Phonological Awareness: The Number One Predictor of Reading Success

By: Jeanne Jeup

“Phonological awareness is an awareness that the words that we speak can be taken apart, and phonological refers to the sound system of language. We do it with our ears, not with sight; it is a broad term that encompasses language in chunks; it happens before kids even understand that letters stand for sounds – Margie Gillis, Ed.D., literacy expert who teaches kids with Dyslexia, President, Literacy How

For many of us, learning to read seems like something that just happened overnight. One day our parents were reading us to us, then like magic, with enough repetition, we just started to read the words on the page.

But learning to read is not automatic and it happens way before kids understand that letters stand for sounds; children start learning to read by gaining a language skill called phonological awareness (PA).  

The Struggle to Read and Myths Behind Dyslexia

Up to 50% of children require direct, or explicit, instruction to learn to read proficiently, while up to 15% of children require explicit instruction to learn to read. Explicit instruction is presented in a sequential format, which provides children with the review and consistent practice that allow them to encode (spell) and decode (read) with ease.

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) indicates that instruction for students with dyslexia or other reading disabilities should include Structured Literacy™ programs, an explicit, systematic, and cumulative reading program. It integrates listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

There are some common myths and misconceptions about individuals who have dyslexia. Decoding Dyslexia, a grassroots parent group, helps break down some of these myths.

The first is that dyslexia is rare. In fact, Dyslexia affects 1 in 5 people, according to 25+ years of research by the National Institutes of Health and Studies at Yale University. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that dyslexia is the most common learning disability, accounting for 80% of all learning disabilities.

Another myth is that children with dyslexia will outgrow it. In fact, children do not outgrow dyslexia. Dyslexia can be remediated by the right kind of instruction, but symptoms do not go away just because a child grows up. Children with dyslexia grow up to be adults with dyslexia.

And finally, the most common myth is that people with dyslexia see things backwards. In actuality, people with dyslexia see things just like everyone else. They do have trouble with directionality and often have difficulty finding the right names for things. Although people with dyslexia may write letters and numbers backwards, not all do. Plus, this is considered “normal” through the end of first grade. Children with dyslexia actually have trouble processing and manipulating the sounds of language.

If these students are taught with systematic, explicit, multi-sensory instruction, reading will improve; and, once success is found with phonemic awareness and phonics (Reading Foundational Skills), theses students can begin to master fluency, which is a bridge to deeper levels of reading, vocabulary, and comprehension.

What is PA and What Does it Have to Do With Reading?

Phonological awareness is the understanding that our spoken language is made up of words, and our words are made up of individual units of sounds called phonemes (Zgonc, 2010). It is a broad skill that includes identifying and manipulating units of oral language. It includes all of the skills that make up the concept of a spoken word, rhyme, syllables, phonemes, and phoneme manipulation.

Consider the following examples:

“Susie sells seashells down by the seashore” – this is an example of an alliteration.

Eric Carle’s,” “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See? I see a little frog looking at me.” – this is an example of a nursery rhyme.

Words are made up of sound parts, called syllables. For example: Mag-ni-fi-cent (4 syllables) El-e-phant (3 syllables) – Tur-key (2 syllables) and Shoe (1 syllable).

Phonemic awareness is the recognition that words are composed of phonemes (sounds), which have distinct articulatory features (Armbruster, 2001). It is the foundation for reading and lets young readers recognize and work with the sounds of spoken language.

What is a Phoneme and Why Do You Need Them for Reading Success

We grow up learning there are 26 letters in the alphabet. So naturally, one would think there are 26 letter sounds. But there are approximately 44 letter sounds, and they are made up of something called phonemes. In addition, those 44 sounds can be spelled 250 different ways (e.g., /k/ as in c, k, ck, ch, que). Unless explicitly taught and practiced, it can be challenging to hear individual sounds within words and individual words within sentences. Most of us have never heard of phonemes, unless one becomes a reading teacher (and even some reading teachers have never heard of them.) A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in spoken language, whereas a letter is the smallest part in written words. ​​

Phonemes and letters do not always maintain a one-to-one correspondence. For example, the word “have” has three phonemes (/h/ /a/ /v/) but four letters, whereas the word “cat” has three letters and three phonemes (/k/ /a/ /t/).

Phonological awareness helps children understand the alphabetic principle (letters have names and sounds that form words). One must have the ability to hear and manipulate oral sound patterns before they can be related to print (Fitzpatrick, 1997). That’s why most elementary children’s books often start with books that include some form of “A is for apple”, and “B is for Book.”

It is the foundation for reading and lets young readers recognize and work with the sounds of spoken language.

Jeanne Jeup

Phonological awareness enhances the ability for children to decode, which is a key skill for learning to read. According to Understood.org, decoding a word, requires a person to know:

  • Which sound or sounds each letter makes, like how a g sounds in goose (the /g/ phoneme) and how it sounds in gel (the /j/ phoneme)
  • How to take apart the sounds in a word and blend them. For example, with jam, the first sound is /j/, the next sound is /ă/, and the last sound is /m/. Then slowly blend them in “jjjaamm.”
  • How groups of letters can work together to make a single sound, like sh in fish. Kids learn these kinds of letter patterns when they study phonics. This is called a digraph phoneme – /sh/ –. Digraphs form when two consonants work together to create a completely different sound, most often seen at the start or end of a word.

Phonemic awareness and proficiency is integral to becoming a successful reader; it is a critical cognitive skill needed to store words for immediate, effortless retrieval, an awareness that sound (phonemes) make up words and those phonemes have distinct articulatory features. Most adults don’t have to think twice about how to sound out a word because we store these words in permanent memory, which requires phoneme-level skills. Phonics is when those sounds are connected to letters and the sound symbol correspondences/ connections are being made which leads to orthographic mapping.

Phoneme awareness difficulties are the most common problem for students who struggle — the vast majority of students with word recognition difficulties lack sufficient phoneme awareness (Kilpatrick, Chapter 4, Equipped for Reading Success, 2016).

Back to Basics – We Must Build Phonological Awareness Skills in Kids

The basic skills of PA – the concept of a spoken word, rhyming, alliteration, and syllable segmentation – can begin in preschool. Reading stories that contain rhyming words and alliteration, as well as engaging students in activities that promote these skills, builds phonological awareness.

Starting in kindergarten, formal instruction in phonological awareness for all students should begin in order to prevent or minimize potential reading difficulties. This should continue throughout the first and second grades. Students who did not receive proper instruction or need continued instruction may require additional one-on-one support.

Some of us threw the baby out with the bathwater through the growth of the ‘whole language’ movement in the United States, which is the idea that children construct their own knowledge and meaning from experience. There was an assumption that teaching kids phonics wasn’t necessary because learning to read was a natural process if children were immersed in a print-rich environment. But learning to read proficiently for many students requires explicit, systematic, and sequential techniques that are the hallmark of effective literacy education in the modern classroom.

Jeanne Jeup is a global literacy advocate, mother, and co-founder, the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education (IMSE).


A Spatial Paradigm for Thriving Learners

By: Nathan Strenge

In our last Getting Smart article, we introduced six elements of thriving learners (pictured above). Using six school images, we examined how each thriving element is manifested in the physical environment, as well as its impact. Alone, each element adds tremendous value to learners’ experiences.  Combined, they provide the necessary preconditions for learners to thrive. However, when applied within the context of an overarching spatial paradigm that is designed to help foster each element, the benefit is exponential.

In this article, we will attempt to define a spatial paradigm that helps schools effectively create the conditions to foster the six thriving elements – we will call this the Thriving Paradigm. When defining something for the first time, it’s helpful to contrast it with something known. Thus, we will juxtapose the Thriving Paradigm with the spatial model that most readers of this publication experienced growing up, which we will call the Conventional Paradigm.

A Quick Note on Paradigms

Because we have chosen to use the term paradigm, we’d like to pause to reflect on the definition of this word and provide context for using it. Collins English Dictionary defines paradigm as: “a model for something that explains it or shows how it can be produced.”

There is nothing inherently good or bad about a paradigm. A paradigm typically arises to meet the needs of a specific set of circumstances. The conventional school spatial paradigm arose in the 20th-century to respond to a demand for bigger schools that could meet the needs of a growing student population. Two major events preceded this demand.  First, by 1918 all states had passed legislation requiring that all American children were required to attend at least Elementary School (source), making one room schoolhouses less practical. Secondly, post-WWII America witnessed booming populations and an increasing push for a baseline of literacy. As such, the conventional paradigm was a response that largely met the context of the time.

We, at Fielding International, want to be abundantly clear. We are not suggesting that it is impossible to have a great school that uses the conventional spatial paradigm. We know high-quality learning can happen inside conventional environments, and incredible educators around the world overcome spatial barriers every day. However, if we have different priorities for our schools in the 21st-century, and the environment can be designed to bring about those priorities, it is only natural that a different paradigm should arise.

With that, let’s explore the transformation from the Conventional Paradigm to the Thriving Paradigm.

From… The school building operates as a series of segregated, fixed learning spaces

To… The school building operates as a fluid environment of connected, agile learning spaces

In the Thriving Paradigm, learners are not stuck inside the walls of a set classroom environment. They experience diverse and adaptive spaces that support different kinds of learning goals, experiences, and accomplishments. Permeable, flexible spaces allow students to extend the reach of their learning beyond what a single, fixed classroom can offer. The kind of fluid, agile use of space that characterizes the Thriving Paradigm is not the same as what the Open School Movement of the 1970s came to mean. In that movement, openness, or lack of structure, often ended up being a kind of end in itself, as if taking away structure would cause learning to bloom. In the Thriving Paradigm, spaces are intentionally designed to match students’ varying learning needs, strengths, and interests and the school’s curricular goals. The physical environment is not simply unstructured; it is deliberately curated and cultivated to foster learners’ thriving. In the Thriving Paradigm, moreover, multiple and permeable spaces are carefully linked together, so learners don’t simply meander from one spot to the next but move with purpose and clear expectations.

At the International School of Brussels, the connected campus contributes to a culture of collaboration and high expectations.

From… A classroom-based approach to learning

To… A community-based approach to learning

Recognizing that young people are part of many nested communities (in and out of school), physical space can function to either isolate or catalyze relationships within these communities. As much as we can, we want to create structures that allow young people to build strong and meaningful relationships with teachers, peers, and outside-of-school community members. The Learning Community Design Pattern is a key pillar of the Thriving Paradigm as it allows both teachers and students to work and learn in relationship-centered environments. A community-based approach doesn’t limit learning to the walls of the school building but rather seeks ways to actualize anytime, anywhere learning.

A Learning Suite nested inside a Learning Community hosts an advisory group going through a morning circle routine.

From… Corridors function as arteries to get from one place to another

To… Corridors function as diverse learning spaces that foster connectivity and collaboration  

One of the biggest surprises I experienced when I started learning about school design – hallways can take up to 30% of the overall area of a school! To think that these spaces haven’t traditionally been seen as learning spaces… such a waste. In the Thriving Paradigm, corridors become dynamic places with excellent natural light, walkability, family-size groupings of small lockers, and embedded learning zones. In addition to contributing to a more connected and relationship-centered campus, this part of the paradigm shift dramatically increases the utilization rate, meaning buildings can be smaller and less expensive with a reduced carbon footprint.

The combination of small locker groupings, well-selected furniture, beautiful vistas, and accessible Learning Studios with garage doors make the corridors a place to be.
For those looking to do a small spatial pilot with an immediate impact, check out the Design Pattern Active Hallway.

From… School safety is mostly focused on building security

To… School safety takes a holistic approach that addresses building security and each student’s mental, physical, & social-emotional health

Schools can maintain physical building security through best practices like layered access, multiple egresses, and the ability to lockdown learning communities. But, school safety that doesn’t consider the holistic health and well-being of the individuals in the environment simply isn’t good enough for our students and teachers. With our deeper understanding of how trauma impacts learning, the ongoing reality of youth mental challenges, and teacher burnout, it’s never been more important to create holistically safe school environments for learners of all ages.

The secure front doors at Schiffer Collaborative High School are part of an entry sequence that is warm and welcoming for students, staff, and visitors alike.

From… Outdoor spaces are primarily used for recess and sports

To… Outdoor spaces are seen as essential places to learn, connect with nature, and engage in physical activity

In discovery visits that we’ve done with young people all over the world, one of the two most common desires we hear is more outdoor learning (the other is more small, intimate spaces). Pairing this desire with the myriad of health, wellness, and educational benefits that result from connecting with nature, it’s a no-brainer for schools to shift mindsets and create spaces that get kids learning outdoors.

Garden beds, age-appropriate patio furniture, and a shaded pavilion make this outdoor space at Shorecrest Prep a regular part of a young learners’ daily experience.

From… Institutional, static furniture & fixtures that tend to support lots of sitting and obedience

To… Comfortable, diverse, and agile furniture & fixtures that tends to support more movement and choice

The way we furnish our learning spaces says a lot about our priorities for how the space will be used. While rows of institutional desks where students sit for most of the day are no longer en vogue, many of today’s schools still lack the diversity of spaces and furnishings that support genuine student agency and social-emotional learning.

In this Learning Studio (modern classroom) at Eden Park Elementary School, students have many options to sit (or stand) to meet their real-time needs.

From… Good lighting and acoustics are seen as a luxury

To… Good lighting (especially natural light throughout the school) and acoustics are prioritized

Historically speaking, citadels didn’t have good natural lighting. There was a reason for this: it made the structure more defensible. Throughout the 20th-century, three-building types, unfortunately, continued the tradition of the inward orientation of these historical fortresses: shopping malls, prisons, and schools. Early in my work with Fielding International, I asked Randy Fielding what he believed to be the most important feature of a good design school. He surprised me by saying “good lighting.” The more I’ve walked through windowless hallways and classrooms with uniform fluorescent lamps, the more I get his point. And as any teacher who has been in noisy open environments can attest to, good acoustics are critically important.

The generous floor to ceiling and clerestory windows bring in an abundance of natural light to this Learning Commons at Norma Rose Point School

From…The physical environment lacks a strong sense of local ethos, often isolated from the rest of the surrounding community

To… The physical environment embodies local values and context, often aiming to become more of a whole community asset

A school can feel like it’s an integrated part of the community it serves. The structure itself can blend with local elements, like Strathcona Tweedsmuir below using the angled roof peaks and organic material and patterns to feel part of the natural world around it. Schools can incorporate locally-sourced natural materials for both environmental and wellness benefits. Through space and programming, creative schools actively seek opportunities to become a vibrant community hub that welcomes a wide and diverse part of the community. In doing so, they bring in local connections and make learning for the young people they serve more authentic and relevant.

Strathcona Tweedsmuir was designed to nestle in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies.
Schools looking to ground learning in authentic, relevant learning and create wraparound services can consider the Joint, Shared, & Integrated design pattern.

Bring the Thriving Paradigm Home

If you are someone who wants to move towards a spatial paradigm that aligns with your commitment to thriving kids, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’ve worked with school communities in over 50 countries with a wide range of available resources and readiness, and we are happy to provide guidance to identify the next steps that work best for you.

Author’s note: I want to thank Cierra Mantz and Glen Fielding for the incredible collaboration in editing and offering suggestions to bring the Thriving Paradigm alive.

Nathan Strenge is a Senior Learning Designer at Fielding International, USA Country Lead at HundrED, and Founding Board Chair of Exploration High School. He can be reached at [email protected] or found on LinkedIn.


Work-Based Learning Ecosystems: Improving Opportunity for All

Every year, 3.7 million students graduate from American high schools, and most head directly into the workforce, the military or a postsecondary learning experience. In June, 2021, 8.7 million Americans were unemployed while 10.1 million job openings were reported. While some of this mismatch may be due to geographic isolation or unemployment benefits, much of it has to do with an accelerating skills and experience gap due to a rapidly adapting workplace. Jobs exist; requisite skills and experience do not.

Too many young people are entering the workforce without the skills, knowledge and experiences required by employers and too few schools offer real-world work-based learning (WBL) experiences to their students. This deficit leads to significant numbers of families unable to earn a sustaining income. These numbers are even further amplified in families led by women, Black, Latino, Hispanic, and individuals without high school degrees.

A new white paper written by Getting Smart and powered by GPS Education Partners was published with a goal to advance the case for equitable WBL models for all through an ecosystem approach that is scalable and sustainable. It also shares that by partnering with intermediaries to build and integrate resilient and scalable work-based learning models, communities can imagine a future of WBL that works for all.

Work-based Learning Ecosystems: Improving Opportunity for All by Integrating School, Community and Workplace includes:

  • A short synthesis around the challenges, solutions and research surrounding WBL
  • Details about the core ecosystem that incorporates the three critical partners in scalable WBL models
  • An analysis of the different types of WBL relative to the ecosystem model
  • A set of recommendations and starting points to empower community groups to start the journey toward a robust WBL program

Work-based Learning Ecosystems helps make the case for WBL and the rich examples included provide a clear starting point for communities interested in developing an innovative, sustainable and scalable WBL program.

When WBL programs are successful, everyone benefits. Learners thrive, employers have access to a well-developed workforce, and communities as a whole become more resilient in this complex and uncertain world.


Education’s New and Necessary Narrative

By: Matt Piercy

While many in northern latitudes find themselves in frigid climates for the winter holiday, I stand amidst a humid forest. Though I do not pretend to fully comprehend the intricacies of science, I know how beneath my feet there is a complex underground web of communication. One pre-existing the world wide web, some in jocularity calling it the “wood wide web.” Ultimately it drowns my mind in mysticism by how it exactly functions. Roots, mycorrhizal fungi, and bacteria all “speaking” to each other, connect the life I look upon. “A tremendous amount can be learned from this,” I think to myself. How might this tether to learning and be of benefit to the future of education?”

Seemingly, our schools are affixed to economic and political systems fraught in everything but the natural world. Juggernauts of touted innovation, much distance remains from reaching any sort of tipping point. Yet, there appears to be some rising levels of consciousness, where practices and models are beginning to be implemented in answer to the question, “What does the world need most?” And as an educator myself, I remain hopeful that education as we have known it for the past 150 years will be transformed. Interdependence and connectedness are possibly as fundamental to this “revolution” as food, shelter, or any of our other physiological needs.

Human-Centered Education, The Path Forward

A peremptory search for “methodologies of education” results in 26 different approaches. Of keen interest are place-based, nature-based, and sustainability-based learning, all three aligning with what some might call human-centered education. Going beyond even this, might be ideals of biocentrism and holding all life in equal moral standing. Whatever the case, such methodologies aim to positively impact the quality of life for all. Not only is this a noble reason for education, but there is a fittingness for the times in which we are living. Author Jeremy Lent suggests how education could be re-envisioned so its “goal is to transform from preparing students for the corporate marketplace to cultivating in students the discernment and emotional maturity required to fulfill their life’s purpose as valued members of society.” Lent, a former internet company CEO, and award-winning author, is described by Guardian journalist George Monibiot as one of the greatest thinkers of our age. “Cultivating in students the discernment and emotional maturity required to fulfill their life’s purpose.” Could there be any more of a meaningful shift in the purpose of our schools? It is revolutionary but also plausible.

Phasing out the horse for urban transportation and rural labor took but 50 years. On a larger scale and protracted over many more years, is how societies transitioned from foraging to farming. In either case, the “impossible” became reality. Historians argue that pivotal changes such as these did not just randomly happen. They required foresight and were set into motion with great intention. So too, education can change its “operating system.” From industrial models confounded upon compliance to experiences much more human and rooted in the natural world. Models of empowerment, purpose, and contribution, where technology does not use us but where we use technology to move society forward. As tools to connect, not to distract or divide.

Interdependence and connectedness are possibly as fundamental to this “revolution” as food, shelter or any of our other physiological needs.

Matt Piercy

Intentionality Central in Paving Way for a New Paradigm

Before rushing headstrong into adopting technology, we are wise to always question: how might technology support the methodology we are using? Dr. Lisa Marie Blaschk, program lead for the online Home Hub at Learnlife in Barcelona, Spain considers this conversation a mainstay of how technology is intentionally used. “Tech should never be seen as the answer to educational needs, but always as a means for supporting learning.” Having worked for the last two decades as a researcher and teacher on distance education and online learning, Dr. Blaschk emphasizes how the use of tech is to support the learner’s pathway in providing some initial structure until s/he can begin to direct and determine learning. “Further, tech is utilized to support development of relationships with learners, for dialogue, for communication, and for providing learning structures/pathways.” A salient point remains, the use of technology is intentional.  

Another example juxtaposing the past with the future, is being set by the decentralized Amish, a religious group who immigrated to the US in the 1700s. Alex Mayyasi regards how the Amish make slow and deliberate decisions as a collective. “Rather than rushing optimistically or blindly into the future, they move forward cautiously.” Mayyasi cites Donald Kraybill, professor of Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, in The Riddle of Amish Culture (1989),  “The Amish adopt technology selectively, hoping that the tools they use will build community rather than harm it.”

Nature’s Original AI

Not surprisingly, technology is not atop the list of top 10 job skills of tomorrow. According to The World Economic Forum, critical thinking and problem solving however are. Thinking about and solving problems like how to integrate technology is paramount. Surely, greater adoption of technology will remain important yet, “newly emerging this year are skills in self-management such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility.” Nature definitely attests to these same skills, with wisdom that supersedes our imagination. One such example is the brilliance of single-cell slime molds. Stephanie Pappas published in LiveScience, “New research finds that slime molds, goopy and rather uncharismatic organisms that lack a nervous system, can adapt to a repulsive stimulus and then pass on that adaptation by fusing with one another.” Lent referred to such capabilities as being “beyond the most advanced supercomputer” and what he calls the original AI, Animate Intelligence.  

Before I step out of the forest, I take in one last deep breath. Trees like these are inaccurately reported to produce 20 percent of the world’s oxygen, yet through an exaggerated figure, I still feel an overwhelming sense of optimism. Beneath my feet exists an uncharted neural network working in harmony. Where but one teaspoon of soil contains many miles of fungal filaments. More microbes than there are people on this planet! The word “possibility” is of the utmost essence as I consider the panoply of positive directions educational systems can take. The current narrative is decaying, soon to be replaced by one much more in balance. Where compassion, interrelatedness, and systems thinking are integral. One where we no longer are separate, in search for the forest through the trees. Rather, we recognize our being interrelated with the natural world and build learning around this principle. We are the trees! The choice is ours.

Matt Piercy works at the International School Bangkok. You can follow him on Twitter @mpiercy35.


So You Designed a Profile of a Graduate, Now What?

Your district, with community input and participation, has recently completed your Profile of a Graduate, (sometimes also known as a Graduate Profile or Learner Profile) now what? The ‘now what’ question is essential. If this is not acted upon, then it will join other missed opportunities like mission statements that collect dust. The act of creating a shared vision for graduates serves as a starting point to define a learner-centered system. This is the North Star and sets the future aspiration for the work ahead.

The first step is to co-author a shared vision for graduates with your community stakeholders. From there, we recommend the following considerations as a way to make your vision a reality.  

Review and share out the Profile of a Graduate (POG) with the community at large and share that you will be setting a course to achieve this goal.

  • Share that you will update them on growth and next steps.
  • Plan on stakeholder events as ways to share and gather information and feedback.
  • Work with a communications team or department to make the POG accessible and on the website.
  • Share in the ownership of this work and enlist a team approach with distributive leadership.

Change Management. The learning culture of an organization has always been extremely important, but it is more critical than ever for our communities and districts. This work is at the forefront to build readiness for change and is a continuous process to revisit as opportunities for growth arise.

  • Driving from your collective commitment to understanding change, design intentional feedback loops and transparent pathways for stakeholders to learn, engage, and co-design.
  • Be clear and transparent with leadership teams to lead with their values, and to actively use these values and outcomes to make decisions, and create the conditions in which they can succeed.
  • Setting the culture for change and growth is essential. Lead with mindset and dispositions toward transformation and lay the groundwork for the path ahead. See toolkit for teachers.

Define success metrics that align with desired outcomes in your profile of a graduate. Review, revise, refine your data collection. Define an aligned assessment platform that supports growth and deeper learning. This will lead to cleaner data collection protocols.

  • Create student, educator, and community surveys that gather input on experiences aligned with your POG.
  • Create expectations for student learning exhibitions and demonstrations of learning to show their growth in the desired outcomes. This is true for all learners.
  • Ensure that the report cards or other reporting mechanisms include metrics that align with your POG in addition to grades or standards reporting. This may require you to seek out other learning management tools to meet this need.
  • Set goals and track leading measures such as student progress, school attendance, discipline referrals, and enrollment.
  • Design aligned performance assessments that will help build an assessment model.

Use your POG as a north star to guide your strategic plan. Your POG needs to be visible and used to guide your strategic priorities and what is no longer needed.

Design or revise your learning model. Is there a clear vision for what learning experiences students should be engaged in that align with your desired outcomes? Do your resources, guides and schedules reflect the learning that you aspire to see in all classrooms? Where is the learning model meeting the need and where is it falling short? Instructional models are most effective when this is co-created or codesigned with a mix of stakeholders.

  • Refine your teaching and learning model. After instructional needs have been determined, align these with professional learning, coaching, and evaluation.
  • Codesign opportunities to help educators create experiences aligned with your learning model. This will be an iterative process as related needs are revealed when refining instructional practices.
  • Review effective strategies in place, highlight them and support teachers to use them.
  • Build off of strengths and strong instructional practices already in place.
  • Review induction and evaluation to make space for educators to try new strategies and evolve their practices.

This is the North Star and sets the future aspiration for the work ahead.

Rebecca Midles and Katie Martin

Create transparent look fors across learning levels. These can be referred to as progressions, or rubrics – essentially competencies – that help guide a system to vertically plan for the acquisition of desired knowledge, skills, and mindsets to be supported for learners across the system. Representation of learning needs from across the system should be at the heart of this work.

  • Make the profile accessible and clear for grade levels or grade bands.
  • Use co-designed look fors to highlight what is work and aspirations, not just checklist
  • Reflective questions on process alongside look fors invite teachers to self-reflect and assess their strengths and their needs for professional learning.
  • Empower students to self-assess and capture evidence of their learning, growth, and next steps.

Build a professional learning system that aligns with your desired outcomes to validate what is working and support new areas of growth and expectations. This is most effective with representation from educators who are fluent in working with learners of varying levels and backgrounds.

  • Engage with teachers to design educator competencies that support the learning model that will help achieve the graduate profile.
  • Create personalized learning pathways with and for teachers to understand where they are and learn based on their needs, context, and goals. Consider micro-credentialing teachers as they develop competency in desired areas.
  • Consider hiring instructional coaches that are either trained or will be trained to coach, advise and support educators.
  • Ensure professional learning time that is consistent and agile to respond to the needs of the system as it grows. This requires additional time that is embedded into the system for teachers to meet, share, collaborate and grow their practice.
  • The system could invest in learning communities across their system for leaders, related providers, paraprofessionals, and other related staff members that serve student learning.

Demonstrate and highlight examples. You may be able to go see aligned instructional practices in action that are outside of your district, and we recommend this! As soon as you can set up local examples, do. These opportunities will support understanding and professional growth.

  • Set up opportunities for peers to observe one another. These classrooms can be referred to as demonstration classrooms or sites, that are simply demonstrating where they are in the journey to meeting a shared vision for graduates.
  • Give careful consideration to framing observations and practices for professional growth. Not all observations provide examples where everything is aligned.
  • Treasure systems and teachers who are open to sharing their practices, receiving feedback, and collaborating. This commitment is how networks are started.

Celebrate and share learning to scale at each step of the journey

As we work with systems leaders to align their aspirations of what we really want school to be with daily practices, it can be also overwhelming to think about so many things that need to shift. As you continue to grow and evolve, it is critical that you make time to acknowledge what’s working and build from where you are. When you are meeting with students, families, or colleagues, try to identify progress, growth, and positives for your team and others so we can all learn and grow along with you.

Need more? Or did you start the process and have since found your team needing additional support? Getting Smart and Learner Centered Collaborative have worked together to support several districts in creating, updating, and implementing their POG. We’d love to support your team as you start your journey. Email Jessica to learn more.


The #NewPathways campaign will serve as a road map to the new architecture for American High Schools, where every learner, regardless of zip code, is on a pathway to productive and sustainable citizenship, high wage employment and economic mobility. Interested in telling your future of high school story? Email Editor.


More than Words

By: Breanna Morsadi and Shane Krukowski

Grades, numbers, and percentages have a gravitational pull on how we summarize what learners know. But there’s an equally strong pull that those measures lack— the explanatory context learners need to grow and ultimately self-actualize.

Timely, authentic feedback enhances performance and engages learners. EL Education’s Ron Berger tells the story of Austin’s Butterfly which illustrates the transformational power of models, critique, and descriptive feedback to improve student work. Likewise, Berger shows how the relationship to learners is a relevant part of the equation, not just a fluffy afterthought.

Authentic feedback helps learners broaden their perspectives, build professional networks, and cultivate reciprocal rewards. When we shift our mindset to focus less on numbers and grades, we start to understand feedback as generative far beyond the investment it requires. Feedback may include narrative comments, guest assessors, as well as cross-curricular, competency-based assessment. Growth requires more than words alone– growth needs feedback built on a supportive relationship.

Building connections to support meaningful feedback

An authentic way to nurture feedback is to have students seek experts, mentors, and professionals outside the classroom to weigh in on their project development. In practice, this means pushing kids out into a world they don’t understand, rather than putting the challenge of understanding on the adult mentor.

“When kids are getting feedback from someone other than their teacher, it forces them AND their teacher to think less, or critically about the “grade.” That’s generally a good thing for authentic work,” states Tim Kubik, Co-founder of Project ARC.

By inviting guests into their learning communities, a learner acknowledges the wealth of information and resources available and develops the ability to harness it by connecting with those working in the respective fields. Once these connections are made, learners have a stake in the game– they are faced with specific problems and develop first-hand experience in making a local and/or global impact. These benefits play out in a number of ways, which we’ll explore in the rest of this piece.

When kids are getting feedback from someone other than their teacher, it forces them AND their teacher to think less, or critically about the grade.

Tim Kubik

Broaden Perspectives

Many students don’t often circulate outside the neighborhood or city they grow up in.  Building networks beyond those often unintentional confines, allows learners to step into new circles and expand the types of information and feedback they receive. Escuela Verde, a Milwaukee charter school, empowers students to build community partnerships in order to broaden their perspectives.

Cynthia Gonzalez, advisor and administrator, states, “Our students have big dreams; the ability to connect our students with experts in their professional field of interest allows them to envision themselves in those spaces.” Escuela Verde cultivates strong community connections by hosting weekly “Future Fridays” sessions, where different professionals, representing a diversity of races, cultures, and lived experiences, are invited to share career insights. “Future Fridays have a powerful impact on our learning community,” states Cynthia. “Having access to community members who are willing to share their knowledge with our students has always been key to the success of our curriculum.” Inviting guests into the project process allows learners to tap into different life sources of information. For youth, what you see is what you think you can become. Increased exposure helps students bring context to their prior knowledge and understand the relevance of their studies in depth.

Build Professional Networks

Perhaps more tactical than broadening their perspectives alone, students will more naturally seek out their own sources and build networks that will continue to provide feedback and broaden their lens. This can be especially powerful as students develop professional skill sets and prepare for their future careers.

Julia Freeland Fisher, Director of Education at the Christensen Institute, summarizes their research, “It’s not just what but who you know matters. Every student needs a support system and should be the builders of their own social capital to be successful in this world.” Her new book Who You Know: Unlocking Innovations that Expand Students’ Networks explores how schools can invest in the power of relationships to break the pattern of inequality in American classrooms. The Christensen Institute recently published “5 Steps for Building & Strengthening Students’ Networks as part of a playbook that features 5 key steps for schools to take to support students in building their networks. Establishing a network is key to cultivating working relationships where feedback is welcome and reliable. The powerful feedback learners receive is an invaluable asset as they forge their own paths forward.

Cultivate Reciprocal Rewards

Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) is a non-profit organization recognized for building networks and employer partnerships across the nation to best support its ~75,000 participants. Jenn Beal, JAG Director of Education states, “Our Employer partners see these skill sets on display through various activities – from classroom visits, to hosting students in their offices, to co-creating Project-Based Learning modules that develop JAG participants’ skill sets further, all while solving community and business problems.” The tiered JAG Career Pathways model below highlights how partnerships are woven into the building blocks of career-building for their participants.

Employer partners explore how participant engagement can add value to their industry, whether through job shadowing, internships, or career exposure, then make these opportunities available to participants. Rather than engaging in a one-way exchange, such as bringing in a guest speaker, identifying reciprocal value is the key priority when organizing partnerships. JAG uses Headrush to invite their partners into the project process by becoming guest assessors in participant project work. Without any account setup or in-depth effort by educators, they can quickly send guests a link to provide contextual feedback on student work, optionally providing the rubric and capturing any narrative feedback the guest may have. The guests’ assessment instantly appears for the educator and student, making the feedback easy to obtain, timely, and authentic.

This depth of collaboration and sharing allows for a rich exchange of information and allows partnerships to thrive.

In similar, but different ways, Project ARC investigates with schools how to leverage partnerships between technical experts, teachers, and technology to cultivate authentic, complex learning. Co-founder Tim Kubik shares, ”Too many people view the relationship between schools and partners as one of gaps and gifts, and partners burn out on that. It should always be a gifts and gifts relationship, acknowledging that today’s students have something valuable to offer.“

By providing greater explanatory context and bringing the outside in, learners are more likely to bridge theory and practice, to apply value to different sources, all while they gain experience and training beyond their classroom walls, making feedback more than just words.

Breanna Morsadi is the Founder of Morsadi Inc. and former educator/nomad at @TGSTHINKGlobal.

Shane Krukowski is the Co-founder of headrushlearning.com.


EdSAFE AI Alliance

By: Jim Larimore

AI-powered education platforms are proliferating but there’s a lot of confusion and hype in the market. In order to instill public confidence in AI’s education potential, the industry needs to adopt common benchmarks and standards.

To meet that need, Riiid and Dxtera, a nonprofit membership organization that builds open technology solutions to lower barriers in education delivery, have formed a cross-sector alliance of companies and associations to launch an AI in Education benchmark initiative.

The initiative, launched in early August, is focused on establishing benchmarks and standards in four critical categories – Safety (security, privacy), Accountability (defining stakeholder responsibilities), Fairness (equity, ethics, and lack of bias), and Efficacy (quantified improved learning outcomes). In a word, SAFE educational AI.

Jim Larimore, Riiid’s chief officer for equity in learning, is helping the formation of the alliance.

Dxtera, a nonprofit membership organization that builds open technology solutions that lower barriers in education delivery, stepped forward as a trusted nonprofit player who manages the day-to-day work of the Alliance. They will be the fiscal agent and the contracting agent to hire staff and experts. Riiid is financing the foundation of the Alliance, which intends to become self-supporting through membership dues.

In the month since the alliance has been around, it has grown from 20 members to 80, representing a dozen countries. Organizations involved in the initiative include Getting Smart, Carnegie Learning, ETS, GSV Ventures and Digital Promise.

The alliance has established a leadership council and a governance model and is rolling out working groups.

“We need people from all levels of the industry, from educational delivery agents, from users and from governments to be involved,” said Dale Allen.

The alliance has also aligned itself with UNESCO and its Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, whose goal is to connect everyone in the world to the Internet.

Meanwhile, the alliance is completing membership agreements that outline the roles and responsibilities of members.

There is already widespread activity on developing AI standards, some of which is relevant to AI for education.

Jim Larimore

Allen expects the working groups to start on general topics and then to form subgroups that will drill down on technical aspects of AI in education.

The alliance expects to eventually hire paid experts to develop standards that could be tested and certified. Standards would then be considered by the Leadership Council and, ultimately, a steering committee for approval.

The alliance won’t be working in a vacuum, nor developing standards from scratch. There is already widespread activity on developing AI standards, some of which is relevant to AI for education.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a professional association, has established an Adaptive Instructional Systems working group within its Standards Association to explore the need for standards governing AI tutoring systems and other related learning technologies.

“We’ve already reached out to them,” said Allen, adding that the alliance can build on the work already done.

IBM, meanwhile, has an open-source suite of products called Factsheets 360 that is designed to ensure AI models are transparent, explainable, robust, privacy-preserving and fair. Allen said the alliance may reach out to them, too.

Underwriters Laboratory, the private certification company, is a member of the alliance and has independently developed a kind of rubric that they use for inspecting algorithms. UL, as it is known today, has participated in the safety analysis of many new technologies since it was founded in 1894.

Nearly every American product that uses electricity has the UL logo on it, which means that it has undergone rigorous testing to meet various standards.

The alliance intends to do something similar for AI education tools and platforms, eventually implementing a voluntary review process for such products that would give consumers confidence in the way that nutritional labels do on packaged food products today.

The alliance hopes that school districts and other organizations governing the purchase and use of such tools would then prohibit AI products for education that didn’t have alliance certification.

“Today, the users – the parents, the students, the instructors – have no sense of whether a tool is safe, and they’re afraid of most AI enabled tools,” said Allen.

The alliance also hopes to develop equitable, fair, unbiased and anonymized data sets to build AI tools, as well as develop random controlled trials and other means to objectively measure the efficacy of AI digital learning programs.

Stringent testing may also help determine whether products meet existing data privacy laws, such as General Data Protection Regulation guidelines in the European Union and data privacy laws in California.

The alliance could also play a role in improving existing technologies, such as proctoring tools that use webcams and facial recognition to monitor students and discourage cheating.

Students with ADHD, for example, have been wrongfully flagged by these anti-cheating programs that monitor for behaviors deemed suspicious. This is largely due to a lack of AI-model training data that accounts for symptoms of ADHD such as fidgeting and an inability to maintain focus.

Some universities have dropped the use of proctoring programs altogether after students with darker skin tones reported not being recognized by the software, a recurring limitation with AI facial recognition since its early development.

The AI ed-tech industry can tackle shortcomings like these by building larger, more representative data sets.

But the alliance isn’t focused on the US market alone. It is engaged with people in Israel, Russia, and the EU EdTech Consortium, which represents all the EU countries, and Education Alliance Finland, among others. The German Alliance for Education brings to the table representatives from about 100 groups ranging from education ministries and companies to universities and schools.

Allen cautions that the process won’t be quick. The alliance hopes to have working groups and a roadmap ready by the end of this year. Thereafter, it will give quarterly updates for the education community and the public about what is measurable already and what is coming, with some standards announced in 2022.

Jim Larimore is the Chief Officer for Equity in Learning at Riiid, where he leads strategy, programs and partnerships to leverage Riiid’s strengths in Artificial Intelligence (AI) to close gaps in educational opportunity, achievement and student success.


Now is the Time to Build a New Field in Education

By: Lindsy Ogawa

If we want to accelerate social change, it’s time to distinguish a new approach to education.

Picture this: an equitable education system in which every child is known, loved, and equipped to live fulfilling lives. Every family and caregiver is supported to find nearby learning hubs that offer safe spaces for learners to build stable relationships and have places of inquiry. Not a day goes by without seeing learners engaging in questions and making a difference in the community. Aspiring learning facilitators have preparation programs that prepare them to support human development in ways that align with holistic learner outcomes. Local, federal, and state-level structures and conditions enable the community to be a playground for learning.

At Education Reimagined, we call this vision “learner-centered education.” It’s a transformational vision aimed at every child in every community being equitably and powerfully supported to thrive now and into the future.

We know there are thousands of people, learners, policy leaders, educators, caregivers, and the like, who want education for young people that looks more like this vision. For decades, pockets of places have been working to shift the direction of education to place learners (including their interests, backgrounds, well-being, and aspirations) at the center, rather than centering the requirements of our education system, and bringing this vision to life. These communities often have clarified for themselves what they believe about learners and learning, which has enabled them to build incredible learner-centered environments.

Organizations like Big Picture Learning, NACA Inspired Schools Network, and Montessori focus on learner-centered models, initiatives, and research projects that have often operated on the periphery and against the grain. The youth development and homeschooling sectors, which largely exist outside the K-12 education system, have a plethora of insights and evidence into ways learners and learning can be organized and supported. And, there’s an abundance of researchers and authors focused on realms such as human development and learning sciences, including The Future of Smart by Ulcca Joshi Hansen and Difference Making at the Heart of Learning by Tom Vander Ark and Emily Liebtag.

And, of course, there are thousands of people (possibly you!) who are bringing to life a transformed education every day.

Recognizing our shared commitments 

Yet, by and large, these efforts operate in silos or on the fringes. Learner-centered education is happening across the country, but the unifying string that weaves together the learner-centered landscape can go unseen if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

We often aren’t aware of or don’t prioritize the need to step back from what we do to examine our mindset and commitments. And, when with others who share similar commitments who are outside our immediate work, it’s not obvious to look past the differences of what we do to see how our unique contributions interlock and take us one step closer to every child having learning experiences they deserve.

The same can be said when someone else’s work sounds interesting but may not be aligned with your mindset and commitments.

Take for example, a recent conversation I had with a researcher studying the effects of what he calls “personalized learning” and “student-centered learning” on elementary-aged children. The children worked on self-paced math and reading lessons on their computers, game-based lessons, and opportunities to form mini book clubs on shared topics of interest. His commitment was to raise standardized achievement scores.

While we ended the call appreciative of one another, it was apparent that we weren’t quite up to the same thing. Despite the similar language we might use, our fundamental commitments differed. Oppositely, I’ve had many conversations where work and language seem disparate—perhaps they create state budgets or engage with cub scouts—but, after some time and intention, the pieces of our work and mindset click together within the larger vision.

For those committed to truly transforming the education system, how will we engage policymakers, researchers, foundations, and the general public in a larger conversation when we aren’t even aware we are in the same movement? What could be possible if we saw ourselves as collectively building this distinct learner-centered field to increase its visibility and social impact?

Learner-centered education is happening across the country, but the unifying string that weaves together the learner-centered landscape can go unseen if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

Lindsy Ogawa

A clarion call for distinguishing the field of learner-centered education

No matter the field, be it aeronautics or anthropology, having shared language and commitments enable clearer conversations and collaboration across people and organizations. A pilot can be anywhere in the world and concisely communicate with air traffic control their need to make an emergency landing. 

Without distinguishing the field in this way, we stifle our ability to quickly get to the core of what we are working towards, in this case, learner-centered experiences for every single child.

In the way “success” has overwhelmingly meant “high standardized scores” in education, imagine instead a learner-centered starting point to think about questions like What does success look like? What does equity mean? What makes quality learning?

Education Reimagined’s Learning Lab seeks to bring clarity and awareness of the learner-centered field that’s lying just beneath the surface and is one attempt to equip participants to distinguish the field. State and district administrators, learners, researchers, educators, community members, you name it, come together to dive deep and gain clarity on making the once invisible lens of learner-centered, visible. The result is a growing group of people who can see their commitments and who are contributing to a distinguished field and movement.

David Cook, Director of Innovative Learning at Kentucky’s Department of Education said, “The Learning Lab Orientation serves as a reminder that the learner-centered lens is the foundational piece. We can throw around education terms like ‘project-based learning’ all day, but we need to get clear on what we are up to, beyond individual practices. It only benefits state agencies, district administrators, community members, and others to have a shared starting point to begin thinking about what education could really be, otherwise, this work won’t spread.”

Tom Rooney, Superintendent of Lindsay Unified School District said, “The decision-makers, finance people, principals, educators, union representatives, and learners with whom the learner-centered vision resonates, should join the Learning Lab. It is through this clarity that there is new potential of aligning our systems and practices together. This clarity leaves each of us reflective and clearer about what we can do to work towards that vision.”

Whether you are in the pursuit of learner-centered education in your community or you hold a different vision, consider the power of distinguishing what you are working towards. As the saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

If you are committed to contributing your leadership to the creation of the learner-centered field, we invite you to join the Learning Lab Orientation—an entryway into a growing national community of 850+ learner-centered people. The spring cohort is forming now and will run from February 3 to April 28. For more information, click here.

Lindsy Ogawa is the Director of Practice & Field Advancement at Education Reimagined.


How Real World Learning Is Equipping Solutionaries In Kansas City

“How can we create a just, healthy, and humane world? What is the path to developing sustainable energy, food, transportation, production, construction, and other systems? What’s the best strategy to end poverty and ensure that everyone has equal rights? How can we slow the rate of extinction and restore ecosystems? How can we learn to resolve conflicts without violence and treat other people and nonhuman animals with respect and compassion? The answer to all these questions lies with one underlying system―schooling. To create a more sustainable, equitable, and peaceful world, we must reimagine education and prepare a generation to be solutionaries―young people with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to create a better future.” —Zoe Weil

Spotting problems, taking initiative, developing solutions, delivering value for a community– these are the most important skills today. In her 2016 book, The World Becomes What We Teach, Zoe Weil argues that schooling should be about equipping solutionaries.

The largest regional example of empowering difference-making is the Real World Learning initiative in metro Kansas City where more than 75 high schools on both sides of the state line are encouraging community-connected projects and entrepreneurial experiences (including social impact as well as business opportunity).  

Innovation Academy

Heading west of Kansas City, Kansas, past the second beltway is the town of Basehor where high school students are taking on projects that matter to them and their community.

The Innovation Academy at Basehor-Linwood High was launched as a chance for juniors and seniors to launch self-directed projects and earn core (English, science, social studies) and career education credit. Guiding principles of the ala carte program include student choice, embrace the unknown, it’s ok to fail, and community partnerships.  

The first class students take is project management where they learn design thinking and skills critical to successful projects. Then students pick a topic of interest and work with a teacher to develop a plan and launch a project. Recent topics have includes peer mentoring for mental health, recycling, mobility for disabled youth, and the physics of movement. (See video.)

Supporting projects in such a wide variety of topics can be a challenge for teachers. Jared Jackson, Director of Innovative Programs for the district, notes the importance of industry and community experts to fill the gaps of project knowledge where teachers are not subject experts.

Spotting problems, taking initiative, developing solutions, delivering value for a community– these are the most important skills today.

Tom Vander ark

This year, Innovation Academy opened to freshmen and 45 students had the opportunity to design a park with the city (eight are pictured above). They engaged the community, considered names, pondered alternative uses, built budgets and developed 3D models. Through deep civic engagement and frequent communication, they earned an English and social studies credit–and they’ll never pass a park again without thinking about the experience they had.  

Sion’s Signature Programs

South of Kansas City is an independent Catholic high school for young women where they connect learners with their unique purpose. The goal at  Notre Dame de Sion to provide “the tools, support, and skills to explore and make a sustainable impact in our local community and beyond.”

With parents, business partners and universities, Sion identified a beautiful set of nine essential competencies:

  • Well-rounded individuals: informed critical thinker, growth-minded learner, confident practitioner
  • Faith-filled global citizens: mindful communicator, empathetic perspective taker, Inclusive Community Builder
  • Servant leaders: humble difference maker, solution-focused creator, collaborative team player

Nine Sion student leaders are writing a book with a chapter on each of the competencies.

Classroom studies are extended through experiential learning including hands-on community-connected problem-solving. Three-week-long deep dives each year provide immersive experiences including many opportunities to travel.

Leaning into the Sion mission of service, three signature impact programs include:

  • Engineering and Ingenuity: a dive into a community issue using engineering and design and problem solving skills.
  • Internal Impacts: semester course spent designing impact projects for the Sion community including a recent student-led mental health awareness program and launching a coffee shop.
  • Designing Real World Impacts: an upper division offsite English and Social Studies block supporting individual defined community impact projects including serving with refugee teens, restorative justice for prisoners, and addressing the issues of food insecurity.

As Sion learners engage in real world learning, they are encouraged to embrace ambiguity and assert their individuality.

The Innovation Academy at Basehor-Linwood High and Notre Dame de Sion are just two of the dozens of schools creating space and opportunities for students to lead and address problems important to them and their communities. These difference-making projects are engaging and develop the most important skills–for learners and for a better world.

This post was originally published on Forbes.


Among The STARs: The Rise of Skills-Based Hiring

Many of us have become increasingly aware of the gaps in the workforce. While oftentimes the blame falls on the shoulders of talent and perceived lack of candidates, this gap is oftentimes more related to the fact that recruitment officers aren’t sure how to match skills with workplace needs. This process is time-consuming, subjective, and often requires a great deal of translation with regards to value-adds, talents, and skillsets. Numerous technologies and organizations have tried their hand at reducing the cost and time of hiring, but it remains a huge pain point for organizations of all sizes.

Six years ago, Byron Auguste worked to support and grow TechHire, a White House initiative that focused on building career pathways and matching tech experiences to jobs. This helped to catalyze [email protected], an organization that focuses on supporting workers who do not have bachelor’s degrees but are Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs).  By engaging with corporate, philanthropic, and workforce partners, the organization has united efforts to directly address the barriers that STARs face in today’s labor market.

[email protected]’s research aims to show employers the importance of the STARs talent pool. Through their STARs Insights Initiative, for the first time, there was dedicated research for employers to understand STARs values, skills, and opportunities for upward mobility.  

“We define STARs as individuals at least 25 years old who graduated from high school and have skills but don’t hold a bachelor’s degree. Many STARs enrolled in college but didn’t complete their degree due to family or financial circumstances. Others have a two-year community college degree or received technical training through workforce programs, online credentialing services, or certification programs. Still, others are self-taught or developed their skills on the job or through military service,” says the [email protected] website.

Many companies desire diversifying their talent pool, but struggle to get outside their traditional pipelines — this is where we come in.

Mason Pashia

Putting It Into Action

In order to better provide matchmaking capabilities, [email protected] created Stellarworx, the STARs Talent Marketplace. Stellarworx is a faster way to match STARs with inclusive employers that are ready to hire, while uniquely integrating talent developers to validate candidates’ skills. This platform “hires people for their potential, not pedigree,” helping employers to identify diverse and growth-minded candidates more efficiently.

Recently, [email protected] hired Bridgette Gray, a long-time advocate for alternative pathways and employment, as the Chief Customer Officer. Gray will work to grow Stellarworx’s reach and push the STARs brand to new heights. Gray joins [email protected] after seven-and-a-half years at Per Scholas, where she was their first Chief Impact Officer, responsible for managing all training operations, and organizational impact for Per Scholas’ 17 campuses.

“Many companies desire diversifying their talent pool, but struggle to get outside their traditional pipelines,” says Gray. “This is where we come in.”

Gray says that she feels optimistic about the future and the fledgling momentum of skills-based hiring, however, it is not moving fast enough. “We have to also ensure that DEI is central to skills-based hiring and that workers are realizing their own value.”

Down the road, [email protected] would like to see the STARs language widely known and used. Gray says that could be the STARs logo appearing on job applications, badges to indicate STARs hiring on websites,  career listing sites, and more. This hopeful signal has great potential to become adopted and spread throughout the workplace.

[email protected] COO Shad Ahmed shared, “with employers across the country reporting talent shortages, while millions of STARs are sidelined from opportunity, we know the sky’s the limit with Bridgette on board.”