent is important. It’s reflected in the design of tech tools—the governing rules of platforms and the algorithms that build our social feeds. Anil Dash said, “We bake our values into the choices we make when we design these tools.”

One problem is that, unlike older professions, there are no professional standards for computer science. “There is zero ethical curriculum,” said Dash. “You can get a top-of-the-line, the highest credential computer science degree from the most august institutions with essentially having had zero ethics training.”

In the tech sector, notes Microsoft research principal danah boyd, “We imagined that decentralized networks would bring people together for a healthier democracy. We hung onto this belief even as we saw that this wasn’t playing out. We built the structures for hate to flow along the same pathways as knowledge, but we kept hoping that this wasn’t really what was happening. We aided and abetted the media’s suicide.”

What Can EdLeaders And Policymakers Do?

There are eight things EdLeaders and policymakers can do to help make technology more just and equitable.

1. Access. Schools still need to make sure that every student has a production device and broadband access.

2. Media literacy. We need to do a better job of teaching media literacy. A Stanford University study suggested that 82% of middle-schoolers couldn’t distinguish between an ad labeled “sponsored content” and a real news story on a website.

If we are to help our students to become critical and independent thinkers and responsible citizens, we need to empower them with the tools to take on fake news and other manipulative media,” said Getting Smart contributor Christina Gil.

3. Safety. Along with media literacy, we need to teach and promote digital safety and security.

4. Measurement. We need to do a better job of teaching and managing measurement—particularly probability and statistics. Researcher danah boyd laments that “data itself has become a spectacle.” She is critical of media outlets that “throw around polling data without any critique of the limits of that data, to produce fancy visualizations which suggest that numbers are magical information.” She’d like to see more responsibility and less entertainment.

5. Guidance. Our most recent book, Smart Parents, argues that the most important divide is between young people who benefit from thoughtful guidance on tech use and those who don’t. Every child needs one person who is informed, involved, inspirational and intentional about learning and tech.

6. Ethics. Tech is surfacing new and complex ethical issues (watch Jennifer Kahn on gene editing). Youth deserve the opportunity to learn about emerging issues and an ethical framework for approaching tough decisions.

“We need to actively work to understand complexity, respectfully engage people where they’re at and build the infrastructure to enable people to hear and appreciate different perspectives,” said danah boyd.

7. Navigational skills. Young people will face a tech change larger than Baby Boomers did, and will need increased exposure to novelty and complexity. Attack skills for this include design thinking, project management and learning how to learn. They can be developed through project-based learningplace-based education, STEM and the performing arts.

8. Fight the hype. “We live in a world shaped by fear and hype. Not because it has to be that way, but because this is the obvious paradigm that can fuel the capitalist information architectures we have produced,” said dana boyd.

As Harari notes in his new book Homo Deus, more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases, and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals put together. Longer life and lower crime rates don’t make the news.

Let’s help kids develop a balanced view of the real challenges we face and the great opportunity they have to make a difference.

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