Supporting Student Success in Online Learning

By: Dov Friedman

Editors Note:

Getting Smart is excited to support and celebrate Digital Learning Day today! There are educators around the country supporting students in powerful ways online. We appreciated Dov’s thoughts on how we can continue to improve online and blended interactions with students. For more ways to improve online learning and connect with others check out the Digital Learning Annual Conference.  

Online learning gives students convenience and flexibility, which is especially critical for adult students who work and are returning to school. But there are a number of barriers standing in the way of student success in an online environment.

Some of the biggest barriers to success include engaging and supporting online learners and making sure they can navigate the technology easily. In the Journal of Learning Design, researcher Jenna Gillett-Swan writes: “The online environment presents added challenges for the external or isolated learner, particularly [with respect to] engagement, access, community, and support.” The issues that online learners experience, she writes, include “anxiety associated with using technology; being out of one’s comfort zone; … and the (perceived) inability or difficulty in peer interaction.”

But these challenges aren’t limited to students, Gillett-Swan notes: “Many academic staff members feel apprehensive and not suitably equipped to teach via wholly (or mostly) online, particularly as they themselves may be still learning to use some of the platforms.”

Instructors and their institutions play a vital role in supporting student success in an online environment. Because students can feel isolated when they’re learning online, instructors must build in opportunities for students to experience a sense of community with each other and with the instructor. And because the technology can serve as a barrier for both students and instructors, colleges and universities must make sure their online learning platforms and applications are easy to use and work together seamlessly.

Here are three ways to address these needs.

Add face time to online courses.

Research shows that when students have opportunities to interact with each other and their instructor, they are more engaged in online learning. “Students need to feel connected to the instructor and other students in the course … as well as to the content being studied,” writes Marcia D. Dixson of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

This interaction can take many forms, such as group assignments and discussion forums. But one method that is particularly effective is video communication through a live online conferencing service such as Zoom or WebEx.

Video communication between instructors and their students (and between students and their peers) reduces the sense of isolation in an online course because it simulates a face-to-face learning environment—and it’s a more intimate form of communication. Instructors can use live video communication to increase student engagement in online courses by having students take part in group study sessions and class discussions, among other activities.

Build in virtual office hours and other student supports.

Creating support structures is an effective way to improve student success in traditional learning environments—and the same holds true for online courses.

A key strategy is to hold virtual office hours or live tutoring sessions with students who are struggling, and conferencing services such as Zoom or WebEx can be useful platforms for convening these meetings. Other student support methods include peer tutoring; posting links to supporting resources, such as study guides and habits for online learning success; and assigning a “success coach” to each online learner.

Make the technology as seamless to use as possible.

Too often, the technology that is meant to support online learning gets in the way of effective instruction. If online learning tools aren’t easy to operate, then students and instructors are less likely to use them. Colleges and universities can solve this challenge by investing in easy-to-use technologies and making sure they work together seamlessly, without extra steps required on the part of users.

For instance, although video conferencing can engage students and create a sense of community within online courses, scheduling and launching a conference can be unwieldy—especially if there is no integration between the conferencing platform that an instructor wants to use and the institution’s learning management system.

Without this integration, instructors would have to set up a meeting within Zoom, WebEx, or another conferencing platform, then copy the meeting link and post it within the LMS. Or, they could import their class roster into the conferencing platform and invite students to participate, but they would have to hope that students are checking their email regularly and have seen the invitation. When the session is over, they would have to export a link to the session recording and send it to students via email, or else upload it to the LMS so that students can access it alongside their other course materials.

The entire process of navigating between the conferencing platform and the LMS can be very cumbersome, especially for instructors who aren’t well versed in teaching with this particular set of technologies. As a result, many instructors are discouraged from even trying. However, if instructors had an easy way to schedule secure video conferences from directly within the LMS, they would be more likely to use live video to engage students. What’s more, students who are registered in the course would have automatic, one-click access to these scheduled and archived video conferences within the LMS as well—without having to receive or accept a separate invitation.

Student engagement, support, and comfort with technology are common challenges to learning in an online environment. Building opportunities for students to engage with each other and with the instructor through live video—and making this process simple and seamless for everyone involved—can help overcome these barriers and lead to greater student success.

If you’re looking for other ways to connect with and learn from other online learning experts, check out the inaugural Digital Learning Annual Conference happening in Austin, TX. April 1-3, 2019. Here are 4 reasons to attend.

For more, See:

Dov Friedman is a co-founder and vice president of business development for CirQlive. Click here to connect with Dov on LinkedIn.

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How School Administrators Can Support and Promote Formative Assessment

By: Susan Villani

Formative assessment promotes teachers and students sharing responsibility for students’ learning and empowers students to know what they should be learning and how to demonstrate that they are doing so at high quality levels.

It also requires a deep transformation of the roles fulfilled by school leaders, administrators, teachers, and even students. As teachers develop lesson plans and structures that enable students to increasingly become responsible for their own learning, administrators must give teachers the support and flexibility they need to rethink their approach to educating.

The How I Know initiative is a good example of these aspects of formative assessment. How I Know is an initiative of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation through which sixty pilot teachers from Dallas ISD, Austin ISD, and Tulsa Public Schools are focused on identifying, scaling, and sharing successful approaches for designing formative assessment practice in the classroom.

Brea Lewis of Ben Milam Elementary School working on Learner Goals with students.

I have worked with How I Know pilot site administrators and teachers in Dallas since February 2017. Pilot teachers and site administrators have learned a lot about formative assessment and how to incorporate it into their practice. Dallas’ District Design Team led district’s work under the How I Know initiative. Featured throughout this blog post are Anna Galvan, Principal of Ben Milam Elementary School, and two teachers from Ben Milam, Brea Lewis and Kim Harmon, who are members of the District Design Team, and who were also in a position to learn more about formative assessment before How I Know was officially launched.

Now, all too quickly, it is already time to think about scaling formative assessment to more classrooms in the next school year. After a recent visit to Dallas, I reflected on what appear to be the most powerful strategies site administrators have utilized to help formative assessment take root.

I identified five main roles that school administrators in Dallas played in their leadership of formative assessment.

1. Learning about formative assessment so they could be leaders.

Site administrators participated in several introductory sessions to understand the foundations of the How I Know Formative Assessment initiative. They learned that formative assessment is a lot more than teachers collecting exit tickets at the end of class or giving many quizzes and tests to accumulate assessment data. They came to understand that formative assessment is only formative if it impacts instruction during that lesson and/or soon thereafter.

Administrators now realize that formative assessment is about teachers and students sharing responsibility for the students’ learning. Specific learning goals and success criteria that students understand are essential. This makes it possible for students to demonstrate achieving the learning goal or realizing that they need to try again or get help from a peer or the teacher.

Children in Brea Lewis’ classroom writing on the Success Criteria that they developed.

For example, Dallas teachers were accustomed to posting Learning Objectives and Demonstrations of Learning, but they have now also come to understand the value of Learning Goals and Success Criteria, which are subtly different but also more relevant to formative assessment by utilizing language that is student-centered. Learning Goals often start with “I understand…,” and Success Criteria may start with I can…”. Defining the goal for each lesson is often more specific than what teachers are responsible to do through curriculum standards and making this shift has been a learning process for teachers.

Administrators also learned that there are stages that all people go through when a new initiative or change is introduced. They learned about the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM), which outlines the stages of concern: awareness, informational, personal, management, consequence, collaboration, and refocus. They were interested in how hearing what a person says can be deciphered to match it with a stage of concern. Knowing a person’s stage of concern is important so that administrators can respond appropriately to individual stages of concern.

2. Listening to the pilot teachers and students to find out what they need.

Esmeralda Hernandez of Ben Milam Elementary working with students.

Administrators also spent time in classrooms to find out what was different about formative assessment and how it was impacting students. Anna Galvan, principal of Ben Milam Elementary School and a member of the District Design Team, scheduled meetings after school for pilot teachers to share their successes and challenges. As a result, teachers at Ben Milam became very comfortable, early on, talking about their practices with each other.

Administrators shared with me, and others supporting the How I Know initiative, different pieces of formative feedback so that we could adjust or modify how we helped the pilot teachers and the administrators themselves.

Rickey Townsend, pilot teacher at Benjamin Franklin Middle School, wrote in an email correspondence to me on September 25, 2018, “I thoroughly enjoyed our planning and debrief last week. I witnessed so much growth from our first-time meeting to this last-time meeting. This work is definitely challenging, but what I am learning is if you stick with it, everything will come together.”

3. Letting Go of a current way of doing something to make room for a new way.

Sometimes teachers felt that they were being directed, through different district initiatives, to do things that conflicted with what they were learning about formative assessment. We worked to help make connections between initiatives, finding common threads, and philosophies.

Anna Galvan told the pilot teachers that during this pilot, they could post the Learning Goals, as defined by How I Know formative assessment, instead of the Learning Objectives. “We need to afford pilot teachers the autonomy to try new things,” she said, in order for them to feel supported.

4. Lingering to observe and learn from each other.

Informally, pilot teachers talked with each other about formative assessment and what they and their students were doing. The POD Cycle, described in a previous blog post in this series, described the specific process of teachers planning together, observing the lesson, and then reflecting as a group afterward. Pilot teachers learned from their colleagues and were excited about “upgrades” that were suggested by the POD Cycle facilitators. Pilot teachers eagerly continue sharing their ideas with each other, both informally and in the POD cycles. Brea Lewis talked about the Formative Assessment Template that was shared at a POD Cycle, saying, “Teachers are all going through a process together. They really talk.”

5. Lighting the Way by inviting other teachers to observe pilot classrooms.

Grade-level and departmental colleagues were curious about How I Know, and pilot teachers shared what they were learning. For example, Emily Brokaw responded to Molina High School social studies teachers’ curiosity about Learning Goals and Success Criteria. Colleagues in the pilot schools observed the way students’ voices are an integral part of every lesson, and the ways that the pilot teachers structured the lessons and used assessment to inform their instruction right then and there. Allison Cato shared her red-yellow-green cup strategy, for students to self-assess their work and indicate when they needed help, with math colleagues at Molina High School.

Children in Brea Lewis’ classroom consulting posted Learning Goal and Success Criteria.

Anna Galvan said that when other colleagues observe, pilot teachers feel empowered and on the right track. “Their confidence is rising. They have the internal satisfaction of a job well done when they see the student outcomes.”

There have been many successes. The following is a list of success pilot administrators and an instructional coach have noticed:

  • Teachers have more effective lessons due to creating Learning Goals and the Criteria for Success. (Avril El-Amin, Assistant Principal at Anne Frank Elementary School)
  • A culture of learning and student self-assessment is more prevalent. (Richard Patille, Assistant Principal at Benjamin Franklin Middle School)
  • Teachers are becoming responsive to data in the moment. (Gina Maffucci, Instructional Coach at Ben Milam Elementary School)
  • The dialogue between pilot teachers is up a level from the dialogue between teachers who haven’t utilized formative assessment. (Terry-Ann Rodriguez, Principal at Molina high school)
  • Student-teacher and student-student interactions are grounded more deeply in relationships. (Richard Patille)
  • There is a mindset of intentionality with planning, teaching, and assessment. (Gina Maffucci)
  • Teachers are seeing a shift, a transfer of control from teacher to student. (Josue Borrego, Assistant Principal at Anne Frank Elementary School)
  • Student-to-student discourse has increased. (Avril El-Amin)
  • Students have a better understanding of what they have mastered and what they still need to learn based on Success Criteria. (Terry-Ann Rodriguez)
  • Teachers understand that what is best for students is a high leverage point. (Josue Borrego)

Scaling Formative Assessment

How to scale formative assessment will be discussed by district and school administrators and the pilot teachers during the next few months, but it is already clear that building on the learning and experience of the site administrators and pilot teachers will be crucial to scaling. Anna Galvan said that Ben Milam needs to continue with formative assessment because the pilot teachers want it. “Teachers notice a change in their students. Teachers say that they need this.” She continued, “Scaling will require developing the pilot teachers as teacher leaders. Administrators need to be purposeful, intentional, and transparent about promoting pilot teacher leadership.”

Esmeralda Hernandez, a pilot teacher at Ben Milam who has had some of the same students last year and this year, enthusiastically said, “You can see the difference. The kids have more interaction. They question everything: each other and me! Questioning a teacher is something they wouldn’t do. They know it’s okay now, that you should do it. They know that making mistakes is okay. They accept that. They are more comfortable. Even if they don’t have me in the future, she said, it [formative assessment] will carry on.”

For more, see:

Susan Villani is a Senior Program Associate at WestEd. She has been coaching and teaching administrators to become more effective leaders and instructors for over 30 years. Connect with her at [email protected].

This post is a part of a series focused on the “How I Know: Designing Meaningful Formative Assessment” initiative sponsored by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. Check out the How I Know website ( and join the conversation on Twitter using #HowIKnow or #FormativeAssessment.

Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for 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.

Where to Be During SXSW EDU 2019

It’s that time of year where we all jump in planes, trains, and automobiles to head down to Austin, Texas for some education inspiration at SXSW EDU. We’re excited to spend four days together discussing education innovation with our fellow optimistic, forward-thinking stakeholders who are aiming to impact the future of learning.

Below, you will find a summary of where you can find us throughout the week, where our friends (who we highly encourage you to check out) will be, and a few others that are new to us but exciting nonetheless. We also encourage you to check out the featured speaker line up and sessions for this year’s conference. There are a ton of great educators coming to share their experiences and best practices and help push all of our thinking toward what a new future of learning will look like.

For the second consecutive year, we’re excited to be a SXSW EDU media partner. We’d love to meet up while we’re there, but if you can’t make it to Austin, stay tuned to Twitter (@Getting_Smart), we’ll be on the ground live reporting and can’t wait to share what we learn.

You can also follow along on our Team’s social handles. Here’s who you’ll see in Austin:

Monday, March 4th

Life Beyond the Diploma: Adults with Autism

When: 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM

Where: Austin Convention Center, Room 10C


  • Adam Kulaas, Director of Learning Design, Getting Smart
  • Gary More, Co-Founder, President & CEO, nonPareil Institute
  • Lisa Marie Coates, Special Education Teacher Leader, Chesterfield County Public Schools
  • Kim Tagge, Director, nonpareil Institute

What: Join an ecosystem of educators and business leaders to discuss emerging learning modules and skill-sets that are effectively preparing students with autism for post-secondary success and meaningful employment. Panelists will discuss how to make these learning approaches and skills. including personalized and project-based learning, more accessible to young adults, specifically those with autism, working in partnership with software development firms.

Revolutionizing Edtech with Interoperability

When: 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM

Where: Austin Convention Center, Room 11AB


  • David Miyashiro, Superintendent, Cajon Valley Union School District
  • Caroline Vander Ark, President, Getting Smart
  • Kimberly Smith, Executive Director, League of Innovative Schools, Digital Promise

What: Project Unicorn, Digital Promise, and Cajon Valley USD will discuss how districts can dig deeper to develop a digital ecosystem with interoperability and discuss pain points identified by districts, including privacy, security, policy compliance, and rostering. Technology will never replace great teaching. Rather, it can help educators to inform instruction, save time, and improve student outcomes. Learn how to optimize your data and mobilize your movement in the digital space.

Tuesday, March 5th

Building Student Agency Through the Power of Place

When: 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM

Where: Hilton Austin Downtown, Salon K


  • Emily Liebtag, Director of Advocacy, Getting Smart
  • Nate McClennen, VP of Education & Innovation, Teton Science Schools

What: Learning doesn’t just happen within brick and mortar school buildings—powerful learning happens in our communities. In fact, some of the most personalized learning starts when students engage in their communities and unpack who they are, where they are from, and how they can make a difference right now. In this session, participants will work with students to explore Austin as a community and reveal the six essential place-based education design principles.

Wednesday, March 6th

Collaborate vs Compete: Sustaining via Networks

When: 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Where: Hilton Austin Downtown, Salon H


  • Tom Vander Ark, CEO, Getting Smart
  • Lydia Dobyns, President & CEO, New Tech Network
  • Royce Avery, Superintendent, Manor Independent School District
  • Juan Cabrera, Superintendent, El Paso Independent School District

What: Changing education is complicated. Working in networks reduces complexity and increases effectiveness and impact. By providing design principles, learning models, tools, and professional learning, networks play a key role in scaling and sustaining high-quality, equitable learning. Informal and formal networks can support the transformation of a single school or an entire system. Hear from network leaders and learn how you can leverage the power of networks to transform learning.

Better Together Book Signing

When: 12:30 PM – 1:00 PM

Where: Austin Convention Center, Atrium Landing on Level 3


  • Tom Vander Ark, CEO, Getting Smart
  • Lydia Dobyns, President & CEO, New Tech Network

What: Grab your copy of Better Together: How to Leverage School Networks For Smarter Personalized and Project Based Learning and get it freshly signed by Tom and Lydia!

Thursday, March 7th

Building Talent Pipelines Through City Ecosystems

When: 1:30 PM – 3:30 PM

Where: Hilton Austin Downtown, Salon K


  • Tom Vander Ark, CEO, Getting Smart
  • Connie Yowell, CEO, LRNG
  • Paul LeBlanc, President, Southern New Hampshire University
  • Rob English, CCO, Friends At Work

What: We live in a time of rapid change. How the next generation learns, expresses themselves, socially and civically engage and what motivates them is shifting dramatically. Join this workshop to explore new approaches to building talent pipelines designed with the city as the core unit rather than educational institutions alone. We will be joined by civic and higher ed leaders as well as entertainment and design experts to discuss creating workforce solutions for the 21st century.

Other Sessions Worth Checking Out

Here are a few more we’ll be sending our team to! We think you’ll want to check them out too.

Keep your eye on @Getting_Smart and @SXSWEDU for highlights and links to other fun events happening in Austin next week!

Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for 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.

How AI Curriculum Can Prepare Students for Success in a New World

By: Andrew Chen

As we enter the new year, the question on the minds of educators and economists alike remains an echo from 2018 and years past: how will technology impact jobs moving forward? And how can we prepare our students to succeed in an increasingly automated, AI-driven world?

The fear that surrounds AI, automation and its impact on American jobs largely outweigh understanding of its benefits and opportunities. This isn’t new; the fear and lack of understanding surrounding AI are deeply rooted in modern culture. Concerns of job loss due to automation have been voiced and formally addressed since 1962, when President John F. Kennedy announced the “Manpower Development and Training Program,” created to retrain workers whose jobs had been lost to automation. And we’ve all seen the headlines about how AI is impacting the job market, particularly when the news is negative.

Evidence that these fears are well-founded seemed to play out in 2018, depending on which story you read. GM’s massive layoffs in November reflected the talent and workforce strains associated with the digitization of nearly every industry in America. Meanwhile, Amazon opened its first store with checkout-free shopping and automatic billing almost two years ago; self-checkout systems at our nation’s retail giants are further reducing the need for cashiers and other back-office workers, and even high-paying jobs in manufacturing and IT are being automated thanks to new AI-powered tools.

Other headlines, though, tell a much more positive – and realistic – story about how AI and automation will impact jobs. A recent Gartner report found that AI will replace the 1.8 million eliminated jobs with 2.3 million new jobs in this emerging field by 2020, and employment companies like Glassdoor indicate that a growing number of AI jobs are providing lucrative career prospects to those with the requisite skills. The World Bank has confirmed that the increased use of artificial intelligence and robotics are unlikely to lead to job redundancy and are, in fact, “creating opportunities, paving the way for new and altered jobs, increasing productivity, and improving the delivery of public services.”

My concern, however – and that of my colleagues – goes beyond the impact that AI will have on the workforce. Rather, we’re concerned that misconceptions about automation and AI, and even the laser-focus on the impact on the job market, have overshadowed all of the positive ways that AI can change the world for the better– from creating new healthcare solutions to designing hospitals of the future, improving farming and our food supply, helping refugees acclimate to new environments, improving educational resources and access, and even cleaning our oceans, air, and water supply. The potential for humans to improve the world through AI is endless, as long as we know how to use it.

I am also concerned about how this generations-old, misplaced fear has impacted our education system and the perception of AI from our schools and teachers. AI tools are more visible than ever in U.S. schools and classrooms when it comes to management and administration; however, how can we ensure that we are teaching our students what AI actually is and how to engage with it in a way that will help them create solutions to improve the world we live in?

The truth is this: AI is the core of the fourth industrial revolution, and provides the potential for all applications and processes to get smarter and provide greater benefit for society. It already impacts every part of our lives, from how we shop to our healthcare to the cars we drive. The growth of AI could create 58 million net new jobs in the next few years, according to the World Economic Forum, while Economic Modeling Specialists International predicts that jobs in STEM fields will to grow by 13% between now and 2027. But a gap remains; while there are close to 300,000 AI professionals worldwide, there are millions of roles that need to be filled. The supply of AI talent is not meeting demand.

The solution for bridging this gap can be found in our K12 schools and classrooms. The need to educate students starting at an early age about how to not just be consumers of AI, but creators, is clear.

While there are many STEM programs that focus on coding and robotics, K12 education needs to embrace tools and curricula that teach the full complement of AI concepts in order to truly prepare students for 21st-century college and career success. These concepts include visual recognition, landmark-based navigation, object manipulation, facial recognition and expressions, speech generation, and speech recognition. Educators need solutions that remove barriers like time, cost, and intimidation, which often stand in the way of embracing new tools.

One such solution, AI-in-a-Box, is already helping schools and districts move quickly toward developing the first generation of AI-ready students, preparing them for success in college, careers, and citizenship. AI-in-a-Box leverages STEAM and project-based learning to help students acquire a deeper knowledge of AI’s key concepts through the active exploration of real-world challenges and team-based problem-solving, cementing 21st-century skills needed for success in a changing world, such as collaboration, problem-solving, critical thinking and engagement. AI-in-a-Box also offers formal teacher training to support teachers in how to teach AI concepts and lessons.

According to Christine Nguyen, Director of the STEM Boys and Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania, “With AI-in-a-Box, we’re giving youth the opportunity to learn and understand the AI-based concepts and technologies that they already experience in their everyday lives, and that will help them build a better world for themselves and be connected with the careers of tomorrow.”

“AI in K-12 isn’t just a good opportunity to teach youth the early fundamentals of coding, design and the evolution of robotics; it’s also a stepping stone for our future engineers and other career paths,” said James Carter, an early childhood educator at both the Jewish Community Center and the Boys & Girls Club in Pittsburgh, PA. “Science and STEAM education are subjects close to my heart, and it’s very gratifying to see children learn how to grasp the future through AI ideas and curriculum.”

As the educational landscape continues to evolve, the focus on AI should, and likely will, command a more prominent role in K12 curricula. Thanks to these new tools, schools, and teachers will be ready.

For more, see:

 Andrew Chen is the President of ReadyAI, the first teacher-friendly K12 Artificial Intelligence (AI) education company. You can follow ReadyAI on Twitter @USReadyAI.

This post is a part of the Getting Smart Future of Work Campaign. The future of work will bring new challenges and cause us to shift how we think about jobs and employability — so what does this mean for teaching and learning? In our exploration of the #FutureOfWork, sponsored by eduInnovation and powered by Getting Smart, we dive into what’s happening, what’s coming and how schools might prepare. For more, follow #futureofwork and visit our Future of Work page.

Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update.

CASEL’s New Guide Provides Actionable Steps for SEL Implementation

Educators want all students to achieve. They know that behind every test score is a student that is a developing person. Each student brings with them to school a story of their interests, their home life, their hopes, and their fears. And the healthy development of the student is a significant driver for how each learner is able to show their innate capacity in the classroom. Research has shown that the quality of the teacher matters, the quality of instructional materials matter, a well-organized and well-resourced school environment matters; but, the effectiveness of these factors is built on the foundation of the student’s readiness and ability to focus on learning. Educators know that student presence and engagement precedes achievement.

Ensuring this healthy development of students has become a standard part of conversations in today’s educational dialogue. Social-emotional learning (SEL) fills a significant amount of discussion time at school board meetings, is a regular session topic at educational conferences, and encompasses a growing sector of educational vendor products. Academic research, practitioner experience, and popular consensus agree that schools should organize themselves to ensure healthy, happy, and engaged students.

But, despite this growing attention, there has been an absence of clarity on best implementation practices for navigating the complexities of this endeavor.  Schools struggle to clearly define the current baseline, desired future state, and the concrete steps of collaboration needed to ensure that schools are effectively addressing the healthy development of students. Schools have been doing the best they can to figure out the next, or even initial step, in the absence of an exemplar design and planning tool or standard.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a leading voice on the social-emotional health of students for over two decades, has recently published a comprehensive framework and toolset to help bring clarity on, and provide actionable steps for, how to proceed in this daunting, yet fundamentally important challenge. The CASEL Guide to Schoolwide SEL gives pragmatic and thoughtful guidance on how schools–principals, teachers, and staff–can create environments and cultures that simultaneously prioritize students’ emotional development, social maturity, and academic achievement.

CASEL Guide to Schoolwide SEL

This free, online, interactive tool walks school stakeholders through CASEL’s schoolwide implementation process, which has been used, field-tested, and refined for over a decade. The online Guide was informed by input from leading school districts that make up CASEL’s Collaborating Districts Initiative.

The Guide takes a comprehensive and practical approach to the process of implementing SEL at the school level. It addresses the challenges, constraints, and calendars of school staffing, budgeting, scheduling, data analysis, improvement planning, parent engagement, and other real-world challenges. It provides frameworks for when and how to conduct collaborations with and among teachers, students, parents, and community organizations. It speaks to how and when to consider changes to school rituals, discipline policies, pedagogy, curriculum and so much more.  And given the reality that many school leaders feel overwhelmed by the enormity and the complexity of realizing their ambition to have a healthier school culture through implementing an SEL program, it begins by responding to the question, “Where to Start?”   This Guide provides a practical, high-quality response to this question and the series of subsequent questions that need to be addressed to have a sustainable, resourced, and responsive SEL culture in any school.

Where to Start?

The “Where to Start” section provides multiple on-ramps for school leaders that take into account where the school is in terms of current SEL awareness and implementation.  From those just curious about SEL implementation to those who have already undertaken steps to promote SEL at a school site, the Guide gives tangible steps for moving forward.  Once started, the Guide walks through three stages to move from ambition to sustainability: Organize, Implement, Improve. Throughout each section, the Guide provides explicit information for school leaders and administrators on action steps to promote SEL implementation across these areas.


Build a Foundational Support and Plan: For those in the very beginning stages, the Guide walks school leaders through the steps of committing to SEL implementation, making a plan, and getting school stakeholders on board so they have ownership in the process. It advises leaders to create a diverse SEL team, ensure that all understand the importance of SEL learning to student success, and collaboratively develop a shared vision for schoolwide SEL that is effectively communicated to the entire school community. The Guide then walks school leaders through the steps of creating their plan for implementation. Schools must take an account of their needs and resources and develop a plan with “clear goals, action steps, and assigned ownership” for moving forward. For those further along in the implementation process, the Guide provides an interactive rubric to take stock of current practices and provide guidance on how to strengthen that implementation. Wherever schools are in the process, the Guide reminds that it is integral to “‘lead from the center rather than the top’”–so that the vision truly is shared by the community and more likely to take hold.


Strengthening Adult SEL: Oftentimes, conversations around SEL implementation in schools center solely on students. This Guide draws on research findings and experiences from the field that show that it is “critically important that schoolwide SEL implementation intentionally nurtures a work environment in which staff feels supported, empowered, able to collaborate effectively and build relational trust, and also able to develop their social and emotional skills.”  And, this includes all staff members–from administrators to teachers to support staff to any adult in a school who interacts with kids. Therefore, a key piece of the implementation plan is to create an environment that provides school staff with opportunities for professional development and reflection on social-emotional learning; fosters collaboration among staff to develop and refine strategies for promoting schoolwide SEL; and encourages staff to model SEL skills and mindsets in interactions with one another, students, families, and the broader community.

Promote SEL for Students: The central goal of schoolwide SEL implementation is the healthy social and emotional development of students. And, a student’s learning and development are affected by the many different interactions they have throughout a day. Therefore, the Guide notes that SEL implementation must span all the different settings from a student’s life, and include strategies that address schools, classrooms, homes, and the broader community.  The document includes guidance on how to address SEL implementation across these different contexts:

  • School: “Align school climate, programs, and practices to promote SEL for students.”
  • Classrooms: “Foster supportive classroom environments that provide opportunities for both explicit SEL skill instruction as well as integration of SEL throughout all instruction.”
  • Homes: ”Create meaningful partnership opportunities and two-way communication that invite families to understand, experience, inform, and support the social and emotional development of their students.”
  • Community: “Develop and leverage strategic and aligned community partnerships that ensure students receive consistent SEL supports, increase access to a broad range of community services, and expand the professional learning opportunities for SEL.”

The Guide explains that these efforts to extend the social, emotional, and academic learning from the school to a student’s extracurricular and home environments tremendously improve the overall development and practice of these skills and competencies. And, the practice at home and outside of school can serve to be mutually reinforcing to the work happening in the school. Encouraging SEL development across a students’ support networks greatly improves the prospects of successful schoolwide SEL implementation.


Practice Continuous Improvement: The Guide notes that the implementation of schoolwide SEL is not a linear process; rather, an iterative cycle of reflection and adjustment is essential. The Guide recommends schools embark on two areas of work to ensure “a structured, ongoing process to collect, reflect on, and use implementation and outcome data to inform school-level decisions and drive improvements to SEL implementation”:

  • Continuous improvement: a deliberate process of responding to problems and using that response and data to inform improvements and future decisions.
  • Testing out innovative practices: short continuous improvement cycles aimed to keep staff energized about the SEL programming.

This approach to SEL builds into the implementation plan a process for responding to needs and concerns that arise from the community. The Guide also includes additional tools and resources that allow schools to track progress, delve deeper into any of the steps in the Guide, and provide further guidance on questions and concerns surrounding this process that may emerge.

A Roadmap for Educating the Whole Child

Implementing schoolwide SEL can feel overwhelming for even the most well-intentioned educators, especially in a context where so much energy and attention is focused on standards-based instruction and high-stakes testing. This CASEL Guide to Schoolwide SEL acknowledges this burden and meets educators where they are. It provides tangible action steps to take what schools already do well and integrate deeper practices to move toward full SEL implementation. This Guide lifts a fog of uncertainty and reveals a roadmap for the journey.

In providing this tool, CASEL has continued its track record of making significant contributions to the challenges inherent in having schools nurture healthy development as a precursor to academic achievement. And this work naturally connects with the societal expectation that a high school diploma should indicate a broad definition of college and career readiness.  A school culture that has a strong SEL foundation can realize the ambitions of rigor, relevance and relationships which schools strive to deliver. Questions of equity, diversity, disparity, and inclusion can be addressed by communities that have the social and emotional skills to engage in critical conversations. Educators have begun to see SEL as a way to re-align–by taking what many current practices are already accomplishing -and to create new connective practices to make sure they are seeing and addressing the entire picture of student development.

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How to Be Employable Forever

“Learning things that matter; learning in context; learning in teams. Envisioning what has never been and doing whatever it takes to make it happen. Do that 20 times and you will be employable forever,” said Richard Miller, President of Olin College of Engineering.

More than twenty years ago, Miller began thinking about this formula. The mechanical engineer was dean of engineering at the University of Iowa. About the same time, the trustees of the F. W. Olin Foundation began contemplating a new approach to engineering education. They formed Olin College and Miller signed on as the first employee.

By the end of 1999, the new institution’s leadership team had been hired and site development work commenced on 70 acres adjacent to Babson College in Needham, Massachusetts. Olin’s first faculty members joined in September 2000.

In a nod to how different Olin would be, they invited 30 students to help design the curriculum. Living in modular buildings, they joined the faculty in studying new approaches to engineering education. A full class was enrolled in 2002.

Best in Engineering Education

With about 350 students, Olin is small in size but large in impact. It was recognized as the most well-regarded school of engineering education in the world (edging out MIT in a 2018 report sponsored by MIT).

The study focused on current as well as emerging leaders, with Olin and MIT most frequently cited. Other schools making the list include some you would expect like Stanford and less well known schools such as Aalborg University in Denmark and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

Olin was cited for its “multidisciplinary student-centered education that extends across and beyond traditional engineering disciplines and is anchored in issues of ethics and social responsibility.”

Think of Olin as a lab school and a professional learning center. Over 900 institutions have visited and participated in a learning experience on campus.

Walking around campus, you’ll notice a diverse, gender balanced student body. You’ll probably see them engaged in one of the three dozen design-build projects they conduct. If you visit at the end of a semester, you’ll see students presenting a public product.

Olin begins with hands-on challenges from day one and it culminates with a two-semester Senior Capstone in engineering (SCOPE) where teams engaged on impact projects with corporate partners, government research labs, NGO, and startups.



Professor conducting a project review at Olin

Reimagining Higher Education

“No amount of emphasis on narrow specialized courses will produce the innovators we need,” said Miller.

He envisions Olin as a tugboat nudging the aircraft carrier of higher education toward relevance in the innovation economy where intrinsic motivation powers design-based contributions. (See slide from Miller’s AACU presentation below)

Education for the innovation economy is not just about knowledge and skill, argues Miller, it’s about mindset–collaborative, interdisciplinary, ethical, empathetic, entrepreneurial and global.

Developing these mindsets means an education that asks a new set of questions:

  • Identity: who do you believe you are?
  • Agency: what are you confident you can actually do?
  • Purpose: how will your life make a positive difference?

What replaces narrow, specialized courses? Miller advocates for more global, complex, multidisciplinary challenges.

Join the crowds visiting Olin to see the future of higher education. It’s worth checking out their Summer Institute on Designing Student-Centered Learning Experiences, June 10-14.

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This post was originally published on Forbes.

School Counselor, or Student Guide to 21st Century Success?

By: Colin Seale

In 2018, there was a school shooting once every eight days, leading many to question what role school counselors could have played in helping to prevent these tragedies. But it is hard to imagine how school systems can adequately support the needs of students who in 1 out of 5 cases struggle with mental health issues. Couple this with the fact that we have a nationwide shortage of school counselors, counselor-to-student ratios well above the recommended limits and alarming cuts to school counselor budgets leads to a clear conclusion that we are not prioritizing the social-emotional health of our students.

School systems across the country do, however, tend to prioritize any and everything they can do to make sure students are graduating college and career ready. So here’s a thought: let’s start looking at school counselors as essential resources for equipping lifelong learners for the future workforce. It doesn’t take much to realize that high-quality counseling for all students can play as an important of a role for 21st-century readiness as a rigorous curriculum and Career & Technical Education programs.

Because the “soft skills” employers are begging for is frankly, well, hard! The global workforce our students are entering requires students to communicate across lines of difference, so don’t be surprised if “knowing how to disagree without being disagreeable” ends up as a skill put on resumes of the future next to mastery of programming languages and technical certifications. Well-funded school counseling programs can have a tremendous impact. Imagine a world where learning to resolve conflicts, manage stress and pressure, and developing resilience was as important as mastering academic standards. Guess what? We’re already in this world! Google now ranks emotional intelligence over STEM credentials in their recruiting, and more than one-third of employers are following suit.

Think “mindfulness” is just fluff? Apparently, General Mills, Apple, and Nike don’t think so. They recognize the value of improving their workers’ ability to focus and make better decisions. No time to teach empathy? Accept the fact that you are willfully under-preparing students since we know 87% of CEOs see a clear link between empathy in the workplace and business success. So if we are serious about equipping students with the critical thinking skills and mindsets they need to remain agile in our rapidly changing workforce, the path is clear: Mind their minds, and acknowledge the powerful role school counselors can and must have in preparing students for 21st-century success.

In that spirit, here are four practical tips for school systems looking to make this essential adjustment:

1) Integrate social-emotional learning into academic content: Change fatigue understandably leads teachers to dread the thought of adding “one more thing” to their plates. But it turns out, asking educators to choose between social-emotional learning and rigorous content is a false choice. I’ve seen this first-hand with thinkLaw, where we help educators teach critical thinking through real-life legal cases in upper grades, fairy tales in nursery rhymes in lower grades, and training to help teachers make the 21st century transformation from asking “what” and “how to” to asking “why” and “what if.” These practices demonstrate how to weave in social-emotional learning with academic content that students need to be future ready. What if students stepped into shoes of multiple stakeholders to analyze “Stop and Frisk” policies and writing a policy recommendation letter to their local police chief? How about if students looked at two incorrect math problems and debated which is more “right” based on inferences and metacognition? And what if we went down to kindergarten to challenge students to engage in conflict resolution activities using nursery rhymes and evaluating the potential hardships of being a blind mouse? These are just some of the practical ways social-emotional learning can be seamlessly integrated with relevant and rigorous content without overwhelming already-swamped educators.

2) Put students at the center of solving their own problems. With limited funding and time for increased school counselor involvement, building emotional intelligence cannot be the sole job of counselors. To sustainably build a school’s capacity to develop the 21st-century soft skills students need, consider creating peer mediation, conflict resolution, or kid’s court programs that transform students into negotiation experts. There is no better way to train our students for a future where communication across vast lines of difference will be commonplace than to have them start communicating across vast lines of difference right now. This does not require schools to recreate the wheel because there are lots of free peer mediation resources to model a program after. And mountains of evidence suggest that the magic of having students mediate conflicts on their own leads to longer-lasting resolutions and relieve part of the significant disciplinary burden of counselors and school leaders.

3) Let school counselors focus on school counselor issues. By the time you finish this sentence, 2,000 school counselors have been asked to modify a student’s schedule. This is an exaggeration, but the reality is that the nationwide school counselor shortage is compounded by the tendency to assign duties to school counselors that are outside of their scope as builders of humans. When we consider the urgent nature of what’s at stake for ensuring our students are future-ready, we cannot afford to have school counselors playing the role of registrars and occasional substitute teachers.

4) You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Understanding whether social-emotional learning is having an impact doesn’t require intensive one-on-one counseling sessions with every student. Fortunately, we now have powerful assessments to help school leaders determine the impact of school counselor-led, comprehensive efforts to increase emotional learning. Assessing students at the start of the school year and setting goals both for the overall population and disaggregated student subgroups can help school leaders prioritize this essential set of 21st-century skills.

As you think about the practical implications for shifting your mindset and practices for leveraging school counselors to prepare students for the future of work, remember this: the essential human element is the one thing that cannot be automated. Artificial intelligence and nanotechnology are already changing the world as we know it. But there is no algorithm for the fundamentally human, future-ready necessities of tomorrow that counselors are uniquely qualified to develop.

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Colin Seale is an educator, attorney, and critical thinking evangelist. Find Colin on Twitter at @ColinESeale.

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Carnegie Learning and One Stone High School: A Powerful Partnership

This blog is a combination of companion posts originally published on LONG + LIVE + MATH, a blog by Carnegie Learning.

Meet the Faculty and Students of One Stone

By: Allison Parker and Caitlyn Scales

One Stone is a Boise-based nonprofit and high school with a mission to make students better leaders and the world a better place. We seek to disrupt the traditional education system through our radically different, student-led and student-directed high school. In line with the mission of being student-led, One Stone’s nonprofit Board of Directors is, as required by its bylaws, comprised of at least two-thirds students. Our school is independent and tuition-free, with a learning model that is real-world, relevant, and prepares students for success in a rapidly changing world.

One Stone didn’t start out to launch a school–we started in 2008 with our mission and a focus on experiential service through a platform that is now called Project Good. Over time, we grew organically in response to the needs of our student team members. Using design thinking, we developed unique engagement platforms alongside our students. Since our founding, we have launched Two Birds, a student-led creative studio where entrepreneurs are forged by design; and Solution Lab, an incubator for projects, services, and ideas. The high school is our most recent engagement platform, launched in 2016 to answer the call from students desiring a real change and ownership in their learning experience.

One Stone—the high school—is now entering its third year. We pride ourselves on our entrepreneurial, “living in beta approach,” as it has allowed us to build the school together with our students. We are learning side by side while we grow a meaningful student-led experience. Through this, we are shaping a learning opportunity that empowers students to find their purpose and their passion, while equipping them with the skills to follow both.

Our math program was born out of these same values: it is student-led and founded on empathy. When we started the school, we worked closely with students both in conversation and through a survey to understand what they wanted out of their math education experience. We quickly learned that their biggest wish was for confidence. Students said that they wished to work in groups without “being embarrassed.” They want to ask questions without “feeling ashamed.” Our students seemed to know intuitively that they were capable of more, but felt unable or unequipped to try.

After realizing that many of our students are dealing with debilitating confidence issues in math, we decided to start by addressing mindsets, and we were greatly influenced by the work of Jo Boaler. Our students were desperate to hear her message that “[a] lot of scientific evidence suggests that the difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is not the brains they were born with, but their approach to life, the messages they receive about their potential, and the opportunities they have to learn.”* In response to student needs and research around mathematical mindsets, we approach our math program as our commitment to helping students become empowered mathematical thinkers who believe in their own ability to learn and engage with math as they acquire problem-solving skills and develop content knowledge.

We will explore the day to day of our math program in future blog posts, but we’ll end with an example of what our program means for our students. Allowing students to take ownership of their mathematics education has given one of our learners the opportunity to overcome her fear of math by exploring the relationship between knots in mathematics and knots in textiles. She is reading articles written by mathematicians about open questions in mathematics and is challenging herself to model the mathematical knots she’s learning about. In her words: “the way mathematicians talk about knots is like they’re talking about religion. It sounds like poetry.” What we are learning, alongside our students, is that math does not necessarily need to be explored sequentially and that there can be great value in studying math broadly. In this example, the student is studying geometry with the support of MATHia and is also exploring open questions in other areas of math. With MATHia, we are allowing students to explore math through their personal passions while also ensuring they are meeting national standards. This approach has already begun to show student growth in both mathematical application and mindset—we are excited to share more about what happens when curiosity and discovery meet the study of math.

The Carnegie Learning Approach

By: Sarah Galasso

Some partnerships are simply meant to be. Carnegie Learning and One Stone is one of those partnerships. Our philosophical approach, values, and goals for student learning are consistent across the board. We are both seeking to provide equitable opportunities for students to access content in ways that empower them to bring creativity, problem-solving, and passion to the work they do and the people they help.

Carnegie Learning believes in a student-centered approach to the classroom where students work collaboratively, engaging their prior knowledge and experiences. They develop that knowledge to grow their understanding and then demonstrate that growth. In this classroom, students are valued for what they can bring to the discussion. Every student is encouraged to use their voice and understands that their ideas are respected. It is this type of environment that One Stone provides for their students, one that Carnegie Learning wants to help achieve in classrooms everywhere.

Carnegie Learning values the process of problem-solving. It is not always about finding the solution, but how you get to a solution. We provide students with the opportunities to make sense of problems, strategize different pathways that could lead to a solution, and determine if the solution proves viable. Similar to One Stone’s desire to empower students as problem-solvers, our problem-based approach to mathematics leverages real-world tasks to help empower students to develop the problem-solving skills they will need as they move beyond the classroom.

One Stone students were the ones who decided to use MATHia, our personalized math learning software that uses artificial intelligence to tutor each student 1-on-1, which is not surprising given One Stone’s student-led approach to learning. The students tried MATHia and recognized how it could support them and help them to gain confidence as they develop as mathematicians and problem-solvers. The real-time feedback, hints, step-by-step problems, progress bar, and other tools work to build students’ ownership of their mathematical growth.  MATHia’s individualized pathways coach students on exactly the skills they need, allowing them to take their own specific journeys through math. No matter where those journeys take them, they will have developed the mathematical toolbox that will help them make sense of the world around them.

One Stone’s approach has opened their students’ eyes to the mathematics that surrounds them. The students now recognize that math is much more than simple multiplication facts, fractions, or solving equations. They see math everywhere, from the spins of a dancer to the edge of a knife blade to winning sporting events. We are thrilled to partner with them and share these stories with you as you work to bring these same core values to your classroom.

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This blog was originally published on Carnegie Learning.

What Happens When We Do School Better?

By: Doris Korda

Kylin Mackey was not going to graduate high school.

When students in Columbus City Schools are suspended or expelled they have the opportunity to enroll in Options for Success (OFS). This gives students the choice to avoid missing out on valuable learning, whether they’re there for a few days or several months. For Kylin, the program was his last chance at staying in the system after his most recent expulsion. By the time of his enrollment in spring 2016, his academic record was littered with infractions and he’d amassed a thick disciplinary file. If he couldn’t cut it at OFS, the system was ready to eject him, and what’s worse, he was expecting that outcome too.

When Dr. Danielle E. Bomar became Principal of OFS in 2016 she was determined not just to fix her student’s grades, but their understanding of why their education is important. Doing that started with asking a simple question of both her teachers and her students: Why are we going to school?

”A lot of students these days want to know why,” said Danielle. “It’s not enough to tell them ‘you have to learn this because I’m your teacher and I said so’. They want to know how they’re going to apply what they’re learning.” For Dr. Bomar, “getting students re-engaged in school isn’t just about boosting test scores. It’s about keeping these students from becoming statistics.” According to research from UCLA, even one expulsion can almost double a student’s chances of never graduating high school.

When I met Dr. Bomar, it was clear she was looking for something for the Kylin’s in her school. When she visited my entrepreneurship class and had a chance to see my methods in action, she knew her students needed the same experience. She was eager to move away from “drill and kill” style instruction towards something more student-driven. Together, we decided to do a pilot with a small group of students, a cohort which included Kylin.

Hot Chicken Takeover and a Fair Chance

On the first day of class, Kylin and his classmates weren’t given a worksheet or reading list. They were bussed downtown to Hot Chicken Takeover. The North Market eatery was founded by Joe DeLoss, who had more ambitious goals than simply serving delicious Nashville style fried chicken. Joe sat down with the students and explained how his business practiced “Fair Chance Employment”, giving jobs and opportunity to people affected by a criminal record who otherwise wouldn’t be able to find work. Then Joe issued a challenge. They were opening a second location soon in a suburban neighborhood, where there were questions about how well the community would accept his employees. They were investing so much into it that if they couldn’t get enough new customers and employees, it could put their downtown spot in jeopardy. In just three and a half weeks, he’d be coming to OFS to hear the student’s ideas for how to get his new location up and running.

The social justice aspect underlying the company got Kylin engaged like nothing else could have. “Pretty much as soon as we got to Hot Chicken Takeover, Kylin was the leader,” recalls Dr. Bomar. This wasn’t a problem with an answer in the back of the book. No one – including Joe – knew the correct solution ahead of time, and both he and the teachers made it clear the answers students provided would make a real difference for the restaurant and its staff. Instead of calculating the distance between fictional bus stops or memorizing dates, Kylin was responsible for something real, urgent, and unlike anything he’d ever had to do in school before.

The Pilot: Learning through Discovery

The teachers at OFS weren’t trying to get Kylin to “learn marketing”. They were constructing a space where Kylin could discover his strengths and his ability to make a difference with his teammates and within his community. If Kylin and his team were going to present their solutions to Joe and field questions from him at the end of the project their suggestions would have to be backed up by evidence. That meant learning how to find and interpret data to determine what was relevant and what wasn’t.

Having the students work in teams helped with managing the scale of the project. It also allowed each student to hone in on their particular strengths and build on those so each person contributed the most they could to the project. And since these teams were comprised of teenage humans, another inevitable part of the learning was experiencing disagreements with colleagues and learning how to work through them healthily and productively. When Kylin made a mistake, he wasn’t simply given a bad mark and told to move on; he was given space where he could reflect on what went wrong and guidance to build off that experience.

As Dr. Bomar said after the program, “Kylin didn’t miss a day of school, and his attendance was terrible at his home school before the program. He was late one morning to this class and otherwise had perfect attendance. He did public speaking, research, stuff that he told me he never would’ve done at his home school.”

Transforming Students by Transforming School

Coming out of the pilot, Kylin graduated on time in the spring of 2018. This alone was cause for celebration, but he didn’t stop there. Kylin went on to enter a rigorous automotive engineering program offered by Columbus City Schools that earned him a certification and work with some of the top car companies in the country. “When he came into OFS he was an ‘Academic Emergency kid’,” said Dr. Bomar. “That meant he was in trouble in his discipline, attendance, and grades. But in the entrepreneurship class he had zero disciplinary incidents, he was only late one day, and the academic work he did was outstanding.” 

“These students gave one hundred percent,” added Dr. Bomar, reflecting further on the pilot’s success. “And knowing their histories, I don’t think any of them gave one hundred percent academically to any class or program before. This was the first time they were recognized not for sports or doing something wrong, but for what they did in the classroom.”

What it took to produce this result was a leader and teachers with the will to make a change. This allowed for a student who was on track to becoming a statistic to be recognized not for a disciplinary issue or athletic achievement, but for his ability to work with others, develop complex ideas, and present them with sophistication and evidence to back them up.

“I didn’t even want to do it at first,” said Kylin after finishing the class. “I was thinking I’d skip out and go back to regular class. But we started sharing ideas and combining them…and, it made our project even better. We got to just get up and be ourselves.”

Giving Kylin the opportunity to learn and in a meaningful way didn’t just improve his academic performance, it turned him into a bona fide leader. All he needed was a fair chance in school.

Short Documentary: Kylin’s Experience

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Doris Korda is the founder and CEO of Wildfire Education. To learn more about Doris’ work, visit Connect with Doris on Twitter at @DorisKorda.

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A Teacher’s Perspective on the Importance of Sharing Students’ Learning

By: Erik Ray and Janice Walton

This is part four of a four-part series about how student engagement increases when students share their learning.

Teachers and students recognize there is value in making student learning public. Student-led conferences, exhibitions, and presentations of learning are just a few of the ways student learning can be shared in authentic ways. In this series, we have explored how an elementary school teacher and an organization are working to make student learning public and we highlighted eight reasons why students should share their work. To wrap up the series, we wanted to further unpack why teachers think sharing student learning is so important. Erik Ray, a fourth-grade teacher in Vista, CA, shared his thinking with us.

Why I Share Student Learning

“It felt awesome sharing my work! I know that others care about what I am doing at school.” This is a quote from my student, “Ben” (“Ben” is a pseudonym). He was reflecting upon a poem he shared, which was one of the final products of an 8-week long project centered around the driving question: “How can we, as poets, share our stories with our Lake Elementary community?” Through readings of literature, as well as informational text, students were introduced to what inspires people to write. As a grade-level team, we all wanted our 4th graders to embrace a love of reading and writing at the start of the year. After analyzing a novel, researching and writing about what inspires famous poets to write, students began to think about what inspires them to write poetry. The final investigation of the project was writing original poems, focusing on the word and phrase choice and adding punctuation for effect. Students also wrote a formal presentation explaining why they wrote their original poem. They then held a Poetry Gala that was open to the community and their families where they read their poems and presentations.

I have found that project-based learning engages, challenges and empowers students in ways that traditional instructional methods fall short. The poetry project was situated in the authentic context of sharing our stories with our own school community. Our class was finding that cliques were forming early in the year, and we did not know more than surface level stories of each other. By having an established problem at the center of the project, we had a purpose for the work we were creating. After some vulnerable sharing around our morning meetings and closing circles, students realized there were multiple perspectives to approach every situation with. We wanted to truly get to know each other. Students need opportunities to analyze, apply, and create with the knowledge they gain.

How can we ensure every student has access to these purposeful learning opportunities? What structures are in place that makes it difficult for educators to practice project-based learning? How can time be managed to provide these educators with more support? There is ever expanding access to content and information, but if we do not give students opportunities to apply content, they will not be prepared for the workforce.

Diving deep into interdisciplinary projects with my students has had a profound effect on my assumptions of what learning can be. As I continue to collaborate with fellow educators in designing learning experiences, I have been asking myself if the work our students are creating is for an audience greater than the classroom. Students are often given opportunities to share their learning and perform outside of schools in their community. These public displays typically come in the form of a theater performance, concert or sporting events. Growing up, I was frequently given these opportunities outside of school, playing in a jazz band and with my soccer team. However, sharing my school work publicly was unheard of. This is all too common for students in school today.

The Power of Student Voice

Ben showed the transformation from start to finish of this project. Throughout the project, and after the exhibition, he developed a better understanding of himself. Ben is an eccentric kid. He is aware of his strengths, and specific areas of growth.

 “Ben’s” Poem

As you can see from his writing, he knows that he is working on managing his impulses when tempers rise. Ben struggled through the first drafts of his poem. The first subject of inspiration he chose would not allow him to open up and share an authentic story. One day, he asked me, “Mr. Ray, can I start over and write about something different? It will be hard, but I think it will be juicier.” “Juicy” was a term we used to describe words or lines in poems that made us feel. My students know that drafting and critique are part of creating high-quality work. Ben was a little nervous, even scared to start from scratch and write about something so personal to him as his tricky temper. Once Ben worked up the courage to start writing, the feedback he got from his peers fueled him. He read this new draft differently and we all noticed it. With writing as one of his strengths, the revision and editing process came quickly to him. Ben was ready for the Poetry Gala exhibition.

Putting out challenges to my students has given them the same fire that ignites when they hit the soccer field or gymnastics center outside of school. When my students know they will be presenting to a master gardener or holding a museum exhibition for everyone in our school to visit, they rise up to that challenge with commitment. The work they do is meaningful. It is real. There has always been tremendous joy amongst my students when they are presenting work they are proud of. Sometimes they are nervous, or even scared to share their work in front of others. But they are more willing to edit, revise, and go through multiple drafts to make their work high-quality when they have an authentic audience. An authentic audience gives learners a stage to practice the skills and dispositions required of being life-ready. Learning to please the teacher is not what I hope for my students. I hope they have the experience of creating work that matters to a greater audience. And I hope it is work that they did not know they were capable of.

For Educators Looking to Get Started

When working with fellow educators, I have seen the challenges and uncertainties that come up when designing projects for an authentic audience. Are they having opportunities to connect with experts in the field? How are we going to get kids outside of the classroom during the project? What possible products will they create? How and who will they share their beautiful work with? This all takes time. I have found that the most challenging piece of getting students prepared to share their learning in authentic ways are the adult relationships involved. We need to set aside time to connect with each other. It takes true collaboration amongst a team and site community to create opportunities for students to share their learning.

Whether this is organizing an exhibition, a celebration of learning, or getting experts to come in and critique students work. This could be in the form of a teacher to teacher, teacher to parent, or teacher to an outside expert.  An email is a great form of communication, but I always encourage meeting people face to face when possible (an area I am currently growing in!). This not only establishes the relationship but also gets them excited about the project you would like them to be involved in. Start small. Tap into one content or curricular area, and ask the students how they want to share their learning with the outside community. Hopefully, the work that they are creating requires that. There is a deep change that can happen in a child when they see themselves create something that they didn’t think they can do. Especially, when it is for an audience greater than the teacher.

Get Involved

Are your students already sharing their learning? Do you have advice for other teachers getting started? We’d love to hear from you. Join the conversation on social media using #ShareYourLearning and #iShare. Also, be sure to commit to making student learning public by signing the pledge on

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Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for 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.