The Power of the Pivot

By: Shannon Reagan

At 9 a.m. on Monday, March 16, One Stone’s Lab School students checked in with their coaches, just like they would on any other day. But on this particular morning, and every morning for the foreseeable future, their connection would be made remotely.

One Stone, a Boise-based nonprofit that empowers high school students through student-driven after-school programs and its innovative Lab School, is harnessing the “power of the pivot” during challenging circumstances. One Stone students are learning in spite of—and more specifically, learning from—the ambiguity and uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this month, as schools across the nation shut their doors due to the advance of the virus, One Stone solidified its plans to remain open, albeit remotely. When it became clear that the community’s health and safety would require the closure of their own building, they put their plan into action and launched One Stone Remote, a supportive, multi-faceted approach that keeps students and coaches connected and continuing to learn. Although the world has changed, seemingly overnight, the structure of the remote plan ensures that very little is different for the One Stone community, aside from the way they connect with each other over the coming weeks.

One Stone Lab School Co-Director Allison Parker, on a video call with her colleague Celeste Bolin.

“We’re still there for them,” says Chad Carlson, Director of Research and Design. “As challenging as this is, we live in a world that isn’t quite defined or built yet. We definitely saw that this week. The power of the pivot is that we can still deliver transformative experiences for students and our community.”

Going Remote

One Stone Remote makes use of a variety of online tools, such as Slack, Google Classroom, and Google Hangouts. Using their laptops, One Stone learners check in with their coaches from 9 a.m. until 3:14 p.m. Meetings, discussions, and individual work times are scheduled throughout the day, and although some projects are being adapted, all the learning that was previously underway is continuing.

“The most important thing for us is to preserve and uphold the One Stone culture,” says Allison Parker, Lab School Co-Director. “So everything we did was designed around helping kids and coaches maintain community, while also continuing meaningful work.”

One Stone coaches made sure every student had access to a computer and the internet. One student whose home was connected with internet access for the first time was so thrilled, that she immediately set up a fully equipped workspace to use throughout the remote experience.

Connected Community

Because such drastic changes in day-to-day life and schedules can be difficult and stressful, students and coaches are in regular communication via scheduled video and phone calls, as well as email, text, or online messaging. Students are encouraged to check in with their coaches at any time for any reason—even during spring break, weekends, or evenings.

“Now it’s so important to reaffirm for our community, ‘Don’t worry, we’re still here. Everybody’s pushed out of their comfort zone, and this relationship is solid,’” says Celeste Bolin, Lab School Co-Director.

The student response has been positive. Many are grateful for the personal connections and support, as well as the comfort of maintaining schedules and routines that were in place prior to the pandemic crisis.

“It has been difficult not physically being in the same space with my peers and coaches because that is something I really enjoy and value as part of my day-to-day life,” says Lab School learner Kayla Klein. “But to know that I am not alone is very comforting. It makes me realize how much people truly care in our One Stone community and how strong we are.”

When the remote learning experience began, Klein was already working mostly on her own, creating a guide to understanding and working through calculus problems. So for her, the change hasn’t been too disruptive. However, she finds working with her peers and coaches remotely an “interesting shift” and is finding new ways to collaborate with them, while keeping herself engaged and motivated.

“I’m learning time management and have been focusing a lot on how to delegate roles and the importance of taking time to check in with myself and see how I am doing. I‘ve also been learning the importance of fostering little moments of delight throughout the day – the little things that bring me happiness or a feeling of accomplishment,” she explains.

One Stone is continuing its after school programs for students throughout the Treasure Valley, like those involved in the Two Birds creative studio. A student-run LLC, Two Birds is a revenue-generating business that provides design thinking and marketing services to professional clientele. The team continues to work remotely through screen-sharing technology, Google Hangouts, and Ideaflip, a cloud-based, mind-mapping program for brainstorming sessions.

One Stone student showing her pet on a video call.

“We’ve started 30-day sketch challenges and are even trying to start a campaign to convince other teenagers to self-isolate and maintain social distance to help stop the spread of the virus that has pushed us all into these online spaces,” says Veronica Richmond, a Boise High School sophomore and student at the Treasure Valley Mathematics and Science Center. Her sister, Audrey, is also a Two Birds designer and both sisters have embraced the remote work opportunity and adapted quickly. Veronica says she’s “ecstatic” that she can still work while at home, and is currently working on a project involving T-shirt and sticker designs for a fundraising campaign.

“Learning how to work remotely is a crucial career skill and I’m glad I am experiencing it now, so any time I need to work from home I am more prepared,” she says.

Dozens of other after-school One Stone students are also adapting their work to better fulfill community needs. Project Good, a program that engages students to build community and character through experiential service projects is still underway. But due to social distancing requirements, many projects are being retooled. For example, students working on a program called FLIP, or Families Living in Inspired Places, are putting aside plans to redecorate homes for people who have recently experienced homelessness. Instead, they are reaching out to families to check on their immediate needs. When they heard that a young family with an infant needed toilet paper, they collected rolls and delivered them to their doorstep. Students are also working to support a mother, grandmother, and seven children by delivering a care package of essentials and activities for the kids while they are under orders to stay home.

“It’s hard, and it is a setback because we’re supposed to be taking measurements for dressers and things. And obviously, things like that, we can’t do,” says Avery Hormaechea, a senior at Bishop Kelly High School and member of the FLIP team. “But we’re also trying to address immediate, real-world needs and find ways to help. We’re all in this together.”

Another Project Good experience to recognize and support junior high girls, called Empow[HER], was initially going to feature a variety of activities, including a sleepover, focused on self-love, confidence, and healthy friendships. The Empow[HER] team is now working to make those experiences virtual, rather than in-person.

“It was really cool to see how we were able to switch gears automatically and think about, how can we make this experience just as impactful for all the girls whether it be through a virtual picnic, or taking a virtual walk together? Or if that’s not an option for some of the girls, sending out activities that they do by themselves, or something that they could do actively,” says Riverstone International School sophomore Meghan Fall. “This experience with One Stone has helped me change my mindset, to see how we can help now and be able to switch plans quickly.”

Parent Perspective

As students settle into the One Stone Remote experience, many parents—especially those also working from home—are noticing the seamless transition from in-person to remote learning. Some parents, like Chrissy Smith, are impressed by their children’s professionalism during video conferences. Just like they would for face-to-face meetings, One Stone students are expected to show up on time and refrain from any behavior that would detract from the group conversation.

“These are necessary skills for their future work behavior and it’s awesome that (One Stone is) setting the standard,” Smith says.

Screenshot of a One Stone student and her dog during a video call.

For other parents, it’s simply reassuring to know that their children’s education will not be left adrift during the pandemic.

“I work from home, but it’s been a relief that One Stone is powering through, keeping connections,” says Cathy Silveria-Hindle. “And other than (its) actual location, it feels somewhat normal.”

Pivoting Towards Change

Ultimately, One Stone students are learning to embrace the power of the pivot, and the unique opportunities that come from changing circumstances. After all, learning to embrace ambiguity is a key part of One Stone’s mission to make students better leaders and the world a better place.

While the One Stone Remote plan has been an important touchstone of normalcy for the community, it continues to evolve. Students and coaches are currently brainstorming ways to react, respond and learn from the coronavirus pandemic, and those ideas and solutions are unfolding almost as quickly as the hourly changes in news headlines.

“I hope this fires them up about things they think could be different,” says Lab School Co-Director Bolin. “Whether it’s the environment or the way science is disseminated, the way communication happens in the world—whatever it is, I don’t know what it’s gonna be—I hope it fires them up in a big way.”

Getting Smart has launched the Getting Through series to support educators, leaders, and families on the path forward during such an uncertain time. This series will provide resources and inspiration as we face long term school closures, new learning environments, and address equity and access from a new lens. Whether you are just getting started with distance or online learning, or you’ve had plans in place and have the opportunity to share your work and guidance with others, there is a place for your voice and an opportunity to learn.

We’re going to get through this together, and we invite you to join us. Please email [email protected] with any questions or content you’d like considered for publication. We also invite you to join the conversation on social media using #GettingThrough.

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Shannon Reagan is a freelance writer based in Boise, Idaho.


Hard Reset: What Will Be New Post Pandemic

Hard Reset: 10 Post Pandemic Changes

It seemed like we were experiencing a lot of change with the climate crisis, the innovation economy, and trade wars—then comes a pandemic. As the emergency brake was pulled on the economy last week, almost everything shut down. Many were laid off, others are trying to figure out how to work from home. The disruption is establishing new baselines in work, learning, healthcare, and governance. In fact, it’s a hard reset on everything.

10 things that will be new and different post-pandemic:

Big class of 2040: there will be a spike in birth rates early in 2021 resulting in a couple big cohorts moving through school.

More remote work: after adapting to remote work, many companies will continue to support more work from home. A growing number of companies will reduce their leased space or go completely virtual. Prices of expensive urban commercial real estate will quickly soften and developers will hit the brakes on new construction.

More personalized competency-based learning: states have begun to issue guidance to high schools and it basically says, ‘figure it out’—find learning options for kids, make judgments about competency, and waive what you can. Post-pandemic, a lot more high schools will have more flexible, ‘show what you know’ options.

And that goes for teachers, too! There will be less of the sit-and-get professional development and more flexible, personalized professional learning for teachers.

More community connected project-based learning: with state testing cancelled and a lot more flexible time, many learners are engaging in interest-based learning and impromptu projects. School closures have been a reminder that learning can happen anywhere. When kids return to school, some schools will respond with more project-based learning connected to local problems and opportunities.

A new frame of meaningful measures: We can officially call this the official end of the 30-year era of standards-based reform and the associated preoccupation with grade-level reading and math proficiency as the only measure of progress for learners and quality for schools.

Pre-pandemic, there was growing consensus about the importance of success skills (e.g., self and social awareness, collaboration, resilience, growth mindset) and that has only increased in the last month.

There will be a resumption of state tests at some point, but it will be in the context of broader goals and new forms of evidence. Schools will help learners build a comprehensive profile and assemble an extended transcript that reflects their personal learning journey.

More home-based and hybrid learning: After parents figure out learning at home, half a million students won’t go back to school. And a bunch of school districts will get more aggressive about supporting homeschoolers with hybrid learning centers like Workspace Education in Bethel, Connecticut, and  Da Vinci Connect near Los Angeles International Airport.

Hundreds of parents will turn their homeschool into a microschool. Networks like Acton Academy and Prenda Schools will continue their explosive growth.

Fewer expensive schools and colleges: Dozens of private colleges and schools will never reopen after learners and parents scrambled to find less expensive flexible alternatives.

Continuity of learning: By the 2020-21 school year, the learning institutions will have a continuity of learning plan with a blended curriculum, learning platform, personal or take-home devices, and support for ubiquitous wi-fi. No more snow days!

Post-pandemic, more people will think of education as a public service more than a place.

Better safety net: millions of Americans suddenly out of work is forcing U.S. Congress and state legislatures to quickly improve social safety nets. This will not only address short term challenges but improve long term ability to weather dislocation; we’re in for a long, bumpy ride.

New mutuality: perhaps the most foundational change will be a recognition of our new mutuality—we’re all in this together. We think that will translate into difference-making: more schools focusing on helping young people find and begin making their unique contribution.

We’re experiencing a terrible shock—one that will get worse before it gets better, but some good will come from it if we work together.

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This post was originally published on Forbes.


How to Find the Right Innovation Expert for Your District

When confronted with an issue, sometimes all you need is to problem-solve with an expert in the field, someone who has traversed the challenges before you and come out the other side. But for schools and districts that are working to make learning more personalized, mastery-based, and supportive of whole child development, this is easier said than done — identifying the core challenges that your team is facing can be complex when you’re still new to the work, and it can be hard to connect with the right professional service provider. The Innovative Learning Expert Hub (ILEx) is a new service by Catalyst:Ed in partnership with The Learning Accelerator (TLA) that offers support for these very challenges.

The ILEx is focused on connecting, empowering, and growing education partnerships between school and district practitioners and a vetted and robust network of professional service providers. It is modeled on Catalyst:Ed’s DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) Expert Hub, as well as its core work informing and connecting education organizations and expert providers for their mission-critical projects. The DEI Expert Hub alone has provided services to over 100 organizations since its launch in 2018. Catalyst:Ed’s unique matching process (outlined in the graphic alongside) makes it easy for teams to tap into a variety of expert resources to address issues and make their visions a reality in cost-effective ways. The Catalyst:Ed provider network spans 40 different capacity areas and consists of over 600 professional service providers who are matched to schools and organizations based on capacity, expertise, and experience. “Schools and districts often establish consulting relationships with folks they know and let the consultants drive the scope of work. We flip that around and partner with the school to identify their true needs — which are often different than the symptoms they are reporting — and we connect them with folks who have expertise in that need area.” says Rachel Klein, Partner, Strategic Initiatives at Catalyst:Ed. “People often tell us, ‘I didn’t realize this was my problem’ or ‘I didn’t know anyone with that skill set’ and ‘I never would have found so-and-so without you!’”

The ILEx is currently focused on four implementation challenges that were extrapolated from TLA‘s Innovative Learning Implementation Framework, although Catalyst:Ed can support schools and systems across most areas given its broad expert network. When schools and systems reach out for support via the ILEx, Catalyst:Ed meets with the team to understand their vision, context, and challenges, and based on those writes a scope of work. According to Klein, “Leaders often appreciate the opportunity to reflect on the challenges they are facing. Sometimes our scoping process uncovers that the root challenge is something else. They may think they need more or different training, but as we dig deeper we may find that there is a lack of alignment on the leadership team which needs to be addressed first.” The finalized scope of work is sent to the right experts in Catalyst:Ed’s pool and, from there, schools are able to choose the expert that will best maximize impact.

Organizations can access ILEx’s services at no cost thanks to startup support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. They will need to pay for consulting work by the selected experts with cost ranges varying from as low as $5,000 to $100,000+ depending on the scope and scale of the work. Organizations can browse project templates for ideas and get the ball rolling on project listing here.

For providers who are part of the hub, in addition to finding mission-aligned clients to support, the ILEx includes the added benefit of getting access to Catalyst:Ed’s expert community-building activities like monthly calls and a robust slack workspace to find solutions to project challenges, source partners for work, and discuss the future of learning. They will also have access to numerous learning resources from TLA and will become a part of an exciting cohort of pioneering education innovators. Needless to say, we were excited to join the community! As a proud participant in the ILEx, Getting Smart sees this as a great opportunity and platform for creating a network of passionate education movers and shakers. It provides an opportunity for us to work alongside inspiring partners and organizations as we help to advocate for and amplify the future of learning through our suite of services and core capabilities.

Both we and Catalyst:Ed are beginning to talk with school and district partners about work to begin this spring and into next school year. We’d love to hear from you!

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Choosing the Right Tools for Remote Learning

Over the past several weeks, there has been a flood of information and resources related to Coronavirus and preparing for remote learning shared in many learning communities. Whether you follow the #remotelearning hashtag on Twitter, join one of the Facebook educator groups focused on school closures, or engage in discussion within the ISTE community or other professional learning network (PLN),  you will without a doubt find more than you need. The amount of support available from the many ways educators are coming together to create and share content has been inspiring to see and it provides some comfort during this very difficult and unprecedented time in the world.

However, even for educators who have been teaching online or are more experienced with implementing digital tools in the classroom, it can be overwhelming to sort through all of these resources. For parents and families, who now have added responsibilities and demands, supporting their learners at home can definitely be a big shift. Fortunately, there are organizations like PBS, CommonSense Media, and the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), that have provided some guidance for families. As educators, what can we do to help families and students prepare for remote learning during this critical time?

It is helpful to have guidance for specific tools or learning materials that have wide applicability to different grade levels and content areas that do not have a steep learning curve. An added benefit is resources that provide ready-made lessons or templates for teachers to use and that can engage families in learning together at home. Here are some digital tools for planning meaningful learning activities for students that provide opportunities for families to engage in learning too.

Games

Using digital tools for game-based learning enables students to select activities to meet their specific needs and interests while giving educators access to data to adjust lessons accordingly. These tools are also great options for families looking for different activities to pass the time together. Some of the options are:

  1. Gimkit. Choose from the many games or “kits” available or create one quickly by uploading terms, searching their question bank or importing flashcards from another site. There are multiple ways to play and Gimkit does not require that questions be projected onto one screen, questions appear on student devices.
  2. Kahoot! Educators have free access to Premium Kahoot! and can choose from thousands of games in the library that can be shared as self-paced kahoots for remote learning. Families can also use Kahoot! for some fun games with trivia, current events, or anything! A good activity could be to create a family Kahoot!
  3. Quizizz. Another game-based learning tool that offers an extensive library of games to choose from. Making a new game is easy by searching the question banks available. Games can be assigned using a code or sent through a messaging app such as Remind or students can choose their own game for solo practice. Quizizz can be another option for family game night!
  4. Quizlet. A study tool with activities and games for students to build their skills in any subject. Keep up with their blog for ideas of how to get started with Quizlet. There are thousands of flashcard sets available and Quizlet Live! can be played without need for a projector, unlike some of the other game-based learning tools. Use Quizlet with students or for family time.
  5. Educandy. A fun website that offers eight different activity options for practicing vocabulary words. Choose from multiple choice, anagrams, word searches and more. Try out some of their example games to practice capitals or the elements, or quickly make your own. Share the code with students for them to play on their own device. Educandy offers an animated fun way to learn for all ages!

Interactive Lessons

There are several tools for sharing multimedia content and creating interactive lessons to engage students more in learning during this time. Getting started with any of these options does not take much more than creating an account and finding a lesson or activity to get started with.

  1. Nearpod. Using some of the featured lessons available in the Ready to Go At Home Lessons, teachers and families can find options for keeping students engaged in more meaningful learning and on current topics. It is also fun to explore the virtual reality field trips together and travel the world right from home.
  2. Pear Deck. With Pear Deck, educators and families can explore the remote learning resources available to get started quickly. Paired with Newsela, Daily Decks are ready to teach lessons that include articles and interactive prompts for students.
  3. Google Tour Creator. Take students on a field trip while learning from home. Teachers can create a VR tour, have students create their own, or explore some of the templates available in the platform. An easy way to add-in virtual reality to immerse students in learning.
  4. BrainPop. An animated educational website now offering free access to all of their lessons. More than 1,000 videos and activities on a variety of topics for students in grades K through 12. Students can work through the lessons at their own pace and teachers can provide feedback right within BrainPop.

Storytelling

There are many ways that students can show learning and as we are helping to prepare students for the future, technology does and will clearly continue to play a role. It benefits students and ourselves to provide a variety of opportunities for them to explore and create in different formats. The benefit of these options is that families can join in the learning and creating together. And each student can create based on their interests because of the many choices available within.

  1. Flipgrid. Families can find some good examples of how to use Flipgrid for learning together and for connecting with others from around the world during this time to share experiences. Flipgrid is a social learning network where students and educators can record videos, post reflections, ask questions and choose from more than 10,000 ready-to-launch topics. You can even have a Flipgrid inbox for students to record questions privately to you. Teachers can also add content to extend learning using additional tools such as Adobe Spark, Buncee, Nearpod, Newsela, Wakelet, and Wonderopolis.
  2. Buncee. A multimedia creation tool that enables teachers to set up classes, share assignments, provide feedback and send updates and newsletters. A Parent Newsletters idea shared by Laurie Guyon includes many activities for learning and there are some quick ideas for getting started with students. Educators can create interactive lessons, communicate class updates, share digital activities instantly with students. Students can choose from more than 31,000 stickers, animations and graphics and record audio or add a video to their presentation.
  3. StoryboardThat. A web-based tool for digital storytelling that is offering free accounts through the end of the year for teachers. Explore some ideas on the StoryboardThat blog and then get started with graphic organizers, lesson plans and easy to use templates. Students can choose a theme, characters, props and more as they create their storyboard, which can be downloaded as a slideshow or even a GIF.

Daily Activities and Connecting

Parents and educators are eagerly looking for ideas for remote learning and home activities. One of the best resources I came across recently was a list of activities for many different topics, age groups and roles in education. Using the Glide.app, Lynne Herr created a COVID-19 list “Global Support: By Educators for Educators” that includes resources and links to an unbelievable amount of topics and content. There is something here for everyone. Check out these engaging resources that students and families will enjoy together:

  1. Explore Live Cams. Learn about animals, places, climate and more by watching the live feed from locations around the world. Each location also includes weather information, related facts, Q&A and maps. You can also take a snapshot while viewing the live feed. The site includes a playlist of short films and documentaries on a variety of topics.
  2. NASA. Check out and download more than 140,000 photos and resources from their library. It is easy to search for audio, video or photos and provides a more authentic way to learn about space.
  3. Daily read-alouds. Different authors from around the world have signed up to do read-alouds each day. Pernille Ripp, the creator of the Global Read Aloud, recently wrote a blog post that included a long list of read-alouds available for educators and families. Check out Storyline Online for videos of books being read with activities.
  4. Virtual 360 tours. A list of tours compiled by Claudio Zavala and shared on Twitter. A great way to take field trips during this remote learning time.
  5. Scholastic. To help with remote learning at home, Scholastic launched a website that provides daily lessons for students in grades PreK and up. There are currently five days of lessons available with 15 more lessons on the way.
  6. Crash Courses. Choose from 15 different courses that offer videos on a range of topics for high school and college courses. Each course includes more than 30 subtopics with videos and content provided for each.
  7. Livestream activities. Plan a day of activities focused on art, music and more to engage younger students. The schedule provides links to activities that are live-streamed throughout the day Monday through Friday.
  8. Khan Academy. An easy to use daily schedule with learning activities that are applicable to different grade levels. Each template comes with links to relevant content provided by the Khan Academy library.

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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.


Voices from the Field: Educational Leadership

By: Erin Gohl and Kristen Thorson 

We recently asked a group of educators which qualities in leadership facilitate educator growth and empowerment in support of student learning. Many of the responses are not that surprising. Words like supportive, present, trustworthy, respectful, empathetic, understanding, realistic, solution-oriented, and flexible consistently showed up across responses. These leadership qualities transcend most professions and are necessary for productive leadership.

Being a great educational leader, however, in many ways requires an additional unique set of qualities and skills. Educational leaders’ work is exceptionally complicated given that it revolves around the productive growth and development of children, from a variety of backgrounds, with a diverse set of needs, all of which are constantly evolving. The mission of their work regularly changes at the whims of the district, state, or federal legislators, bureaucrats, researchers, and pundits, and maintaining consistency despite shifting variables and goals is especially challenging. And the stakes for their success or failure are considerably high as individual trajectories and a community’s collective well-being depend on their vision and their ability to carry it out. It is the specifics of how these educators describe manifesting the general qualities that make their insights so important for educators at-large.

As our educators delved deeper into their reflections and experiences, the import of the particular characteristics to productively lead within this demanding and, at times, perplexing, context became apparent. A synthesis of qualities including the capability to take a systems approach to assess challenges and developing a plan forward; to be able to inspire a movement for long-term growth; to a need for bravery and courage to tackle hard decisions emerged as fundamental for an exceptional educational leader.

Shared Vision

Over and over again, this group of educators described the need for leaders to clearly articulate a vision for a school or district and an effort to bring stakeholders in as partners in realizing that vision. First and foremost, an effective educational leader must truly get to know their community–its specific history, needs, challenges, opportunities, and aspirations that make it unique–in order to develop a plan that speaks to where a community wants and needs to go and the most productive ways to get there. This vision cannot be generic. In short, a good leader must know the unique needs of their district or school in order to be successful.

Beyond understanding the dynamics of a particular community, many respondents spoke of the need for a leader to share that vision with others, in both word and practice. Donna Kouri, Library Media Center Director at Longwood Elementary, Indian Prairie School District (IL) explained that a great educational leader is, “someone who has a vision and is able to share that vision with others and work collaboratively. They need to know when to push people to move forward but also when to sit back and let what is already working continue to work without interference.” Stacey Skoning, Chair, Department of Special & Early Childhood Education, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh took this further to note that, “They also must be able to model what they expect from others on their team.”  

Many respondents also noted that it is important to celebrate a community’s diversity and be inclusive of varying perspectives in order for the community to share the ownership of that vision. Skoning noted that a good educational leader, “listens to all constituents, brings people with diverse opinions and perspectives together, and helps the group move forward with a high level of buy-in from all of the constituents.”

A common theme on all the topics we surveyed was that students should be at the center. This was particularly noteworthy when describing productive educational leadership and vision. As Kouri put it succinctly: “[Educational leaders] must always put students first.” An educational leader’s vision should be guiding all work within a community. Therefore, if the overarching blueprint for a district is constructed around what is best for student learning and growth, a student-centered approach to decision-making remains at the core. This is especially important, too, when changes arise from personnel turnover, new federal or state legislation, or acute circumstances, as a student-centered vision should transcend any of these disruptions.

Bravery and Courage

Though thinking aspirationally and positively is good for a community, many respondents noted how fundamental it is for a leader to have and encourage hard, difficult conversations. And, at times, they give voice to the silenced people and perspectives by addressing challenging truths. This bravery of voice provides a necessary contribution for any educational community to grow and productively move forward. The willingness to shine a spotlight on underlying tensions, historical inequities, and contemporary concerns is essential for the health of a community as these issues often impede real lasting progress. Daryl Diamond, Director of Innovative Learning, Broward County (FL) Public Schools described that we must be willing to engage in “continued courageous conversations about present conditions and changes in processes that must be done in order to obtain desired goals.” Skoning reflected on her experience:

We have to be able to move past having a polite conversation and move to being able to engage in more challenging discourse. I once had a principal who used to push us to ‘lean into discomfort’ and talk about things that were difficult for us to talk about with our peers. This level of conversation does not happen as the result of a one-time professional development opportunity. It must be cultivated over time and be part of the fabric of the educational institution. Only then can we come to meaningful conclusions that will result in important outcomes for staff and students alike.

Building upon the creation of this culture of candor coupled with productive problem-solving and supportive, team-based approach, many educators noted the need for educational leaders to be willing to challenge the status quo in order to facilitate professional and student growth and development. This is especially true if a community has hit a point of stagnation. Additionally, rapid changes in technology, the global economy, and our understanding of human development means the purpose and structure of schooling is evolving, therefore requiring shifts in teaching and learning.

But, change at both the organizational and individual level can be hard and uncomfortable and, therefore, requires courage to make and lead changes as an organizational head. Tracey Ratner, Principal, Longwood Elementary, Indian Prairie Public Schools expanded on this, “An educational leader must have the ability to think creatively and outside the box. Most importantly, an educational leader must be in tune with the needs of the students and staff, and be able to help others challenge the status quo.” Creating a culture where professionals feel comfortable taking risks in order to refine a practice or create new pathways for learning allows for this kind of change to be both organic and iterative. As Diamond described, we must provide, “safety nets for those individuals who are willing to take risks to make the change they want to see.”

Part of this willingness to change policy and practice must be a reflective cycle in order to ensure that such changes are effective and productive. Respondents noted that educational leaders must partner such reflection with an openness to adapt when something is not working. Diamond shared that, “In today’s educational environment, leaders need to be extremely aware of what is working and what is not, and then flexible enough to make the corrective changes based on that knowledge.” And these changes must be measured by holistic student growth and development in line with the overall vision.

The Best Leaders Are Learners, Too

All too often, we expect our educational leaders to be the all-knowing problem solver in a building or district. They are assumed to have the answer to every question; they are expected to have an immediate plan in a crisis, and school communities rarely give them room to admit the unknown when confronted with a challenge. A theme that emerged from our respondents, however, is that leaders must be learners, too. They must see themselves as such, and their communities must embrace their leader as someone who is still striving for growth and improvement. And like all learners, each leader’s learning community needs to provide encouragement, that includes both the expectation to strive for improvement, support when efforts fall short and acknowledgment along the way.

Dr. Nicole Mancini, Director, Elementary Learning, Broward County Public Schools explained, “A successful educational leader creates an environment where all stakeholders have opportunities to grow and learn from experiences and interactions within the system.” Just as we must plan for student learning, we must also work to support the professional development of all leaders, teachers, and assistants. When leaders embrace continuous learning, they can shape a school community’s vision to support students, have the tools and character to prioritize the collective good over the easy path, all of which work to elevate the community of learning.

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This piece is part two of a three-part series on educational perspectives from a variety of stakeholders in the educational ecosystem. We surveyed a wide array of educators, from classroom practitioners to school and district level administrators, to academic professors and researchers. These educators serve students spanning from early childhood to secondary grades and represent a broad swath of specialties. In this piece, we compiled and analyzed their responses pertaining to productive and exemplary educational leadership.  

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How Hands-On Robotics Brings Science Lessons to Life

By: Katie Blagden and Barb Tennyson

It can be something of a challenge to incorporate hands-on learning into earth and life science units. For example, many life science units focus on looking at plants and animals and reading about their environments, leaving out the integral hands-on experience. As elementary STEAM educators, we have both developed tech-infused lessons, incorporating engineering and robotics, that increase student engagement and bring earth and life sciences to life. These projects are rigorous in teaching the subject at hand, and their playful side encourages collaboration both during and after the lesson.

The ‘Windy Day’ Project

In Barb’s first grade classes, STEAM lessons revolve around wind and weather. One example is the “Windy Day” project. We start by talking about science vocabulary. It’s first grade, so we focus on questions like what’s hot, what’s cold, what does wind feel like, and what does it look like outside?

To simulate a windy day, students use art materials like streamers and feathers and attach them to a KIBO robot. They code the robot by creating sequences of programmable wooden building blocks that have commands printed on them, and then use the robot itself to scan the blocks and start their program to recreate a windy day scenario. They sometimes include the robot’s sound module to record their own windy day sounds. They make silly sounds of wind rushing or record their voice telling the story of the robot’s windy-day experience. These recordings become part of their program.

The first time the robots come out, we set a timer, and they have two minutes to put it together with no directions. It’s amazing what first graders can figure out in two minutes! We intentionally don’t give every student their own robot. It’s usually three in a group, and everybody has a job. A lot of our work is about getting kids to know what it looks like to work as part of a group. Before the lesson, we go through strategies for how to make decisions as part of a group, and at the end, we ask them to reflect on why they built their KIBO the way they did, and why the program they coded made their construction look and act like a windy day.

How Do Animals Survive in the Winter?

First-grader decorating a KIBO robot as a winter animal. Image courtesy of Katie Blagden and Barb Tennyson.

One of Katie’s favorite and most engaging first-grade life science lessons combines animal survival and coding the KIBO robot (see header image). The unit starts with a compelling, standards-based question: “How do animals survive in the winter?” Students brainstorm and construct explanations by sharing ideas and drawing models. It’s also helpful to contrast animal survival techniques and adaptations with humans’ solutions to surviving in the winter.

Two first-graders presenting their KIBO robots decorated as winter animals. Image courtesy of Katie Blagden and Barb Tennyson.

Next, students get to the best part: applying their knowledge by coding a robot. First, they decorate their robots as winter animals, such as arctic foxes or polar bears, that they have previously researched. They get together with partners and choose an animal to draw. They then draw it using white crayons on blue paper and attach it to their robot. The class discusses what food and shelter their particular animal needs to survive a cold winter, then students create a model shelter using paper to make a dome where their “animal” can sleep.

The class then talks about how animals use body parts like arms and beaks to collect food. Students add arms and claws or beaks to their robot using paper, tape, and binder clips. Then they create a sequence and program their robots to scoop up the model food they created out of paper and bring it to their shelter. They set a timer, and the animals need to bring food inside their domes within a certain amount of time before they “freeze.” It challenges students to work out a sequence with their KIBO blocks and to scan the blocks to get their robot animals to move a certain way in a short amount of time. As a bonus, there can be predator animals added to the game as well.

For assessment and to communicate their learning, students use an interactive media app called Seesaw. They record themselves discussing what they learned in the lesson, and they share a picture or video of their project. This is an effective way to check for student understanding, especially in large classes of active students.

Taking Time for Collaborative Reflection

At the end of every class, we both ask students to share what worked and what didn’t work. It helps them find alternative solutions to common problems by collaborating with their peers. It also allows both teachers and students to see patterns in successes and challenges.

Using open-ended tech tools allows students to understand life and earth science topics through true representation. As elementary teachers, we love blending coding and engineering with valuable science concepts. Every project students create ends up looking different because they don’t have step-by-step instructions. Instead, they have the freedom to show what they understand and bring it alive with creative robotics.

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Katie Blagden is a K–4 STEAM educator and science curriculum coach at Ayers Ryal Side Elementary School in Beverly, Mass. She can be reached at [email protected]

Barb Tennyson is the instructional technology specialist and STEAM educator at the John Eliot Elementary School in Needham, Mass. Follow her on Twitter: @btennyson.


Being a High School Senior During COVID-19

By: Isabella Oballo

I was driving to school on Friday, March 13, 2020, when my phone started blowing up with texts from friends and emails from school. School had been canceled because of COVID-19. Not knowing the impact of what was happening, I spent the rest of the day with my friends; we bought snacks, watched some movies, played Minecraft, and went out to dinner at a nearby burger joint. On the car ride back we all collectively realized that Thursday, March 12, 2020, could have been our last day of real school. As a senior, it was difficult to fully process that my last year of high school may have been cut short.

We sat outside near a patch of bluebonnets and talked about all of the lasts we may have already had, and worst of all, the canceled events in the near future. I have been a part of the Women’s Lacrosse team at my school for the past four years and was voted as a captain for my final year. We had just played our first district game two days before and won 17-8 against our rival team. I wish I had known that could have been my last high school lacrosse game. I am also involved in the music department/program at school, we put on two concerts every year and we have been preparing for our spring concert (my last one) since early February. I may never get to perform again with my band and experience the special tradition of the senior song at the end of the concert. There are so many unknowns and lots of “lasts” that I’m not sure I’ll get to experience.

My fingers are crossed that regular school starts up again on April 6. But, for now, I will start online school on March 23. Many emails have been sent concerning the expectations of students and teachers, as we all make adjustments to distant learning from the comfort of our own homes. Most, if not all, of my teachers, are now using Zoom to stay connected and have a class with their students. My school has created a distant learning plan, answering all of the questions students and parents may have before starting school again. They are letting students check out computers from their school if they don’t have access to one at home. A recent email included options for discounted internet access. Just the other morning I had a meeting with my music teacher and our music leadership team to discuss possible alternatives to a spring concert if we are unable to have our normally scheduled concert. We also brainstormed ideas for at-home lessons for the music classes. Music podcasts, band conferences, weekly open mic video concerts, etc., are all possibilities for the lessons to come for our online music classes.

During this difficult time, I think the most frustrating part for many of the seniors (and students in general) is the lack of real-life interactions. Although our generation is one of computer and phone screens, the relationships we have at school are a break from constantly being blinded by the blue light on our desks or in our pocket. For me, high school has been nothing short of amazing. I have made the most of so many opportunities, extracurriculars, classes, and friendships over these four years. After working hard for so long it’s disheartening to know my school days are starting to look different. Making the best of it (while being socially distant), we went out one last time over the weekend to practice lacrosse, go hiking, and geocaching. Being socially distant also has its perks! My nights are spent playing Minecraft and chatting on Discord with a big group of friends. We’ve made a little neighborhood with our 10 houses and we get on phone calls every night to talk to each other. It’s a nice way for us to stay connected and see each other even though it isn’t in real life. I’ve gotten to cook a lot more since being stuck in the house, there are lots of fun recipes on TikTok that I can finally get around to making. I love crafts, so I’ve also started painting and making friendship bracelets again. There’s also a lot of free time for me to work on college scholarships and think about my college decisions!

It’s been hard making everything in life digital in a short amount of time. Though I feel as if my school community has made a great effort to make this transition as easy as possible for students and staff. My aforementioned music meeting helped me understand how classes would look for the time being and given me confidence in the way our teachers are going to help students. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I am thankful to live in a society where online and distance learning is readily available to many students, though it has also made me more appreciative of my ability to go to school every day and interact with the students and staff around me.

But this is just the beginning, I’ll let you know how my first week of online school goes!

Getting Smart has launched the Getting Through series to support educators, leaders, and families on the path forward during such an uncertain time. This series will provide resources and inspiration as we face long term school closures, new learning environments, and address equity and access from a new lens. Whether you are just getting started with distance or online learning, or you’ve had plans in place and have the opportunity to share your work and guidance with others, there is a place for your voice and an opportunity to learn.

We’re going to get through this together, and we invite you to join us. Please email [email protected] with any questions or content you’d like considered for publication. We also invite you to join the conversation and on social media using #GettingThrough.

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Isabella Oballo is a high school senior in Austin, Texas.


Graduation and Beyond After COVID-19 School Closures

By: Rebecca Midles, Kelly Niccolls

What does it mean to be a graduating high school student in 2020? Traditionally, at the end of this school year, students in the class of 2020 will receive in some way or form, a diploma informing them, “You made it!”

But made what exactly? With the elimination of school attendance, required coursework, senior year social experiences, and the upheaval of the end of the course and placement exam processes, how does a high school senior navigate these next few months towards the closure of their K-12 learning experience? Every state and district is different in terms of graduation requirements and crisis response protocols and infrastructure.

With some state departments discouraging districts from ‘turning on’ online learning because not everyone will have access, there is also a growing acknowledgment that high school students may not be earning credit toward graduation during this school semester. And while each state and district will make accommodations to support a revised path to graduation, an argument could be made that these students are still entitled to this missed learning opportunity. How can districts and states best personalize options for seniors, knowing their experiences are often vastly different from each other?

This is an essential moment for us to dig into what it means to be a high school graduate, and be prepared for the next phase of life. While many education agencies and leadership teams are responding to this emergency by trying to implement the industrial process in a fluid way, this is an incredible moment for seniors to consider. If they have twelve to sixteen weeks to demonstrate how they are ready for life after high school, and they know and can do what is needed for success after graduation, how could they share this learning?

The Time for 2020 Seniors is NOW
Students and families are working to make smart choices on the best course of action for finishing high school and updating their postsecondary plan. Relevant learning can continue for these students and there are ways for this work to be recognized by colleges and employers. If there is currently no high school service being provided, and no credit accumulation options, the following options are available. These are also helpful to consider if a student has time and wants to get a jump on postsecondary plans, including an effort to differentiate oneself.

Asynchronous college courses are an option a student can start anytime the class is passed and with a small fee, a student could earn college credits. Complete a few courses and a potential high school graduate could earn a micro-bachelors by September. Acknowledging that these choices come with a cost, a district in conjunction with a foundation or local organization could potentially provide scholarships to families.

  • edX MicroBachelors: At around $166 per credit, edX MicroBachelors programs are affordable ways to access computer science college classes. Learners can start with the content that matters most and learn at their own pace. (Ask your school to pay for the course.) edX also has a vault of free online self-paced Advanced Placement courses.
  • CLEP exams from College Board allow learners to test out of college credits (but not every college will accept them). Free CLEP prep courses are available from Saylor (@saylordotorg).

Another option is industry-offered classes resulting in certification or badges. Though such micro-credentials are attractive, these choices will not be credit-bearing unless a state issues a waiver and sets up structures to make this possible.

In addition to this next-level preparation and experiential learning opportunities, districts could also coordinate efficient, personalized options for students who, at this time, want and need to close out this K-12 venture and figure out their next steps from there. This could be a very explicit assessment of achieved class credits, pass/fail options, coordinated “essential” curriculum assignments and possible content assessments to demonstrate learning of priority standards.

It could also be a time for students to own their conclusion of high school and create their own demonstration of competency with a defense project and/or portfolio that meets a set of criteria and can be useful evidence as students transition to the workforce and post-secondary education.

Colleges Will Have to Innovate Their Recruitment of the 2021 Freshman Class

There is no return to the way things were for high school juniors, either. A key semester for them has also been taken away, uprooting traditional coursework grades and assessments that are pivotal to competitive college application processes. With such uncertainty of what will be available to students over the next few months, colleges will have to take a different approach to recruit and get to know their potential students’ capacity and desires as we embark on a new way of life across the world.

These limitations are an opening to innovative approaches to think about what college readiness and what college learning can be. There are needs for student and faculty agility and adaptability.
The AP and SAT have already shifted testing dates and some colleges are shifting application requirements in response to the COVID-19 impact. Most college admissions office staff are working diligently on spring acceptance letters and financial aid packets as well as facilitating virtual school tours for prospective students.

In the function of technical shifts, college admissions and leadership teams are also asking bigger questions about purpose and access to higher education. As we stumble along a bumpy descent in our economy with no clear process or point of opportunity to rebuild employment and income, knowing access to college is limited but the need for college isn’t, for a student applying within the next few months is truly up in the air. Challenges for high school juniors are far beyond academic grading processes and AP exam shifts. There are larger, more human-centered and community-based questions around the purpose, experience and economic feasibility of college post-COVID-19.

Systems Need to Work Together to Support Post-Secondary Access

What will be necessary for post-COVID-19 students is the support of integrated systems working together to support student learning and earning potential? The economic impact of this pandemic has created a new pathway towards essential workforce skills and opportunities. Family earnings and way of life have been upended and will not fall back into place. Lucrative and “safe” career options will no longer exist. Timelines, definitions of “value add,” and what we view as important qualities are all up for re-evaluation as we adjust into a new human identity and society.

Colleges, employers, community members, P-12 education systems will have to coordinate efforts and resources to continue student journeys towards post-secondary success. We will have to consider the availability of resources, pathways to economic sustainability and mobility, a new approach to working “conditions”, and the purpose of post-secondary learning and approaches to learning. All systems must collaborate and systematize shifts to more comprehensively align and best prepare students for our new future.

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

Getting Smart has launched the Getting Through series to support educators, leaders, and families on the path forward during such an uncertain time. This series will provide resources and inspiration as we face long term school closures, new learning environments, and address equity and access from a new lens. Whether you are just getting started with distance or online learning, or you’ve had plans in place and have the opportunity to share your work and guidance with others, there is a place for your voice and an opportunity to learn.

We’re going to get through this together, and we invite you to join us. Please email [email protected] with any questions or content you’d like considered for publication. We also invite you to join the conversation and on social media using #GettingThrough.


The Impact Of A Pandemic: What To Do As A Parent And What Will Happen In Higher Ed

By: Michael Horn

In these turbulent times, children’s schools are shutting down across the country. As I write this, roughly 40 million K–12 children are out of school in the United States, according to Education Week’s interactive map. That’s out of 51 million public school students and 5.8 million private school students. My current belief is that most schools will not reopen this school year.

Although I normally send out a monthly eblast about the future of education, to state the obvious, these aren’t normal times. Given the challenges we are all facing and the inquiries I’ve received from many of you asking what are we doing in the Kim-Horn household, what online resources are useful, and the like, here are some thoughts and resources that I hope prove helpful.

Please treat these as ideas to guide, not direct definitively. Just as there is no one best way to educate a child, there is no one best course of action amidst this crisis. You’ll need to find the right way forward in your circumstance for your family. My wife, Tracy, and I have seen plenty of amazing ideas out there—that just aren’t right for our family given we have twin daughters who are five. I also readily acknowledge that we’re fortunate to have the lives we do and are able to make certain decisions that others might not be able to make. Bottom line? You do you and stick to it.

And I assure you that we’re making plenty of daily mistakes. We are all learning together—and we won’t stop. If you have other ideas and tips, reach out to me over Twitter (@michaelbhorn). I’ll be sure to amplify productive conversations so we can all benefit.

The routine

We’re big believers in trying to have a consistent routine to give our children a rhythm to the day and a sense of security and stability that comes from having some certainty and control. We also try to alternate between activities that require our children to take an “in breath” and those that allow them to take an “out-breath.”

As we build a new routine, we’re figuring out ways to make sure that Tracy and I can do work while our daughters get what they need. It’s a work in progress, but our basic strategy is to take shifts with the children and make sure we have some overlapping times so we can be together as a family and as a couple. We’re trying not to be too hard on ourselves when we mess up—or when we have to do a bit more mindless screen time than we might otherwise do in a pinch.

Given that so many have inquired, here’s our children’s basic schedule (and yes, it’s a work in progress):

Activity Block
Wake-up routine (get dressed, journal, etc)
Eat breakfast + clean up
Walk our dog
Family individual reading time (20 min)
Digital learning time (Could be circle time with school, a program, Facetime, etc. 20-30 min)
Morning activity: 3 days a week we are outdoors; 3 days a week they do STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) projects and the like
Clean up, help make lunch, eat, clean up
Quiet hour (we are all by ourselves with choice around what we do) + 15 minutes for each child to practice piano or have a lesson
Free time (Besides play, opportunities for STEAM challenges or projects, food prep, gardening, bike riding, writing a daily letter and addressing it, etc.)
Dinner, clean up, nightly routine

 

A key pillar of our schedule is that our children are going to be a more integral part of our household work with the hope that that helps us have the time we need to work and invest in our own well being. As my late mentor Clay Christensen wrote in How Will You Measure Your Life, when he was growing up:

“We had gardens and fruit trees; we grew a lot of what we ate…. The idea that one might hire someone else to mow the lawn and shovel the snow at your home—it just never happened. There was so much work going on that children essentially worked for their parents. Step by step, over the past fifty years, it has become cheaper and easier to outsource this work to professionals. Now the only work being done in many of our homes is a periodic cleanup of the mess that we make. In the absence of work, we’ve created a generation of parents who selflessly devote themselves to providing their children with enriching experiences.”

Given the current circumstances, although we aren’t reverting fully to how Clay grew up, we are reversing some of today’s parenting culture out of necessity. We also know that we enjoy many blessings that enable us to do things that others can’t.

I’ll say it again, though. You ultimately have the children you have—not ours—in your own context, so make sure whatever you do is personalized for them and your circumstances. I’m a big believer in active learning experiences that are personalized for the child’s needs. These times are no different in that respect.

Leaning on home-schooling parents’ tips can be helpful for coming up with your own plan for the day if you have children who are now at home. But I’d caution that because their children weren’t in school, the context might be different—and your personal work circumstances may be very different.

I personally found this article by my friend Mike Goldstein, an educator who founded the Match charter schools in Boston and has worked in a wide range of educational contexts, incredibly helpful: “Coronavirus closing your kid’s school? One parent’s plan for Daddy School.” It contains his routine plus resources.

Finally, here are some tips from Prepared Parents, along with a way to follow their advice on Instagram and Facebook. Leveraging a self-directed learning plan and children’s natural curiosity makes a lot of sense to me.

Online resources

Now I know I’m not a parenting expert. Trust my wife on that one. Most of the questions coming to me have been about online-learning resources. So, here are a few of what I’ve found to be useful. Everything here is currently free.

The impact on colleges and universities—and education more generally

With campuses shutting down, what’s the impact of the COVID-19 disease likely to be on colleges across the country?

Jeff Selingo and I turned to someone on our Future U podcast who has deep expertise with this question—Scott Cowen, who led Tulane University in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. His big advice centered around maintaining 3 things:

  1. Communication
  2. Transparency
  3. Community

We then followed up in our next Future U episode with an interview of two people on the front lines of helping colleges transition to “remote learning.” We talked to the provost of West Chester University, a regional public university in Pennsylvania, and a faculty member at Ithaca College, a private college in New York, about what it’s really like to turn a residential campus into a virtual one overnight.

This piece at WGBH, “Organized Chaos’: Many Mass. Colleges Unprepared For Transition To Online Teaching,” offers some great color on what this transition to remote learning looks like as well, with a sense of the challenges and opportunities everyone from schools of music to community colleges are facing.

So with colleges all moving to “remote” and online learning, will this crisis turn out to be a “black swan” moment for higher education to the benefit of online learning, as Goldie Blumenstyk argues at the Chronicle for Higher Education?

I think it depends upon the duration of this moment, but my initial reaction was to be skeptical. With professors hastily moving courses online, I just don’t think the experiences will be all that compelling—particularly if the interruption is temporary. You can read more at Education Next in “Covid-19 Boost to Online Learning May Backfire.”

Or check out a podcast I did for Education Next on the topic here where we dive into not just the implications for online learning in higher education, but also K–12 schools and how districts might think of equity concerns and the like.

You can also read a fuller set of perspectives that Inside Higher Ed published on the topic, “Will Shift to Remote Teaching Be Boon or Bane for Online Learning?” In my contribution, I also offered four tips to faculty members moving their courses online. One of the tips is to remember that online learning isn’t about putting the faculty member front and center like massive open online courses (MOOCs) did.

Amidst some of my concerns, however, there are big bright spots. Everest Education, an after-school company in Vietnam, has been doing a lot of R&D on online learning for some time. With the shutdown of the nation’s schools and after-school programs, they have rolled their active online platform and pedagogy out to the country—which could be a big benefit to families and the nation. Have a read—“Amidst COVID-19’s Spread, Hope For Education Innovation Glimmers In Vietnam”—on Forbes.

I hope that, during these troubled times, that story brightens your day and gives you some hope. Even as we practice “physical distancing,” let’s remember to keep our social solidarity strong.

For more, see:


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

Getting Smart has launched the Getting Through series to support educators, leaders, and families on the path forward during such an uncertain time. This series will provide resources and inspiration as we face long term school closures, new learning environments, and address equity and access from a new lens. Whether you are just getting started with distance or online learning, or you’ve had plans in place and have the opportunity to share your work and guidance with others, there is a place for your voice and an opportunity to learn.

We’re going to get through this together, and we invite you to join us. Please email [email protected] with any questions or content you’d like considered for publication. We also invite you to join the conversation and on social media using #GettingThrough.

Michael Horn is the Chief Strategy Officer at Entangled Solutions and author of Choosing College and Blended


On the Move to Online Learning

School closures mean learning at home or in the community for millions of American students. Hundreds of school districts were reasonably well prepared for the transition to online learning with a predominantly digital curriculum, a take-home device for every student, wi-fi provisions for families with limited access, and some history of working through snowy days with remote learning. Those success stories don’t make the news.  

But even the best-prepared districts are scrambling to meet the needs of all learners. About 10,000 school districts (and growing as more states close) have some quick decisions to make about how to support learners in remote locations. 

Safety, food security, and trusted relationships for the most vulnerable children are the first priority. There are no easy answers here but, with the safety of staff in mind, continuity of care is important. Remind families and guardians that what children need most need right now are safe spaces and trusted relationships. 

Recognizing that every school district and student population is a little different, following are a few suggestions on how to develop next steps for supporting remote learners 

Remote learning: mostly digital. If you have a widely used LMS and distributed 1:1 take-home devices and more than 80-85% of learners have good to adequate internet access at home, move to primarily online delivery and then identify, group, and support edge cases including:

  • Lack of internet access at home: use a combination of check-out hot spots, community hot spots, and free or reduced-price wi-fi (e.g., Comcast reduced cost wi-fi). 
  • Special needs: Learners with identified challenges, accommodations, or disabilities may not be ready or able to fully utilize an online learning environment and will require in-person support or other partnership arrangements. 
  • Lack of a safe supervised day time learning location: provide appropriate supervised study space and/or identify community partners that can provide safe productive daytime spaces.  

Expand your teacher support team (use some outside resources here if necessary) to provide coaching, lesson curation, online delivery, online student support. Support teacher leaders and celebrate successes.

If your school/district is 1:1 but you haven’t distributed devices, do it now. Set up a drive-by pick up and have learners and guardians sign an acceptable use policy.  

Remote learning: digital and print. If less than 80% of your learners lack good wi-fi and there’s not a good, fast, reasonable way to fix that, gather or develop 60 days of printed resources to supplement what learners can do online.   

Where school curriculum isn’t readily available online, encourage learners to access free online learning resources like Khan Academy. Many providers are also offering more open resources and tools like Curriculum Associates who launched an at-home offering that includes content and guidance for families, as well as increased flexibility with their i-Ready reading and math program to ensure more students can access and complete online instruction at home.

Remote learning: digital, print and project. Your state testing is probably canceled, so encourage teachers to get creative and use the opportunity to encourage authentic project-based learning. Teachers can suggest project templates with opportunities for learners to add voice and choice. Consider emphasizing hands-on learning opportunities that make use of household materials, encourage self-direction and can lead to deeper learning on topics of interest.

Remote learning: digital, print, project, and place. With learners in remote locations, encourage place-based experiences. Encourage learners, that can, go for a morning walk and record their observations. The same morning walk can be used on successive days to chart observations about local economics, ecology, art and architecture, and culture. 

Remote learning–digital, print, project, place and partners. With a focus on keeping juniors and seniors on track for postsecondary transitions, encourage asynchronous (i.e., start anytime) college credit and microcredential online learning partners:

  • edX MicroBachelors : At around $166 per credit, edX MicroBachelors programs are affordable ways to access college classes (school districts could pay for and support with success coaches). Learners can start with the content that matters most and learn at their own pace. 
  • AWS Educate offers free cloud computing courses and stackable badges. Google also offers cloud training and certification.
  • Open P-TECH from IBM has mini-courses on data science, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and design thinking. Register and earn Industry-recognized digital badges.

Here’s the bottom line, do what you can to help families/guardians encourage children to do some reading, writing, and problem solving every day. Support as much hands-on, interest-based discovery and outdoor exploration as possible. 

Embrace student initiative. Some teenagers will use this experience to help us invent the future of learning. Listen and learn with them. Highlight their leadership. 

Be good to each other. It’s all about relationships. 

For more, see:


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