Learning at the Concourse: Crosstown High

In the heart of midtown Memphis is Crosstown Concourse, home of Crosstown High. When you walk into the Concourse, you are greeted by high-spirited funk and soul music being piped through the atrium’s speakers straight from a local radio station that is located on the ground floor of the building with a studio window facing the foyer. High school students mill around greeting their friends and ordering drinks from French Truck Coffee as they wait for the school day to start. The Concourse is home to over 40 businesses, nonprofits and restaurants, with Crosstown High living in a corner on the fourth and fifth floors.

Crosstown high
Overlooking the atrium of the concourse

Crosstown not only occupies a compelling location, but has made the most of the space through the creative use of classroom and shared areas, prominent displays of student art and creations, and partnerships with groups such as the Church Health Nutrition Hub. They have also received a grant from the XQ Institute to rethink high school. We were grateful to have the opportunity to visit Crosstown in this environment and witness their inspiring example of innovative learning with a meaningful use of space.

Learning at Crosstown High

There is a strong student-teacher rapport and relationship building.  As we toured the school, we observed learners engaging in work that was thematically connected across disciplines and connected to their capstone project.

Students Journaling at Crosstown High

The thematic journeys that students engage in over the course of their four years at Crosstown are guided by questions such as, “What systems shape power in Memphis, and how do we affect change within those systems?” Teachers spend time working together to align their teaching and capstones to these themes.

For their capstones, students opt into a “strand” focused on components of these guiding questions such as the environment, health care, politics, social & criminal justice, and more. Students from within each strand come together, guided by teachers, to collaborate on nuanced personal research questions, which lead to exercises such as “expert interviews” with community partners and PechaKucha presentations. Students’ capstone work ultimately culminates in advocacy campaigns and project showcases (one of the keys to high-quality PBL).

These experiences are built upon a foundation of competency-based learning, which has given weight to many of the experiences students engage in. When asked what her favorite part of Crosstown was, Harmony, a senior, replied, “The competencies have been my favorite part–they helped me become who I am, and develop and become confident in my skills.”

Students standing in front of Crosstown’s “Competency Wall”

Inspiring Spaces and Strong Relationships

Another inspiring component of the Crosstown High experience is the strong relationships between students and adults, and between the school community and the space that they occupy.

Crosstown has created a culture in which it doesn’t matter if a teacher is speaking to a student, a student to a teacher, or a student to a student–there is respect. We saw teachers delivering content in a manner that is meant to engage students, focusing on student contribution, questioning, and thoughtful instruction. “It’s important to be able to be vulnerable with teachers,” said Ava, a senior, when discussing the support they have received.

Students also have meaningful opportunities to both impact the spaces within the school and engage in the businesses surrounding it. Many of the school’s spaces have been enhanced by the addition of student-created art collections and student-supported murals that adorn the various hallways of the school.

Crosstown has created a culture in which it doesn’t matter if a teacher is speaking to a student, a student to a teacher, or a student to a student–there is respect.

Rebecca Midles and Erik Day

A corner of the school’s library, designed in part by students
A mural depicting Crosstown students and their hopes and dreams

The opportunities for students to engage with the space and people around them are not limited by the school walls. This is where Crosstown’s High location within the Crosstown Concourse becomes so powerful. To more deeply connect with the grade-level themes and projects described above, students have regular opportunities to engage with the businesses at the Concourse. For example, in one project focused on understanding refugees’ experiences, students went to a restaurant at the Concourse co-owned by three refugee chefs to interview them about their individual experiences. The school has also partnered with the Church Health Nutrition Center, which has a kitchen that students are able to utilize to practice building healthy dietary knowledge and habits.

These priorities contribute to one of the most encouraging components of Crosstown that we observed–that students often and openly reflect on how they personally have contributed to the school’s culture, spaces, and practices using pronouns such as “we” and “our.” It is clear that their culture of trust, respect and student leadership have made a big impact on the leadership and investment students have in the school.

Students at the Church Health kitchen

Concluding Thoughts

Crosstown High is a model of whole-student, personalized, and authentic learning that demonstrates what a commitment to competency-based education can yield for a school, and we look forward to visiting again. One student’s words in particular still echo in our minds: “The competencies we gain here aren’t standards for being a student–they’re competencies for the rest of your life.”

We aspire for all students to be able to say the same.

Collaborative Conversations to Shephard Communities Forward, Together

A school system divided cannot stand. America’s school systems are back in session, mostly in person, in the continued era of pandemic schooling. Even though most systems are returning in a way similar to pre-pandemic “normalcy”, this is the moment for communities to engage in conversation about whether or not schools are actually serving young people and valuing them effectively. When the context and the needs change, innovative systems adapt. When businesses fail to do this, they close. When our learning systems don’t adapt, the learners themselves pay the cost and this then transfers to our communities and our economies.

With an insistence from federal and state leaders to ensure in-person learning for students this year, many of the status quo institutional pieces are back in place, but we have a renewed commitment to learners and their families. Every action we take toward redesigning and creating now will benefit the learning systems of the future. These actions will put every learner’s needs at the forefront and at the core of learning design. If we want all of our students to get out of this pandemic ready to succeed; schools, families, and community partners will need to work together for all of our children.

School leaders can take on this responsibility for engagement by creating circumstances of listening, learning, collaborating, and strategizing. Many school systems proclaim the need for students to be able to think critically and communicate effectively. Therefore, systems must model this ability and be the elders our future generations need to find and name the common good and work towards it, collectively. Our learning systems can often be the start of a journey, but it is certainly not the end. Our promise as educators is for learners to leave with agency, vision, and the belief that they can and will shape their future.

Every action we take toward redesigning and creating now will benefit the learning systems of the future.

Rebecca Midles and Kelly Niccolls

Focused Listening Circles

Build trust by staying open to diverse ideas and feedback. Create opportunities and structures to listen, learn, and build a better community understanding. Many of our communities have experienced trauma. Listening and becoming more aware of our communities is the first step toward healing.

Inform, Listen, Learn. Design and deliver a “Roadshow” to build understanding, to listen, to respond, and to later incorporate this into a coauthoring of the path forward with stakeholder input.

Build Trust. Stay in a listening disposition and create transparent communication strategies and then over-communicate events, and share outcomes:

  • Provide opportunities to build background knowledge and understanding for suggested changes and surface tensions.
  • Consider training community leaders to facilitate and to help collate the feedback. Read more about this process in Mesa County School District 51.
  • Intentionally invite voices that need to be heard and will be a large part of the work, your teachers. Gather collective feedback. Share and report this feedback.

Collective Action Committees

Collective action committees come together with the direct purpose of action. Collective action committees come together with a clear and direct purpose of action, this is not an effort to collect feedback that defaults to the systems leader, this is about action. CACs are effective at the return on investment analysis, cost-benefit analysis, and can serve as a task force for outcomes based on other stakeholder group designs, discussions, and feedback data.

Codesigning Equitable Paths Forward. Establishing committees explicitly to get things done is an efficient way to recruit a team wanting to get to outcomes and centers opportunities for training and capacity building on actionability:

  • Codesign actionable steps in response to listening circles and build community consensus and a set of common agreements.
  • Consider co-chairing instructional design work around learning models to co-select workgroups and review. Learn more from the perspective of a Teacher Association president.
  • Respond to and incorporate feedback. Highlight where this feedback influenced courses of action or changes.
  • Read more about this process in the Journeys to Personalized Learning, a case study from FSG.

Student Facilitated Focus Groups

When communities come together, in the interest of what is best for kids, and kids are leading that conversation, it keeps the work focused by and with the people we care most about- our students. Some communities will require intentional time and continued space for healing the unique and compounded scars inflicted over time. System Leaders must nurture healing practices and include bridge-building events and activities into their community engagement.

Students As The Leads. Students should be at the helm of developing focus group learning, facilitating focus group discussions, and being key analysts for focus group feedback will help legitimize findings and build trust quicker in the process and next steps from that data. Great examples of this can be found on the OneStone site where you can learn more about the different labs and support available to build and support learner’s voices.

Bridge Building Events

Trust building and community building are imperative for sensitive change work. There are communities that have generational experiences of distrust and harm from schools and school systems. Provide opportunities for students, families, school staff, and community partners to come together without key tasks, but rather ways to build context and learn about each other develops trust among key stakeholders. Ideas for bridge building events:

  • Student learning exhibitions & showcases;
  • Community gatherings in honor of student success, meeting goals, the start of the year, mid-year, end of year benchmarks, etc.;
  • Annual events in honor of legacy partners and/or community traditions;
  • Hosting committee retreats and encouraging small groups to attend retreats to build capacity and trust.
  • Our students know their needs and their wants, and they are creative thinkers! They are also, with quality training and experience, excellent facilitators of learning conversations and dialogues.

Design Thinking

A generative process with collective insight is a change of energy that can shift a sense of being powerless. This process is creative, expansive, and fun! It is also concentrated in a process that centers on understanding a problem that needs to be solved and incorporating multiple stakeholders to inform and design solutions.

  • dSchool at Stanford facilitates training on a variety of topics that can utilize design thinking for creative solutions and possibilities to improve.
  • Liberatory Design focuses on design principles centered on inequitable practices and outcomes.

School systems set the future of communities. We ask hundreds of students to share space, be vulnerable, work through conflict, and share in celebrations and challenges together every day in a school setting. If our young people can create communities that learn alongside, no matter their context and differences, then our education system leaders must be able to model and facilitate the same abilities. This also requires the intentional design of community building with active participants, partner stakeholders, parents, students, and representative staff. When our communities are isolated and people/positions are targeted, and voices rise that are not part of the learning community, or seeking the best for those in the community, then those systems will stay fractured.

Collective efforts with representative views will weave the repair necessary of current divisions. When learning communities see each other, know each other and care for each other, authentically, for who they are, they can commit to the best interest in an informed and inspired way.

Creating a Culture of Trust In Your Classroom: The Twin Pillars of Authenticity and Vulnerability

By: Aaron Schorn

Ō hele, aia nō ka ʻai a me ka iʻa.
Go, the sustenance you need lies ahead
–Pele to her sister Hiʻiaka

Living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them. We walk our talk — we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviors align with those beliefs.
–Brene Brown

In March 2021, out in the deep ocean off the coast of Hawai’i Island, students in Kumu Pualani (Pua) Lincoln Maielua’s Migrations of Moananuiākea Capstone class float in a circle, treading water. It’s as if a Harkness Table appears from the ocean depths. The group shares, one by one, the most impactful moments they have had out on the water for the past four days as they learn to steer and navigate a traditional Hawaiian canoe. Each learner speaks with joy and reverence, reflecting on how this voyage impacts and illuminates their own individual Capstone projects. Each learner reflects on how their unique skills and capacities allow them to succeed out on the water and also in the classroom.

Modeling Authenticity and Your Connection to the Class 

Without rooting authenticity in pedagogy, curriculum, class culture, and lesson plans, the story highlighted above is not possible. The starting place for all of this is the teacher. Kumu Pua reflects, “It always starts with yourself as a teacher, be grounded in who you are and what you do. Put yourself out there, share elements of yourself with your class.” Explaining and showcasing personal connection to the lesson, content, skills, and capacities that define a class/program is an entry point for a teacher. Sharing out a personal story, and leaning into the values of vulnerability and trust, acts as a model for students, and proves that teachers are willing to do what they are asking students to do in the class; that they will put in the work. Kumu Pua’s mission at the start of each school year is to create moments where her students see her personal connection to what she is sharing with them. She models her connection to the content through authentic storytelling. When teachers do this, it enables students to see relevance and relatability in the lesson and content, and in Pua’s words to “interweave their own stories into those moments as well, while starting to see themselves in the content and skill development.” By demonstrating her authentic connection to not only the content but to the journey the class will embark on together, she displays her passion, vulnerability, and the trust she has for them, creating a shared culture that comes alive.

Our Student’s Origin Stories

When asked about that moment out in the ocean, Kumu Pua laughs, “The first thing I think about is safety and training, then I think about the emotions of that moment. The magic of that moment only happens because of all the work and training we put in beforehand; physical, mental, and emotional. This moment, circled up out in the water, became their most authentic presentation and assessment.” So, how do you build out this culture and community of trust? For Kumu Pua, she wants her students to explore and start to understand where they come from – their family, culture, skills, dreams, drive, and passions. She starts the year by having students explore their genealogy, ancestry, and the people that are key stakeholders in their lives. She wants them to understand that what they aspire to be is a reflection of who they are and where they come from. The students then look within themselves, engaging in a process of self-exploration and examining the ways they can contribute to their community. The goal here is for students to understand that their life experiences, their origin stories, their unique skills and capacities, can then be used to impact the classroom, their school, and the world. Now it’s your turn:

  1. Start with a name. Have everyone explain the meanings and stories behind their first, middle, and last names. Use this as a springboard for the cohort to understand who they are working and collaborating with. Model the activity with your own name, sharing and adding a story.
  2. Get out some big sheets of paper. An ideation and culture activity that Kumu Pua has masterfully made her own, optimizing it for her classes, is called Head, Heart and Purpose (inspired by an Echoing Green curricular activity). Take this basic template and optimize it for your class and cohort of learners. Update it to reflect the goals of your class and the learners you are partnering with. Have students take photos of their sheets of paper for reference throughout the year.

It always starts with yourself as a teacher, be grounded in who you are and what you do. Put yourself out there, share elements of yourself with your class.

Kumu Pua

Importance of External Mentors

Fostering confidence and a sense of belonging in students empowers them to be their authentic selves. When students see themselves represented in the work and goals of the class, there is relevance and new found purpose. By partnering students with mentors outside of the normal structures of school, teachers can demonstrate to students that they are worthy of investment, and that someone who is not paid to teach them finds this collaboration important. This also makes the work and skill development authentic and real. A subject matter expert mentor can provide insight into student work that is timely, and allows students a glimpse into the area of the professional world that these mentors engage in. Kumu Pua reflects, “Students need to have diverse examples of adulting in their life, diverse examples of inspired passionate professionals in their life, and if you have an array of people to connect with, it allows them to bloom, and to have more models of collaboration and people who serve their community. Gaining this mentorship from other adults inspires and empowers them to be a mentor for their fellow classmates and others in the world.”

Authenticity and Thoughtful Learning Experiences Matter

Authenticity has to be at the core of all of our movements as educators because of what is happening in the world on a global scale. Students need to feel like they can own who they are, and they need a network of other people embarking on the same journey. Kumu Pua states, “The rigor of authenticity is what we need to survive this moment and that’s what is going to change the world and empower everybody in all walks of life.”

7 Tools for Promoting Communication and Collaboration

Now that most educators and students are back in the classroom, it is a great opportunity to focus on building relationships and to create more authentic, meaningful and engaging learning experiences for our students. It is also important that we find ways to promote communication and collaboration between students while in our classroom, between us and our students, and to have options available that are not limited by time and space.

There are a lot of great tools and activities available to get started with that don’t take much time at all. Especially at the start of a new school year when trying to get into a daily routine, planning our lessons, determining how to effectively assess students, and building relationships and essential SEL skills, it helps to have access to a few ideas to start with.

Probably more so this year than in prior years, I started by focusing on relationships and promoting communication and collaboration in our classroom. It was great to be back in person, especially since I had some students that I had not seen since March of 2020 and others, who I never met in person during the entire past school year. Because we had not all been together in quite some time and had less opportunities to talk and interact in the same space, I wanted to take extra time to get to know my students and for them to get to know one another. Having quick conversations and doing activities with students in person makes a difference and helps us to quickly assess students’ well-being and learning.

I had some great ideas for the start of the year to get to know my students and to get them talking. I decided to play some different games, ask them random questions, use some would you rather type questions, and also created a Google form to gather input from my students about their learning goals and concerns for the school year and our class. A few students asked if they could write responses on paper or record a video response instead of talking in class. Not everybody is a fan of icebreakers and some may not feel comfortable speaking in front of class, especially when you’re sharing information about yourself, but we have a lot of options that we can choose from that provide support and comfort and of course help us to reach our goals of building our classroom community. Not just at the start of the year but throughout the year.

We just need different tools and methods that we can use that promote communication and collaboration in our classroom. Using some of these options, it can help us to communicate with our students when we provide feedback or when we check in with them for example. By using tools which offer a variety of options ranging from written communication, to audio and video, we put the choices in the hands of the students to decide how to communicate their ideas while also creating a space for collaboration.

Some questions that I often ask myself include:

  • How can we better understand student needs?
  • What methods or tools promote more interactive and collaborative experiences?
  • Which tools promote real-time interactions and feedback?
  • Which tools facilitate communication and encourage students to respond?

By using tools which offer a variety of options ranging from written communication, to audio and video, we put the choices in the hands of the students to decide how to communicate their ideas while also creating a space for collaboration.

Rachelle Dené Poth

Here are seven options to explore:

Google Jamboard is a great choice for boosting collaboration and facilitating communication within and outside of class. It is free to use, easy to get started with, and can be used for all grade levels and content areas. Create a Jamboard and ask students to respond with an image or text and use it to promote communication in the classroom. Create separate boards to have small groups work together.

GoSoapBox can be used to create a discussion, poll, or quiz. Students are more comfortable posting responses in this space and engaging in a discussion through writing, as they build confidence in speaking with and in front of peers. It is free to use and does not require logins or any downloads to get started.

Mote is a versatile tool to use for providing authentic and timely feedback to students, and promoting communication and collaboration in and out of the classroom. There are many ways to use Mote for students and teachers. Voice comments can be recorded and added to Google Slides, Google Documents, Gmail, websites and more. It also offers transcription in more than 20 languages.

Padlet has made some updates to its robust features, offering more ways to curate content, communicate and collaborate within one digital bulletin board space. Use Padlet to create a quick scavenger hunt, to have students post introductions, or to collaborate globally with classrooms, for a few examples. Student groups can even use Padlet as a space to collaborate on a project and include audio or video, embed links or add images or documents, for all group members to access and respond to in one place.

Skilled Space is an audio platform that enables live audio-only conversations that can help to create and foster a sense of belonging in the classroom. Skilled space helps to promote active listening skills and conversations between students which leads to relationship building as well as social awareness.

Spaces EDU offers a variety of ways for students and teachers to communicate and collaborate in the digital space. Spaces can be used for a digital portfolio or as a way to communicate throughout the learning journey. You can share information through text, images, audio and video and it is easy for members of a class or a group to work together.

Yoteach! added some newer features that make it another versatile space for collaboration. Teachers can create a room with a password set for students for login. Participants can send a message in text, add in a poll, create or participate in a collaborative spaceboard, or upload a picture to share.

Each of these tools or strategies offer ways to promote communication and collaboration while fostering a sense of community for students and for ourselves. We can stay better connected and be able to understand our students and their are and provide support when it is needed.

7 Ways to Use Screencastify for In-Person Learning

The new school year has arrived and many learners have found their way back (or are stepping foot for the very first time) into their classrooms. For many educators, a brand new school year represents an opportunity to build on the innovative ways to structure classroom learning, keep students engaged, and keep families connected.

Last school year, many educators gravitated toward Screencastify as their go-to video creation suite and it’s no surprise that it remains a top resource for educators moving forward. Here are seven ways educators like you are using Screencastify for innovative classroom instruction and learning:

1. Amplify Student Voice

When students feel seen and heard, they can feel empowered too. Joanna Marcotte from The Founders Academy found an innovative way to carve space for student voice in her classroom this year that others can easily adopt.

“I had students create a video about what they did…in the spring, during their summer, or share other interests and passions. It was great to be able to hear student voices. It was nice to see all of my students without a mask and helped to put names to faces..”

2. Flip the Classroom

Brian Kowalsky of Strafford Public Schools pre-teaches concepts and skills through pre-recorded lectures that allow learners to “navigate through class projects at their own pace.”

Having pre-recorded video lessons available also encourages space for more learner engagement and builds in time for more questions and clarifications on lessons during instruction time.

3. Support for Parents

It’s important that parents and families also understand how to operate digital resources to help support their learners who return to the classroom. For Britt Eddy, a teacher from Dr. Kevin M. Hurley Middle School, finding ways to support them through video can be as simple as creating how to’s for parents that explain how to access their student’s work, new assignments, or grades.

4. Support for Teachers

Similarly, teachers may also need somewhere to reference to gain knowledge on the latest education trends. Through Screencastify, one educator supports his fellow teachers through video creation.

“I am using it to create short how to videos to share with my colleagues in an effort to help teachers learn about new technologies, strategies, and ways to positively connect with students and positively influence teaching and learning.”

5. Encourage Literacy

The power of video also has the potential to forge a new love of reading and books. Barstow Middle School teacher Lauren Vandever shares:

“I use Screencastify to make and share book talk videos with my students. We also used it to have other teachers in the district film book talk videos. This encourages literacy, and students see reading as a lifelong experience and habit rather than an assignment.”

6. Google Slides

Pairing this tool with others like Google Slides helps educators present high-quality lessons with ease. Recording a presentation using Screencastify requires minimal effort for educators like Chris Lauzon from the District School Board of Niagara.

“For every google slide we have, we have Screencastify audios and videos of everything to make sure that all of our learner needs and styles are being met.”

Similarly, students can also use Screencastify Submit for a “fast, secure, and easy way to record and submit video assignments.”

7. Window to the World

Another superpower of video has always been its ability to span across regions. Video plays a huge role in connecting remote and isolated communities that present barriers in access to experiences and resources. Heidi Hague of Hoquiam School District shares how she uses video as a window to the world:

“We live in a very small and isolated community so these videos give me the opportunity to include slides of famous artworks, landscapes, or other “windows to the world” to my students. So far I’ve done units on fairy tales and tall tales, Ancient China and India, Ancient Greece and soon I’ll be doing Greek Mythology.”

Video plays a huge role in connecting remote and isolated communities that present barriers in access to experiences and resources.

Ashley Ranan

The Path Forward

As we continue into the school year, how will you use the power of video to empower your learners? Screencastify has helped thousands of educators become more innovative in reaching and engaging with students through the power of video while carving digital paths for our learners today, and for tomorrow.

This post is sponsored by Screencastify. If you’d like to learn more about our policies and practices regarding sponsored content, please email Jessica Slusser.

Why Collaborate for Online Learning? Because it Just (Net)Works

When COVID forced the world into online learning, we saw educators working tirelessly to learn, implement, iterate and design new digital solutions on the fly.

It’s almost impossible to believe we are now in the third school year affected by the pandemic. While we are all hopeful it is the last, there are many lessons learned and new opportunities created by educators and leaders who used the challenges of school closures to reimagine how and where learning is delivered to students.

While online learning is not a novel idea, in the last two years it has become more widely utilized than ever before. According to a RAND study and supported anecdotally by many local media stories, more than a thousand districts are starting or significantly expanding online or hybrid programs this school year. It’s likely that most of them are doing so in response to a demand from parents and students who value the flexibility of remote learning and want to continue learning in a new, innovative approach.

At Getting Smart we are advocates for choice and believe a strong, effective online learning option should be available to all learners through their neighborhood school. But we know that this work cannot be done alone.

Edleaders are in need of support and other leaders to share best practices and garner expert advice. Enter the Digital Learning Collaborative (DLC), an initiative that seeks to support districts and schools as they increase options for students and improve outcomes.

While online learning is not a novel idea, in the last two years it has become more widely utilized than ever before.

Jessica Slusser

Who is the Digital Learning Collaborative?

Started by the Evergreen Education Group, DLC is a membership group made up of educators, providers, supporters and thought leaders who are all committed to improving education for schools and students. All stakeholders in education are invited to join, whether you’re an educator, school board member, reporter, researcher or policymaker.

Given the dramatic shift for many districts, DLC is heavily focused on  meeting the needs of those starting an online or hybrid program. The collaborative ecompasses many different schools and instructional practices, including but not limited to state virtual schools, online schools, hybrid and mainstream schools.

Getting Smart strongly believes in the power of Networks, so we’re excited to have partnered with DLC to help share this opportunity with teachers and leaders in our own community!

The DLC is offering new membership options for districts this year. Membership benefits include ongoing members-only webinars that dig deeper into these topics, with opportunities for discussion among participants, as well as online discussions, “office hours” with experienced practitioners, and extensive practical guides and resources.

DLC webinars, office hours, happy hours, and other events are organized and presented by practitioners, researchers, and others who have many years of experience in the online, blended, and hybrid learning field.

Their new membership option provides for up to five people from your school or district to take advantage of the resources and learning opportunities. A portion of the annual fee to join is also given as credit to attend DLC’s main event, the Digital Learning Annual Conference (read about the most recent conference in our blog recap).

Start Learning Now.

To help support districts, DLC is offering a free webinar series every Monday through November 1st, 2021 that is open to anyone interested in learning from leaders in the field. These webinars will spend 20-30 minutes exploring keys to success in running an online or hybrid school. This includes setting clear and measurable goals, hiring and training teachers, selecting content and technology and engaging families. Following the discussion there will be time for attendees to bring your questions, share your stories and start moving forward in the right direction.

So if you’re thinking about starting an online or hybrid option, or maybe you already have but are running into obstacles, it’s time to join a webinar and learn more about implementing a successful online program. Click here to start learning and networking.

If membership isn’t right at this time, DLC is offering our readers a 10% discount on registration for the Digital Learning Annual Conference! To register, click here and use code DLACSmart22 to save!

Bringing Project-Based Mentors into The Educational Fold

By: Patty Alper

I have developed and written about something I call Project Based Mentoring®. It is both new, and as old as time… What is it? What people does it help? And How?

Essentially, this idea, this methodology, is about knowledge transfer. But this is not knowledge from an educator, a theoretician, or a book – rather it is knowledge transferred from an expert in the field, a hands-on practitioner. The idea is simple: “learning from doers and learning by doing.”

Project Based Mentoring® puts a project at the center of an intergenerational relationship, where a student is the project’s leader, where the student executes to a master plan, where the student navigates real-world obstacles,  and presents their findings – all while having a mentor/practitioner by their side who is experienced and from a like field.

This is a win/win for each constituent.

For a Student/Mentee, they are learning to think critically in a real-world environment. They are learning to plan and forecast, and to design actionable steps to a deadline. They are learning to collaborate and to experience the pains of their hypothesis gone awry. They are learning to present and defend their body of work to an audience of peers and professionals. Essentially, they are learning how to project-lead, but with guidance. At the end of 6 months or a year, they have a true accomplishment, a new confidence, a mentor’s endorsement, and a set of transferable skills that can be applied to a 21st-Century work environment.

Tim Kautz and James J. Heckman researched what they call non-cognitive skills, such as character, motivation, and goals – considered extremely valuable traits in the labor market. They found that the most successful non-cognitive skills are taught under mentoring environments (James Heckman and Tim Kautz, “Fostering and Measuring Skills: Interventions That Improve Character and Cognition,” National Bureau of Economic Research (2013).) Moreover, students exposed to mentorship programs have the distinct advantage of an “experiential education,” which has been shown to engender a complete learning experience for students. (Laura Joplin, “On Defining Experiential Education,” Journal of Experiential Education, 4, no. 1 (1981): 17.)

As I report under “Relevant Research” below, NFTE has performed its own studies of mentorship programs and found students exposed to a mentorship program outperformed unmentored classmates in numerous ways, including their comfort level in speaking, career-related knowledge and skills obtained, and the perception students have of the educational program.

For the Practitioner/Mentor, they are becoming an educator; they are learning to communicate simply, to manage expectations and disappointments, to share real-world experiences and be a motivator. Within the corporate world, mentorship is viewed as a form of management training, confidence building. The HR departments have also found that a positive culture shift happens when employee mentors bring this community experience back to the work environment. As well, HR is said to gain more millennial job applicants who prefer to work at a ‘do-good’ company that is not just profit-driven. Mentorship roles are known to build pipelines not only into STEM industries, but also to build a pipeline of new employees. Essentially, mentorship is creating community connections, and community educators.

Geriatric Psychiatrist Dr. Gene Cohen suggests that intergenerational support offers clear health benefits to the mentor—even if they are older or retired. An opportunity to do something with a common creative goal, and to bring together a rich diversity of perspective, makes the blended experience uniquely rich and motivating. One benefit for the mentor is a psychological reward—for being engaged and sharing your knowledge, and another is practical—in having a purpose, a schedule, and a value. “The benefits often extend far from the origin of the collaboration,” he says. (Gene Cohen, M.D., Ph.D, “The Creative Age,” William Morrow Paperbacks, 2001).

How did I arrive at this conclusion and methodology?

Through philanthropic interests, I was first introduced to NFTE, where I still sit on their national board. Back in 2001, I proposed to this nonprofit a new pilot called Adopt-a-Class. The thinking was: how can practitioners like me offer insights to youth without disrupting the classroom or the teacher? The core concept was: wouldn’t kids like hearing about my trials in building a construction company as a female entrepreneur? So, I was the first guinea pig mentor.

For 20+ years now, I have continued to mentor inner-city youth on developing business plans and taking their businesses to market. I have fostered close to 1000 students over the course of that time, working with 30-40 in a class for a full year each. I have 1000s of letters from my mentees, sharing their gratitude and their motivation to stay in business as a result of our time together. To expand the model, I wrote a 200-page plan on how to operate Adopt-a-Class, and saw the plan accelerate to 12 regions across America. I brought countless mentors to the NFTE classes in the Maryland, DC, and Virginia marketplace.

I was so excited about the impact the program had on my students and my fellow mentors that I wrote a book about it: Teach to Work: How a Mentor, A Mentee, and A Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America– expanding such that projects in all fields can be applied to this mentorship model, not just business. Others have been interested in how to bring together the corporate and academic sectors—in STEM, Cyber, Communications, Design—a host of fields.

 To that end, I have written countless articles, the ideas have been covered in major news outlets, (Washington Post, NYTimes, Forbes, and Philanthropy Magazine, to name a few). I have numerous podcasts and radio interviews preaching the gospel of  Project-Based-Mentorship ®. As well, I have been a consultant to post-secondary schools on developing corporate mentorship programs. And, lastly, I have been an invited speaker/author within the corporate world, the educational sector, for non-profit organizations as well as state-run education programs.

Relevant Research

NFTE wanted to know how its mentored students fared compared to classmates that were not being mentored. In an abbreviated study only within one region10 NFTE schools and 221 students were tested (Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship Survey by the Research and Evaluation Department (2014). NFTE found the following:

  • The mentored students increased their self-confidence in public speaking (77% versus 63% of non-mentored students).
  • The mentored students were more likely to want to own their own business (87% versus 75% non-mentored students).
  • 93% of the mentored students believed they had the ability to run their own business, versus 70% of non-mentored students.
  • 83% believed the things their course taught them would help them if they chose a career in business, versus 68% of non-mentored students.
  • 71% gave the course high ratings, versus 46% of non-mentored students.
  • 60% reported having higher class engagement, versus 45% of non-mentored students.

In another study, Dr. Susan S. Harmeling, who holds a doctorate from the Darden School at the University of Virginia, undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard College and Harvard Business School, has reported similar findings. Her doctoral research has shown that students who are exposed to effective mentoring can be transported to what Harmeling calls “new worlds.” (Susan Harmeling (2011) “Re-Storying an Entrepreneurial Identity: Education, Experience and Self- Narrative,” Education and Training  8/9.) The way Harmeling describes it, many students she encountered in her study of more than sixty inner-city NFTE students (from multiple states in the Northeast/mid-Atlantic corridor) are embedded in a particular, often disadvantaged reality she calls “Place A,” and although they may be exposed to “Place B” (a more desirable reality) on television or at the movies, in their minds getting to that place is unrealistic or unachievable for them. (Susan Harmeling, S Sarasvathy (2013) “When Contingency is a Resource: Educating Entrepreneurs in the Balkans, the Bronx and Beyond,” Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice 37.)

When those students are exposed to an adult mentor, however, one with a proven track record who is also accessible to them, a bridge suddenly appears between the two realities.  A bridge between Place A and Place B opens possibilities. The mentor may be a success but not necessarily a star. The mentor is human, not superhuman, as he or she shares a personal trajectory incorporating struggles, missteps, dead ends, and painful disappointments. Once the students hear a real person’s life story, they can envision a new path for themselves. The story evokes the thought, “If he can do it, why can’t I?”

Why is this important in education today?

In its Great Jobs Great Lives study Gallup concluded that when six key factors are experienced by graduates during college, it doubled their odds of being engaged in their work and having a greater sense of wellbeing later in life. (Great Jobs Great Lives: The 2014 Gallup-Purdue Index Report (Washington, D.C.: Gallup, 2014), accessed February 1, 2016, https://www.luminafoundation.org/files/resources/galluppurdueindex-report-2014.pdf.) Gallup’s research, in my mind, dictates new educational priorities for better preparing youth for their future. Building on Gallup’s research and my own personal experiences and research, I’ve found that four factors can make a world of difference:

1. Incorporating the community and industry to help develop curriculum, teach educators on field-related requirements, and to integrate industry to better prepare youth for the jobs of tomorrow.

2. The critical importance of youth interfacing with adults during their school years, and in particular the importance of a Mentor – an intergenerational role model whose role is to support a student’s goals and dreams. This Mentor is to be a sounding board, a ballast, and a center for values and clarity. As well, the Mentor is a true practitioner from the real world and as such, offers real-world, practical guidelines. A Mentor plays the role of devil’s advocate and gently pushes against probabilities, all the while holding a mentee to task, and to timely completion.

3. The importance of applying what you are learning to a long-term Project. This type of learning is based not just on theory but on real-world experience. Within project development, a student starts from their own understanding of the world and a need that should be met, employing critical thinking. Next, the Mentee takes ownership in seeing that concept grow to become a reality—and successful or not, the journey is owned and in real-time. Indeed, this project becomes an accomplishment that has met a deadline, has a hard-and-fast result and is defended through a formal oral presentation. These are the skills the business world seeks.

4. An Ability to Plan. I have written extensively about Project Based Mentoring® and marrying the above three critical educational facets—industry engagement, mentorship and projects. To these, I add one of the most critical skills that is rarely taught today—the ability to plan.

I contend that the business world, the management world, the finance world, the science world, the tech world, the art world—are all project-driven. As an employee, a manager, or a leader, you are graded on your promise, your actions, your outcome, and your delivery/presentation.

Rarely in education are our students taught how to think critically, and to plan.

One of my favorite books is “Homo Prospectus,” written by Dr. Martin Seligman, the Dean of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. He writes, “The ability to anticipate and evaluate future possibilities for the guidance of thought and action is the cornerstone of human success.” Rather than focus on the therapies of the past, he shows how human prospection fundamentally reshapes our understandings. We are much more likely to be successful if we can anticipate and invest our time effectively and efficiently—it’s vital to how we manage in life. Two quick examples:

  • He suggests that food deprivation can give a creature hunger and an urge to eat—but anticipation can intelligently regulate enabling a creature to avoid hunger in the first place.
  • The same is true in competition: anticipating your competitor’s next step gives you a critical advantage.

I also believe Industry Engagement is critical because these are the employers of tomorrow. How can Educators prepare youth for an ever-changing economy if they don’t understand the newest needs of the 21st-century workforce? Industry and Academia need to align and revisit what requirements and skills are essential to succeed. Otherwise, educators are shooting in the dark, and youth will fall critically behind, be underemployed and unmotivated.

Project-Based Mentorship ® is a form of knowledge transfer. As learners take on new knowledge, there are myriad ways of inputs and outtakes. “Learning by Doing, Learning from Doers” taps into a practical, hands-on methodology. Here’s how, now you try. A mentor is not a judge, an authority, or a person that grades you—instead, the relationship mimics a respectful work relationship, a collaborator. A person with whom you can play devil’s advocate, ask questions and exchange ideas. In so many professional fields there are apprenticeships, fellowships; I’m suggesting this becomes a more broadened institutional method for learning –from true practitioners with field experience. Indeed, with 20+ years under my belt and countless student letters, I know we broaden a youth’s capacity to see themselves through a mentor’s eyes and to give them new confidence to try in the face of adversity. In other words, mentors are motivators.

Project Orientation is also critical. There is a whole school of educational best practices on Project Based Learning. It is designed to engage students in the investigation of authentic problems; it affects motivation in learning. Indeed, learning sticks when it is connected to something students understand to be important to their lives, something where they are truly invested. When others are always calling the shots and telling youth what to do, students feel powerless. But anyone willing to learn directly from reality, rather than complying with a widely accepted narrative, is in a position to innovate, critically think, expand on ideas, and be an active contributor.

As Aunt Addie Norton said in Singin’, Praisin’, Raisin’: “I tell you one thing-if you learn to do it yourself, if you have to get down and dig for it, it never leaves you. It stays there as long as you live because you had to dig it out of the mud.”

A mentor is not a judge, an authority, or a person that grades you—instead the relationship mimics a respectful work relationship, a collaborator.

Patty Alper

Research and Development – Why Corporations Participate

I have often been asked why corporations should expend the resources on mentorship programs—including programs that exist within their walls, and those that expand outwardly to the community. And in both cases, my answer is the same: because everyone, including the mentors, the mentees, and the corporation, will benefit. Employees will develop leadership skills and stronger working relationships, they will become part of something bigger, and they will grow professionally. And corporations will see more employee engagement, retention, happiness, and even increased community relations.

I can say this because over the course of my own 35-year career, as well as decades of hands-on mentoring myself, I personally witnessed the tremendous benefits. And then I started interviewing dozens of corporations and researching the value of mentorship within corporate cultures and communities, creating a mentorship program that was adopted nationally. I also spent countless hours researching and writing Teach to Work. I can attest to how careers and lives have been permanently changed, and how corporations have implemented programs only to find the positive ripple effect that touch nearly every aspect of the company’s business: profitability, employee satisfaction, corporate responsibility, hiring, and corporate image.

Project Based Mentoring Builds Character and Competency

Project Based Mentoring occurs when a mentor and mentee collaborate on a real-world project. And that collaboration lends itself to six important life lessons that embody the mentor/mentee bond.

One of the most important personality traits a mentor brings to the relationship is “if I did it – if I made it through all the struggles and bumps – you can, too.” A mentor shares the peaks and valleys in the road that she went through. And from that relationship, the mentee will also grow confidence in making it through peaks and valleys. To a mentee, the mentor is a tangible, humble, and accessible example of what success can look like. And nearly always, that success didn’t come without flaws and uncertainties. The ideal mentor illustrates that successful people learn how to persevere, and by sharing experiences with the mentee, the mentor builds the mentee’s perseverance.

Second, the ideal mentor suggests in some way, “I’m here to help you – you can count on me – AND, I’ll be back.” Mentor/mentee relationships last for months, years, and sometimes even lifetimes. I still keep in touch with mentees I first connected with over twenty years ago. When a mentee continues to come back for more mentoring, for support, and the mentor responds, the mentor communicates – without words – that people can be reliable. Some people do what they say they are going to do.

Third, a mentoring relationship gives direction. The mentor and mentee work together on projects, and the mentor provides the important perspective of experience: “here’s how I might do this – now what do you think?” This exchange offers skill development opportunities, and the courage to try. And it provides a map of what skills might need to be sharpened while completing the project.

Fourth, a mentoring relationship gives the rare opportunity to witness a healthy, give-and-take dialogue. When troubleshooting a project, the ideal mentor will ask difficult or provoking questions, or simply play devil’s advocate. Mentors may even probe whether a mentee has thought through certain scenarios. What the mentee learns is that workplace dialogues can have a back-and-forth, compromise, and even redirection, all while being respectful. This provides important feedback on how to interact in an office setting without alienating or harshly criticizing others.

The fifth aspect a mentor relationship offers is gentle accountability. A mentor is willing to stand in the role not as a mentee’s judge, and not as a boss. Instead, the mentor should be more like a consultant, a non-judgmental listener. The mentee should feel a slight accountablity – and his consultant, his mentor, wants to see him succeed.

Finally, an ideal mentor wants to hear what the mentee has to say. The mentor volunteers her time and resources to the relationship and through simply listening, makes the mentee feel heard. This simple act builds communications skills and confidence. It allows the mentee to be the leader in respectful intergenerational dialogue.

In summary, I have witnessed the magic that can happen when educators invite Project Based Mentorship® into their classroom. It can be transformative for the mentor and mentee, and it provides countless benefits for the educator and the corporation and the community where they reside together.

Patty Alper is president of the Alper Portfolio Group, a marketing and consulting company, and is a board member of both the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and US2020, the White House initiative to build mentorship in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers.

A Vision for Transformative Education

By: Carla Marschall and Elizabeth Crawford

Excerpt from Worldwise Learning: A Teacher’s Guide to Shaping a Just, Sustainable Future (2021, Corwin)

Today, globalization has furthered interconnectedness on our planet, often with catastrophic impacts: climate change, food and water insecurity, extreme poverty, and now a global pandemic. Warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, sea-level rise, and ocean acidification are leading to a whole host of issues such as flooding, extreme weather, and biodiversity loss (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2021). By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach nearly 10 billion people, limiting the Earth’s capacity to produce adequate food, space, and other resources (UN Environment Programme, 2020). Such far-reaching issues cannot be solved by a single individual or even a single country. Global challenges can only be improved together, through communication, cooperation and commitment. They also call for an innovative approach to education that prepares students as knowledgeable, compassionate, and engaged global citizens (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, 2014).

Competency Swiss Army knife
Competency Swiss Army Knife: From Worldwise Learning

Worldwise Learning presents a vision for transformative education, one that allows us to collectively rise from the ashes of trauma and loss caused by recent events. It unpacks what it means to educate in the context of our complex world. While recognizing that globalization has in many cases increased levels of inequality, promoted consumption, and made dominant voices louder, our aim is to consider how we can co-construct humane, democratic classrooms within this context. Learning encourages children to seek solutions to problems they face. Learning that fosters students’ emotional connection, personal well-being, and reverence for the natural world. Learning that demands students participate actively in their communities. Such learning matters. It is authentic, purposeful, relevant, and engaging. It builds and improves neighborhoods. It prepares learners to navigate an unknown future. Through such teaching, we communicate a key message: to learn is to hope. Learning is a light, which can guide us through times of darkness.

Global Competence: Transforming Learning to Action

Despite the challenges communities face today, education can empower children and youth to find practical, scalable solutions that balance human needs with the needs of the environment. When we ask students to meaningfully apply their learning to complex issues, global competence emerges. The mobilization of learning to meet complex demands (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2018b), competency bridges the gap between student learning and student action. We can think of a competency like a Swiss Army knife. Faced with a particular novel or complex context, we can draw from our knowledge, skills, understandings, and dispositions like a set of tools that can be combined for a purpose. Cooking dinner at the campsite? Get out your can opener, knife, and corkscrew. Fixing the tent? Use your screwdriver, pliers, and wood saw. And as we know from camping, they’re very handy to have in your back pocket.

Worldwise Learning presents a vision for transformative education, one that allows us to collectively rise from the ashes of trauma and loss caused by recent events. It unpacks what it means to educate in the context of our complex world.

Carla Marschall & Elizabeth Crawford

Pedagogy for People, Planet, and Prosperity

In this book, we propose a Pedagogy for People, Planet, and Prosperity to nurture students’ abilities to think critically with compassion, to explore alternative futures, and to take action to ensure their own, others, and the planet’s well-being. Simply stated: to make decisions that support a just, peaceful, and sustainable future. When we hear the word sustainability, particular stereotypical images may spring to mind: recycling bins, solar panels, organic fruits, and vegetables. Yet our understanding of teaching for a sustainable future has transformed. Hedefalk, Almqvist, and Östman (2015) describe this shift saying: 

“[It] has evolved from teaching children facts about the environment and sustainability issues to educating children to act for change. This new approach reveals a more competent child who can think for him- or herself and make well-considered decisions. The decisions are made by investigating and participating in critical discussions about alternative ways of acting for change (Extract from Abstract).”

When engaged as critical thinkers and conscientious citizens, students engage in sustainable development to “[meet] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987, p. 15). Economic prosperity is necessary for communities to thrive. However, our students must understand that growth must balance planetary impacts, the protection of human rights, and individual and collective well-being. It is only by bringing together these three pillars—people, planet, and prosperity—that we can create a sustainable future that benefits all.

Achieving such a vision requires a different kind of learning. If global competence is the versatile application of learning to navigate complex issues, students need to be presented with rich learning experiences that require them to problem-solve. They need to be nudged into that territory, where they feel challenged to use their learning with adaptability. Such learning nurtures students’ holistic well-being, peaceful relationships with others, and appreciation for nature. In other words, simply understanding an issue is not enough. We want learners to feel genuine concern and love for the world around them. We want learners to view themselves as capable and competent in affecting positive, long-lasting change. We want them to live their learning with intention and purpose. Such students are hopeful, instead of despondent. They understand that individual actions do indeed make a difference. We call these students Worldwise Learners.

Carla Marschall is an experienced educator, curriculum developer, and pedagogical leader, who has worked in a variety of leadership roles in international schools in Switzerland, Germany, Hong Kong, and Singapore over the past ten years. She currently works as the Director of Teaching & Learning at UWC South East Asia, with the mission to make “education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.”

Elizabeth O. Crawford is a teacher educator, author, researcher, and curriculum designer specializing in global education. She has taught in a variety of school contexts, including elementary and middle schools in France and the United States. Currently an Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Elizabeth supports educators as they nurture in students a sense of empathy, responsibility, and concern for self, others, and the environment.

Well-Being Matters: An Index to Measure Student Thriving

By: Angela Duckworth

According to Google Ngram, which tracks the popularity of words and phrases in books, well-being is having a moment.

But the moment, I think, will last the millennia. Because a concern for well-being is not a passing fad—it’s a permanent transformation.

Source: Google Books Ngram Viewer

Around the globe, policymakers are prioritizing well-being. Why? Because our lived experience as human beings matters as much as the bales of cotton, kilowatts of energy, and gigabytes of information that we, as a society, produce each year.

And the pandemic has only added to the concern, for adults and children alike. How are the young people in your life feeling right now? Are they thriving, languishing, or somewhere in between? Do you know?

Because you cannot manage what you cannot measure, Character Lab created the Student Thriving Index. Administered each fall, winter, and spring using Qualtrics to over 100,000 middle and high school students nationwide, this self-report questionnaire separately indexes social, emotional, and academic dimensions of well-being.

Here are some of the questions:

In your school, do you feel like you fit in?
In your school, is there an adult you can turn to for support or advice?
How happy have you been feeling these days?
Do you feel like you can succeed in your classes if you try?

While keeping individual student responses confidential, we aggregate responses at the school level to create dynamic dashboards for the educators in our network. At a glance, schools can see how the young people in their community are feeling.

Researchers use the same anonymized data to answer urgent such questions as what is the effect of remote schooling on adolescent well-being? (Answer: not good).

Some might argue that well-being is for wimps. I don’t think so. The hardest-working people I know care a great deal about their own well-being and that of others, too. You’re far from your best when you feel isolated, sad, insecure, or bored. And the country of Finland, famous for its gritty culture, is also the happiest country in the world.

Don’t think that going back to school means leaving feelings behind. It is only possible to keep calm and carry on when we feel seen, heard, and cared about.

Do use the Student Thriving Index as a conversation starter with the young people in your life. Consider answering the questions yourself, too. What’s most important is what happens next, which is talking about why you each answered the way you do. Let well-being have its moment—it deserves our attention.

With grit and gratitude,


Angela Duckworth is the Founder and CEO of Character Lab. She is also the Rosa Lee and Egbert Chang Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, faculty co-director of the Penn-Wharton Behavior Change for Good Initiative, and faculty co-director of Wharton People Analytics

The Four C’s of Student Success

By: Stephanie Malia Krauss

In communities across the country, education administrators are opening their schools with a focus on these four C’s:

  • COVID-19 protocols
  • Compliance requirements
  • Calendars and class schedules
  • Content knowledge catch-up

More than ever, district and building leaders are puzzle masters, magicians in mayhem, and solvers of complex riddles. The 4C’s of reopening schools suck up time and energy. When one thing is finished, another gets added. Demands around these 4C’s have kept leaders away from other priorities that ensure our schools and students succeed.

Thanks to the pandemic, many class lists, and master calendars have been finished, only to need to be redone. Complying with school improvement plans feels impossible. In pre-COVID times, it made sense to say all teachers would offer hands-on learning and flexible seating. Those seem hard to do while practicing safe social distancing.

While these 4C’s will keep our school doors open, they will not ensure our students learn and grow.

Education administrators need to lead with two ends in mind: keep schools open and keep students learning. To make this second piece happen, leaders must embrace a different “4C’s.” Without them, students might show up when the calendar says, attend assigned classes and courses, stay COVID-free, but not learn or grow in the ways they should.

To succeed this year and beyond, these are the 4C’s students need:

  • Competencies
  • Connections
  • Credentials
  • Cash

Given how many demands compete for educators’ time, it may be easiest to fold these four currencies into discussions and decisions already underway.

The 4C’s of student success must be pursued with as much attention, passion and focus as the 4C’s of reopening schools.

Stehpanie Malia Krauss

Competencies are abilities that help students function in the world, including at school. Competencies are highly interdependent; when one is out of balance, the rest are too. They can be taught, practiced, and strengthened. They can also be depleted. Students need competencies in different combinations and quantities, depending on who they are and what they are doing.

Research on youth readiness, adolescence, and learning points to ten competencies that matter most. These are being able to focus and get things done; being able to think and create; applying learning; problem-solving and decision making; getting and staying fit; feeling and expressing emotions; persisting through struggles; sustaining positive relationships; being present, and using insights to grow and develop.

To prioritize competency development, elevate and invest in social-emotional learning, deeper learning, and career pathways programs. These should be schoolwide strategies, rather than being slated for a single class (e.g., health, life skills), academic unit, or a subset of students. Leaders can encourage teachers to design ways to plan and assess with competencies in mind. Consider using ESSER funds designated for “learning recovery” to support partnerships with youth development providers who can do this work with you.

Connections are the relationships that support students’ social health and wealth. There are three kinds of relationships students need: lifelines, door openers, and navigators. Lifelines help students feel safe, supported, and secure. Door openers introduce students to new options and opportunities. Navigators help students make sense of a place or situation. Since COVID-19 started, the social vibrancy of students’ lives has taken a hit. This has been hardest for tweens and teens because they are wired to connect. It’s how their brains learn, work, and process life. Because of this, education leaders must design learning environments so that students have ample opportunities to socialize and be in healthy relationships with others.

To prioritize connections, consider where students are free to interact and engage with others. Make sure those are available to every student. Add additional opportunities for positive socialization into the school day. Assess your extracurricular and enrichment offerings and make sure these socially rich environments are ones that all students can access, afford, and attend – especially since COVID-19 has changed many families’ circumstances.

Credentials are more than diplomas and four-year degrees. Learning after high school is changing rapidly. Today in the US, there are more than 600,000 different postsecondary credentials available. Not only are there more credentialing possibilities, but the pricing and quality among them are hugely variable.

To prioritize credentials, focus on making sure high school graduation requirements and college and career counseling reflect what students really need after graduation. Consider ways for high school and counseling staff to get professional development on the changing postsecondary landscape, both education and the workforce. Activate partnerships with local post-secondary education institutions and employers. Ensure students and their families have up-to-date information and advice when making postsecondary plans.

Cash matters. We know this personally, but often forget it when making decisions about students in school. However, when students experience financial scarcity, it hinders their ability to focus and learn. Things get worse when students live in financial crisis or poverty. Additionally, there are key learning and developmental opportunities reserved for students with financial means. This includes school sports, band, theater, and the arts. Students need support and resources to succeed in school when money is tight or when they experience poverty. All students should be able to participate in any school activity, regardless of economics.

To prioritize cash, leaders must have ways to support students when they experience cash scarcity or crisis. They also must ensure school activities are available to every student, regardless of financial means. Public school can be expensive. Between student fees, supply requirements, and associated costs of playing sports or participating in extracurricular programs, out-of-pocket costs can be thousands of dollars each year. This is another area where recovery funds can help. Just like making meals free for students, consider waiving student and activity fees this year (and forward, if you can).

Education leaders have been asked to run districts and schools in an impossible time of risk, division, and uncertainty. Even so, this is the third year of disrupted learning students have experienced, during periods of critical growth and development. The 4C’s of student success must be pursued with as much attention, passion, and focus as the 4C’s of reopening schools. It is hard and complex work, but necessary for our students’ well-being and well-becoming.

Stephanie Malia Krauss is author of Making It: What Today’s Kids Need for Tomorrow’s World. She is the founder of First Quarter Strategies, a senior advisor with Job For the Future, senior fellow with Education Northwest, and staff consultant with the Youth Transition Funders Group. Stephanie is an educator and social worker, with experience as a classroom teacher and school leader.