Moving Beyond the Statement: Implementing Anti-racist/DEI Systemic Change

By: Dr. Martín Casas

So you are the school leader.

You wrote a heartfelt, authentic, and timely letter to your staff/stakeholders condemning racism and publicly supporting Black Lives Matter. Your letter included a list of resources, books, videos, blogs, and links that outline how to talk about race, and how to become an anti-racist. You even attended a Black Lives Matter protest and posted it on social media. However, your letter & social media posts never mention how you are going to address the systemic racism, inequities, and microaggressions that exist in your school, that exist in every school (mine included) – beyond the protests – beyond this moment.

Now what? Where do you go from here? Where do you begin? What is next?

Many school leaders will open the school year by hosting a one – day Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) workshop. Nothing wrong with that. However, too often organizations fragment DEI professional learning separate from all other work. How many times have organizations hosted a “diversity” professional learning day, and then nothing the rest of the school year to formatively revisit the topic? DEI should not be a statement that simply lives on a banner, marquee, or website ledger. Yes, we all have the word(s) “equity” “social justice” or “all kids can learn” somewhere in our mission or vision statements – but what does this really mean? That we celebrate Black History Month? That we celebrate Latinx Heritage Month? That we have more tutoring? That we have more “targeted interventions” (a saturated term now)? That we have mentor groups? These are not bad things, but they are the same things that our system has tried for the last 40 – 50 years. DEI work needs to go beyond annual diversity celebrations. Diversity, equity, and inclusion should be an intentional part of every lesson design, assessment, curricular decision, instructional practice, hiring practice, policy decision, and a fiscal decision that a learning organization makes. It takes a system-wide approach, not a siloed one. In the words of Bettina Love (2020) “we must eliminate oppression, not put a bandaid on it.”

System DEI change:  Adaptive versus Technical Change

Systemic DEI change is deeply nuanced & complex, or what Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky (2007) refer to as adaptive change. It requires trust, psychological safety, and a fundamental change in beliefs. It requires a lot of inner – work, and because of this, most learning organizations begin systemic DEI change with self – reflection, courageous conversations, book studies, acknowledging implicit bias and privilege. However, most learning organizations never move beyond this, the work rarely progresses into changing school procedures, policies, and actions – or what Heifetz and Laury refer to as technical change. Engaging in technical and adaptive solutions could lead to a tectonic shift to our system. Yet, school leaders engage with stakeholders in adaptive and technical change ideas as if the two were mutually exclusive.

How might we engage stakeholders to design adaptive and technical change ideas?

The Beliefs – Action – Data (BAD) Protocol

The use of the Beliefs – Action – Data (BAD) protocol can engage all stakeholders in a learning organization in both adaptive and technical solutions. For the past two years, we have been prototyping different iterations of the BAD protocol. The use of the protocol has led to some transformational changes (adaptive and technical) at different sites that we have worked with. The protocol can be used in a variety of school settings, including all – staff workshops. However, it is recommended for use with small affinity groups (PLCs, course – alike teams, admin teams, district management teams, grade level teams) that can meet formatively to monitor progress. The following example is from a one – hour BAD protocol lighting round:

1.Beliefs (10 minutes):

Q: What are our beliefs about our students? Do we believe that all students can learn at high levels? Regardless of income, race, ethnicity, color, background, community, home – life, nationality, immigration status, age, religion, parental status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or gender expression. (10 minutes = 5 minutes for small group discussion, 5 minutes for large group discussion)

  • 99% of your staff will answer yes.  If someone answers “no” or “it depends,” then perhaps it is time for them to seek other opportunities.

2. Actions (20 minutes):

Q: Do our actions reflect our beliefs? Actions: curriculum, policies, instruction, pedagogy, assessments, projects, lesson designs, assignments, language, the way we talk about students, the way we speak to students, body language, and activities, (15 minutes for small group discussion, 5 minutes for large/whole group discussion)

  • Your staff responses will be split and will vary. Some will say yes, some will no, and some will say “most of the time.” The use of norms and facilitation is crucial here – conversations will be reflective, perceptive, and uncomfortable. Select a skilled teacher – leader to facilitate each group.

3. Data (10 mins):

Q: Does our data reflect our beliefs? Data: state & national assessment results, attendance, graduation rate, A-G rate, class participation rate, assessment completion rate, enrichment participation rate, school climate data, healthy kids survey data, student senate qualitative data, co-curricular, extracurricular data, happiness index data, referral data, special education data, suspension data, expulsion data, parent participation data. (10 minutes for small group discussion)

  •  For most campuses, this will be a resounding no.  Most schools have significant gaps in their data that magnify the disproportionate inequity that exists for Black, Latinx, and underserved/underrepresented students. Again, the use of norms and facilitation will be crucial here – conversations will be reflective, perceptive, and uncomfortable. Select a skilled teacher – leader to facilitate each group.

4. What actions can we change so that our data aligns with our beliefs? (20 mins)       

Have each team select an action (from the list) to change and create an improvement goal (PDSA) that they will monitor and adjust formatively. Encourage teams to select a change idea that is within their control or sphere of influence (i.e. their own classroom, or team). Depending on the size of the group, and time. Select a school-wide DEI change idea for the whole group to focus on as well.

Systemic Change

The BAD protocol is a useful tool to have teams align their beliefs with actions. Here is a list of other examples of systemic DEI change ideas that were inspired by engaging different organizations in the BAD protocol:

Action, Procedure, Behavior, Policy Change Before After Technical/Adaptive
Language/Communication* Deficit based language: Reluctant Learners, At-risk, Subgroups, Minority, unmotivated, failing students. Asset-based language: student strengths, student areas of growth. diverse student groups, demographic groups (Pollock, 2017). Shifting emphasis (blame) to adults: underserved, underrepresented, students that we are not being successful with. Adaptive
Grading Compliance driven, completion driven.  Traditional scale (A= 90 -100, B = 80 – 89). Homework heavy.  Sometimes based on “student effort/attitude.” Standards-based. Mastery – based. Purely based on the evidence/demonstration of student learning. No zeros. Technical
Assessments Multiple-choice tests.  On-demand/timed writing essays.  Short – response assessments. Multiple ways of assessing mastery: Project – Based, solves community-based issues, performance, prototypes, simulations, etc. Technical
Curriculum Standards-based, Vendor – based.  Curated and designed from a limited/singular POV. Follows a prescribed scope and sequence. Liberatory  Design. Culturally Responsive Teaching (Hammond, 2014). Still standards-based, but the community, people, and experiences are the textbook.  An emphasis on increasing the cognitive, metacognitive, literacy, creativity skills of all students by giving them what they need.  Social justice and the experiences of communities of color  & underserved/underrepresented communities become the emphasis/ lens of the curriculum. Technical & Adaptive
Instruction Teacher – centered.  Stand and deliver. Sage on the stage. The cognitive load remains on the teacher.  The majority of speaking and thinking is done by the teacher.  Students stay in their seats most of the time. Student-centered. Culturally Responsive Teaching (Hammond, 2014).  An emphasis on increasing the cognitive, metacognitive, literacy, creativity skills of all students by giving them what they need. Changes in real-time according to the needs of students. The cognitive load is on the students. Students do the majority of talking and thinking.  Students consistently moving, collaborating, and creating/making.  The teacher is the facilitator of learning. Technical & Adaptive
Classroom Management/Discipline Compliance – based. Rule-based. Teacher – centered.  Students get referrals for not raising their hands to participate. Focuses on classroom culture.  Student-centered. Norms & learning agreements are co-designed with students. Students get referrals for raising their hands (Hollie, 2017). Technical & adaptive
Suspensions/Expulsions Punitive based. Students are suspended/expelled for a variety of repeated infractions that include dress code, attendance, attitude, vulgarity, substance abuse, etc. Restorative practice-based. Students are only suspended/expelled for violent, sexual, or hate related infractions. Technical & Adaptive
Master Schedule Students are segregated by perceived ability level (i.e. Frosh Biology Honors versus College Prep Frosh. Biology). Heterogeneous grouping – no segregation by perceived ability level (only one level of Frosh Biology). Technical
Feedback Protocol At the end of every lesson, professional learning, or meeting, participants fill out “I like, I wish” comments to give feedback. Continue with “I like/I wish” protocol, but now add the Equity Pause/Critical Lens to accompany it to receive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion feedback. Technical
Hiring more teachers of color Advertisement/Posting on traditional websites.  Teacher + Admin panel.  Questions are content-based & job-specific.  Heavy emphasis/preference on “experience. Multiple forms of advertisement/posting – social media? Reach out to the community – based organizations.  Start an internal pipeline.  Reach out to your network. Include students, parents, and community members on hiring panels.  Rewrite interview questions to gauge candidates Beliefs, Attitudes, and Leadership (BAL) Potential. If they already have a credential, why are we asking questions about content? Eliminate “experience” as a hiring preference. Technical

*An “easy – entry” change idea: Have a school team (perhaps a PLC) omit the use of “deficit language” in their PLCs. Typically, when teachers discuss student behavior, student assessment performance, or other student data, teams will use terms like “subgroups” “minority” “reluctant learner” “unmotivated student.” The use of these terms can negatively influence the beliefs and mindsets that teachers already have about students of color. Instead, have a team replace deficit language with strengths-based language: student groups, demographic groups, disaggregate data by areas of growth, emerging multilingual, and “students that we are not being successful with” (shifts the emphasis to the adults, instead of blaming the student).

The shift from deficit-based language to asset-based language is a relatively innocent (easy – entry) example of how the BAD protocol can lead to equitable changes. However, the consistent and formative use of the protocol can result in more systemic DEI changes (standards-based grading, elimination of bells, a shift to more culturally relevant pedagogy).

Closing

Systemic DEI changes that acknowledge, celebrate, and leverage the brilliance of our communities of color can only happen on campuses that have healthy relationships, psychological safety, vulnerability, and trust. The BAD protocol can only thrive in an environment in which colleagues “feel comfortable feeling uncomfortable” and pushing each other. Establishing these relationships should be a precursor to engaging staff in any DEI work or use of protocols.

 

Artist: Enrique Lugo

While it is important for school leaders to build relationships, it is urgent that school leaders push their schools to prioritize and expedite DEI work. Culturally responsive pedagogy should not happen for one month out of the year for our Black, Latinx, Asian – American, LGTBQ students, it should happen all year. DEI and culturally responsive pedagogy professional development should not happen once a year for faculty/staff, it should happen all year long. We need more than just statements, we need more than just social media posts, we need more than just book studies, we need more than just courageous conversations. We need changes in behavior, procedures, and policies from the adults that work with students. We need action. We have to start dismantling the systemic racism that exists in all of our schools  NOW!!

“You always told me ‘It takes time.’ It’s taken my father’s time, my mother’s time, my uncle’s time, my brothers’ and my sisters’ time. How much time do you want for your progress?”  – James Baldwin

It has to start somewhere.  It has to start sometime.  What better place than here.  What better time than now?”  – RATM

Tu lucha, es mi lucha.

-Martín Casas

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Dr. Martín Casas is a high school principal in San Diego County and a faculty member at the HTH Graduate School of Education. Dr. Casas was recently recognized as the 2019 – 2020 ACSA Region 18 Principal of Year.  He is an Our Voice Academy fellow and currently serves as President of the North County Conference. You can find Martin on Twitter at @MartinCasas_.

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Startup Tackling Systemic Racism With Virtual Reality Training

If you haven’t been the victim of racism, imagine stepping into someone else’s shoes and experiencing it first hand. Imagine being transported into the realities of harassment.

Morgan Mercer combined insights from these immersive experiences into a venture-backed startup, Vantage Point. As a female founder, fundraising was a challenge but the Los Angeles venture launched in 2017 with a few clients and a beta product.

By the Spring of 2020, Vantage Point was taking on systemic racism in Fortune 500 companies through immersive virtual reality learning experiences on topics such as racial discrimination and gender inequality. Mercer closed a second seed round of funding as the pandemic struck. The company shifted to a distributed VR model. Headsets are mailed to clients with a prepaid return postage label.

Participants have independent and collective experiences with facilitation to move conversations forward. After an immersion, participants respond to tough questions like, “Do you have privilege in that situation that a person of color might not?”

Morgan Mercer, CEO of Vantage Point

Mercer grew up bi-racial in North Carolina and remembers examples of blatant racism and microaggressions with undertones of racism in everyday life. Important lessons from her upbringing were how to have hard conversations with the people that you care about and how to determine your own values and beliefs. She explains the difference between existing within a belief system that you are born into and creating your own belief system based on your own values and lessons learned.

Today, Mercer sees many of the same societal issues from her childhood and how ingrained in the deepest part of our society they are. Mercer sees one of the most important collective things we can do is building shared experiences and a better understanding of those with different perspectives. Shared perspectives help teach people how to show up as an ally in a more empathetic way.

With the recent national attention to issues of race and equity, Mercer has seen a spike in interest in this type of training. Vantage Point is bringing diversity, equity, and inclusion training programs to corporations as well as schools. Programs include topics such as harassment, racial discrimination, and gender inequality. The experience roadmap includes leadership, negotiation, hiring, and training for remote work.

The company has raised $3.7 million in seed funding from 22 investors including Samara HernandezDana Wright and Adrian Fenty. Mercer represents 0.06% Black Women to have raised over $1M in funding from VCs.

Mercer credits her initial success to an impressive team of stakeholders, advisors, and investors. “We hire for values–everybody is authentically passionate about what we’re creating,” added Mercer.

Vantage Point and their innovative VR training may be the right solution to begin tackling systemic racism from within your organization and school.

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19 Year Old Earns Bachelors Degree

Early College – when students obtain college credit and experiences while still attending high school – is one of the many educational ameliorations that has become very prevalent across the country. Early college is supported by the evidence that if students have a successful early college experience – especially those that are first-generation college students – they will have higher long-term success in terms of degree and certificate completion. Although some students have taken college courses concurrently for years, the more recent and popular pathway now is students being simultaneously, or dual-enrolled, in college and high school courses while receiving credit for both. Additionally, there are also early or middle college high schools that create a pathway where students can earn their associates degrees while completing high school.

Well, the early college has just been taken to a new level. Meet Tiana Brown, a 19-year-old who has just completed her bachelor’s degree. Brown, who attends Da Vinci Extension, a free public program through Da Vinci Schools that combines in-person and remote learning in Southern California – just graduated debt-free from Southern New Hampshire University. At Da Vinci Extension, students like Tiana complete their four years of high school and then opt into an extension program to earn either an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or a one-year certificate, according to Da Vinci Schools Director of Real World Learning Natasha Morrison.

Morrison said that it is truly transformational for students like Brown. “Da Vinci Extension students have the benefit of a degree without the burden of debt,” said Morrison. “From there, time and financial freedom are on their side–opening doors to more opportunities.”

There is lots of talk about college success, but often a few solutions. That’s why Morrison sees this program – which demonstrates that degrees can be earned with no debt, less time, and fewer friction points – as such a game-changer.

“This provides an option for how to do it better, not only by putting forth our own model but by supporting others on their own iterations,” said Morrison. “Collectively, we’ll improve college and career outcomes for youth.”

The Da Vinci Extension Program – who in addition to Southern New Hampshire also partners with UCLA and El Camino College – provides tremendous support which translates to faster degree completion at reduced costs.

According to Morrison, most college students must navigate a huge system with little support. She said they have trouble getting the classes they need, can’t get an appointment with an advisor, and have few options for workforce development. In contrast, she says Da Vinci Extension creates community and provides support in career, college, and life. The program cohorts students gets them the classes they need and pair them one-on-one with a coach who meets them weekly to assess their progress and bring the curriculum to life.

“Whereas most high schools and colleges have a counselor/academic advisor ratio of about 400:1, our student to coach ratio is closer to 30:1,” said Morrison. “These coaches aren’t just available for students should they reach out, they know each student deeply.”

When Brown began the program, according to Morrison, she met with counselors and coaches to discuss her goals. She chose the Southern New Hampshire University pathway because of the flexibility and competency-based learning that would allow her to earn her degree on her terms. She completed her A.A. degree in 6 months by doubling her class load and spending many hours both on and off-campus. She then began the B.A. program immediately.  With mentorship from her coach, she completed her bachelor’s in communications with a concentration in business in one additional year at no cost to her or her family. Now, as a debt-free 19-year-old college graduate with a degree, she will set her sights on her career and possibly even a master’s degree.

It’s this high level of personalized support that makes the success possible, according to 19-year-old Brown. She cites the ability to see an entire team of support personnel – academic coach, high school counselor, and college counselor – at any time as the difference-maker for her.

“Simply, they care and that makes the student care,” said Brown. “They have the best support system and without it, none of this would have been possible.”

Da Vinci promotes college, but also career and life success. Brown endorses how they provide so many career opportunities for relevancy. These include career workshops, boot camps at industry sites, mock interviews with industry professionals, project consultancies with real clients, and internships.

“After those four or more years of college, too many move back home with a degree that they might not use, a bunch of debt, and still unclear about what they want to do,” said Brown. “They showed me that one can’t have a singular focus on college without the rest of your plan aligning.”

Brown said that she really appreciated Da Vinci’s approach to connecting her with multiple internships at innovative companies, while also hosting seminars about how to balance life, work, and school. During her high school career, she had a project consultancy with Susan G. Komen, worked with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, had a paid internship with the 72andSunny Advertising Agency, and even held a job as a grounds supervisor at Da Vinci.

“Da Vinci gave me work-based learning experiences that most adults haven’t even received,” said Brown. “The relationships and connections have truly made my degree more impactful.”

Morrison concurred that the career focus is one of the key factors leading to the entire program’s success. She said she’s witnessed that when students like Tiana get career experiences at a younger age, they become excited about life after college and ultimately inspired to get through college and into a career.

“Without career experience, many students’ end goal is college.  They get to college, but have difficulty persisting through college or to careers,” said Morrison. “When they see professionals who look like them in exciting careers and have the opportunity to work alongside them, they’re inspired to get through college as a means to a valuable end.”

Brown is not only proud of her accomplishments, but also excited about how this can change the life trajectory for her peers as well. She says to not only get her degree but to do so debt-free and while having such a quality experience, makes her think that this program will give people the opportunity to reimagine the education system and know that there are more options than just a traditional route when it comes to college.

“College should be available to all who want it and it shouldn’t be a burden. Every kid should be able to think that a college is an option for them, regardless of grades or income,” said Brown. “I hope this program sheds light on the nontraditional routes to success.”

Morrison is very proud of Brown and the early success of the Da Vinci Extension program. Like others, Morrison has witnessed that even one year of guided college gives students the confidence and skills to tackle the rest.  She knows that this is more than just high school with some college, but rather a degree attainment program.

“Students’ lives are transformed through degree attainment, social capital, and workforce experiences,” said Morrison. “They see themselves as college material and envision themselves in high-level careers.”

For Brown, she realizes these opportunities mean so many things. But in the end, she sees this as possible because programs like this truly put students first.

“They ask us for feedback, constantly check in on us and design the experience around our needs,” said Brown. “The students have a say. It truly is amazing.”

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StrataTech Education

By: Mary Kelly

As the school year is coming to a close, high school seniors across the nation are in the process of determining how and where to continue their education post-high school. With many students ending the school year at home due to COVID-19 school closures, they are looking for a fresh start in their next educational chapter.

From traditional four-year universities to community colleges and certificate programs, there is an overwhelming amount of educational opportunities available for prospective students. With so many options to be considered, it can be a daunting process to select the most appropriate educational institution, especially for students who don’t want to take the traditional higher education path. For students whose circumstances don’t align with obtaining a traditional four-year degree, what options do they have to ensure they will receive a quality post-high school education? An excellent alternative is skilled trades education.

Skilled trades professionals work in a lucrative and booming industry. The COVID-19 pandemic proved how essential skilled trades professionals are and underlined the coveted job security within the industry. As baby boomers continue to retire from the industry, there is a growing need for young professionals to enroll in trade schools and fill the vacant positions. However, many people are unaware of the growing number of skilled trades professionals retiring annually and the negative effects it has on our economy. As skilled trade professionals retire, it leaves a growing and alarming employment gap. If the skilled trades employment gap continues on its current trajectory, there could be an estimated 2.4 million skilled trade positions unfilled by 2028. This could potentially have an economic impact of more than $2.5 trillion according to a 2018 study by Deloitte.

StrataTech Education Group, a student-first company that offers schools with technical career education programs, is committed to elevating awareness around the skilled trades industry and educational and career opportunities available. As CEO of StrataTech, my staff and I work year-round to debunk misconceptions, highlight industry demand for skilled trade professionals, and share information about the educational programs that can lead to a lifetime of rewarding and valuable careers. We are working to alleviate the skilled trades shortage by providing the next generation with the fundamental tools to have longevity and prosperity in the workplace.

What we have learned is education is not one size fits all and it is a disservice to students everywhere to not showcase all the educational options available post-high school. When it comes to high school students making post-graduation decisions, the most common reason high school students do not consider attending a trade school is not knowing about the options available. According to our recent survey, only 32% of high school students reported that their schools promoted trade school education as a potential path following high school graduation. Despite the limited information being provided to students about trade education opportunities, it is reassuring to learn that 93% of the surveyed parents said they would support their child’s choice to pursue an education and career in the skilled trades field.

In addition to the lack of information available to families and students regarding technical education and the growing skilled trades shortage, they are unfamiliar with the plethora of career opportunities available. On average, technical programs require only a few months of classroom and lab time training, and students are typically placed in the field almost immediately upon graduation with an average starting salary of approximately $40,000. Skilled trades education can be an appealing option for those who want to finish school in a timely manner, with limited debt and begin their career earning a salary more than the average college graduate.

Furthermore, Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce recognized the viability and quality of a skilled trades education. The institute recently released a report highlighting several trade schools as the top in the nation for highest return on investment education. Out of 4,500 national colleges and universities, trade schools, including StrataTech Education Group schools, ranked in the top 3 percent and top 20 percent for the best short-term and long-term return on investment educations. These findings confirm the financial success trade school students are met with upon graduation.

Beyond training the nation’s top skilled trades professionals, we’re working alongside other industry leaders to break stigmas, enlighten individuals on the benefits of skilled trade education and careers, and give students hope for a fulfilling career. We are working diligently so prospective students can develop a customized approach that is beneficial to their life and learning style and gets to the root of the students’ passions to help them formulate an educational path that in turn will result in a meaningful and valuable career.

For more information about StrataTech Education Group, its schools and the current state of the skilled trades industry, visit tws.edu or refrigerationschool.com.

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Mary Kelly is the President and CEO of StrataTech Education Group. She has over twenty years of experience in the postsecondary industry, in both the for-profit and non-profit education sectors. 

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Esports: Sports Continue to Play On

Due to the shutdown put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, sports have come to a screeching halt in the world, but not at Montour School District. As social distancing guidelines remain in place, Montour’s Esports team continued to practice safe social distancing through virtual Esports, and the first year team made it this spring to the North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF) playoffs. In fact, it was the only team to participate this spring in sports, and it created some much needed excitement for the district.

Innovation Starts and Ends with People

As educators, we get the opportunity everyday to listen and support the most creative and curious people in the world, our students. When a group of students approached Nicole Kashmer, English Teacher at Montour High School, to sponsor an esports club; she listened. For Nicole, the decision to be innovative was personal and professional. Nicole reflected, “As a mom, that didn’t allow video games to be played until my son went outside for exercise … and as a teacher that stayed abreast of the articles saying that there were benefits to gaming in the classroom … it wasn’t until my son built his first computer that it all clicked for me.”

Through her personal and professional experience, Nicole knew that supporting an esports program at Montour, with support from a 2020 PAsmart Targeted Grant to support diversity, equity, and inclusion, was no longer a personal interest, but her professional duty as an educator to do what is best for children. “During our first match, I watched as a handful of students worked together and had non stop ‘chatter’ in order to win. I truly had not felt so good about something in a long time,” said Nicole.

Creating a Learning Culture

When Nicole expressed her excitement to Todd Price, principal at Montour High School, he listened and supported her and the students and together helped start an official esports program at Montour High School. Todd explains, “This student-led initiative has created great enthusiasm within our student body. I can’t thank those students enough who have taken us on this journey. Their efforts have helped to bring together and connect students to their school community in a way that I never would have imagined possible.”

Montour’s esports coach and technology support specialist, Aidan Mulvihill, believes esports is an avenue for students to learn collaboration and STEM and computer skills through a comfortable and positive social atmosphere. Furthermore, he believes this program will give students the opportunity to collaborate with players from around the country who share similar interests creating lasting connections.

Putting Children First

For the students at Montour High School, “Video games have been something that we have always played for fun with our friends. Now we have an opportunity to turn it into something more than video games … esports. This is going to be an organization that allows for different types of students to build relationships and learn important STEM and computer skills while also competing in this common interest that was never available to us before,” John K. and Josh N., Montour High School students.

When students return back to school in the future, they will be welcomed back to a state-of-the art esports arena that includes a 280-square-foot video wall, 5v5 gaming stations, coaching station, gaming chairs, and more.

According to Business Insider, esports viewership is estimated to increase between 2019 and 2023, from 454 million in 2019 to 646 million in 2023, and most projections put esports on track to surpass $1 billion in revenue for the first time in 2020, making esports no longer just a ‘game.’ The bottom line, esports is now a viable career and social pathway option for students because of its relevance and meaningful nature to students’ lives.

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Smart Review: Harnessing the Power of Videos With Screencastify

Screencastify, a free screen recorder for Chrome which was initially created for use outside of education, now reports that 70% of its users are teachers. The idea for Screencastify came when Manuel Braun, Founder, and current Chief Technology Officer, recognized that the options available for creating a screen recording were either expensive, involved a difficult or time-consuming process, or required the download of the software. According to James Francis, CEO of Screencastify, people who wanted to create a screencast almost had to be a professional. It was an opportunity to take something that had been a complicated experience and make it simple. In 2016, Screencastify became the first Chrome extension that could access video and record the screen.

The Screencastify team has ten members, a mix of educators and non-educators. The Founder and CTO Manuel Braun, as well as Francis, do not have a background as classroom teachers, however, Francis believes that this is what has helped them the most. Because they don’t have that classroom experience, they depend on their connections with the users of their product, to better understand the experiences of teachers in regular classrooms and now during remote teaching, so that they can provide the best support and products for them. The company also hired former teachers so that they had an authentic connection and could empathize with what educators were feeling. The team stays motivated to keep going because they are seeing an increased need for this technology for students and the benefits for teachers in creating instructional videos.

Increase in Demand

In mid-February, the team saw an unusual spike in the use of Screencastify. They noticed that this spike was happening in Hong Kong, one of the first locations besides China to have schools shut down. There was a sudden increase with more than half of the schools starting to use Screencastify overnight.

At the beginning of March, they saw a growth of 497% in videos made per day, an increase of 340% in daily users, and over 1 million minutes of recording. There were approximately two million videos being created each month prior to the pandemic. In April, twenty million videos were created. Over the past eight weeks, to meet the increasing demand, their focus has been on making sure that everything works and is accessible for students and teachers. 70% of Screencastify users are in the United States and use is split fairly evenly across grade levels, (with grades 6-8 being the most popular by a slight margin.

With so many educators moving to Screencastify at once, the team focused their efforts on updating the software and supporting teachers, which Francis said was urgent because as schools closed on Friday, teachers were wondering “what will we do on Monday?”

Benefits of Screen Recording and Video

Francis says “nothing replaces hearing your teachers’ voices, seeing their face and the authentic learning that happens because students have become used to the way their teachers present.” The knowledge-sharing potential with using screen recording tools is incredible because students can “re-watch, reuse, pause, rewind” when they have access or as often as they need.

Beyond the focus on remote learning, making these connections through video is important so that we keep learning going even if not in the same space. One thing to be mindful of is the importance of selecting tools that can be used regardless of the learning space. Whether we are in remote learning or in our regular classroom, tools like this can be leveraged and beneficial at all times. For example when teachers are unable to be in their classroom or if they want to create videos for students who miss a class, being able to rely on tools like this is critical.

New Features

Providing a product which does a lot but focuses on “simpler is better.” According to Francis, there is an art to adding functionality without making it look complex. Screencastify enables the user to record their desktop or browser and then upload it directly to their Google Drive without requiring a steep learning curve or a big investment of time. Francis said “every school is unique and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It is important to have an agnostic tool that students and educators can use in ways specific and appropriate to their own needs.”

In the past month, there have been several new features added to Screencastify. They have accelerated development and launched a partial release of one of their new features, “Screencastify Submit.” Submit enables the use of Screencastify for recording videos without needing the Chrome extension, specific software, or even the creation of an account. The benefit is that this helps with streamlining any tech issues when it comes to devices or having the specific software required to use the tool. Students simply click the recording link sent by their teacher and can record either webcam or their screen. When finished, their recording goes to Google Drive. The Screencastify team has been building the Submit feature since the fall of 2019 and had plans to release it at the start of the upcoming school year, however in light of the events with the pandemic, they made it available in beta earlier. Francis shared that the Submit feature provides a great way to get students talking more and use it to explain their ideas and show what they are learning. It can also help with teaching SEL by providing a space for students to check-in and share their experiences and feelings with teachers. Request early access here.

Another recent addition is the App smash library where you can take your Screencastify videos and quickly add them to other tools such as EDpuzzle, Remind, and Wakelet. With these options, you can record on Screencastify then put your video into EDpuzzle or share the link on Remind and use it to make a video announcement. Each of these app smashes is done through a one-click share option. As teachers are juggling many different tools and seeking ways to communicate with students, being able to create video messages or lessons that can easily be shared with students and families is something that will benefit us regardless of where learning takes place.

In response to COVID-19, as teachers are juggling so many different tools and seeking ways to communicate with students, the Screencastify team has been focusing on ways to help, even if it means sending the video elsewhere to work with another platform.

As teachers look for secure tools and more personalized ways to connect with students to keep the learning going, Screencastify provides options to get started quickly. As we plan forward, it is important to find methods and tools that work for transitioning quickly to and from the regular classroom space into the virtual learning space. Being able to create video messages or lessons that can easily be shared with students and families is something that will benefit us regardless of where learning takes place.

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Reinventing the Education Conference: Co-Creating Professional Development and Social Connections in Real Time

By: Lydia Dobyns

We find ourselves, as humans, at an extraordinary time. We are being pushed, pulled, and challenged to be bigger than any one set of circumstances. Global Pandemic. Racial Justice. Economic Turmoil. These serve as the 2020 backdrop to our roles as educators in every state. Whether, in five or ten years, 2020 is cited as the beginning of broad-scale U.S. school transformation remains to be seen. What we do know is that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt, at the least, and possibly change forever, how we think about teaching and learning.

We’ve created a virtual gathering called “Beyond NTAC” as an opportunity for Imagining Beyond the traditional work of school from July 13-16, 2020.

This moment demands we, as educators, reflect on what we value most, shift our focus there, and let go of things that matter less. COVID-19 has forced students, families, and educators to take immediate action outside the traditional school experience. The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have catalyzed outrage at the racial discrimination non-white Americans routinely experience, specifically Black Americans. These events, amid broad economic uncertainty and growing inequality, have put a spotlight on the policies, procedures, and teaching practices that don’t meet the needs of students in today’s world, and often do damage to learning and development.

We feel it is our moral imperative that our core values and beliefs serve as the anchor to our organizational responses. We don’t want to inadvertently recreate what is not working in the in-school experience to “not work” in a distance-learning environment or to merely bide our time until we can return to “normal.”

While reopening schools continues to dominate local and national media coverage, most coverage focuses on minimizing health risks and wondering how districts will pay for what’s needed. When and how do teachers and school leaders convene to reflect, learn, and plan for this next year? In a few weeks we will come together, virtually, to learn, reflect, and design school experiences that feel especially aligned with our current reality.

I can’t think of a more compelling set of reasons to be part of a school network; together we are better able to face challenges and recognize opportunities.

We’re channeling our nearly 20-year school design expertise into a four-day gathering designed to showcase conference best practices (thoughtful, provocative keynotes, deep dives into specific content areas), offer Braindates with fellow attendees, and utilize Slack for easy connections. The sessions are designed to feed your soul, stretch your brain, and help you grapple with uncertainty. More than anything, we want you to emerge from our time together refreshed and invigorated, and maybe with new thought partners for your coming year.

We don’t, for a moment, believe that our invitation to come together is so that we can provide you with answers. Quite simply, the “new school” playbook is being co-written as I type. Our invitation to join the gathering is to bring your voice, your curiosity, and your passion and create a new normal together. We’re featuring sessions that explore Anti-Racism, Social and Emotional Learning, Creating Hope, and Supporting ELL. And that’s not even mentioning these renowned keynotes: Stephen Ritz, Dr. Tehia Starker Glass, and Dr. Abdul El-Sayed.

I’ll be honest, when I heard that our team designing the “not in-person” NTAC shared that the name of the virtual conference was “Beyond NTAC” I immediately flashed on Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story and grinned. My daughters (now 31 and 27 and truly fully grown) loved this movie. And as a parent who begrudgingly tolerated animated films, even I enjoyed it. I flashed back to a time when an intrepid group of “friends” came together to collaborate on a seemingly impossible quest. And I thought “that’s a powerful image for our New Tech Network virtual gathering.”

Won’t you join us?

For event information, see:

For more, see:


Lydia Dobyns is the President and CEO of New Tech Network, a leading design partner for comprehensive school change. She is co-author of Better Together: How to Leverage School Networks For Smarter Personalized and Project Based Learning. Follow her on Twitter @LydiaDobyns.

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Getting Clearer: Our Students Need Sponsors, Not Saviors

Mass amounts of education information and conversation are being produced in response to COVID-19 school closures. Most, if not all, incorporates some reference to what students “need” And there is a shared resource, or informed expert advice presented to meet that need. That’s what education work is, right? Educators in various roles and experiences are there to meet the needs of students. However, some educators approach this in a dependent modality, where students are dependent on them, that they save students from their circumstances and naivete.

Students don’t need educators. Students are not dependent on educators to learn. Young people learn without and away from “school”. What students need are sponsors- concerted communities of mentors that in various roles and responsibilities invest in the talents and desires of our young people and build their capacity to do great things.

What is Sponsorship?
Sponsors provide resources to ensure students can have quality materials and access so they can learn at their best. Sponsors believe that students can do great things, and they invest in them in very specific and useful ways. Sponsors are proud of their students and share their accomplishments and developments. They connect them to other partners in the work that could further amplify their talents and ambitions. Sponsors ensure that students are safe, their well being is prioritized and sponsors keep students in a community that uplifts them.

Sponsorship is not a co-dependency. It’s an investment. There is trust in sponsorship. There is reciprocal accountability. Both sponsors and students work together towards a clear vision and purpose.

Respect & Accountability

When students have access to a community of sponsors, they experience respect and mutual accountability. They don’t learn for the sake of compliance, they learn with purpose and relevance. Students learn to interact with each other in ways that promote respect, collaboration, and empowerment rather than competition and meritocracy.  Students in sponsored communities are navigating learning with their own personalized plans feeling supported for continuous growth and feedback.

Sponsoring Students, Sponsoring Community        

Sponsors know when they invest well, the return is beneficial for the whole community. When sponsors support students, they are supporting the community at large as more competent and cared for students turn into more capable and caring adults. When students are sponsored, they are able to explore talents, build a relationship, and identify their ways to contribute and that improves the livelihood for everyone around them.

The kids are alright. When adults stop imposing upon students and instead invest in students, learning experiences will be far more meaningful. The way in which students develop learning identities and the way communities rally around students will develop an ecosystem of interdependency and opportunity. We will see the impact and importance of all levels for learning and development. Sponsorship holds us to an expectation of success that lies not in arbitrary compliance but in community-based outcomes. When students are reared to know who they are and how they can do great things, communities become ecosystems of greatness; working with each other and for each other to sponsor the next generation.

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Reopening Schools: A Scheduling Map for Educators to Plan the Who, What, When, Where, and How of Learning this Fall

Educators across the country are starting to think about what it might look like to reopen school doors this fall: How will we keep children, teachers, and families safe and healthy? What will classrooms look like given the constraints of social distancing and the potential for limited in-person learning time? What will happen if teachers and staff members decide it’s too risky to return? And how can we ensure that learning happens—and that kids’ social-emotional needs are met—given that many students will have experienced trauma, not to mention academic setbacks, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, and remote learning?

These are just some of the questions educators are trying to answer as they create staffing and scheduling plans for the 2020-21 academic year.

With support from InnovateEDU, Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools (Brooklyn Lab) created our Back to School Instructional Program Scheduling Map to begin to answer these questions for our school community. The process of matching instructional spaces, instructional groupings of scholars, teams of educators, and service demands in an era of social distancing and COVID-19 is daunting, and our scheduling map takes into account new health and safety requirements. Our aim is to provide a framework to support clear communication between administrators, educators, families, and scholars so that our school community can work collaboratively and inclusively to promote safety, health, well-being, and learning when our school reopens this fall.

This map builds on Brooklyn Lab’s Version 1 Back to Facilities Tool Kit, which focuses on school facilities solutions to accommodate social distancing and health requirements. To create the map, Brooklyn Lab and InnovateEDU led a two-week design “charrette” with several partners: Dezudio, PBDW Architects, EdTogether, the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS), Public Impact, TNTP, and the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. 

​In this article, we are sharing the three steps we followed in the hopes that other school and system leaders can adapt this approach to begin to map their own staffing and scheduling solutions.

Three Steps for Mapping Staffing Solutions

Discover dimensions of challenges. The first step is to define the problem you are trying to solve or goal you are trying to reach. To develop the Scheduling Map, we started with several questions that center on the needs of students, particularly our most vulnerable students:

  • How can we ensure adequate staffing to meet health and safety guidelines?
  • How can we schedule staff to make sure students with disabilities get the high-quality, compliant support and services they need?
  • How can we staff classrooms and organize schedules to provide excellent teaching for all students and effective support for all teachers?
  • How can we achieve optimal staffing levels given the new budget and public health realities?
  • How can schools make time for collaboration, planning, and leadership?
Image Attributed to PBDW Architects

Once you have used these questions to define your biggest challenges, examine those challenges from the perspective of those who are most affected, including students, families, and educators by engaging a team of those stakeholders; for Brooklyn Lab, that included teachers, special educators, family members, and instructional leaders.

Then, define your intention, articulating and exploring staffing and scheduling assumptions, exploring different stakeholder perspectives, and engaging with the applied research and insights of experts. As you go through discovery, focus on identifying not just the main challenge, but the barriers that might prevent you from reaching your goal.

Create teams focused on specific challenges/expertise. Once you have a handle on the challenges and their various dimensions, create teams that focus on a certain aspect of each challenge. At Brooklyn Lab, we created teams including teachers, special educators, counselors, and administrators who attended sessions and worked on different aspects of the challenges based on the expertise of that team. Each team asked questions such as:

  • How do we meet the needs of students given changing context?
  • When and where are instructional groupings of students scheduled to learn?
  • How can teams of educators be paired with instructional groupings of students?
  • How can educators use approaches that are best suited to meet the needs of all learners?
  • How can community educators best meet the needs of schools during social distancing?
  • How can professional learning opportunities accelerate the development and contributions of community educators?

These questions will help orient your team around solutions.

Image Attributed to Brooklyn LAB

Develop and refine solutions. The last step is to develop solutions to the challenges you identified in step one. This is an iterative process, so plan to test each solution, gather data about its effectiveness from your community, and then apply what you learned to refine your solutions.

At Brooklyn Lab, our design teams were tasked with developing ideas based on the school and community’s needs and best practices to address social-distancing requirements and safety. We identified a range of ideas to test for relevance and potential efficacy, and as we refined these ideas, we narrowed them down to a list of robust options.

This process requires collaboration with a range of stakeholders. At Brooklyn Lab, we worked with architects, special educators, families of students, counselors, financial experts, and instructional leaders to help us generate a wide range of solutions. This also increases our chances of success with implementation.

Working Together for a Safe Reopening

Reopening schools this fall is a complex undertaking, and no school has the time or resources to figure out how to do this alone. At Brooklyn Lab, part of our mission as a laboratory school is to advance design solutions and share tools that other schools can use. It is with that idea in mind that we’re sharing Version 1 of our map, which explores early directions in staff scheduling, class configurations, and planning considerations for general education and specialized settings.

Image Attributed to PBDW Architects

Our next step is to revise and begin to implement these ideas. We are now gathering input from Brooklyn Lab teachers and instructional leaders, and working to sort through the substance. In parallel, the Brooklyn Lab leadership team is assessing these ideas for feasibility based on budget and schedule constraints.

We will continue to monitor and adjust our tool kit over the next 18 months. We’ll prioritize the most vulnerable students, privilege safety and health, and put equity at the core of the design work. We are encouraged by our community involvement thus far; we know that as we work together, we will get closer to creating a safe reopening that works for all.

For more see:


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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.


Hybrid Reopening: When 50/50 Just Won’t Work

By: Joe Ableidinger

Many school systems considering hybrid options for Fall 2020 have zeroed in on a set of alternatives that would split students 50/50 into groups that would come to school buildings on alternating days or weeks, or for half-days.

The logistical challenges involved in operationalizing these models are immense. To maintain six-foot social distancing requirements, school busses would be limited to approximately 11 riders per bus run, and schools would need to dedicate around 50 square feet for each student in classroom spaces. These two issues alone cascade into a host of related logistical and financial issues that have many district leaders concluding that these 50/50 split approaches just won’t work.

System leaders looking for other options ought to consider this Model Hybrid Reopening Framework. This Framework focuses on alternatives best suited for middle and high schools and responds to the following four priorities:

  1. Give each student at least one in-person day each week as a touchpoint with teachers and peers;
  2. Leave space under a 50% occupancy cap for students with special needs and those with limited technology or broadband access to attend full time;
  3. Prepare for the need to pivot easily among in-person, hybrid, and fully remote plans; and,
  4. Minimize additional financial burdens in an era of declining tax revenues and potential budget cuts.

Model Hybrid Reopening Overview

  • Schools assign students to courses as usual (traditional or block schedule)
  • Each student is assigned one of four attendance days: A, B, C, or D. Three factors determine attendance day assignments:
  1. student transportation needs and bus capacity;
  2. class sizes and classroom capacity;
  3. sibling matching and unique family circumstance.
  • In a typical week, A = Monday, B = Tuesday, C = Wednesday, and D = Thursday. In weeks with days off due to holidays, etc., the days assigned to each letter may be adjusted.
  • Students attend school in person on their assigned days, except that:
  1. “Exempted students” attend all days in person. Reasons for exemption may include documented special needs necessitating full-time, in-person instruction, and lack of adequate access to technology or broadband.
  2. Schools may mandate that any student attend 100% remote temporarily, in line with COVID-19 screening protocol.
  3. Upon parent request, students may attend 100% remote.

  • Teachers choose instructional strategies to maximize effectiveness of teaching in a hybrid model for their grade and subject. Strategies might include:
  1. Simulcast/live-streaming: The teacher simultaneously teaches in-person and remote students. Students attending in person might take on unique roles (e.g., individual or group presentations; discussion leaders; leaders of small groups with remote students). Students attending remotely are actively engaged synchronously in the same live classes.
  2. Remote plus small-group discussion: Similar to college courses that hold lectures and separate smaller discussion sections, teachers deliver 3-4 asynchronous remote lessons per week and meet with one smaller discussion section each day, M-Th, limited to students attending in person.
  3. Remote with school site access: Teachers execute live, synchronous lessons as they would in a fully remote model. Students attending in person experience the same instructional content as those attending remotely.

  • The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has produced helpful guidance and tips on whole-class and small-group video recording, analysis, and sharing (see images above; also see General Portfolio Instructions, pp. 33-41)
  • Team teaching and role specialization align well with the strategies above. For example, with the “remote plus small-group discussion” strategy, one teacher might execute asynchronous lessons (or record lectures) while other teachers of the same subject lead discussion sections. Teachers might also divide responsibility for office hours and grading student work. Public Impact has developed models for teaching and learning when all or some students and teachers are working from home.
  • Under any approach, teachers would need to have materials and pre-recorded content available in case of technology problems and for students unable to attend due to illness.
  • In the schedule on the previous page, Friday is designated as a day for students to engage in remote instruction while teachers conduct one-on-one or small group office hours based on student demand and engage in PD, team meetings, and planning.

Key Benefits of Applying this Framework

  • Flexibility: This framework is intended to make it as easy as possible for schools to shift among Plan A (in-person), Plan B (hybrid with no more than 50% occupancy) and Plan C (fully online). In a shift to Plan A, bus routes, bell schedules, and school/class assignments would remain the same, but students would shift to attending in-person full-time. For students at high risk of COVID-19 (or with high-risk family members) and extended student absences due to illness, schools might maintain remote options even under Plan A. In a shift to Plan C, schools could maintain the same schedule for remote learning.
  • Budgetary Impact: By keeping the daily load to 25-33%, this framework would minimize additional transportation costs and decrease the need for increased teaching staff or modifications to classroom spaces and furniture. Major cost items associated with this framework would include cameras, connectivity, and related IT support. An initial analysis suggests that cameras (including tracking cameras like Swivl) and related technology are reasonably priced and easy to set up and use in classroom settings.
  • Honoring Family Needs while Maintaining School Community: Other strategies, such as full-time Virtual Academies, might require families to choose between the support and continuity of their existing school communities and a fully online alternative. This hybrid framework’s approach would enable families to choose full-time remote learning without having to temporarily or permanently leave their pre-COVID school communities and endure transitions in the initial transfer and when returning (if permitted) after the pandemic. This approach could be used in combination with a separate districtwide Virtual Academy.
  • Student SocialEmotional Development and Personal Growth: This framework gives each student several high-value checkpoints with teachers and school staff each week. Through this contact, school personnel will be in positions to identify and respond to student social-emotional needs. In addition, through small-group activities, teachers will be able to provide students opportunities to lead and to learn teamwork and communication skills during in-person attendance days. In-person days will bolster student accountability and improve teacher/student interaction and communication.

Key Challenges

  • Demand on Teachers: Depending on the teaching strategies and roles chosen, shifting to a hybrid approach would likely mean an increase in workload as teachers prepared for and executed in-person and online lessons.
  • Sports and Activities: Being on campus one day per week will make sports and some extracurricular activities difficult or impossible or require shifts to virtual engagement.
  • Technology Challenges: This framework is heavily technology-dependent and will likely entail significant troubleshooting, especially at first, and solid back-up plans to maintain student learning in the event of tech issues at school or at home. Many challenges of remote learning identified in Spring 2020 will need to be addressed in this framework.

For more, see:


Joe Ableidinger is the Vice President for Innovation and Strategy at The Innovation Project, a collaborative working group of forward-thinking North Carolina district superintendents who work together to find and implement innovative and transformative practices in public education.

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.