Is My Child Ready? Broadening Conceptions of Back to School Readiness

By: Erin Gohl and Kristen Thorson

Most parents awaken to the dawn of summer with the best intentions of continuing their children’s learning during the weeks spent out of the classroom. As May turns to June, we look forward to the weeks ahead with hopeful, idealistic refrains running through our heads: This summer, we are going to read every single day. Each week, we will visit the library. We will work on our children’s writing skills. We will help get them ready for the next school year.

But as the long days of summer roll on, a different reality sets in. Before we know it, the charm of the lazy hazy days of summer has commandeered our plans to maintain or build our children’s academic skills. And then, seemingly suddenly, the ‘back-to-school’ section replaces the ‘summer fun’ toys at the local shopping center. In a panic, you wonder: Is my child ready to go back to school?

Often, parents attempt to fulfill those early summer goals by cramming lessons into the remaining days off. Some try to force the completion of workbook pages; others try to squeeze enough reading in to at least fill a respectable number of slots on the reading log. Far too often, these attempts abruptly change the child’s daily routine and prove to be disheartening for the students and parents alike. In reality, these sporadic efforts rarely prove worthwhile in terms of skill-building. The results can unintentionally decrease morale and, ultimately, hinder a child’s readiness to return to school in the fall.

School Readiness is So Much More Than Academics

School readiness is different than practicing school at home. Readiness is about the mindset to ‘hit the ground running’ once the student walks through the school doors. If used well, the weeks immediately before students return to school can help to move kids in a positive direction in their mindset, routines, and expectations. Parents can use this time as a launching pad for engagement, joy, success, and building the foundation for a successful school year by understanding that readiness is the “off-season conditioning” of the school year. To do this, there are more holistic strategies that can be easily integrated into summer days that will ease the transition into the school year.

Build Social Emotional Learning: Social emotional learning (SEL) is frequently mentioned at school board hearings, PTA meetings, and on Facebook parenting pages. Popular consensus agrees it is important and positive. However, the concept can seem both amorphous to parents and families and daunting to implement in everyday life. But, homes can actually be an ideal setting for this type of learning.

SEL is rooted in creating and maintaining relationships and friendships through managing emotions and making responsible decisions, all of which happen regularly through parent and family interactions. Parents can use playdates during these final days of summer or late night pick-up games to practice and reflect on social emotional skill building that will help set the stage for classroom success. Some tips for building social emotional learning at home:

  • Praise Perseverance: When you see your child working hard to cross the monkey bars or swim across the pool, tell them how you noticed their perseverance. When we provide specific praise for hard work, rather than successes, we encourage the process of trying new things and sticking with challenging tasks.
  • Strengthen Relationships: When you watch your child interact with others, notice how they play. Are they patient? Are they able to work through disagreements? There is tremendous value in helping your child reflect about the interaction later on. You might ask your child how they were feeling at a particular moment of play. If they struggled to resolve something, brainstorm with them what they might try next time. If they showed kindness or creativity, articulate that and ask how they felt when using those special skills. By encouraging kids to reflect on how they play with others, they are able to think more deeply about their friendships and how they can grow their relationships with others.
  • Practice Patience: Summertime can mean on-demand snacking and immediate answers to questions. When your child is in a group setting, it is necessary for them to practice more patience. Help with this transition by encouraging a bit more patience at home. Prompt them to try and solve a problem on their own, and praise their efforts.

Foster Independence: Families can also support the transition into school by helping their child build independence with tasks they do regularly. When a student feels successful with these everyday occurrences, they can focus their energy on academic learning and school routines, setting them up for greater success within the first weeks of school and beyond. Further, the adult to child ratio in a school setting is much larger than in a home setting. Each procedural or functional task that your child can do independently frees up the teacher for additional instructional time. Some tips to foster independence at home:

  • Encourage Self-Advocacy: When your child needs something, encourage them to speak up. It is important to convey to our children that  they can use their voice to articulate their needs in appropriate ways. Once the school year begins, they will not always have an adult nearby, and they will need to seek out help. They might need to ask to use the restroom or to get assistance in opening a juice box or bottle of water. During the last days of summer, invite your child to order their own meal at a restaurant or ask for directions to get to the restroom in an unfamiliar place.
  • Build Self-Reliance: When you watch your child go through their day, notice whether there are particular things that cause frustration or hinder progress. Do they regularly struggle with zippers? Can they open reusable containers (such as those you plan to send for lunch)? If there are points of frustration, practice those with your child or find alternatives. You want to create an environment where they can successfully manage many elements of self-care throughout the school day. For instance, both school staff and your child will appreciate Velcro shoes until they can independently tie their own shoelaces.
  • Practice Good Hygiene: Encourage your child to practice washing their hands, even without your verbal reminder, as they leave the bathroom. While using a drinking fountain, practice keeping a safe distance from the spout. Talk about keeping hats and headphones for personal use, rather than sharing with friends.

You Can Still Practice (Incognito) Academic Skills: And while parents should not worry about how many pages have been completed in a workbook, it is good to help children warm up their academic muscles before returning to school. Activities to spark learning need not feel like traditional homework and can be easily embedded within summer routines. Dressed up as everyday conversations and errands, you can encourage critical thinking activities that will show benefits across mainstream school subjects:

  • Before going shopping, ask your child to make a grocery list with you. Depending on their ability, they might write the first letter, write the whole word, or write out a list and then alphabetize it.
  • Invite them to send out a note or greeting card to a friend or family member.
  • Before going on a vacation, have your child do some research and read about the destination or hotel options.
  • When paying for a purchase, invite your child to help you pay with the appropriate bills and coins. For older kids, have them calculate change.

Transitioning Back to School Life

As the summer days wane, work to establish a more structured schedule. Practice going to and from school, going to the bus stop, or stopping by and playing on the school playground. Low-pressure exposure to these practices and environments will serve to calm first week jitters.

The very best thing you can do to set your child up for success is to approach the new school year as an exciting beginning. Use your conversations and actions to model this mindset with your child. Show excitement as the Back to School aisles appear. Acknowledge the ‘butterflies in the stomach’ sentiments that the countdown to the first day often engenders; but help them to imagine all the things they might learn or do in the next grade. A new school year holds tremendous potential for growth, learning, and new experiences. Embrace with your child the wonderful possibilities of what is to come.

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You’ve Been Augmented: 7 Tips for Working with AI

Whether you’ve noticed it or not, you’ve been augmented by artificial intelligence (AI). Algorithms are learning more about you and your purchase, communication, and travel behaviors every hour of the day (and downloading all night).

Algorithms and innovations in AI are an occasion for debate and discomfort among most major corporations. There are the initial obstacles of onboarding the new technology, changing old processes, getting everyone acquainted with how it works and then, of course, the dreaded responsibility that comes with relying heavily on something that may not be fully understood. Then there’s the fear of spending thousands of dollars on a workplace innovation and having people use it for a basic function (i.e. Alexa/Siri and using it exclusively as a timer).

Here are some helpful things to keep in mind while making the switch and to help embrace AI and algorithms as a valuable and dynamic part of your team.

1. Demand Transparency

Understanding how an algorithm works enables you to fully grasp its possibilities, and, perhaps more importantly, its limitations. Although the goal of a AI may be to help avoid obstacles, physical or otherwise, it is still bound by human limitations: hardware, software, etc.

This knowledge not only helps to ensure a better partnership with an algorithm, but it also helps to vet algorithms, and to determine which are poorly designed. Math guru Kathy O’Neil says the solution to solving for poorly made algorithms is transparency and measurement. She says researchers must examine cases where algorithms fail, paying special attention to the people they fail and what demographics are most negatively affected by them.

There are instances called “The Black Box” where we are aware of the inputs and outputs we plug into an algorithm, however, we don’t understand what the AI is doing to process those inputs into outputs. For example, Digital Medicine Researcher and Cardiologist Eric Topol discusses how humans are unable to predict gender based on retinal scans. That does not mean there is not a correlation, however. He says that when we feed an AI hundreds of thousands of data points consisting of retinal scans and gender identification, the AI is able to accurately determine gender based exclusively on the retinal scan with 98% accuracy. In this instance, we know the AI is correct, but have no idea how it got to the answer. AI continues to make full transparency more difficult as it learns at levels that we did not initially predict, and regularly communicates with us in ways that we do not understand. This growing divide in AI-to-Human communication is likely to be a point of tension in the coming years.

2. Set Boundaries

To optimize algorithm use, it is necessary to maintain a control variable. Testing and experimenting while using an algorithm means setting guidelines around which automation/algorithms you are using, as well as knowing where the algorithm stops and you begin. Not only will this help with project management and task management, but, when done well, will encapsulate step one and enable a more seamless and mistake-ridden workflow.

Algorithms have been in use for longer than you may think, in places you may not expect, i.e. The Justice System since the 1930s. These algorithms helped to make predictive analysis of perpetrators’ likelihood to commit a crime again in the future — today we are reckoning with this predictive analysis and it has come under scrutiny as stereotyping rather than logical prediction. Through processing the results of algorithms in real time while knowing the method and data pool, we are better able to use valuable human traits such as empathy, nuance, and understanding to better ensure a just and effective symbiotic augmentation.

3. Bend Time

Algorithms’ most evident augmentation is the ability to work at inhuman speeds, parsing through mountains of information in a split second. Use this. Understand what to delegate and how to best integrate the data efficiently into your workflow. Tools like Zapier can make the data come to you, rather than making you go to your data, saving an exponential amount of hassle over time.

4. Establish Trust

It is important that once you’ve implemented these first few tips, you begin to trust the algorithm so that you can grow together. From the initial Man vs. Machine chess match loss, to daily innovations in the medical profession, algorithms have been proven to work. Let them. Don’t carry a false hierarchy of the Man > Machine, capture the results and let them speak for themselves. However, this involves trusting yourself as well. Allow for the algorithms to empower you, rather than submitting to their seemingly omnipotent whims.

5. Learn Jeopardy

One of the most difficult parts of working with data is knowing what decisions to make with the data provided. Sometimes the problem at hand is not apparent until after taking a pH of your intended audience/culture — in this instance, like Jeopardy, the answer comes first and the question is discovered after the fact.

6. Promote Yourself To Supermanager

It’s possible that the new work climate has primed us all to have superjobs, and to supermanage them by combining a variety of traditionally separate skill sets into one master position. This role synthesizes skills from creative innovators, data-driven decision makers, and empathetic mentors and turns it into the perfect person to be at the end of an algorithm. Talk about an opportunity for PD…

7. Be Ready For Take Off

With an algorithm at your right hand, it’s possible that you may just hit exponential growth. Be prepared for it. Capture data along the way to allow your algorithm to improve, document your learnings of what went well, and amplify a message you stand behind.

Code that learns is a new development in the tech savvy workplace, and it’s here to stay. Implement them gracefully and intentionally to save time and augment your professional life.

For more on AI in education, see:

This is the second post in a series on Digital Discernment: a #FutureofWork Series on Teaching and Leading in the Age of AI. For other articles in the series, see:

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Making Dallas Schools Work for Students, Teachers and Business

Dallas is in his DNA. Dr. Michael Hinojosa grew up raised a family, taught and coached, and has served as superintendent of schools for Dallas ISD for 10 years.

The biggest metroplex in the south, Dallas added more than a million people in this decade. It’s a global business center with more Fortune 500 companies than all but New York and Chicago.

DISD (@Dallasschools) is a large district on the upswing in terms of improvement, with 155,000 students in 230 schools. Seven of 10 students are Hispanic. But like Houston, Dallas has welcomed immigrants from around the world adding global diversity to many schools.

Hinojosa has a thoughtful board, a strong team and three times the average longevity—all reasons education in Dallas keeps getting better. On a recent visit, we spotted ten reasons Dallas is flourishing.

1. Investing in Key Stakeholders. Big city superintendents lead massive organizations. Layers of politics make it even more challenging. Hinojosa is systematic about how he addresses the needs of key stakeholders. He devoted Monday to his staff and Wednesday to visiting schools, Thursday is school board day. The other days are about building community.

Hinojosa built support to pass two huge construction bonds, a $1.35 billion bond program approved in 2008 that added 14 new schools and a $1.6 billion bond program approved by 2015–it will add nine new and replacement schools, and provide renovations, additions and improvements to most other schools. The bonds allow Dallas students to learn in  state-of-the-art facilities with modern technology.

2. Quality Early Learning. Dallas four-year-olds have access to full day learning and care often with a certified teacher. DISD has created partnerships with day care centers to improve quality. Hinojosa sees evidence in third grade performance that the emphasis on early learning is working.

3. Dual Literacy Priority. With 150 dual language elementary schools, Dallas has the largest bilingual program in the country. In the “Two-Way Dual Language Program” English speakers can learn Spanish and Spanish speakers can learn English. The goal is to help students become biliterate and bilingual global citizens. (Houston and El Paso have similar commitments to dual language learning.)

4. Teacher Preparation and Development. DISD has several active teacher recruting partnerships including Urban Teachers and Teach For America as well as “grow your own” partnerships with University of North Texas at Dallas.

Dallas teachers benefit from extensive professional learning including great resources on personalized learning with a great toolbox (and active online presence, @PersonalizeDISD) that we spotted on the conference circuit.

DISD teachers also participated in How I Know, a formative assessment project sponsored by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation (see a great summary from Arlena Gaynor, Director of Reading Language Arts).

The Teacher Excellence Initiative seeks to encourage and reward effective teaching. It replaces  the traditional teacher salary schedule with a compensation system based on nine effectiveness levels.

5. Support the Whole Child. DISD trustees adopted guidance for teaching social and emotional learning in 2016. Schools work with the Student Engagement and Counseling Services Department to engage in a series of SEL professional learning sessions.

“Focusing on social and emotional learning helps us develop the whole child,” said Rogers Elementary Principal Lisa Lovato. “Students learn better when they feel better.” Lovato added, “And by focusing on the whole child, we are setting our students up for success.”

6. Comprehensive Approach to Struggling Schools. Dallas participates in Accelerating Campus Excellence, a county wide program that supports strong school leadership, effective teachers, and high expectations for both students and staff. The ACE plan incentivizes top teachers and principals to work at the district’s highest-need schools to ensure that effective teachers are in the classrooms where they are most needed. Hinojosa notes that there are more than 400 teachers working in hard to staff schools making more than $80,000.

7. High School Options. Responding to student, parent and community interest, DISD offers a dozen different kinds of high schools (below). They have replicated ideas from high performing national and regional networks. “We have a strong evaluation department and offer great transportation options,” said Hinojosa.

Both images courtesy of Dallas Independent School District.

8. P-tech Innovation. DISD will has 25 collegiate academies (also called early college high schools) where students can earn up to 60 hours of college credit and an AA degree with their high school diploma. With the help of 75 business partners, the 18 P-TECH schools offer work experience, industry certificates in selected career pathway and job placement after graduation. It’s the biggest concentration of P-TECH schools in any city in the country.

Hinojosa is confident that collegiate academies will boost college completion rates, he thinks 70% of graduates will complete a four-year degree. He said Dallas County Community College has been a great early college partner. (With close to 200 in the fall, Texas has by far the biggest and best network of early college high schools in the country).

9. Make College Affordable. With the help of Dallas County Promise, DISD students get college awareness and enrollment assistance–and community college is free even for students not in the collegiate academies. Hinojosa said “It takes out affordability as an excuse.”

10. Keep Learning. Hinojosa scans what’s happening all over the country. He participates in the Council of the Great City Schools where he said, “We learn from each other.”

In an effort to make his big district more nimble, he “practices strategic thinking more than strategic planning.” An example is a new deep dive his team is making into racial inequity in an effort to boost African American achievement. They are asking tough questions about culture and funding. They created office of racial equity to monitor progress.

Hinojosa is an affable humble learner. As he’s quick to tell students, “You gotta do you, but it’s not about you.”

Add Dallas ISD to your list of districts worth visiting.

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This post was originally published on Forbes.

How Will Work Change in the Coming Decades? A Pittsburgh Case Study

“It’s been estimated that today’s young people might change jobs as many as 15 times over the course of their lifetimes —and many of those jobs will require work that hasn’t been invented yet.” 

– Ryan Rydzewski, Still Hiring Humans: The Future of Work in Pittsburgh and Beyond

The workplace is rapidly changing. Though early attempts at automation had mixed results, today’s machines can operate and improve on their own, without any human intervention. While many traditional workplace roles are becoming obsolete, significantly different roles are being rapidly created. Thus, the skills workers need are quickly evolving. Complicating things, the retirement of Baby Boomers and a growth in high-skilled jobs will create a shortage of qualified workers across all job types in many parts of the country.

Rydzewski’s report addresses the impact the future of work will have upon Pittsburgh and similar areas. It also identifies steps to ensure a diverse population of young people are prepared to enter the workforce and earn a respectable living. From an educator’s perspective, here are the top takeaways from Rydzewski’s report:

Humans will still be essential in the future of work.

Automation will not eliminate human workers ⁠— it will require workers to be better at “being human.” From the report: “Tomorrow’s most successful workers will be the people you can go to with problems; who can listen, ask questions, and think through complex issues; who can lead diverse, collaborative teams. They’ll be endlessly curious and radically empathetic.” Employers’ primary demand is lifelong learners who possess the “desire and ability to learn a new high-order skill” every day. Employers are not just seeking workers with skills; they are seeking workers with traits.

My thoughts: Schools must focus on lighting the lifelong learning fire in each student and teaching students how to continuously tend that fire so they can adapt to change. Schools will also have to work through the tension between the need to prepare students for the future of work and the pressure to earn adequate standardized test scores by memorizing content knowledge.

Developing digital skills is critical.

Digital skills are quickly becoming required for any role that pays middle-class wages. Additionally, more than half of America’s employers cannot find workers with the necessary technology skills.

My thoughts: I continue to be surprised by the number of students who are immersed in technology, but do not understand it. They believe coding or troubleshooting is valuable only in computer science careers. The reality is that using and troubleshooting technology daily, in addition to reading code, writing code, testing code, or defining specs for code, is expected of many workers in non-technology sectors. Every K-12 student should be learning about technology topics including big data, artificial intelligence, coding, ethics, and computational thinking. Numerous free resources and courses are available online, including (K-12), Exploring Computer Science (K-12), and CS50 (high school).

Educators and employers need to work together.

Employers know what skills workers need and educators are training future members of the workforce, but the two groups do not always communicate. Educators and employers need to brainstorm together and share data about soft skills, hard skills, and traits to ensure students are prepared for future job opportunities.

My thoughts: How can educators, administrators, and counselors discuss or prepare students for a workplace with which they are not familiar? Some educators have spent time working in industry, but others have never stepped into a manufacturing facility or corporate workplace. A short summer internship or job shadow for educators, administrators, and counselors that demonstrates the skills needed in the current workplace would be invaluable to those who prepare the future workforce.

Integrate future of work skills into K-12 classrooms.

Remake Learning, a Pittsburgh-area network of over 500 schools, libraries, museums, and other organizations, is working to “ignite engaging, relevant, and equitable learning experiences for students of every background” by equipping young learners with “a mix of high-tech tools and essential skills and mindsets.” This includes providing wide access to high-quality computer science education and project-based learning experiences that involve addressing issues in local communities.

My thoughts: Keeping abreast of educational trends is key for schools looking to integrate content with future of work skills. For example, teaching about mindset gives students a toolset to manage the ups and downs of lifelong learning. Integrating project-based learning, challenge-based learning, and the engineering design process requires students to collaborate, solve problems, and communicate. Teaching students how to work together, instead of assuming they know how to work in teams, enables them to lead, participate in, and resolve conflicts with diverse teams. Giving students a forum to share their learning allows them to practice communication skills. Using formative assessments and student reflection teaches lifelong learners to self-assess. Engaging students in design thinking and entrepreneurship promotes an innovation mindset.

A large segment of the population is at risk of being left behind.

While many sectors will continue to create jobs for talented college graduates, deep inequities at the K-12 level and opportunity gaps for students from low-income families and minorities will mean that some workers will have access only to low-wage jobs. Apprenticeships in cybersecurity, coding, and advanced manufacturing can provide paid learning opportunities to students who might not be able to afford an unpaid internship. To better serve learners who are not college-bound, align Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs with high-growth, high-paying industries instead of preparing students for low-paying occupations. Some employers unnecessarily require bachelor’s degrees or work experience to attract employees who are versed in basic workplace norms like professionalism and teamwork. Employers and schools must find other credentials, like digital badges and portfolios, that document competence to ensure employers find qualified workers without inflating job prerequisites.

My thoughts: A perfect proof-of-concept of credentialing in a school is in a makerspace. Train students how to use the equipment, provide badges to those who meet the criteria, and share those credentials with the school community. Schools need a credentialing system that makes the work process easy, can be scaled to other areas, and seamlessly integrates with the school’s workflow.

Teach K-12 students, parents, and families about the future of work.

Students, parents, and families need accurate, up-to-date information about the future of work to counteract the common myth that the need for human workers will disappear. In Pittsburgh, community gatherings called Remake Learning Days invite students and families to see the future of teaching, learning, and work.

My thoughts: Families who are informed about the future of work can demand that their schools provide high-quality computer science education, enable students to gain critical technology skills, and work to develop the skills and traits that employers need. Informed families can also better support and encourage their children in the pursuit of apprenticeships and internships in high-tech careers. To adequately prepare our youth for the future of work, and to ensure that employers are able to continue to operate, all of usemployers, educators, organizations, community members, and familiesmust work together.

For more, see:

Future of Work series graphic

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.

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Planning the Pilot: Successes and Lessons Learned from Western Academy of Beijing

Program pilots can be powerful learning experiences as well as safe ways to test-drive innovative education ideas. Schools have a unique challenge when piloting. Ultimately, the risk may seem high, as there is a commitment of the school to ensure high levels of academic achievement for all students. Consequently, there may be resistance from all stakeholders—from teachers to parents—to take the risk and pilot something new and innovative. However, if we don’t take risks, we will never evolve for the future that out students need. As schools prepare students for a world that we don’t know will be, it is paramount we take these risks and engage in educational pilots.

FLoW21 at Western Academy of Beijing

The Western Academy of Beijing (WAB) has a reputation for being a successful community school that continually strives to evolve and change to meet the needs of learners. Their Future of Learning initiative, or FloW21 for short, continues that vision. They articulate it through their vision statement: “FLoW21 is a community-wide journey to transform the school experience to maximize learning for each individual student. Like no other school, WAB will know your child and customize the learning experience to best prepare him or her for a rapidly changing future.”

Setting the Stage

In the initial phase of the project, the entire school community spent two years incubating, researching and ideating. With clear parameters established, such as ensuring the ideas were “inquiry-based” or “transdisciplinary,” the school had design sprints (inspired by FEDEx days mentioned in Daniel Pink’s Drive) that took place over two days where teams worked together to ideate. Elementary Assistant Principal Nat Atherton mentioned “Some of the greatest success of the project have come about through giving teachers time and clear parameters. When we provide teachers with time to cross pollinate amazing ideas come to fruition.”

Teachers create both short-term and long-term pilots. One example that came out of this time was “Math in the Wild,” a collaboration between our outdoor education team and our middle school math department, where students used geometry skills to create tents to use outside. It never would have happened with traditional, more discipline-specific collaborative teams. This short-term pilot also allowed teachers to play with more authentic learning as well as scheduling and time.

Clarifying the Purpose

One of the key strengths of WAB’s pilot is the continued focus on their mission and core values.  This has allowed them to stay true to goals and ultimate vision for education, while still being nimble and flexible. When we have a clear mission and vision, we can continually remind ourselves of the “Why?” WAB’s clear mission and vision helped them generate a purpose for their FLoW21 pilot. It indicates that they will explore many ideas, including co-constructed and personally relevant curriculum; self-directed learning; real-world, practical engagement; inquiry-driven learning; individualized schedules and time; flexible, diverse, variable spaces and learner groups, and more. WAB also surfaced the beliefs they shared related to these explorations, further clarifying and aligning the purpose to the mission and vision of the school.

Nurturing the Culture

Dialogue is critical to building school culture, and when it comes to innovative pilots that have risks, spending time to slow and process the work can help build and sustain a safe culture and ensure clarity for all. “Having a purposeful conversations about the work as a whole school allows for more clarity,” Atherton said. “It’s important to devote time to digest ideas such as inquiry-based and self-directed learning to build a shared understanding. Yet it’s also important to understand the needs of your community. Some people need to see the big picture, while others need to get right into the work. Identifying with whom and when to look at both the macro and the micro is a complex blend that if done right ensures the ‘sweet spot’ is met in terms of planning and communication.”

One other key part of building the culture is also supporting and empowering your parents. WAB has trained at least 10 percent of their parent population through a six-hour FLoW Ambassador program focusing on the why, the what and the how of their work FLoW21. Parents became the best advocates for the work of the pilot and even ran information booths at events like Back to School Night to support the entire community in learning about the pilot.

Planning for Pivots

Instead of sticking so tightly to a plan, it’s important to plan for pivots—moments we expected to make shifts and changes based on data and what we are learning. After the end of the second year of phase 2 of the work of FLoW21, WAB is entering a new space. Deputy Director Dr. John D’Arcy said that  as this phase will come to a close, they  will have to re-evaluate as we enter a new phase. Larry Cuban, a veteran K-12 educator and Professor Emeritus of Education at Stanford University, furthers builds upon this idea of being flexible in the work as schools are “complex, not complicated.” Complicated work has a series of clear steps with prescribed outcomes. Complex work is sometimes messy and chaotic as there isn’t a broad agreement on the outcome. Because of this, schools should have a pilot plan that is ‘good enough’ to start, but is also ready to pivot and be nimble in an ever-changing and complex environment.

Highlights from the Pilot Work

There were some innovative and exciting ideas that came out of their initial pilot. They include:

  • Day 9 – On a rotating nine day schedule, students build their own schedule on the ninth day to meet their needs.
  • Self-directed learning in the elementary school
  • Competency based models—competencies have been written and edited. Next steps are implementations and direct impact on practice.
  • Progress mentoring—a mix of both social emotional learning and academic advisory. Elementary uses the morning meeting as their structures
  • Flexible learning spaces—select grade levels are using innovative spaces, such as a math space in middle school and a design/humanities library space in high school. They partnered with Rosan Bosch for the design.

Lessons Learned

In addition to the ideas and learning articulated above, D’Arcy shared a couple key takes aways. Initially, we might be reticent to say “we are experimenting” at a school, but in reality, educators are always doing it. As D’Arcy says “The best teachers are constantly experimenting to improve student learning.” Instead of being afraid to experiment and pilot, we need to have a clear message and purpose.

“The implementation dip is real,” D’Arcy added. Instead of yanking educators and stakeholders out of it, we need to support them in grappling with those struggles, and support them in that space. WAS is hosting the bi-annual symposium about future-ready schools soon. Click here to learn more.

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One Stone: Where Purpose Meets Impact

By: Dr. Lindsay Portnoy

If you ask any high school student to name their favorite part of the day you may hear: the sound of the final bell. Not so at OneStone, a school in Boise that is flipping the script on high school as we know it. Talking with Chad Carlson, the Director of Research and Design at One Stone it is clear that these folks know the recipe for successful learning, “here learning has become relevant to students. As agents of their own story, students focus on what is important to them while making meaning out of their learning each day.”

Educators at OneStone facilitate student learning more as a guide on the side, and their guiding principles are outlined in what they call the BLOB (Bold Learning OBjectives). The overarching objectives include voice, mindset, creativity, knowledge, and skills. Yet it is clear from looking at the BLOB and speaking with students and educators that the fundamental aspect of all learning at OneStone centers on learner voice.

With a focus on student-led learning, learners use their voice to choose initiatives where they’ll fulfill their potential from three hallmark engagement platforms: Two Birds, Project Good, and Solution Lab. Project Good is based on principles of design thinking with an emphasis on human-centered experiential learning. Here students work to solve local problems through service projects and engage in complex experiential learning. In the student-led creative studio Two Birds, students hone creative skills working with local businesses to provide marketing, financial, and creative services. Through Solution Lab, students incubate their entrepreneurial side where foundational skills found in typical high school courses come to life in an applied way. “There isn’t an adult in this building who doesn’t believe in the power of students. We do what we do because we believe that they can do extraordinary things if given the tools and the ownership,” says Carlson. And this is evident in the ever-growing number of service projects that students have completed in support of their local community, 404 projects at last count.

Perhaps the most striking experience in talking with students and educators from OneStone is the fact that you simply can’t distinguish between the two. “I sit on the board of directors, which is at least two-thirds students, and was the account executive and managing director of Two Birds, our student-led creative agency where I worked with clients one-on-one to design solutions for their companies,” says Elise Malterre, one of the 39 students graduating One Stone this year. During her time at One Stone, Malterre has learned “what it takes to work in business from finance and customer relations to managing relationships and projects to keep to a timeline first hand.”

When After School Becomes School

When I first learned of One Stone I was curious to know how a place like this begins, how it becomes sustainable, and frankly, how others might learn from this model. What I learned is that One Stone started as an after-school program in Boise in 2008 by Joel and Teresa Poppen with a simple idea of bringing local students together to work on projects of interest to students while also serving the community. After years of hearing the reprise “can we do this as school instead?” the Poppen’s ran a two-day design thinking challenge to see if they might envision a way forward with this as a new model for school. “No one ever doubted if we were doing the right thing for our students,” says Carlson.

In 2016 a generous grant from the J.A. & Kathryn Albertson Foundation allowed One Stone to open its doors as an independent, tuition-free school enrolling 32 students in its first year. A mere three years later there are 110 students enrolled in grades ten through 12 and the first graduating class of 39 young people are moving on to pursue their dreams, 34 of those students to a traditional 4-year college and others confidently following their own paths, all of them by choice.

How Learner-Centered Experience Drives Community Impact

What One Stone shows is what research knows: when learners are given voice and choice in their learning, the outcomes are tremendous. Take Bennett Huhn, one the 2019 OS graduates who is so passionate about music and recording that his work in Solution Lab resulted in “Ripple Studios, a music studio that was built by myself and another student.” According to Huhn, “I got the experience of building something I would want to use as a musician and the opportunity to build something that others could use now and in the future.” There was plenty of math, science, engineering, and literacy embedded in the creation of Ripple Studios, but it was applied in a way that empowered the students to want to use their knowledge.

As for Malterre, she is working to be the change that drives real, sustainable impact. “Growing up on a farm, I can be on a trail in 15 minutes which is incredible but there aren’t those opportunities everywhere.” Citing “the destruction happening in our environment,” she wanted “to do everything to help preserve the environment for future generations and kind of reverse the impact we’ve had as a society.” While at One Stone she worked on redesigning packaging systems for sustainability for different companies in Boise and worked on an independent project reducing waste in coffee shops.

The Evidence is in the End Results

While One Stone plans to invite 9th graders into their program this year, they continue to work with and support public schools across Treasure Valley who send their students to after school programs at One Stone. “We look at our school as a lab school,” says Carlson, “we use things like a growth transcript” which is a narrative-driven assessment that moves from students from the academic context of knowing and understanding and into the applied nature of putting that knowledge to work changing the world around them.

The growth transcript demonstrates how well learners understand skills and concepts as well as how they apply those skills in a professional or community-based context. Students curate their own portfolios that are shared with other learners and together they give feedback and help one another figure out where they are on each of their learning objectives. Two to three times a year there are student-led portfolio conferences where learners showcase their knowledge and skills for the community to see.

Change is slow and often frustrating, and the folks at One Stone show that change like this doesn’t happen overnight. But change is happening, at least as evidenced by the ways student agency has motivated learners to work harder and sustain their focus despite waning interests. According to Malterre, “I don’t have to wait to be out of high school to be in the real world, I can make an impact now. For a long time, I was just reading but didn’t see what I could do to help,” she says, “but that shift in mindset” happened at One Stone.

As schools like One Stone work to infuse applied learning into education, learners see the relevance of the skills they learn and find ways to map that knowledge on to meaningful work today and in the future. Huhn admits, “It’s pretty awesome to have somebody ask you what you want to do and to put the power in your hands and say go ahead and do it!”

For more, see:

Dr. Lindsay Portnoy is a cognitive scientist, lecturer at Northeastern University, and Chief Learning Officer at Killer Snails working and writing at the intersection of cognition, assessment for learning, and emerging technology. Connect with her on Twitter: @lportnoy.

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Deepfakes: Teaching Critical Consumption

The last general election was altered by the rise of fake news spread on social media. We’re entering the first general election that will be influenced by fake video—altered, dubbed, even fully fabricated video.

Despite the omnipresence of warnings like the one above, we often dismiss them as red herrings, or perhaps assume that we know how to spot a fake. In recent weeks it has become increasingly evident that turning a blind eye toward this shifting media landscape is not enough.

In the era of AI and facial recognition there have been new, and ever more convincing, affected videos that falsely depict well-known celebrities/personalities. With this technology, people have become able to quite literally “put words in someone’s mouth,” making the quest for truth even more murky.

These videos remain a shade removed from the real video—for the time being, close scrutiny reveals that the video has been altered, however, the technology has made leaps and bounds in a very short period of time. In the years to come, it will undoubtedly blur even more into realism.

“Today’s AI-generated faces are full-color, detailed images. They are expressive. They’re not an average of all human faces, they resemble people of specific ages and ethnicities,” said Kelsey Pipe of Vox.

In 2016, the Oxford Dictionary named “post-truth” the word of the year; needless to say the trend has only gained momentum since. An urgent need for increasing K-12 students’ digital literacy has arisen, and along with it a necessity for boosting capacity within individual departments (such as library sciences, English, social studies) or through integrated cross-curriculum that investigates authority, perspective and copyright issues. While teaching the user how to best navigate content is necessary, it is hardly preventative, and therefore technology must continue to adapt and grow through developments in blockchain and cryptography.

In “Amusing Ourselves To Death,” Neil Postman remarks upon the trajectory of ‘truth’ in correlation to the medium: beginning with oration in the classical era, moving through the printing press, photography, television, etc. This assessment of presumed objectivity factored in “who has authority to publish” which, is rarely part of the equation today. Despite our decentralization of publishing, we continue to look at video as a stalwart medium of truth and authenticity—particularly when the speaker is on camera because, well, it’s been easy to spot a fake.

To help combat this trend toward misinformation, many organizations are recognizing the potential harm and are hoping to arm learners everywhere with the necessary tools to spot fakes and understand author bias. KQED Teach is now offering a course on how to critically consume. In addition to the more involved courses, thought leaders are compiling quick tips and best practices.

George Fox University professor, John Spencer (@spencerideas) offers five C’s of critical consumption:

  • Context: Look at the context of the article. When was it written? Where does it come from? Have the events changed since then?
  • Credibility: Check the credibility of the source. Does the site have journalistic integrity? Does the author cite credible sources? Is it satirical? Is it on a list of fake news sites? Is it actually an advertisement posing as a real news story?
  • Construction: Analyze the construction of the article. What is the bias? Are there any loaded words? Any propaganda techniques? Any omissions that you should look out for? Can you distinguish between the facts and opinions?
  • Corroboration: Corroborate the information with other credible news sources. Make sure it’s not the only source making the claim. If it is, there’s a good chance it’s actually not true.
  • Compare: Compare it to other news sources to get different perspectives. Find other credible sources from other areas of the ideological or political spectrum to provide nuance and get a bigger picture of what’s actually happening.

Within the last month online platforms have decided not to remove the recent deepfake video of Mark Zuckerberg stating that they will, instead,”treat this content the same way we treat all misinformation on Instagram […] If third-party fact-checkers mark it as false, we will filter it from Instagram’s recommendation surfaces like explore and hashtag pages.”

According to Hany Farid, a computer science professor at the University of California at Berkley, “The number of people working on the video-synthesis side, as opposed to the detector side, is 100 to 1.” Despite the disparity between those working for and against this deep learning video AI, there have been developments and momentary band-aids that hope to alleviate the more immediate threats of deepfakes; however, with an article title like “A new deepfake detection tool should keep world leaders safe—for now,” one can only hope that a more permanent solution is around the corner.

While deepfakes are currently assuming the guise of very high quality video editing (i.e. altering a pre-existing video), the technology of fully synthetic videos is rapidly improving. This will enable a hyper-realistic video of anyone, anywhere, doing/saying anything. The political and social implications of this kind of development are evident and frightening. It has never been more important to understand bias, check facts and familiarize yourself with sources.

For more, see:

This is the first blog in a series on digital discernment, a #FutureofWork series on teaching and leading in the age of AI. Stay tuned for additional articles later this month.

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Amplify Storytelling in the Classroom with 3 Tech-Enabled Projects

By: Robert Sevilla

More than 63 percent of U.S. K-12 teachers use varying forms of technology in their classroom. Without a doubt, technology has not only transformed teaching and learning, but also plays a significant role in how students are prepared for college and career. However, research shows that the majority of technology integration in the classroom takes place as a substitute for traditional methods, rather than presenting a new learning opportunity — 60 percent of the time students are using technology, they are passive consumers rather than using it to “practice the higher-level technology skills that are required for many jobs.”

In my technology class, I apply the well-known SAMR model to ensure that students are not merely consuming technology, but instead are learning to leverage these digital tools in a variety of ways to amplify their ideas. Through the lens of storytelling, I help students embrace the power of student voice while honing their communication skills — a highly valued attribute in today’s workforce. By using a variety of online tools, students gain essential 21st century skills that will help them succeed in the classroom and beyond.

Three Projects That Promote Storytelling Online

In today’s digital learning environment, students need to start by learning foundational skills such as keyboarding, digital literacy, and digital citizenship. My computer technology course for seventh and eighth graders is anchored by three projects that require active participation, build comfort with a variety of technology, and teach them to leverage those tools to become effective storytellers in a digital context.

Project #1: Sharing Digital Literacy Insights Through Blogging

It may seem obvious (or it may be so obvious that it becomes easy to overlook), but typing is perhaps the most important foundational skill students must learn to be up-to-speed in today’s wired classrooms. My students use for the first 10 minutes of class each day to learn proper keyboarding technique as well as touch-typing skills. After learning the basics of the ‘home row,’ they proceed all the way through advanced punctuation, while also learning proper hand position, body posture, and accuracy. Students immediately apply their new typing skills using KidBlog, where they write their own blogs. For example, they may be prompted to answer questions about the lasting effects of a digital footprint or respond to Common Sense’s digital citizenship videos. The platforms allows for them to receive constructive, written feedback by myself and their peers.

Project #2: Storytelling with Podcasts

Later in the course, students learn the basics of podcasting, a form of media that represents an exciting new addition to their storytelling skillset. Students start by listening to and reviewing three podcast episodes on their blog to identify different storytelling techniques, such as shorter, snappier sentences or the use of natural sound to amplify the narrative. After choosing a topic for their own podcast, they collaborate on a script using Google docs and then use GarageBand to record, edit, and embed sound effects into their podcast. Some students also create their own podcast logo using Google Presentations or the GIMP image editor. Both the script and final recording are uploaded to their KidBlog page, which serves as a digital portfolio to showcase their growth.

Project #3: Producing an Instructional Video

The final project takes storytelling a step further by tasking students with creating a three-minute instructional video. Students break into teams, identify team roles, choose a topic, and begin to draft a script. They collaborate on a storyboard with in-depth scene descriptions, camera shots, and angles, shoot video, and edit using programs such as iMovie, Final Cut Pro, and Windows Movie Maker. They then upload their final product to their digital portfolio on KidBlog and present it to the class.

Storytelling in the Digital Age

Storytelling has always been a central theme in my class, but prior to the advent of these awesome and easy-to-access tech tools, students were limited to pen, paper, and oral presentation. Today, students can use a variety of formats and tools to share their unique thoughts and perspectives. Their digital storytelling skills not only translate into academic success, but also equip them with a tremendous amount of self-confidence and the digital know-how to navigate the future of work.

For more, see:

Robert Sevilla began his educational career as a music and math educator and for the past 13 years has taught computer technology at Chaboya Middle School in San Jose, California. A lifelong learner himself, Robert obtained an M.A. in Educational Technology in 2010. Robert still brings his musical background and passion for multimedia to help create interesting, authentic, and real-world projects. Follow Robert on Twitter @rrksevilla

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Leadership and Design Skills Chart the Future of Work

By Emily Liebtag and Tom Vander Ark.

Taliq Tillman (above) is an outspoken sophomore at an Ivy League college and the co-founder of Diversity Talks, a nonprofit that gives voice to marginalized students. Tillman described to an audience at the University of Pennsylvania how traditional education—including the best known colleges—often marginalizes students of color like him by making faulty assumptions about what they can and can’t do.

Tillman found his voice at the MET High School in Providence, R.I. “Teachers actually listened to me,” Tillman said. “I had four years where I had the same advisor, and I was able to text him whenever I needed him. When I was applying to colleges, he actually came to my home because he understands that students like me just need someone to believe in them, to tell them you are good enough, that despite everything you have been through, you are smart, you are intelligent.”

The MET is the flagship school of the Big Picture network, where teachers craft learning pathways “one kid at a time.” At the MET, Tillman developed his leadership skills participating in several internships and community connected projects.

Tillman was one of 10 youth leaders that facilitated Catalyst Conversations at a #FutureofWork convening hosted by Getting Smart, ISTE and [email protected] GSE.

Simone (below) is a student at Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy (SLA) and was another table captain. People often wonder how SLA students are represented everywhere in the city, with an enrollment of only 500. The student leadership apparent across Philadelphia is “because of what is taught at SLA,” said Chris Lehmann, founding principal of SLA. “We want kids to understand that what we do now matters. Right now. Today.”

Image credit: Julie Keane

Harry and JD (below) came all the way from Boise, Idaho, to share how their training in design thinking at One Stone, an innovative new high school, prepared them to take on community challenges. One Stone aims to empower a youth army of “good for good” and cultivates student voice and leadership.

Image credit: Emily Liebtag

Working in small groups, the students then described their lives and their schools. Yonas Kemal, a rising senior at a traditional public high school in North Carolina, told his group about District C, a nonprofit that develops leadership and problem-solving skills.

“I’ll have homework to do and an essay to write, but I’ll also have a website to build,” Kemal said. “It’s not all school, but I’m learning so I put it all on the same level. It can be a challenge, but a good challenge.”

Image credit: Emily Liebtag

These student facilitators had the benefit of high school programs that developed their leadership skills and invited them to solve interesting problems—what Seth Godin frequently cites as the two most important skills for young people to acquire.

For 20 years, we’ve asked high schools to prepare most young people for college by pushing them through a checklist of courses focused on content and procedures.

#FutureofWork conversations like the one at Penn made clear the benefits of schools and programs that help young people figure out who they are, what they are good at, what the world needs, and what they care about—and put them to work making their initial contribution at that intersection.

Schools that value routine and compliance around facts and formulas do not yield the personal agency and leadership skills demanded by a world full of novelty and complexity.

It is encouraging to see a growing number of schools and programs that develop the design thinking and entrepreneurial mindset that young people need to dive into complex problems and make a difference in their community.

To create momentum for more valuable learning experiences in your community, hold a conversation with parents, teachers, students and business leaders. Ask them to reflect on what’s happening, what it means, and how to prepare. Watch this three-minute video of the meeting at Penn to learn more. Then get started thinking about how you might implement change in your own community.

For more, see:

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Michael Golden from Penn and Emily Liebtag from Getting Smart organized and co-facilitated the event and contributed research to this post.

This post was originally published on Forbes.

The Best Impact Story in Education Keeps Getting Better

Curriculum Associates is the best edtech success story in America, in several ways. Eleven years ago, Rob Waldron took the helm of a small New England workbook publisher and turned it into a digital learning leader. The flagship adaptive instructional product, i-Ready, is now serving 7 million students and educators and recently provided its billionth lesson.

In 2017, the company made a historic charitable gift, giving away the majority of its shares, which created a $145 million endowment at Iowa State University and a $50 million donation to the Boston Foundation.

I recently spoke with Waldron about these impressive milestones and how he sees the education landscape changing in the coming years.

TVA: A decade ago, you took over a sleepy workbook publisher. What made you think you could build it into the biggest impact engine of the decade?

RW: To be honest, the focus in my first couple of years was far less lofty. We were in a recession, and I was deeply focused on the challenge of “Can I maintain a company that serves teachers and kids well…but that doesn’t go bankrupt?”

We were operating in a context of 10 percent unemployment locally, and our staff was mostly over the age of 40 doing editorial work. I knew that downsizing would mean these dedicated folks wouldn’t have had many options for where to turn.

TVA: And add to that, the end of the Great Recession also looked like the end of traditional publishing to many.

RW: Exactly. Other big publishers were shedding people profusely, and I was spending most of my energy trying to keep our doors open. Schools didn’t have money at the time, so we focused on partnering closely with them, offering exceptional services and high quality resources at an affordable price. While others in the industry dealt with the downturn by figuring out ways to downsize or putting new labels on old programs to scrape by, we built strong relationships with educators by putting people first and responding to their needs.

TVA: How did you build a team to develop the leading adaptive learning engine i-Ready? How did they do it so fast?

RW: When I first came to the company, we licensed an adaptive assessment product from a third party. While the science was good, there were a bunch of technical issues and we kept finding that our customers weren’t getting the service they needed. When we cut off that relationship, we had the opportunity to build something ourselves to replace it.

The process was challenging, but our timing was just right. With the recent release of Common Core, educators were looking for an adaptive tool to support student learning of more rigorous standards. Because of our deep focus on service and commitment to transparency, people trusted that we would provide strong support and continue to improve the tool to best serve their students. While bootstrapping i-Ready, we also fixed the book business and launched Ready, a blended approach (both paper and digital). We don’t care whether it’s digital or print; the key is what solution is needed by the educator.

In retrospect, the fact that we created these tools without outside capital and were forced to make every decision on our own dime was a huge contributor to the initial success of i-Ready. It enabled us to be deeply attuned to the needs of educators, and thoughtful about the long-term viability of the solutions we were creating. This future-focused lens continues to be a competitive advantage for us.

TVA: Curriculum Associates quickly became a leader in software-as-a-service. Because it was a new business model in education, we wrote a paper together: Smart Series Guide to EdTech Procurement. i-Ready is a great product, but it seems to be service that is your big differentiator. Five years ago when we wrote that paper, you said it was support services that were the difference between efficacy and inactivity. Is that still true?

RW: Great service begets a great product; Over 40 percent of our employees actually do service full-time—everything from monitoring usage reports, providing professional development, meeting with district leadership, onsite tech support, etc. Schools are complicated institutions to run, so our job is to ensure the industry’s top talent is serving these educators and that we are efficient at providing this high level of service across environments.

TVA: i-Ready just hit a billion lessons, Curriculum Associates recently had its 50th anniversary, and you recently celebrated your first decade as CEO. These are big milestones—what have been the biggest changes in the last decade?

RW: The way the world used to work, a study of learning could look like a couple graduate researchers reviewing data from 80 students to prove a hypothesis. Today, we have incredibly robust data to inform our program design and make the right choices for students. If, for example, we delivered a lesson on a given subject 15,000 times and only 2,000 students reached mastery, we know there’s something we need to fix…and we do!

You need incredible nuance into the details of lesson design to make the best possible product. By addressing all the “micro-levers,” which could include the minute mark in a lesson when students stop being engaged or a window that takes a half second too long to open, we ensure our tools are as engaging as possible to learners and as supportive as possible to the educators we serve.

Another success factor has been our investment in constant improvement. A few years ago we spent $50 million on R&D in product and tech, and this year we’re spending nearly double as we focus on making current grades and content better. We’re continually rolling out many major releases—last year alone delivering over 60 improvements to i-Ready—and it’s only accelerating.

TVA: And have you done any recent studies on the impact of your programs on student learning?

RW: We’ve released several. Most recently, new third party research conducted by HumRRo showed that our Ready Mathematics blended solution meets ESSA evidence requirements and supports student gains. We’re committed to continued research to guide our improvement efforts and deliver the best possible tools to support learning.

TVA: Five years ago, you said hiring was key to your successful scaling, is that still the case?

RW: Yes. In my experience, an organization is only as strong as the talent that drives it. It is so critical that we have the right people on board, aligned with our values and committed to service, that recruiting continues to be among the most important uses of my time. I still interview every final round candidate…no small feat as we continue to grow! Last year, that meant 337 interviews. We are extremely selective, only hiring 1 in 30 who apply, and 1 in 8 who interview.

As a result, our employees are incredibly dedicated to our shared mission. As reported in our most recent anonymous employee survey, 96 percent of people who work for us would recommend their best friends work for us. To me, that’s the best measure of getting it right.

TVA: How have efforts to support equity played into your strategy development, and where do you see the biggest opportunities moving forward?

RW: For starters, I like to ground us in the idea that there’s no such thing as a typical student. We believe all students bring unique assets to their learning environments, and we work to ensure our tools leverage these and are accessible by and representative of the diverse populations we serve. We keep in mind, for example, ways in which the decisions we make could impact English learners and students of different socioeconomic backgrounds. We’re introducing a Spanish diagnostic in the near future, and are making accessibility a much bigger focus in general.

Overall, we’ve found that adaptive tech is uniquely poised to serve all learners. For example, one thing we often see is that some students with special needs might be off the charts in one subject and struggle in another, and adaptive software can pinpoint those nuances and provide teachers with precise information about that student to drive the most effective instructional decisions.

TVA: The Curriculum Associates goal, as you’ve described it, “is to make educators more productive…by making simple-to-use products that save teachers and administrators time, all while increasing student achievement.” Does that still describe the role you see tech playing in schools?

RW: We’ve all had that experience of the person in our lives that made us believe in ourselves and made that lifelong difference. i-Ready will never be that—we’ll always be subordinate to the teacher and their need. We designed i-Ready as a system to support teachers. When I think of all the unbelievable things tech can do, I’m well aware of the need of one human being to be with another to build trust and relationships. We don’t intend to be that. Our job is to make it much easier for teachers to do their jobs.

My mother was a single mom and teacher, so I’ve seen firsthand how hard that life is. We value saving teachers time and helping them be more productive as a huge part of our work.

TVA: How does i-Ready use data? We’re very interested in interoperability, and data security has been another hot topic recently.

RW: Schools own all i-Ready data; we just keep it as secure as humanly possible. We go through all sorts of rigorous processes including fishing exercises and training for every employee to avoid third-party attacks. After that, we make sure schools own the data.

We also work with Ed-Fi and Clever as schools request. We support integration with those organizations well, but it’s the school’s decision.

TVA: What about data that is specific to learning experiences?

RW: We’re very interested in Dweck’s work around growth mindset and Duckworth’s notion of the importance of grit. When we look at how children work, we ask ourselves: “Are they going for the more difficult option? Are they challenging themselves?” By focusing on the choices students are making, we can actually report on grit to teachers.

TVA: One design flaw that we see more often than we would like in schools is that tech is sometimes used for over-assessment. How can schools use a tool like i-Ready while avoiding that trap?

RW: I agree that that is a problem. One thing that’s so great about adaptive tools is that you can actually have fewer questions and assessments due to the efficiency of the learning process. Students with tailored assessment and instruction save a lot of time.

TVA: We hear you’re planning some updates to i-Ready in the near future. What’s coming down the pipeline?

RW: In addition to the accessibility and Spanish diagnostic additions that I mentioned earlier, we’ve got a number of other things coming up, including 100 new lessons for middle school students and a core math product for grades K-5 and 6-8. We’re also working to change the student experience with i-Ready to give them more agency, historical reporting, and diagnostic information, and to build new school- and district-level reports.

For more, see:

This post was originally published on Forbes.