How To Know What Your Teenager Is Doing In School

By: Jamie Steckart

We are all confined to our houses, condominiums, and apartments. Space is limited. Cabin fever is setting in. Parents are adjusting to working from home while many children are adapting to learning online, or in more severe circumstances, struggling to learn without online access, a structured curriculum, or teacher guidance. Stress levels due to uncertainty are at an all-time high.

As schools have closed, with no sign this situation will end soon, we have transitioned from making sure our children wake up in time to catch the bus to being the only adults they come into contact with for the majority of the day.

This is a new role for many parents, and it heightens the anxiety inside one’s household. It can cause tension and lead to conflict. Your pattern of interacting with your son or daughter has been established over many years, yet a new kind of relationship needs to emerge.

Understanding the nature of adolescence is important for parents. Your kids are growing and they naturally crave independence. How do you balance knowing your child is progressing in their education while also giving them the space to develop the executive functioning skills needed for success in the real world? We tend as parents to cringe when our children fail and it tears our hearts apart when they get hurt.

Image Credit: Matt Rogers

So how can we ensure a healthy relationship with our child in a world where quarantining is the new norm and online learning is the sole method of instruction?

One tool to help set expectations, provide structure, and alleviate stress is setting a structure for weekly meetings. This can be a positive experience for teenage students and can also be used for younger students if some of the items are modified based on maturity.

Setting the Rationale

Setting the purpose and stage for the initial meeting is very important. This should be done from a perspective of caring and love. A possible script could go something like this: “Hey, Charlotte, we are experiencing something no one in this family has ever gone through before. It certainly has added stress to my life, as I am sure it has for you and your friends. While the world is in chaos, why don’t we take this opportunity to grow as a family? As your dad, I need to know how you are progressing in school, but at the same time I know you have skills and a routine for accomplishing your work. Is it possible for us to schedule a weekly meeting so I don’t seem like I am nagging you, but you can also give me updates so I can sleep at night? (should be done with some humor)”

Hopefully your child’s initial reaction will be positive. If you get pushback, emphasize it’s not because you don’t trust them: It’s because you’re genuinely interested in what they are doing and at the same time it’s helping reduce your stress level at a time when stresses are many.

Structure of the Meeting

Regular Schedule: When we place something on our calendars we are telling the world that this is important. Make this time sacred; let other members of the family know that you don’t want to be disturbed. While every child is different and matures at a different rate, try not to make a habit of checking in with them every day. Once or twice a week should be sufficient to get a handle on their progress.

Personally, I like using an electric calendar.

This simple organizational tool is commonplace in the world of work, and I have my kid schedule the time and invite me to the meeting. I recommend either picking the beginning or end of the week (which I will talk about later when we get to topics covered). What’s really important is keeping the time consistent. If you have other children, maybe make this a quiet reading time for them and rotate each of them in for each child’s special time with you.

Image Credit: Matt Rogers

Place: Pick a place that is separate from others. This can be in a corner of the apartment, the kitchen table, home office, or other space. I recommend sitting side-by-side instead of across from each other, as it’s more of a cooperative structure and you can share a screen.

Amount of time: When you get the hang of these meetings, you should be able to do a weekly meeting within 30 to 45 minutes. Anything more than that can become tedious. This will be especially important if you have more than one child.

Structure/Topics Covered: The topics and structure are really easy once you and your child get the hang of it. It’s important to remember that you as the adult are there not to judge but to help and listen to your kid.

  • Successes: Always ask and have the student share any successes they had in the last week. These can be reaching a goal or completing a task. Things that they accomplished during the week should be considered.
  • Highlights From the Week: Have them account for anything that was fun or brought them joy. It doesn’t necessarily need to be school related.
  • Gratitude: Have them share one or two items that they are grateful for. Studies in positive psychology show that showing gratitude increases happiness.
  • Challenges and Solutions: Have them share one or two challenges they are facing in the upcoming week. This helps them anticipate problems. Follow up with a question on how they will adapt and overcome these challenges. Be careful not to jump into a solution for them.
  • Help/Assistance: Based on what was talked about, ask what kind of support they would like from you during the upcoming seven days. It’s okay if they don’t need help, but it is important that they know you will support them if asked.

The magic of ritual is very important in families. How you end the meeting is important. Express your gratitude for them sharing. This really should be a positive experience. We use this format at THINK Global School for many of our one-on-one meetings with our teachers. It is a reflective process based on respect and trust.

Hopefully by implementing this simple yet effective process in your own home, you can build upon your relationship with your child and relieve some of the anxiety and stress brought on by this global pandemic. I certainly wish you and your family well.

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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.

Jamie Steckart is Head of School at THINK Global School, the world’s first traveling school, which educates students through a combination of project-based learning and firsthand experiences around the globe.


15 AR and VR Immersive Learning Tools

There are many different tools available to educators today that help to put learning in students’ hands. With all of the technology, we now have endless opportunities to take learning beyond the confined classroom space and can now access the entire world, within only a few seconds with the right access and devices. Having access to this technology helps to connect students with learning in more authentic and meaningful ways, especially with some of the possibilities for students to engage with the content through the use of augmented and virtual reality tools.

When it comes to these more immersive technologies, figuring out where to start can feel overwhelming. However, as with all methods and tools, when thinking about bringing technology to our classrooms, we always want to focus on the purpose. Start with some clear goals for what it’s going to help our students do differently and how it’s going to positively impact their educational experience.

Going beyond imagination

There have been many times where I’ve told my students to just imagine what it would be like to explore a location—or, as a student myself, trying to grasp certain concepts in science or math courses, perhaps learning about animals or places that were mostly unreachable. All of this has changed with the rise of technology and in particular, immersive augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) tools. These tools enable us to offer more interactive learning experiences that the students can control and build upon. Wondering where to start? Here are 15 resources to try.

1. Catchy Words AR: This fun AR word game promotes more active learning by giving students a word to solve by breaking the bubble of letters, grabbing and placing the letters into the right spaces to solve the word puzzle. Words can also be added that are specific to the content being covered. This has been an app helpful for students with dyslexia as well. (iPhone/iPad)

2. Curiscope Virtuali-Tee: More than just a t-shirt, it creates an AR learning experience for students to learn about human anatomy. Simply wear the Virtuali-Tee, scan and explore layers of the human body in AR. Curiscope is also launching their Multiverse AR poster series for learning about planets and other science topics.

3. Devar: A fun way for students or anyone to learn about AR by bringing colorful animated characters into the real world! Choose characters and then record a story to go along with it. Explore some of Devar’s other products such as AR books, cards, games, a globe and playsets available for learning about the alphabet, anatomy, chemistry, geography and more.

4. Experience Real History: Travel back in time to the Alamo in 1836 using an AR book, trading cards or mat. Download the ERH app to engage in interactive learning in AR with historical figures that come to life before your eyes.

5. Figment AR: This free tool offers both AR and VR in one. Create with Figment AR and add animated characters, objects, special effects, and portals. Enter the portals and transform them from AR to VR. Screen record to narrate a story in the real world. (iOS and Android)

6. Google Expeditions: With more than 800 virtual reality and 100 AR tours to choose from, you can engage students in a more immersive learning experience. Simply download​ the free app​ using either Google Play or the App Store and let students explore the world beyond their classroom.

7. Google Translate AR: Instantly translate signs, letters, images and more into 38 different languages simply by using your camera. Great for instant translation.

8. Just A Line: Have fun drawing in AR with Just A Line. The app is free and can be used for more active learning and also to have students record a video to tell a story about the drawing or the real physical space they are in.

9. Light Up Learning: Looking for a more hands-on way to help students learn about different structures and science-related topics? Try one of these apps from Light Up. Using Bridge Builder AR, students can design their own bridges in AR and test their structures. With Magnet Lab AR, students can use the app to simulate experiments to learn more about magnets and force. Animal Safari AR enables you to place animals in the real world and make your home or backyard a safari. Great for storytelling when combined with video recording for students to narrate their experience.

10. Merge EDU: Imagine holding a frog, a volcano,​ the earth, ​and more for close explorations right in your hands! Merge EDU is an AR/VR platform that provides more interactive learning for students to explore science-related topics in AR through Merge Explorer. Start with the free lesson on Terraforming Earth. ​Object Viewer can also be used for creating your own 3D content to upload onto the Merge Cube to bring into the real world.

11. Narrator AR: Add some AR fun to handwriting practice for students. Once a word is written on paper, use the app to scan the paper and then watch as a rainbow unicorn trail or rocket spell the word in AR. (iOS and Android)

12. Nearpod: An interactive multimedia learning platform that provides a quick way for educators to get started with VR. There are thousands of lessons to download that can include 3D objects for students to explore and VR field trips powered by 360 cities. Lessons can be found easily through the VR filter, and some favorites include the college tours. ​

13. PlayShifu: Have fun with AR games made for children including Shifu Orboot (an interactive AR globe) and Plugo (math, music, languages and more). Each of these provides games and lesson activities that are STEM/STEAM-focused.

14. Quiver: Bring a drawing to life with this coloring app available on iOS and Android systems. Start by printing a page, coloring it,  and then use the Quiver app to see the coloring in 3D AR.

15. Thyng App: A personal favorite for creating AR experiences that include animated characters, text, and more. Upload your own 3D objects or videos into the Thyng App and submit your “Thyngs” to be included in their library. Thyng can also be used to scan a target image and record up to a 10-second video to go with your target image. (iOS and Android)

These are just a few of the many tools available to explore AR and VR and get started quickly at different levels and content areas. For more ideas, follow #augmentedreality #virtualreality on Twitter and check out #ARVRinEDU, a weekly chat with Jaime Donally on Wednesday nights (9:00 pm EST).

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How to Reopen Schools: A 10-Point Plan Putting Equity at the Center

With nearly all U.S. school buildings closed for the year, teachers and leaders have scrambled to support remote learning and respond to the emerging needs of 57 million elementary and secondary students. As challenging as it is today, it’s time to begin planning for next year. The damage the pandemic has already caused, its lingering health concerns, and the potential for resurgence make preparation to reopen a complex but urgent affair.

“We have both a historic opportunity and an obligation to create approaches to reopening schools that work for all groups of students all of the time, not just some groups of students some of the time,” writes Russlynn Ali, co-founder, and CEO of the XQ Institute.

Based on insights and resources from practitioners and experts, we have created this 10-point plan, with an aim to help educators reimagine and strengthen systems. In particular, we encourage school and system leaders to consider how the needs of people of color and individuals with disabilities will be affected by re-entry. Many re-entry scenarios present a unique challenge to already vulnerable students and families, thereby compounding the equity implications of the pandemic. Using equitable and innovative re-entry approaches, we have an opportunity to design new solutions together that better meet the needs of all learners.

1. Organize and mobilize. Create a cross-functional team to manage programmatic, staffing, facilities, budget, and communication implications of reopening schools. Empower this team to prepare for re-entry, set and manage metrics that matter most in each domain, and ensure performance for:

  • maintaining health, wellness, and safety of the entire school community (e.g., PPE availability, compliance with distancing);
  • maximizing student learning and ability to thrive (e.g., access-gap reduction, academic growth);
  • supporting educators and staff to adapt and respond (e.g., family satisfaction); and
  • securing a strong financial and operational future (e.g., days of cash on hand).

Lindsay Jones, president of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, urges planning teams to “take the steps needed to ensure that all students from all backgrounds can fully benefit” from what might be extended reliance on educational continuity plans.

The team charged with preparation for re-entry should solicit feedback from students, families, teachers, staff, and other stakeholders through a variety of channels, including virtual town halls, social media, and family surveys. This team also holds public accountability and communications responsibility and should coordinate plans with guidance from regional and state agencies.

2. Develop reopening scenarios. Most schools will be told when to reopen, based on regional public health risks, economic demand, and childcare needs. Schools will be responsible for putting structures in place to safeguard health and wellness and responding to student and family needs. Schools will also need to be ready to act if the virus resurges.

EdTrust CEO John King and AFT President Randi Weingarten urged funding for summer learning experiences. “We must help students catch up from lost learning time, which particularly affects our most vulnerable students. We must plan for the future of education in a way that makes good on our promise to provide every child in America with the tools needed to succeed, regardless of geography or demography.”

Reopening in the fall on the regular schedule might be the base case, but alternatives should be considered, including:

  • opening early to more quickly address learning gaps
  • opening early with safety precautions (as contemplated in California)
  • opening on time but ready to shift nimbly to remote learning in the event of resurgence;
  • opening on time but with time-shifted (learners on different schedules) and/or place-shifted approaches (some learners in temporary facilities and some learners remote to support distancing); or
  • opening later, given a resurgence.

Come fall, schools might have to toggle between on-site and remote learning, stagger attendance, or use a variety of strategies in response to resurgence. System heads with well-developed plans will have the opportunity to influence state reopening guidelines.

As the active ingredients for success with each reopening scenario are identified, Susan Patrick, the president and CEO of the Aurora Institute, reminds us, “equity must be baked into the recipe for effective reopening—into the culture, structures, and into the daily practices.”

“It’s not enough to have one reopening plan, and simply hope that all groups of students will benefit equally,” says Greg Rodriguez, high school director at Brooklyn LAB. “Unless we are careful, intentional, flexible, and creative in our planning, re-entry will work much better for some students than for others.”

It will be critical to maintain flexibility to balance local needs (e.g., serving the children of nurses) with regional realities (e.g., closure of daycare providers for faculty members). Schools will be more effective if they prepare to reduce the friction of transitions.

3. Embrace financial stewardship in the face of uncertainty. Most schools and districts will see a decline in revenue for several years. Public schools must set principles for making hard choices, including how best to balance legal obligations (including maintaining the provision of free and appropriate education) under various resource scenarios. A dynamic and iterative scenario-planning process is required to navigate this unprecedented level of uncertainty.

“As schools think through how to support students upon reentry, they must take full advantage of funds and ensure funds are used wisely for our most vulnerable kids. Now is not the time for small thinking and siloed resources – all of our students, including those with disabilities, must be included and supported,” emphasizes Michael Yudin, former Assistant Secretary of Education for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services.

Before cutting critical expenses, it’s essential to aggressively preserve revenue. Oliver Sicat, CEO of Ednovate, suggests that budgeting should strive for the optimal combination of defense (budget cuts) and offense (evolution of services). Options for such offense might contemplate different reopening scenarios and consider investments in extra transportation, student home broadband, new talent models that leverage teacher residency models, facilities modifications, and/or technology to support access. These and other innovations might generate or sustain revenue streams through the downturn. With the oversight and proactive involvement of the school board, leaders must rigorously monitor cash inflows and outflows.

Rosalyn Curato of school finance software provider Allovue emphasizes the importance of scenario-planning and priority-based budgeting to provide structure around key choices and to anchor action to the student, our most important stakeholder. “School districts have responded to COVID-19, embracing how budgets evolve as needs change,” she says. “We must work together to strike the appropriate balance between providing quality education and doing so in a resource-constrained environment.”

Finance should not be siloed; every leader has a stake in student success and therefore plays a pivotal role in scenario-planning. Understanding what you can control and when, communicating proactively and transparently, and creating a culture that can respond and adapt to change will set your organization up for success.

4. Staff and schedule for flexibility and differentiation. Re-entry planning must be guided by the health, safety, and welfare of each member of the school community, as well as their family members.

Schools will need to be ready to support partial quarantine (groups of learners and/or staff working remotely). Some at-risk staff members may need modified duties but may still be able to support remote learning.

It’s likely that in-school hygiene protocols will need to be modified, at least for periods of time. Staggered cohort schedules could minimize contact during transitions. Adjustments to assemblies, lunch, physical education, and electives might reduce transmission.

Given likely reductions in state and local funding, school district and network staffing plans and budgets for 2020-21 should start with a lean base case. In addition, staffing plans should be developed for several social-distancing plans (per the time- and place-shifted scenarios discussed in #3).

It will take more staff to run time-shifted models (i.e., morning and afternoon shifts, a long day with cohorts on three or four staggered schedules, or longer alternating days). These scenarios will be difficult to support with what could be lower state reimbursements and should be approached in coordination with state organizations.

School policies related to travel, new requirements regarding temporary leave (e.g., sick leave, emergency paid sick leave, public health emergency leave) and school safety must be navigated with employee groups. State organizations can help facilitate and provide guidance for these conversations.

If resurgence demands remote learning, schools must acknowledge the challenges teachers will face providing differentiated support remotely. Further, caregivers can face increased stress, reduced schedule control, and barriers to accessing academic language and lessons. Smaller group-based supports (e.g., follow-up, feedback, check-ins, review sessions) matter. Widen the circle of supports to include volunteers, tutors, retirees, or ex-educators. Be sure to engage relevant agencies (e.g., social services, housing). Provide in-person and virtual training to caregivers.

5. Reconnect and reassess. The first week of school (or an early summer kickoff) is a good time to reconnect with students, rebuild culture, and reassess academic and social and emotional growth. The fall is an opportunity to meet learners where they are, support individual learning plans, and shift to competency-based progressions.

Some students may have experienced trauma over the previous six months, and staff and community partners will need to be ready to support those learners. Turnaround for Children recommends rebuilding relationships, resilience, and routines. On re-entry, they recommend focusing on physical, emotional, and identity safety, and empowering students to design and use routine planners. They urge schools to co-create norms and routines and provide tiered support systems at all levels.

An NWEA study predicts a big “COVID-19 slide” in learning. It will be critical to assess where learners are and tailor instruction accordingly. Norm-referenced adaptive diagnostics tools like the MAPS test can provide a quick snapshot of learning levels. Criterion-referenced assessments like i-Ready from Curriculum Associates may provide even more actionable insights.

Following assessment, placement is a difficult and important first-week decision. In traditional elementary schools, students who are more than a year below grade level may benefit from repeating the grade they were in before closure. The alternative is to add more flexible groupings and stronger supports in grade-span groups to accommodate learning differences.

“Planning for our most complex learners and our students with significant support needs from the beginning will help to mitigate issues that might arise later during the reopening process.” says, Kristin Wright, Director of the Special Education Division for the California Department of Education. “This will also help ensure we don’t segregate students with disabilities from their peers without disabilities.”

In reopening, it will also be critical to set and maintain high expectations for academic growth and competency development. In states where test-based accountability is likely to continue, getting students into their grade-level learning experience is important.

John King and Randi Weingarten suggestedincreased social-emotional supports, a positive and welcoming school climate, increased instructional time and attention, and effective dropout prevention and re-engagement programs — especially for the most vulnerable.”

Scott Bess, head of Purdue Polytechnic High School, reminds us that mastery is more important than seat time in high school academic progress and credits. “No one knows what the fall will bring,” he says. “Emphasis on projects and mastery ensures educators have a powerful lever to engage and prepare students.”

Jonathan Flynn, who leads family and community engagement at Brooklyn LAB, reminds us to always consider the context of the students’ experiences. “The inequities inside school too often compound the challenges many students face outside of school,” he says.

Karen Cator, CEO of Digital Promise emphasizes the importance of understanding learner variability, and of looking for evidence-based factors and strategies to educate learners across context and needs. “Students always have had variations that impact how they learn, but re-entry is one time that variabilities must be explicitly understood and cared for,” she says.

6. Practice agency and prioritize engagement. Learner agency—including self-awareness, self-management, self-directed learning, and good decision-making—is critical to success in school and life. Whether you’re planning for on-site or remote learning, it’s worth considering how learners can practice agency and providing opportunities for learners to demonstrate ownership over the process and progress of their learning.

The National Center for Learning Differences highlights research-based steps that give students choices in the learning process and offer educators opportunities to monitor their overall progress. Students can use strategies to take ownership over this process (including using a learning plan, participating in an IEP meeting, and learning about their rights and needs). The cultivation of self-advocacy skills becomes even more important for families and educators. As Ace Parsi from NCLD notes, ensuring that children play an active role in their own education is key “to ensure innovative approaches to learning fully include students with disabilities.”

Vulnerable students face more challenges in home-based learning. Students with disabilities often rely on connection with peers and trusted adults, stable routines, and supports the school provides in person. By itself, virtual learning often sets complex learners up for lower success. Schools can help learners navigate requirements by following through on one-on-one outreach such as through phone calls to students and creating additional support structures and incentives to engage students. Non-teaching staff can be deputized for coaching and motivation.

The recently formed Educating All Learners Alliance curates a set of best-in-class tools for instruction and support practices to meet the needs of complex learners.

7. Make use of data and systems to improve educational continuity. The last few months have also underlined the need for every school to have a learning platform to manage content and communication, assignments, and feedback. A good learning-management system helps teachers understand student usage, growth, and mastery, even when they use their own curriculum tools. These few months have also shown how valuable it is to have secure and reliable video-conferencing systems for morning meetings, synchronous classes, advisory sessions, tutoring, and counseling.

After a few months of remote learning, school leaders have a pretty good sense of what’s working and what’s not, who’s learning and who’s not. The next six months present an opportunity to reopen in the fall with more robust plans for learning continuity.

It is imperative that districts modernize their data infrastructure to improve data interoperability. Districts can help improve data interoperability by joining Project Unicorn.

The ability to toggle between on-site and remote learning for some or all learners may be critical for the upcoming year. There are ways schools can support families that lack adequate internet connectivity, appropriate learning devices, suitable working space, and tech support. To improve broadband access, schools can provide hotspots and partner with providers to address infrastructure gaps and provide alternative space for students to access devices while practicing distancing.

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to embrace a vision where schools have the data to illuminate how students are doing academically, as well as the power to engage families and students in understanding their own mastery journey.

8. Reimagine approaches to core school systems. Schools, districts, and networks have a historic opportunity to rethink education by placing the needs of complex learners at the center. Here are a few ways to redesign learning models and how schools interact with families and communities:

  • Make social and emotional learning central to stated outcomes, priority learning experiences, and reported progress measures.
  • Add more learner voice and engagement to help students develop agency and to cultivate authentic learning.
  • Move toward competency by recognizing new evidence of learning, promoting learners based on demonstrated proficiency, and helping learners tell their own story.
  • Build talent systems that consistently enable a diverse team of skilled, knowledgeable, and devoted educators to build and sustain effective schools.
  • Transform school board governance so that boards serve as guardians of the community’s future.

Julia Freeland Fisher, director of education at the Clayton Christensen Institute, urges schools to plan for opportunities like internships and real-world projects that help students build social capital. “When schools reopen their doors, they should open up new networks, too,” she says. “This could include both face-to-face and virtual opportunities for students to forge the sorts of professional connections and mentors that wealthy students might take for granted.”

9. Iterate and communicate. Update academic, schedule, technology, and facilities plans based on what’s working. Reopening presents the opportunity for you to make your ideas for improvement reality.

Translate an ambitious and hopeful vision into a well-rounded, feasible plan. The League of Innovative Schools takes on big challenges, mobilizing educators, technology, and learning systems to help districts meet those challenges.

As you do something similar, be sure to frequently communicate any updates or changes in protocols, schedules, or options to all stakeholders. The weekly video updates from Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie are a great example of a big system iterating, improving, and communicating effectively. In neighboring Miami-Dade County Schools, communication with learners and parents via Remind has increased fivefold.

10. Consider the worst but model the best. If anything, this crisis has taught us to expect the unexpected. No one imagined a pandemic that would shut down the global economy. You should anticipate that things will be different than you assume—and prepare contingency plans for heightened need.

We must prepare for re-entry in the shadow of the second wave of virus resurgence. Strong re-entry plans will “all come together” when systems to maintain school community health prove resilient in the face of such resurgence. This will likely entail:

  • operational systems to effectively monitor and enable evidence-based communication and decision-making throughout the entire period in advance of a vaccine;
  • family and community partnerships at regulatory and practical levels, including coordination with the department of health, local social service agencies, and innovative welfare services;
  • dedicated staff capacity for the multifunctional team directing re-entry, ensuring that responses are coordinated and progress and setbacks are overseen;
  • ongoing, direct communication with key stakeholders, especially families, students, and staff; and
  • robust data systems to track health, safety, and learning inputs, outputs, and outcomes.

As we return to school, there will be an unprecedented need for mental health services, food, and child care. One of the most important partnerships for schools will be with the public health sector to ensure coordination on testing capacity, contact tracing, and serological surveillance. No entity stands poised to ensure that schools have an equitable and effective effort to support these interventions. The consequences of inadequate preparation for immunocompromised individuals and families, in particular, are unacceptable.

It’s clear that we cannot plan for a normal school year. But it’s also clear we have an opportunity to create new and better normal if we consider the needs of all learners in re-entry. “We will do our educators and students a disservice if we put all our efforts toward ensuring the 2020-21 school year looks just like last year,” says Richard Culatta, president of ISTE. “This is a once-in-a-generation moment to rebuild schooling in a way that honors the unique strengths, interests, and abilities of students. This disruption has underscored the need to think beyond rigid schedules and place-based learning, and instead allow for innovation in pedagogy and delivery.”

As natural and human-made systems collide in unprecedented ways, young people are growing up in a world where novelty, complexity, and mutuality are the norm. How we respond in adaptive, thoughtful, inclusive, and creative ways will be the most important lessons we teach.

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.


Adapting Test Design to Make It Work in a Distance Setting

By: Eric Kalenze

Obviously, no one in education had much time to prepare for the recent moves to virtual schooling. The directives to halt in-person instruction progressed swiftly, and they landed square in the middle of teachers’ grading periods, instructional units, or class projects. For me, the shift to full distance learning comes as my ninth- and tenth-grade ELA classes are at the tail ends of multi-week units. It’s a timing I’m relieved about, frankly, as the hard parts of those units’ teaching and learning are effectively done.

Assessing the learning that happened over those units, though, is another deal entirely. I’ve done a lot formatively throughout the units to inform my planning and my support, but in both grades I was aiming kids toward fairly substantial final exams.

But now with all the distance learning, and with the fact that I can’t be in the room to supervise those tests, are they even really tests? Won’t kids just meet online and use their notes to complete anything I send them? And if they do all that, are my tests even worth giving?

After much twisting and much thought, I decided the answer is absolutely yes: even within the new realities of distance learning, going through with the tests is the right thing to do. In fact, staying the course could even provide a way for students to sharpen some crucial study/preparation habits—and via processes that might actually be preferable to similar work I’d planned for my physical classroom.

To make it work, though, I know the tests I design to be given from a distance can’t be just testing-as-usual. Some additional guides and procedures will have to be established, but I can make this work. Below are a few points I’m following to make testing work, for my students and for myself, in the current distance-learning moment.

Perspective Is Key

The COVID-19 outbreak has people frightened, uncertain, overburdened, and isolated, so I am remaining mindful of the weirdness of the situation, and I’m managing and redistributing my expectations in accord.

I’m not talking about lowering expectations, as I’m never about that. On some things, though, I have to keep the circumstances in mind and just lighten up. I have to get over myself and accept that perfectly replicating my physical classroom’s conditions—especially on a matter like test security—is simply not possible, and then plan accordingly.

To put it another way: with all the income being lost, ways of life being rearranged, and people fearing for the health and safety of their loved ones, I probably shouldn’t work myself into a lather when one of my students thumbs through his copy of Antigone so he can select “Teiresias” over “Eteocles” for a point on my test.

Use Test Design To Keep Conditions Rigorous (…and myself sane)

I can, though, ratchet the challenge level high, get a good read on what my students have learned, and keep my own workload manageable through my test design. Below are some principles I’m abiding by and strategies I’m enacting to do so.

1. Use the Available Tools

My students regularly use Google’s interface and I’m conducting most classroom business through Google Classroom, so I’ll be collecting student output with a Google Form. This will make grading a bit more manageable, as I have worked the form’s settings to log correct answers.

2. “Open-Note Test” Doesn’t Have to Equal “Easy”

I’ve accepted that students will use their notes (and one another) to work on the tests I administer. Still, “open-note test” doesn’t have to equal “easy.” Here are a few things I’m doing in hopes that students will prepare diligently for, not just coast into, test day.

  • Defining the time of the test window. The Google Form students are expected to complete for their exam will open at a certain time, and no answers will be accepted after a certain time. (I’m providing 90 minutes, considerably longer than usual, but enough time for all, including my IEP students with additional-time accommodations.)
  • Reducing over-reliance on “open-notes.” Within the 90-minute time window, I am designing the point distribution so that students can benefit from using their notes, but also understand that they need to prepare ahead. On one test, which is worth 100 points total, I’ve made sure the majority of the points (55) come through the test’s extended essay and short answer (2-3 sentences) sections. That makes less than half of the test multiple-choice, or notes-reference-able. And from there it’s just math: If each question takes 1-2 minutes of looking in notes to find answers, students will have used their entire allotted time on less than half of the overall test.
  • Communicating the above rationale clearly. I see this as a good way to teach some lessons about habits of preparation and attention, so I plan to start the week with some explicit reminders of the above points. I’ll put these out on my Google Classroom stream, definitely in writing and perhaps via video.

3. Teach, Structure, and Incentivize Retrieval Practice

Finally, I’m using the run-up to these tests as a way to get students preparing through content retrieval. If it’s not an idea you’re familiar with, the short version is that retrieving information from our memories is one of the most proven ways to make information permanent in our memories.

To replace the myriad ways I typically have students retrieve crucial content in my classroom, I’m taking steps like these:

  • Exposing students to the underlying science of retrieval practice with accessible videos like this one, from my friends the Learning Scientists.
  • Via extra credit rewards, encouraging students to prepare through retrieval practice. In my case, I’m offering extra credit to students who write quizzes using their class materials, as well as to students who take the quizzes written by their classmates.

All that said, though, I have to be honest: I have no idea how it will all go. None of us do, really, as highly successful virtual teaching and learning is still much more aspiration than reality for our enterprise.

And as such is true, I’ll stick to my basic classroom principles—and, of course, a genuine acknowledgement of our unique circumstances—and do my best translating them to the new normal. It’s the best any of us can do.

For more, see our Getting Through series including:


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Based in Minnesota’s Twin Cities metro area, Eric Kalenze currently teaches high school and serves as Curriculum and Instruction Lead at Apple Valley’s FIT Academy, plus works with schools/districts as an independent consultant and serves as researchED’s US Ambassador. He is the author of 2019’s What the Academy Taught Us: Improving schools from the bottom-up in a top-down transformation era and 2014’s Education is Upside-Down. Follow Eric on Twitter @erickalenze


Could Russia’s 21st Century Sputnik Be in Educational Transformation?

By: Richard DeLorenzo

Richard DeLorenzo made his mark on US education as superintendent of Alaska’s Chugach School District, the first to build a mastery-based system where students meet performance targets rather than earn credits to graduate. He co-founded the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC, now part of Marzano Resources) which shared the model with districts in Alaska, then across the country. DeLorenzo is the co-author of Delivering on the Promise.

For the last two years, DeLorenzo has been an advisor to Russian banker and philanthropist Hermon Gref on the transformation of Russian education. This report outlines the development of a mastery approach and platform now widely used in Russia.  

We had the chance to learn from and support Rich’s leadership in Alaska and then more broadly. We appreciate his important contributions to the United States and now global education. Like Rich, the systemic design and the commitment to equity in education outlined in this report are inspirational. – Rebecca Midles & Tom Vander Ark


More than sixty years ago, a small, unmanned satellite called Sputnik was launched from Russia that successfully orbited the earth, setting in motion a series of events known as the Space Race.  That launch ushered in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments.   Now another Sputnik is being launched in Russian schools that offers the promise of Russian students surging to the top in the global education race of excellence. This new system can be found in isolated schools throughout the world, primarily in the United States, but never before has an entire country the size of Russia attempted to realize such an ambitious vision that shifts all of its schools from the outdated time-based system to a digital personal-proficiency system.

It is one that focuses on defining the purpose and passion of each child combined with a personal trajectory using a digital platform that enables each student to not only embrace a growth mindset, but allow then to navigate their future both academically and economically.

In the United States during the 1970s when the economy took a setback, there was an outcry from stakeholders that many students were ill-equipped to contribute to this new economy resulting in a report called “A Nation at Risk.”  The report brought to the attention of the American public that its schools were in crisis and that without major educational reform our economy would continue to spiral downward and negatively impact the welfare of our nation.    Over the decades, numerous attempts have been made to achieve a new level of systemic excellence, but unfortunately, few, if any efforts, have proved to be sustainable, replicable, or scalable.

These attempts at major improvement have included restructuring of failing schools, introducing a rigorous and more competitive curriculum, additional resources to help systems innovate, and finally, the continuation of alternative options such as magnet schools and charter schools.  Although some improvements in student achievement have been documented, the vast majority of schools have fallen short of deep transformation and, as a result, too many students still do not graduate or graduate with inadequate skills to prepare them for a future of success.

Fifty years later the question remains: have we significantly improved the education for all students? A recent article by Dan Goldstein ‘It Just Isn’t Working’: PISA Test Scores Cast Doubt on U.S.  Education Efforts states that despite billions of dollars in spending, two-thirds of our students are not proficient in reading.  This illustrates clearly that we need a different, comprehensive, scalable approach to help every child succeed.

Nonetheless, pockets of excellence do exist across the country.  Through collaboration with other inspired, pioneering educators, the robust, transformative effort called Digital Personal Proficiency System (DPPS) – often referred to as Competency-Based Education – has emerged.   This approach has had excellent results in a few places in the United States, but Russian educators appreciate its value for their entire country and are moving forward aggressively to initiate it there in every school.

In 1994, I was part of a team that set out to dramatically change how schools operate in a small rural district in Alaska.  Several years later, after showing tremendous achievement growth, we were awarded the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige Award for organization excellence. Ironically, this was a business award of the highest nature given by the president of the United State for performance excellence.

As a result of this recognition, interest in our work continued to grow. I founded the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC), whose mission was to transform 1,000 school districts in America. During the next decade we were successful in transforming a number of  schools throughout America most notably in the Westminster Public Schools just north of Denver, Colorado and in the  Lindsay Unified School District near Fresno, California.

However, we never reached the tipping point of impacting the entire nation for many reasons.  Primary among these was the hurdle of overcoming the inertia of the traditional system that has been cemented in school culture and the unintentional policies which are designed to protect their status.

The Genesis of Change in Russia

Several years ago, I received a message from a gentleman I had served with on an international think tank called Education Impact. He had attended a keynote I had given as part of the Microsoft Global Partnership Conference in London. During our call, he reminded me of a promise I had made to him at that conference to help him transform schools in his country. I had already transitioned out of this work to pursue other interests. I did my best to find him someone else to fulfill my promise. Unfortunately, he kept insisting that I needed to come myself. Three weeks later, in the middle of January, I found myself on a British Airline flight headed to Moscow. When I landed at Domodedovo International Airport, the reality of this challenging adventure hit me.

I was met by the director of Horoshkola School. It was quickly clear to me that she not only understood my vision of learning, but had tremendous passion to make it a reality.

Horoshkola School was founded in September, 2018 by Herman Gref, head of the state savings bank, Sherbank, along with his wife, Yana. Horoshkola School looks more like a futuristic high-tech center than how most people would envision a typical Russian school. But the futuristic high-tech feel of the school mirrors its mission: to transform the whole of the Russian economy in order to be globally competitive and, through that algorithm, completely change the obsolete education system that sits at the top of the current paradigm. Herman Gref is one of those rare leaders who continually pushes the system forward because it is the right thing to do for his country and people. It was clear at that first meeting that his vision for Russian schools was aligned, at the core, with the work supported by the RISC foundation.

That initial meeting was followed the next day by a larger one consisting of influential leaders from several organizations which resulted in my understanding of their strong, shared commitment to this vision.  It was not long afterwards I moved to Russia to support their mission of transforming their education system to embrace the PMO philosophy.  The initial goal became to transform sixteen schools in five regions the first year and quickly scale to 1,000 schools in many more regions until the tipping point is reached, impacting the remaining 72,000 schools.

Below are some of critical elements of a Digital Personal Proficiency System (DPPS).  In Russia, it is called Personal Model of Education (PMO).

Traditional System Digital Personalized Proficiency System Benefit of DPPS
Student Role

“Sit and Get.”

Students are primarily passive, compliant learners who frequently try to game the system to get passing marks or a high GPA

Because of the shared beliefs and agreed learning expectations, students are able to navigate their own learning.

Students are placed in their Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) or where they have the most success.

Students’ road map provides individual learning trajectory

Increases student engagement by allowing more voice and choice in their learning.

Students can learn anywhere, anyplace any time.

Prepares students for the global economy by accelerating their learning especially with 21st century skills.

Teacher Role

Teachers instruct to the middle of the class through whole- group instruction

One size fits all approach.

(common to nearly all classes in the U.S.)

The teacher’s role changes from a traditional one to that of a facilitator.

Teachers become very agile in their approach and constantly adjust their strategies to meet the needs of every child.

Whole group, small group, individual instruction

Teachers begin to understand the art and science of their profession by allowing students to partner with them.

In this new learning environment, teachers are learners together with students regarding how to best meet their needs.

Grading

A-F scoring based on arbitrary criteria.

Example: Final quarter grades may be based on various combinations of participation, attendance, and test scores.

Grading is based on mastering individual standards.

“A, B, or try again” scoring. Students have multiple opportunities to achieve and improve their grades.

Minimum GPA for graduation is 3.0.

Creates transparent and consistent expectations across classrooms so that students, parents, teachers, and administrators know expectations.

Reliability and validity of this system dramatically increases.

Curriculum and Assessments

Traditional core subjects plus some electives. Rigor rarely goes beyond students’ recalling information.

Mostly textbook- driven with paper- and-pencil testing

Reprioritization of what students need for their future in addition to core traditional subjects, a stronger emphasis on embedding 21st century skills

Performance tasks and projects driven by clear rubrics

Students create multidisciplinary projects that solve real world problems, thus increasing student engagement and preparing them for their future

 

Instruction

“One size fits all.” Students move on even if they are not ready for next steps.

Whole group instruction dominates the delivery system.

Prescribed programs and textbooks drive instruction.

Instruction is balanced (students must first understand, then apply in real-life situations whenever possible).

Instruction is differentiated, thus meeting individual students at the point of their needs and interests.

The needs of all students are met resulting in more efficient and effective learning and an increase in equity.

Instruction is not just about learning skills but applying them in a meaningful way, thereby increasing student engagement.

Where Do You Begin?

In pursuing this type of change, many minefields can derail the mission before results are realized. At every level, multiple pitfalls can easily discourage participants from continuing.

Several critical elements that need to be considered to implement DPPS at any level follow:

  1. Change driven by the values and beliefs of the community that support this new paradigm
  2. A shared vision with all stakeholders that support this shift
  3. A commitment of at least 80% of the staff that are willing to change
  4. A school’s proof of concept that reflects these values and beliefs
  5. A clear road map that illustrates the changes that are needed
  6. A strategic plan that supports the road map with timelines, roles, responsibilities and deliverables
  7. A comprehensive digital platform that enables quick deployment and accelerates the replication of new schools

What Are the Driving Beliefs Underlying DPPS?

The following statement is foundational to DPPS: Every child has a destiny.   Schools need to provide the conditions to help them find their path in life.   

These beliefs help make this possible:

  • Every child is unique, needs to understand themselves, and must build positive relations with peers and adults.
  • Learning is about developing the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual dimension of a child.
  • Every child learns differently and, when ready, can control their trajectory.
  • Every child learns at a different rate.
  • Every child needs to be deeply engaged in their learning.
  • We need to prepare children for their future.
  • Learning needs to be transparent in that it can happen anywhere, anyplace and anytime
  • When all of these conditions are in place, students will accelerate both the amount and depth of their learning.
  • When ready, every child should be in control of their learning and create ambitious goals to achieve/maximize their potential.

What is the Process to Change?

Both a bottom-up and top-down approach are needed, beginning with the values and beliefs driving this need for change.

At the local level, the top-down approach means the administrative leader needs to believe and support this journey by actively participating in, or ideally, leading the change.  Initially, a new type of leader is necessary who goes beyond only being a competent manager, and instead becomes a change agent inspiring other to join in this journey.

The bottom-up aspect is where teachers either create their belief system or follow one that has been established support a Digital Personal Proficiency System (DPPS). Next, teachers are trained on every aspect of this new system, beginning with how to create a collaborative culture and then gradual releasing control for learning to the students.  Initially in the journey, several teachers begin to slowly shift the culture of the classroom to the new paradigm. Finally, entire schools, or at least 80%, commit to making the shift.  This creates the proof of concept that is monitored for fidelity and can be replicated, then later scaled to change an entire ecosystem.

Finally, there needs to be a comprehensive digital platform that helps deploys and monitors every aspect of this paradigm shift.  This platform is critical to scale this vision. Besides managing student progress, it needs to manage and provide real time data on teachers and administrators, monitoring their competencies. This platform provides clear dashboards, contains “evergreen data”, meaning it is updated in real-time, so adjustments can continue to be made in the roll-out of this system.

If an entire country’s education system is to be changed, the challenge is necessarily increased because of the scale and politics which make decisions much more complex.  Policies have to be revamped to allow innovations to occur unobstructed.  Everything from teacher certification programs to policies that support the outdated traditional system (i.e.   – high-stake assessments and how students earn grades) need to be overhauled.  If such major changes are not possible, there needs to be a comprehensive waiver system for 5 years to allow schools and districts to truly have a chance to innovate and implement promising practices such as the DPPS vision rather than running a dual system.  Accountability remains important, but it is based on the new system and not the old.  Running a dual system is very difficult and not in the best interest of students and staff.

Can Russia Be Successful?

The journey in Russia has many of the same barriers we faced elsewhere in respect to trying to change almost everything known and believed about how schools’ function.  Dramatically overhauling a system that has been essentially untouched in 150 years is not for the faint of heart.  Most importantly, overcoming the status quo that protects a system and keeps it in place is daunting even when there is strong agreement that the system needs to be radically changed.

Russia can be successful if more key leaders such as Herman understand the need to change and support this new paradigm that prepares all children critically for their future.  Unlike in America where we defend our need for local control, Russia has a huge advantage in scaling new initiatives because of their hierarchal approach to decisions making.  Therefore, there is much more potential momentum in Russia to impact an entire ecosystem in a shorter amount of time.  If successful, Russia has the potential to be a serious contender in the global economy and seen as an international partner, helping to influence the world’s future in a positive way.   Eventually, the changes that are currently occurring in Russia will certainly impact their system, but the more major impact or “3rd order change” depends on of how quickly it will be scaled and how deeply the quality of change will be measured.  Other countries will take a keen interest in Russia’s story in this regard and ask themselves: what should we be doing to impact the future of our own children so we have an equal chance of not being left behind?

Below are the current realities of Russia education system.                                   

Reasons for Hope Current Challenges
Policy Some key top leaders have the vison that policies are obsolete. Current policies don’t reflect current best practices.    There is not a clear vision of what policies hinder this change.
Leadership There are a handful of key leaders that are pushing for this change. School leadership currently operates in a top- down management style, and this new paradigm needs a different type of leader.
Curriculum and Assessment Everything sits on the digital platform that replicates best practices in teaching and learning for not students, as well as teachers and administration. Traditional classrooms have teachers lecturing and assessing at a low level of rigor.  High-stakes assessments drive the curriculum.
Teacher training New teacher training philosophy has been designed that supports student-centered learning in a proficiency system. Traditional teacher training that is done in isolation has little measurable impact on the system.
Technology There is a new digital platform that differs from any other platform in that it supports a transformational shift supporting students, teachers and administration on this journey. Most schools lack the technology or the infrastructure to have reliable internet and minimal bandwidth.
Values and Belief Some key leaders voice the need to change to be globally competitive. Traditional schools with little attention to adopting best practices.

What Can American Educators and Leaders Take Away From the Russian Experience?

Billions of dollars have been invested into transforming American education. I admire those foundations and public leaders who have been part of these efforts, as well as their desire to change the way we educate students so that far more succeed. However, I humbly suggest that we have invested in the wrong strategy. Three essential elements are needed to correct that strategy. First, the investment should be moved away from incremental change and focus instead on systemic change that creates the conditions for schools to support the beliefs of DPPS. Next, policies have to be changed to not only support this innovation, but to encourage educators to pursue this journey. Finally, this new system should be not only sustainable, but also scalable, using the best digital platform to impact all 76,000,000 students currently enrolled in our country’s schools.

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How the Research on Learning Can Drive Change

The closure of schools and colleges across the nation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has shed a spotlight on one of America’s dirty secrets: many institutions of education and those that teach at them are not using the research on learning to guide instruction. The result is that instructional practices that were disengaging and/or unresponsive when used in a classroom are now downright dreadful when placed online. Students are tuning out and sometimes not tuning in at all.

What’s a student to do? Suggestions for other ways of doing things might help. But it makes no sense to have students coach teachers about how to construct effective courses. Plus, a practice can be effective in one context and ineffective in another. Take the quiz, for example. Great way to move new information into long-term memory and build fluency ….if it isn’t graded. If it is graded without a chance for feedback and revision, it is just a technique for ranking students, not for learning. However, it is certainly fair for students to expect teachers to be using research on learning to design their courses. The research on learning can optimize learning. It can also be an entry point for change.

Let’s take a look at some of the most basic concepts that research has uncovered about how we learn. Remember, you can’t just pick one or another of these concepts. The power lies in drawing across them to design engaging, motivating, and responsive learning experiences.

Cornerstones of the Learning Sciences (Adapted from Levers and Logic Models published by CompetencyWorks)

#1 Learning is Doing: Learning is an activity that is carried out by the learner. Students do not simply absorb information and skills. They need the opportunity to practice, receive feedback, and correct themselves. Watch who is doing the talking in a classroom. If teachers are doing all the talking, it’s likely that students aren’t learning. They may be listening, but listening isn’t learning. Learning and thinking is hard work. It requires active engagement and effort. (See #3)

#2 Learning results from the interplay of cognition, emotion, and motivation. The brain does not clearly separate cognitive from emotional functioning so that optimal learning environments will engage both. It’s important that students feel safe if learning is to be optimized. When we are afraid, our amygdala becomes activated making it harder to learn. Do students feel valued? Relationships matter in creating a culture of inclusivity and belonging. Are schools designed so that teachers and professors have the opportunity to build strong relationships with students? Do students feel that the school and teachers want them to be successful? Do they have chances to receive feedback and revise or do grading practices simply judge them?

Motivation is important to learning but it is also dynamic and changes in response to a number of factors. In fact, as students learn more about their cognitive processes, they develop a greater sense of competence and thereby increase their motivation.

#3 Effort is dependent on motivation and self-regulation. Effort is influenced by motivation. Similar to intelligence, motivation is malleable. Beliefs about intelligence shape the amount of effort students are willing to invest. Those who hold a growth mindset will put more effort toward learning than those who hold the misconception that intelligence is a fixed trait. Providing incremental opportunities to experience growth reinforces that effort will result in success. Learners will be more motivated when they value the task and if they are confident they will be successful with support available if needed.

When learners are able to self-regulate—when they can successfully manage thoughts, behaviors, and emotions—they are better able to initiate and sustain focus and effort on difficult tasks. Students may be highly motivated but not have the skills necessary to manage the emotions they experience in the process of learning. Thus, students need coaching to build the social and emotional skills to manage the stress they experience from situations in or out of school, the metacognitive skills to monitor their learning and the self-regulation skills to change strategies as needed.

#4 Intrinsic motivation leads to better long-term outcomes than extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic or controlled motivation (systems of reward or punishment such as the traditional grading system of 0-100 points for assignments and behaviors) may be useful in the short-run but often produces the unintended consequence of disengagement and resistance. Self-determination theory explains that motivation will increase when learners experience competence (I can be successful), relatedness (there is meaning and connection to what I am learning), and autonomy (I have control over the process). Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, describes this as mastery, purpose, and autonomy. It’s important to remember that motivation is dynamic. It increases and decreases. It can be shaped by cognitive processes, and external expectations can become intrinsic motivation.

#5 Learning is shaped by the way information is processed and transferred into long-term memory. New information is processed in working memory before it can be transferred into long-term memory. Working memory has limitations to how much new information it can absorb, requiring students and teachers to consider the cognitive load. Strategies can be used to reduce demand on working memory and helping to transfer new information and concepts into long-term memory. Stress and anxiety can have an impact on cognitive load — it’s just harder to concentrate when you are worried or scared.

#6 Acquiring new knowledge and skills requires effective feedback and the opportunity to revise. Effective feedback focuses on the task (not the student) and on improving (rather than verifying performance). Assessing student learning, identifying misconceptions or gaps in understanding, and providing feedback are critical steps in the learning process. Assessment information is as important to helping teachers to adjust their teaching strategies or improve their skills as it is for helping students adjust their learning strategies.

#7 Learning builds on prior knowledge and context. People learn new knowledge optimally when their prior knowledge is activated. Learners need to have structures to organize and retrieve information. Thus, attaching new information to what they already know in a context where that knowledge is accessible, relevant, and responsive to cultural understanding can be helpful in mastering new ideas and skills. Students will have different sets of skills and experiences. Teachers need to find out what students know and can do so that they can help them make progress.

Think about the traditional classroom. A teacher stands in front and lectures. Maybe they ask a question and call on one of the students who raise their hands. All that is expected of students is to listen, take notes, and participate when you are confident that you know the answer. Students aren’t using the knowledge. They aren’t building skills (except for note-taking). Teachers don’t have any idea of a student’s prior knowledge or their levels of understanding.

Eventually, students will be given a test and then a grade. The teacher doesn’t have the opportunity to give feedback to students or for students to revise their work. The grade is then rolled up into a GPA whereupon students are ranked. A culture of judging, not safety, is created. (See this article for an analysis of the flaws of the traditional system.)

Modern schools, ones that fully draws on the research on learning, are designed to enhance relationships, provide flexibility so that teachers can respond to students who need more help or attention, and there is time for high-quality project-based learning where students get to apply their learning.

In the modern classroom, a community of learners is created at the beginning of the semester. Teachers ask students about their goals, and together, they create a set of expectations in which they all commit to supporting each other in their learning. The learning targets and what it means to be successful are transparent. Students are involved in learning experiences, sometimes individual and sometimes in groups, that allow teachers to understand where students are in their learning and give them feedback along the way. It may take some students longer or have to do more revisions to reach success. Grading isn’t used as a form of judgment or ranking. Instead, it provides feedback, helps teachers improve their instruction, and students get guidance on where they need to focus their efforts. Summative assessments like a report or an exam are used for teachers and students to see the progress being made and plan for how to help students be successful in meeting course or program goals.

Students can be powerful advocates in helping motivate colleges and high schools to transform by engaging them in conversation about the research on learning. Before you sign up for courses ask department heads, teachers, and professors about their pedagogical philosophy. What are their beliefs about how students learn?  What research are they using to design their courses and instruction? To what degree are they committed to every student being successful? (Beware: Some departments like engineering and finance are likely forcing teachers to use a bell curve. The US News and World Report’s ranking of colleges tends to reinforce this behavior. ) How have they designed their courses to motivate students?

It’s likely that somewhere in most districts, colleges, and universities there is someone tasked with improving instruction or teaching professors how to do online learning. It’s possible you can find some allies for advancing the idea that institutions of education need to draw on the research on learning. If not, why not? It is possible that they simply cannot imagine a world different from the one they operate within. Build some creative tension and move the conversation into a place where you can help shape solutions together.

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This post originally appeared on LearningEdge.com


How to Not “Just Get By” With Remote Learning

By: Chad Dorsey

We are living in an extraordinary moment in time. We will remember this global pandemic for decades and longer. Though the events happening now will last in our memories, the many changes that are sure to ripple forward will persist everywhere from our habits to our institutions. While changes to come are still wholly unpredictable, the changes to our lives right now are glaringly apparent. The way we move around (or not), the way we interact with others, the way we think about our relationships—almost every aspect of daily life has shifted in response to the invisible threat of an unwelcome virus. While many of these changes have to do with our everyday rhythms, others tragically involve losses that affect individuals and families worldwide.

And yet, at a time when the near-term future seems shrouded in gloom, the long-term horizon offers some solace and inspiration. We will move past this time. We will build forward. We will be stronger for having done so. From this perspective, few elements are more important to ponder than what shape education will assume once the murkiness clears.

Changes to education are, in fact, one of the most obvious consequences of this moment. We are suddenly part of a global experiment into all the different ways learning can play out. As a result, we have been forced to rethink and reimagine how to engage students in a meaningful way. And we are coming to a new realization about the critical role technology is playing—and will play after this crisis has passed—for learning in a globally connected world.

However, while it seems that educational technology is having a watershed moment, it might not be the one we would hope for. As teachers scramble and parents adjust schedules to assume newfound homeschooling roles, in a great many ways technology is applied primarily for the shared goal of simply getting by. Remote learning is having a moment, yes, but we must recognize the limitations.

In its guidance to schools in the early wake of COVID-19, the Massachusetts Department of Education made the distinction clear: “Remote learning is not synonymous with online learning.” So what is the difference? Remote learning refers to the physical separation, in which teacher and student are separated. In many ways, it is characterized by what it doesn’t define, namely the unique orientation and conditions needed to ensure that such learning is effective and meaningful. Online learning, on the other hand, is a much more nuanced and thoughtful tool. Online learning provides for deep and rich pedagogy, and an online curriculum requires planning, time, and a clear understanding of the best ways to use the medium. We should not imagine that our current situation will magically produce this understanding or lend itself to the effort necessary to realize online learning’s true promise.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a time for pessimism. In fact, if we look closely, we can see precisely the opposite. Opportunity is everywhere. While this moment may not afford us the room to showcase technology to its fullest learning potential, we nonetheless find ourselves able to demonstrate technology’s possibilities for learning. That alone is powerful. These extended periods of quiet contemplation that we suddenly find ourselves in may provide opportunities to rethink education, and with it, technology’s supporting role.

Making the most of a bad situation

We should hold these trying times to reasonable expectations. As one might expect, attempts to suddenly instantiate remote learning as a medium for deep, extended inquiry are bound to fall short. However, these times are particularly good for watching, experimenting, and planning. Even amid the current patchwork and chaos of educational bridge building, we can see glimmers of inspiration and sense flashes of what could be. As classes convene by videoconference, students spread out across regions report on their personal experiences, their regional weather, and their local neighborhoods, making the power of place unignorably relevant. As we discover and share ways to connect with potentially distracted, disengaged learners, we realize anew the importance of personal learning and agency.

Though many of the normal aspects of learning are on hold, life itself does not stop. Learning proceeds. Curiosity continues. As we adapt to our new situation, unexpected opportunities crop up everywhere. A family walk reveals a barred owl snoozing in the backyard. A news story about a sports figure becomes a debate about career stats. Matching photographs with famous paintings give way to musings on machine learning, data, and equity. Making bread becomes a chemistry lesson. Extended inquiry or formal pedagogy? No. But these represent glimmers of learning. Miniature “a-ha” moments hidden amid the minutiae of everyday life. Education has become, for now, a moment of moments.

What now?

So what do we do now? Right now. First, acknowledge the complexity of the situation. For those of us with a penchant for pedagogy, fully appreciating the current freewheeling aspects of education is difficult. Although what we want to do is design effective curriculums and create meaningful hands-on inquiry activities, we need to take a breath and learn a lesson from our colleagues in informal learning: imposed structures or overt teaching are often the antitheses of great informal learning. Research in recent decades, in fact, has shown that such moments can plant vital seeds, playing essential roles as “preparation for future learning.”

So let us take this opportunity to think more deeply about what could be. As we use technology to share stories or pictures from our diverse worlds, let’s imagine how technology could bring those worlds together to open up learning even further.

What if all those students exploring their home or local trails carried networked sensors in their pocket, transforming serendipitous moments into live maps of data, weather, or wildlife? How might a well-timed simulation deepen the learning opportunity offered by rising bread dough or static-filled hair? How could a data or modeling tool transform a sports or art conversation into an opportunity for rich investigation? Let’s lean into the moments of our temporarily slowed lives, searching for and discovering innovation in the wonder that is everywhere around us.

As we do, it’s also a good time to step back and realize why we’re devoted to education in the first place. At the Concord Consortium we are focused on STEM learning, but not because we think everyone should be a scientist or a mathematician. Our motivation is simpler and deeper; science, math, and engineering are powerful vehicles for the most important life skills of all: critical thinking, problem-solving, and investigating questions one cares about deeply. These are fundamental skills that cut across disciplines and career boundaries. It just so happens that the practices of science, math, and engineering are an ideal training ground for learning them.

Recognizing this provides an essential perspective on this moment of moments—anything that engages us in asking and answering questions is good practice for STEM learning and provides a broader set of skills and dispositions.

With that in mind, each new encounter becomes an opportunity to practice these skills. That is the true opportunity of this unusual moment. So take this time of reflective seclusion to seek and savor those moments. Together we will be refreshed and ready for a robust return to a life of deepened learning down the road.

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Chad Dorsey is President and CEO of the Concord Consortium.

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.


Connections Matter in Lee’s Summit: Planning and Adapting to Virtual Learning

By: Jennifer Kephart

As our district began to hear the news of the potential school closures we started shifting our mental models to the care and connection we needed to have with our students and staff through the impending uncertain, uncharted time.

As district leaders, we did what we do best and we met. We talked and we planned and we wrestled and we settled into a groove of asking questions and providing answers we thought others would need. We rolled out our first plan with phases of closure.

Then we learned, and we went back to the war room to focus more deeply and differently. And we rolled out our second plan with a focus on two weeks of virtual instruction.

Then we learned, and we went back to the focus on the daily struggles of our students, families, and staff. And we rolled out our third plan with the key foundation of less being more.

Through all of our planning and collaboration, the heart of who we are and what we believe about our passions for students was apparent: We wanted to connect with our students and staff to ensure they had what they needed to successfully stay united in this time. Our mission was clear:

As we continue in uncharted waters, it is our goal to support the seamless acquisition of learning through cognitive engagement opportunities for our students while caring for your needs and those of your students and families.   During this time, we want to remember to breathe, to extend patience and to provide unwavering grace, understanding that everyone is trying their best to navigate the choppy waters of our present situation.

Our focus remains steadfast on the social, emotional and holistic needs of R7 students and staff- your leadership provides that connection and care!

Now that we start to breathe and support the daily collaboration and learning, I, as the Associate Superintendent for Academic Services for an 18,000 student, 4,000 staff suburban school district, can start to see the power in our mission and messaging during this extreme shift in learning. I can also see the growth we still have and yet, the progress we have already made for the transformation of learning to come.

This is our journey, and while similar to many at this time, our core belief remains our connection to staff and to students. A connection that will, with grace and patience, take us into changed classrooms next fall.

The Weighty Decision

Before I can share our plans, I must share my heart. In the quiet of the early morning and the late evenings in between our dash to complete our instruction plans and prepare the questions for closure, the weight of our decision to close school was heavy.

As a former elementary teacher, elementary principal and mother of a 2020 high school graduate, I knew our decision to close would not be ours to make, yet one that would forever change the trajectory of our students- in the ways of resilience and in the ways of increasing trauma.

It was the weight of our students whose love, care, food, structure, and basic needs are met in our schools. It was the knowledge that we were sending some kids home into already strained family relations and students whose specialized care is placed in our adults every day. It was an increase in addictive behaviors and an increase in isolation for those contemplating suicide. It was the weight of our teaching staff whose daily contribution is rooted in being a teacher, building relationships and seeing students every day.

For me, those thoughts had to rest in my heart because they propelled our decisions to focus on connections over content and to have weekly calls with staff to show care and support. I knew our plans had to have a foundation on that care and a focus on access for all. We had to communicate and model grace and patience for our building leaders, our teachers, our students and our families.

Our Plans and Adaptations

It is amazing how quickly time moved in March with planning our Pandemic Instructional Procedures. In our district, we had been transitioning our teachers and classrooms to full implementation of a robust Schoology platform in order to provide a district aligned Learning Management System and support AMI (Alternative Methods of Instruction) for snow days next year throughout the state education department.

While we had about 80% of our teachers transitioned to Schoology, COVID-19 threw our plans and our staff into overdrive. As we planned, it was all hands on deck from our instructional team, our technology team and our various instructional specialists keeping the focus on how we connect ALL of our students and ensure they are able to continue to access technology during this time.

In our first instructional plan, we asked building leaders to Focus on Connection, Communication, Needs and Support for staff and families. We wanted to provide structured autonomy for our leaders to build on to include their unique culture and climate with a foundation for virtual learning. Instructionally we guided learning to a core of 10-30 minutes per day/ per content with a focus of quality over quantity.

We asked teachers to avoid busy work and/or “free time” activities. We asked that teachers design lessons focused on the continuation of current scope and sequence of learning while remembering that some students may have data limits. We asked for daily check-ins and clearly defined deadlines around the acquisition of learning, as measured around grace and patience during our initial time of closure. We worked as a district to provide meals to families and connect with individual students through counseling, behavior support, EL support, and special education teletherapy.

  • Focus on Connection:  How do you connect with your school community?  What plans do you have to connect with each staff member?  How will staff members stay connected to students?
  • As an administrative team, please make plans to make personal contact with each staff member weekly.  This provides a touchpoint to see how they are doing and how they have connected with students.
  • Focus on Communication:  How will you continue to communicate with your staff and your families during this time?
  • Please plan to continue a weekly newsletter with school highlights, district support, new information and a little levity.
  • Focus on Needs:  How do you ensure needs are being met for your families?  
  • After connecting with staff members, plan weekly touch base meetings with your administrative team- admin, counselors, ed therapist. Etc. – to see what resources need to be provided to students and staff.
  • Focus on Support:  How can you continue to support instruction as it is without undue expectations for teachers?  How can you support a level of high expectations with a high measure of grace and understanding that teachers are each in a different spot?
  • Please plan to review Schoology sites from teachers for your instructional leadership understanding and knowledge.  

Teachers were planning and collaborating like never before over spring break and on our first virtual learning planning day upon our return. We had teachers learning from each other, creating virtual lessons, and supporting our changing landscape above and beyond anything we could have asked. Our teachers’ mindset fostered empathic disposition towards connection and change. They planned virtual meetings, staff spirit weeks, kick-off social distancing parades and ways to “see” their kids on day one.

On Day One we had tears of joy from students and teachers that used Schoology Conferences to ease the fear in a change of normalcy. But, we also had frustration as we realized all the connections were straining our system or those of our families to be on calls at the same time or use high levels of data and bandwidth. In an effort to provide access to all we rushed to order more hotspots and connect with every family. We pivoted at the end of Week One to decrease uploads/downloads and reminded teachers of the importance of asynchronous teaching. All in all, we made it- Week One was a success.

Then Week Two hit us and the strain of our national crisis on our families and learning platform became apparent. At this point, we were no longer looking at a two-week closure but extended through the month and we needed to adapt for the stress of our staff, students and system. We wanted to ensure wifi access for all families- which we were 81 short- awaiting a shipment of additional hotspots. We also wanted to ensure that our families and students were not overwhelmed and overburdened by assignments during a stressful and difficult time.

Our next adaptation included the addition of a Monday teacher planning day to support collaboration and student feedback. We also moved the utilization of a secondary staggered/split schedule, adjusted limits for the amount of time students should be spending on learning, deemphasized formal attendance checks and shifted toward extended due dates in order to make the virtual workload more manageable for students. At the forefront was the continued goal of connection to improve our instructional delivery for students.

Our New Landscape

Our focus remains steadfast on the social, emotional and holistic needs of students while reinforcing core knowledge. As an instructional leader, I know this time will bring us closer to our goals of Real World Learning. As a district, we are expanding opportunities for our students throughout our system by engaging students in elementary exploration, igniting passions in middle school and providing experiences to students in high school that support student workforce development and career readiness.

Our uncharted waters are already helping teachers engage in developing learning experiences differently. From this monumental shift, I am hopeful we will be further along our path of a teaching plan for instruction in design thinking strategies for authentic work experiences. We are continuing to learn, continuing to strive for access and opportunity for all students, and continuing to pave the way for students to see school as a place of connection and engagement.

That is the heaviness that sits with me now; are we ready for this to be our monumental shift? Is this our transformation? And how, now, do I best lead and support our transformation from this place of connection?

For more, see:


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

Dr. Jennifer Kephart is currently the Associate Superintendent of Academic Services in the Lee’s Summit School District. Dr. Kephart supports the district’s goal of growth while empowering district leaders to develop deep learning and transformation across the education system to ensure all students are best equipped with a foundation to be future-ready.

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.

 

 

 


Resources to Supplement and Enhance Distance Learning in the Elementary Grades

By: Erin Gohl and Kristen Thorson

As people around the world have been asked to stay home in response to the pandemic and its impacts, familiar doors have closed, events have been cancelled, and routines have been disrupted. Families are struggling with how to fill the day while also continuing to offer their children memorable and fulfilling experiences. Fortunately, many individuals, organizations, and institutions around the globe have stepped up to this challenge and are making available resources and opportunities that were once only accessible with a membership or ticket fee or at a specific location and time. Award-winning illustrators are offering drawing courses and sessions; zoos and aquariums are broadcasting encounters with unique animals narrated by zoologists and marine biologists; and world-famous museums are offering virtual tours of their collections and exhibits.

As districts and schools across the country shift to distance learning, they are primarily focusing on supporting students in core academic areas. For families looking to broaden their children’s learning experiences or add variety to the daily schedule, the links below offer rich opportunities for exploring interests, delving into passions, and facilitating unique engagement with our broader world. These are vetted resources families might enjoy with their preschool and elementary-school aged children:

Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math (STEM)

  • Take your kids on an adventure (from the safety of your home) through virtual field trips from We Are Teachers and Discovery Education.
  • DK Find Out! offers informational texts about animals and nature, space, computer coding, dinosaurs, transportation, the human body, and so much more.
  • Amazon Future Engineer is offering free access to their platform where students in grades 2-12 can program a virtual robot.
  • National Geographic Kids provides games, videos, and open exploration to help kids learn about the world around them.
  • Science Fun for Everyone provides science experiments that can be done at home.
  • Cool Math Games includes puzzles, logic activities, and other math games.
  • Khan Academy offers content created by experts that include both instructional videos and practice exercises for a variety of subjects including math, science, and computer programming.

Social Studies

  • BrainPOP is an animated, educational site for kids that provides science, health, reading and writing, social studies, math, arts, and technology. To request free access, use this link. Visit BrainPOP Jr. (K-3), BrainPOP, and BrainPOP ELL.
  • Time for Kids is offering access to a grade-specific digital library that includes multiple issues. Once you register, you will receive an email that links to your library, which provides resources and articles designed for kids about current global events.
  • Visit the Smithsonian for kid-friendly art, history, and culture resources.

Reading & Writing

  • Scholastic: Learn at Home offers many digital books, resources, and projects to keep kids reading, thinking, and growing.
  • Harry Potter at Home: Wizarding World official website includes quizzes, games, and information for all Harry Potter fans to explore from home.
  • Story Pirates is a podcast where professional improvisers and actors act out imaginative story submissions from kids around the world. Children can submit their own creations through the Story Pirates website.
  • Several children’s authors are finding ways to connect through websites and social media. Peter Reynolds is sharing his books through virtual read aloud. Matt de la Pena is writing letters to students and families at home.

Movement & Mindfulness

  • Cosmic Kids Yoga provides yoga, movement, and mindfulness videos geared towards children.
  • Go Noodle offers quick, fun, and silly movement and dance videos that are perfect for a mid-learning brain break.
  • Download the Inner Explorer App to link to free mindfulness resources that include 5 to 10 minute audio-guided lessons.

Art & Music

  • For fans of Elephant and Piggie or those who just love a good doodle session, check out Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems. Tune in live at 1:00 PM ET or watch recorded videos.
  • The Laurie Berkner Band is doing live concerts most weekdays at 10:00am ET on her Facebook Live Page.

Inspiring Joy and Fostering Connectedness

These days at home managing distance learning, children’s emotions, basic needs, and general down time are incredibly challenging for children and families. As we miss the rhythm of our traditional school days, let us pause and find moments to appreciate new avenues for learning and exploration. Use these resources to provide breaks from more traditional work assigned by schools, to extend and explore interests, or to add levity and joy to family experiences. For within these moments, you might be surprised to have experiences that ignite new passions, cultivate stronger relationships with one another, or create pathways for learning that your child can build upon for years to come.

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.


Searching for the Other Side of the Tunnel: Leading Through COVID-19

By: Carlos Moreno & Andrew Frishman

It has been 80 days since we first realized that COVID-19 might be more than the typical seasonal virus.  And, it’s just over a week since it claimed Carlos’s beloved 98-year-old grandmother. Yes, our understanding of what this is has certainly changed. There is no simple pinprick to the upper arm, nor a bowl of warm soup that will allow us to get on with our work.

Carlos wrote recently that we are living in an increasingly VUCA world — volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Leading in such a world, attempting to “skate to where the puck will be”, as Wayne Gretzky once put it, is even more challenging when the game itself is changing. The rules of engagement are being rewritten, and old assumptions are no longer viable. How can we step up our game as leaders? How can we deepen and broaden our service to others at this moment?

The current crisis provides many opportunities to observe leaders as they operate in a new storm. We have noticed how many national and state leaders fall short of our needs and expectations. We would value more time to observe, but we, like many others, are up to our necks trying to provide leadership to our organization. Despite benefiting from our Co-CEO approach to sharing the load, we are as pressed as we have ever been to make critical decisions forced upon us every day by the magnitude and severity of this crisis. There is no “playbook” for leading in these moments, yet our success as leaders will, no doubt, be defined by this challenge.

We’re learning a lot, trying to avoid stepping on the same rake, making only new mistakes rather than repeating the old ones. Toni Morrison’s advice rings most clear: “Correct what you can; learn from what you can’t.”

Somehow, we do find that our leadership responsibilities become clearer when in the midst of a crisis. In that spirit, we’ll share a few things we are learning about leading at this moment.

Decision making. When events are happening very quickly, there is little to no time for deep analysis. Decisions must be made without enough or the right information, therefore requiring satisficing: the act of selecting the right non-negotiables. In this process, we are guided by our core principles and values. Above all, we must have the courage to follow them relentlessly.  We’re finding ourselves relying heavily on reflex and the muscle memory developed over the years. This automaticity is grounded in our organization’s foundational values. It enables us to ask, “What strategy does our organizational culture call out for us to enact?”

Communication. Leading in stressful times requires communication with increased attention to listening, both inside and outside the organization. Listening not just to the words, but to the sighs, the out of character emails, the strained tones, and catches in the throat. While in general, it can be beneficial to err on the side of over-communication during times of stress for an organization, leaders must take care to avoid conflicting and confusing streams of information which often leads to frustration.

Nimble and quick. Rapid and significant changes in stressful times require that leaders be nimble and quick, a combination of running back and ballerina. Agile is the buzzword the business sector frequently uses. Often it feels like broken field running, digging, and zagging in an effort to avoid unanticipated new challenges. Leaders need to help their people manage transitions to whatever the new normal requires. Avoiding these challenges is rarely an effective strategy.

Resilience. The Black Swan guru Nassim Taleb describes in Anti-Fragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, the importance of building individual and organizational resilience. In this sense, leadership is more than just protecting. Improving Big Picture Learning’s competence, capacity, and commitment to lead by sharing rather than hoarding the load is how we’ll not only make it through but how we’ll make it through stronger.

Connecting. Leaders need to nurture their community. There must be time for sharing unexpected roses and thorns; angst and joy. Leaders should also make every effort to see how their decisions have potentially cascading effects, understanding their downstream effects. Leading requires a depth of field; seeing the near and far simultaneously through progressive lenses. Leaders must think about systems, using “big picture” thinking to judge the impact of their decisions.

That’s our shortlist; and while it helps us to lead in the crucible, we still have questions we’re constantly seeking answers for:

  • Who chooses to follow us? Why?
  • Do they trust us? Do they believe we are caring and competent?
  • Do we understand what they need?
  • Are we meeting their needs and expectations?
  • How are we expanding and deepening leadership inside our learning organization and in the larger community?
  • Are we positioning our organization to seek, identify, and grasp current and emerging opportunities to pursue our mission and serve communities within the unknown, yet emerging, new normal?

These questions are also those we in Big Picture Learning must ask of ourselves to shape our relationships with both distinguished and newer members of our network. We can get clearer about what we owe our communities and this broader world during this time.

These times provide an opportunity for leaders to help their organizations. Moreover, they allow for humans within those organizations to reaffirm their purpose and to go further. Thus, we conclude with this final ingredient of leadership – applicable to both times of crisis and times of calm:

Head and Heart. Leaders lead with head and heart, making tough decisions while recognizing there are real humans on the other end of those decisions. Honesty, humility, and caring together constitute the North Star, shining a light on the other side of the tunnel.

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.