ReThinkingEdu: Innovative Lessons Learned by Teachers During the COVID 19 Pandemic

In the aftermath of an 18-month crash course in digital tools and remote teaching, teachers and administrators are reflecting on what they hope to take away and apply to their traditional brick-and-mortar classroom settings. Educators across the country have learned how to adapt their instruction to online learning environments, and many have had to completely rethink their content to meet the needs of all students. Teachers are creating learning environments where students can succeed. The changes have resulted in some fantastic innovations!

I was asked to be a guest on a Teacher-Led podcast called ReThinkingEdu. This podcast is three teaching friends exploring and envisioning what education could be. The group Mike Dunn, Julie Cook, and Jeanine Dunn are all experienced educators and school administrators. They keep on the pulse of innovation in education through their own experience and the guest they host on the Podcast. I asked them what Innovations from last year they implemented or observed and I also wondered if there were any lessons learned that other teachers or administrators could benefit from. Below are some of the key moments from our conversation.

Mike Dunn, Ed.D., Dean of College and Career Counseling Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center said the following:

In February of 2021, I came across a book called Difference Making at the Heart of Learning by Emily Liebtag and Tom Vander Ark. My podcast co-hosts (we interview outstanding educators on RethinkingEDU) and I had just finished an interview with Tom and had scheduled our interview with Emily for early March. As an educator with roots in examining history, I have always been keenly aware of the need for teachers to promote critical thinking and relevance in their classroom practices. Students need threads to build their background knowledge and then feel empowered to connect this knowledge to action. In their book, Emily and Tom’s efforts spoke directly to this end and fueled so much of my thinking through the second half of the 2020-21 school year. How would I encourage students to ask themselves: What difference do you want to make in the world, and how can I help you figure out how to get there?

I recently started a new job at Eagle Rock School & Professional Development Center in Estes Park, CO, and find myself in a unique position to ask students this very question. As the Dean of College & Career Counseling at Eagle Rock, I am privileged to form a program that centers on students’ dreams and encourages them to identify their motivations and potential actions after graduation. To be clear: this is not an easy task and is complicated even more so by the recent floods in Detroit, hurricane damage in Louisiana and up the East Coast, the constant threat of wildfire on the West Coast, and the challenges posed by withdrawals from Afghanistan. Couple all these issues with ongoing division and threats to individual and community enfranchisement, and the world can seem like a bleak place for young people.

This is what makes my work critically important. As a person guiding young people along their way, I sit at a fulcrum point in their life. This point is one at which decisions are complicated, but ongoing learning is essential. As I enter the 2021-22 school year (and beyond), my task is straightforward: We need young leaders who are not afraid to take risks. We need young people who will stand up for needy communities, ask tough questions, be relentless in the face of classism, racism, and misogyny and realize that action must happen now. We also need curricula and resources that are individualized and designed to connect young people to possibility. College and career guidance could not be more critical, and I am hopeful that my actions, words, and support can help the young people I serve to leave the world a better place.

Julie Cook, Ed.D., Language Arts and Social Studies Teacher, Souderton Charter School Collaborative, Ambassador Teacher for the Powered Schools Network, said the following:

Teachers experienced a lot this past year. It just might take another year to unpack it all. Teachers reinvented school as we knew it, and we turned on a dime. We piloted new technology and teaching approaches. We learned to prioritize what is most essential for students. When this is all over, we know it will not be enough for us to just put it all behind us and go back to the status quo. There is no going back. Even before COVID, teachers understood the inequities that exist in education and our society. We saw school leaving some students behind or out. Before everything that has happened, most of us had ideas about addressing the significant issues of our time. Not all of us were able to move our thoughts forward. This past year, reinvention became necessary, and more teachers in many schools took on leadership roles as we developed plans for remote/hybrid/socially distanced learning. This school year, let’s hope we emerge ready to reimagine school as it could be. That is a big call to action, but we can reimagine school because there has been a shift in the way teachers see themselves. Our classrooms became laboratories of innovation. Teachers became researchers of their practices, looking at existing practices, finding resources and partners, and discovering potential actions, solutions, and connections.

At Souderton Charter School Collaborative, a K-8 school in Montgomery County, PA, teachers adopted a researcher’s approach with renewed energy this past school year. We wondered, “What are we doing? What is working? What can we do? Let’s try it!” We applied this lens to everything from new tech platform rollouts to SEL activities to PBL design within our middle school team. As a school community, we also took the opportunity to consider how we work together across teams, make decisions together, and better prioritize a learner-centered approach.

At the start of this school year, we see some of our students will need extra help. Still, instead of remediation, we intentionally decided to focus on acceleration, using pre-teaching to catch students before they fall. We’re working to rethink competencies and dream up more authentic learning experiences with our students. For example, we’ve designed a project-based unit based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, where students address goals facing our world in the coming decade, including creating Sustainable Cities and Communities, Ending Poverty, Clean Water, Quality Education, Clean Energy, Gender Equality, and more. We’re launching podcasts and channels and writing change letters, policy briefs, and business plans. Students are change agents working on real problems and offering solutions.

In the middle of all the fun, we’re creating contingency plans. Just in case the pandemic forces a return to different configurations, our early efforts to prioritize relationships, establish community connections, and navigate our learning platforms will help us ensure that our community of learners includes everyone. We’ll be ready.

In other words, we reworked and reimagined everything. Yes, we are tired! But the new school year has us full of optimism. The idea that teachers can bring about changes in our classroom, our schools, and beyond might be the most significant takeaway in education at this moment.”

Jeanine Dunn, Ed.D., Coordinator of Adult Learning Systems and Middle School Math and Science Souderton Charter School Collaborative said the following:

I have been in the field of education for 20 years. I work at Souderton Charter School Collaborative, a highly successful k-8 suburban charter school that services 240 students. I am also an adjunct for Eastern University, where I teach instructional strategies and methods to our up-and-coming teachers. In 2017, I convinced Julie Cook, my teaching partner for the last 17 years, to join me in the pursuit of obtaining a doctorate in education. We often get asked why we would do such a thing – it is a lot of work and a lot of money, so what would we be getting out of it, or what did we want to achieve by earning an Ed.D? We were tired of having the same conversations repeatedly. The education system was/is broken, and we needed a new avenue to act. Through our doctoral program at Northeastern University, we were blessed with meeting some incredible educators who were just as passionate about changing the field of education as we were. In one of our educational entrepreneurship courses, we met Mike Dunn and Matt Downing and soon found ourselves launching design studios for teachers and a podcast called ReThinkingEdu. We have amazing conversations with people worldwide about how a school can and should be done differently. It has been great to take what we’ve learned and apply it to our classrooms.

Julie and I helped create the middle school program at our school and have much autonomy in curricular design. Technology has always been integrated into our program, but we took it to a whole new level when the pandemic hit. We sought out tools that would support all students and give each one a voice. We made sure every student had a Chromebook and used Google to ensure students had access to the curriculum (Classroom, Forms, Jamboard, YouTube, Sites, etc.). Google Classroom housed everything we did – from unit websites, assignments, class discussions, and assessments. Some other tech tools we found super helpful were Flipgrid, Soudtrap, Nepris, Streamable Learning, and WeVideo. We utilized these different platforms to provide students with the opportunity to socialize, collaborate, create, investigate, and critically reflect – all of which were important to the social/emotional learning of our students.

As we head into the next round of the pandemic, we will continue to emphasize the importance of social/emotional learning because we know authentic learning will only occur if students feel safe, connected to others, and happy. We have built time into our schedule for advisory meetings, counselor check-ins, and mental health breaks. Students (and teachers) need time to re-acclimate themselves to in-person learning, work on team building and collaboration. If we can focus less on test scores and more on meeting the needs of each student, we will be able to get through this pandemic together and set our students up for a successful future.

Conclusion

Mike, Julie, and Jeannine are just three examples of heroes in the classroom! The pandemic has changed and reshaped the way many professions go about their business. No place is this more evident than in the education system. I applaud their efforts and look forward to documenting the innovations of other educators across the country. If you want to hear some of the best ideas for your classroom, go to ReThinkingEdu and take a listen!


3 Key Questions About Reading Assessment After a Year of Growing Gaps

By: Dr. Kayla Steltenkamp

As educators around the country return to school this fall, we’re all trying to figure out how to best address pandemic-related learning gaps. On one hand, the answer is to approach instruction the way we do every year. We will need to assess our students to find out where they are and what they’re ready to learn next. On the other hand, students missed out on specific kinds of practice and instruction during the pandemic, while other activities continued more or less normally—albeit online.

Certainly, more students will need additional support in the coming school year. Here’s what I expect to be different this year, along with some tips and resources to help teachers get started on day one and to help administrators support them.

1. What’s different about this year’s reading gaps?

Students who were videoconferencing for school throughout the pandemic had far fewer opportunities to use multiple modalities as they learned, which is critical when learning to read. Early literacy requires seeing, saying, writing, touching, and more. That is very hard to facilitate online. Even if the teacher tries to do it, she or he can’t be there to correct the student if they make a mistake. For example, if she has a student finger-writing or tapping out letters and they write a B rather than a D, they can’t see that to correct it right away, therefore creating a habit of letter reversals. As virtual instruction evolved teachers became increasingly creative to try to embed these skills into their lessons by having students hold up whiteboards or papers. However, even with this method, it was sometimes difficult to provide that individual correction in a discreet way, as they would in the classroom.

Also, there were fewer opportunities for differentiated instruction. Think about the small groups and independent centers that are typical in a class. Typically, teachers can multi-task and lead small group reading sessions while monitoring students working in centers. All of that is hard to do online, even with breakout sessions or small-group video conferencing sessions. Students were also unable to hold books, touch words while they read, flip through pages easily to find patterns, or engage in other key activities for developing reading skills. The students who needed extra support or reteaching of simple concepts likely didn’t understand those concepts to the degree they would have in a more typical year because they didn’t receive immediate and meaningful feedback, and those gaps have widened.

Even students who attended in-person classes, but with masks, were at a disadvantage compared to most years. Masks muffle sounds and words and made it impossible to see the shape of their teacher’s mouth as they talked. When learning early-literacy concepts, seeing the precise differences between sounds and verbal formations is pivotal. The very first foundational skill in learning to read is phonological and phonemic awareness. Seeing, listening, and understanding a sound or sound combination is critical for early reading success. Also, students need the ability to touch, play with, and manipulate words, letters, and sounds. Many of the products teachers regularly use for hands-on learning were not easily sanitizable, so they couldn’t be used. Teachers had to adapt and make other lessons, frequently limiting multi-sensory modalities.

The national data that has been reported so far by large assessment providers shows that students will likely arrive this school year with major deficits in reading and writing simply because of the constraints of remote learning and instructional practice. Getting students’ senses working together is key to mastering literacy concepts.

2. How should we assess differently this fall?

This fall, it will be more important than ever to be intentional and diagnostic with each student. Teachers will need to address reading skills almost a year behind the grade level of their students. They’ll need to look at the foundational skills needed for reading, such as decoding, rapid automatized naming, blending, and others.

Putting students on a computer for a reading assessment and looking at a printout of their reading level will not work to be diagnostic. Teachers will need to listen to students read to identify some of their difficulties. An assessment tool that records students reading as they are assessed can make this more manageable. If students fall below average, the teacher can go back and listen to each student read to see which words were difficult and identify patterns to indicate where the student might be struggling.

This fall, it will be more important than ever to be intentional and diagnostic with each student.

Dr. Kayla Steltenkamp

Assessments can be done in sync with daily instruction through intentional activities that can collect data, such as one-minute Kilpatrick drills, phoneme/grapheme activities or assessments, journal writing, and skills-based center activities. For skills harder to assess during instruction, or to work with individual students, there are a variety of assessments that can be done in less than two minutes, such as Test of Word Reading Efficiency, or some that take just a little longer like Lexplore, DIBELS, FastBridge, and more. The International Dyslexia Association also has great information on the importance of screening.

Sometimes a student may only need specific mini-lessons to progress quickly. Other students might have several skills that require more intense intervention. This school year will require more frequent progress monitoring because some students may come in strong. However, many students will return with compensation strategies that will prove less effective for in-person instruction. These students may initially “pass the test” but they may not be able to implement those strategies consistently, especially as the skills they need continue to increase. Other students may have understood concepts, but not mastered them. Continuous monitoring will allow the teacher to catch any student before they fall too far behind. Tools like Lexplore allow you to do this progress monitoring quickly and accurately.

3. How can administrators support teachers in addressing literacy gaps?

The first thing administrators can do to support teachers this fall is to make sure they have appropriate assessments. An assessment that probes the foundations of reading will be key. Most commonly used automated reading assessments, such as the STAR and MAP programs, are based on comprehension and vocabulary, and don’t assess foundational skills like decoding and fluency.  Since students are returning this school year with various forms of support (or lack thereof), this year, in particular, will require teachers to understand the reading ability not just of beginner readers but all learners.

Administrators must ensure their teachers have assessments that look at letter knowledge, blending, decoding, and rapid automatized naming skills in addition to comprehension-based assessments. Teachers will also need to hear their students read as they are assessed so that they can fully understand their reading style and any skill deficits. Several states have great dyslexia tool kits that offer screening options that can be used to assess all students, not just those at risk for dyslexia. The assessments should be quick—taking no more than 10 minutes—and capable of being folded into the daily routine or instruction. Whatever assessment is used, teachers must be trained on it.

Administrators should also examine their old habits. We’re in a new realm post-COVID, with new tools and new ways of doing things that may better serve students’ needs than the ones they used pre-pandemic. Curriculum, assessment, and reading specialists can benefit from staying up-to-date on issues such as the reading wars, new teaching approaches, curriculum that benefit all readers, and new ways to collect actionable data.

Perhaps the most supportive thing administrators can do this year is to be flexible because the main thing teachers will lack is time. If students are stronger in math than reading, for example, maybe administrators can let teachers borrow a little time from math instruction for more literacy practice for a few weeks. Or, perhaps teachers could have additional access to human resources such as teacher aides or volunteers to assist with an assessment so that teachers are free to listen to assessments as necessary.

Finally, throughout the pandemic, many teachers reached out to one another. They built incredible networks of support throughout the world or picked up cutting-edge new skills to make the most of remote learning for their students. By giving teachers an opportunity to share what they’ve learned, the district can benefit from internal experts and professional development led by their very own educators! Perhaps less is more: less time wasted, more relationships built, fewer tools, more accurate automated ones. Less work for teachers, more learning for students. After a year of forced experimentation, now is the perfect time to build buy-in through collaboration as we all compare our notes.

Dr. Kayla Steltenkamp is an assistant professor at Thomas More University and founder of tutoring company Mind Over Matter Kids. Dr. Steltenkamp can be reached at [email protected].


What Schools Can Learn from the NFL Vaccine Playbook

Back in July, the NFL released an aggressive COVID-19 plan that will keep games going and incentivize players to get their vaccines: The League informed teams that canceled games due to unvaccinated players may result in forfeits and loss of pay. Vaccinated players who test positive and are asymptomatic can return to play after two negative tests, 24 hours apart. Unvaccinated players, however, must isolate for 10 days. The strategy is working as more than 93% of players and 99% of club personnel are vaccinated.

The NFL has made clear what every football fan knows: Players are only as good as their ability to show up, a team only as strong as its time together on the field. The NFL has also made clear that playing well entails safeguarding the health and safety of everyone in the League. The result: Even vaccine-hesitant players understand that remaining unvaccinated undermines their team’s prospects.

As students head back to school, states and school systems should borrow a page from the NFL’s playbook and embrace consistent and high levels of vaccination among school staff and eligible students as the lynchpin to a successful year.

This aligns with President Biden’s path out of the pandemic, which calls for schools to increase incentives and requirements to get staff and students vaccinated. Biden was adamant that schools must aim to get 100% of teachers vaccinated. “Vaccination requirements in schools are nothing new,” he said. “They work.”​​ Some districts are aiming higher: The Los Angeles school board, which manages the second-largest district in the country, voted to mandate vaccines for students 12 and up.

As a network-based organization with franchises across the country, the NFL’s vaccination plan provides a useful model for schools to learn from as they build their plans this year.

COVID-19 is spreading fast among children, most often among children of color and low-income households. The number of children hospitalized due to COVID-19 has reached the highest level since the pandemic began. As more kids return to school, infection rates are climbing, and districts have had to institute frequent, widespread quarantines and whole-school closures.

Recent studies have shown that remote school is often no substitute for the classroom: Pandemic learning disruptions have left K-12 students an average of five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading.

We need a vaccination plan to keep our schools open for learning and the other critical roles that they play in their communities. What should that playbook look like?

First, school staff — teachers, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, janitors, administrators — must be required to get vaccinated unless there is a clear medical or religious reason for exemption. Those who do not get vaccinated should be offered frequent community surveillance testing.

Second, every school should utilize federal stimulus dollars to create a campaign to get members of their community vaccinated, including students, families, and neighbors. The access schools have to American communities is wide and deep: some have the physical reach to offer accessible vaccine sites to students and/or the wider community, and most schools have staff and leaders with the necessary trust, credibility, and empathy to talk one-on-one with vaccine-hesitant people and encourage them to do what’s necessary to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.

Third, we should educate. Let us not forget what schools do best: We have an unparalleled opportunity to teach our kids about the importance of public health, the science behind the virus and how vaccines work, and how to make sense of misinformation.

Finally, school leaders should develop plans to encourage vaccinations for eligible students. Whether this is by providing incentives, such as providing a gift card for submitting proof of vaccination or access to events and opportunities, or by mandating vaccines for students who do not have clear medical or religious exemptions, as the Los Angeles Unified School District has done. We also must prepare for the next change in COVID-related policy, particularly the possible upcoming emergency authorization of vaccines for children ages 5–12.

We have an unparalleled opportunity to teach our kids about the importance of public health, the science behind the virus and how vaccines work, and how to make sense of misinformation.

Asaf Bitton and Eric Tucker

A school vaccine playbook, deployed across the country, would help keep our schools open and allow  us avoid a repeat  last year’s learning loss and social-emotional disruptions.

Students need consistency. Parents need reliability. Communities deserve to be safe. Schools need to prioritize vaccination as a linchpin to a safe and successful year. It’s unacceptable to settle for lower safety standards for our children than for grown adults playing professional ball.


Building Community and Social-Emotional Learning in the New School Year

As we head into a new school year, there are many things that we need to consider and be prepared for. Part of what helps educators to plan best is reflecting on the past school year and the learning that has taken place over the summer. Thinking back to this time last year, we were facing so many unknowns when it came to what our classroom instruction might look like throughout the year. Would we spend the year teaching virtually or hybrid? Or would our schools not be as affected and would we be in person?

As to my own experience, we transitioned throughout the year and so we had to constantly look for different methods or digital tools to help us create the right learning spaces and opportunities for our students. We needed tools and strategies to help us stay connected, to keep consistency in our work, and that promoted accessibility for the resources and materials for our students and their families. It was an ongoing learning journey to find ways to better engage students in learning and help them to feel connected, especially when we were not in the same physical space. It is hard to believe that there are students that I have not seen in person since schools first closed in March of 2020. There are also some students that I taught this year that I have never been able to interact with in-person. Those moments matter so much for building relationships and a classroom community. I wonder how many educators had similar experiences?

Starting the year by building community

At the start of every year, I always like to have some new ideas and tools to introduce to my students. Whether they are tools that I tried at the end of the year that students enjoyed or new ones that I picked up over my summer of learning, I focus first on relationship building and fostering social-emotional learning (SEL). At the start of the school year, it’s important that we focus on building relationships and learning about our students, and also giving them an opportunity as well as their families to learn about us as well. In a recent fireside chat from Getting Smart, “Returning to School with A Whole-Child Approach,” the speakers emphasized the importance of getting to know our students. Knowing them, calling them by their name, and correctly pronouncing their names. It is also crucial that we get to know students’ names, strengths and needs, and to help students build confidence and resilience. There are many ways to do this ranging from activities that don’t require any technology and there are also a lot of possibilities when it comes to different digital tools that we can use to help to build and foster a strong learning community in our classroom space as well as a home to school connection.

When it comes to talking about ourselves and becoming comfortable with one another, sometimes students and teachers can be a bit hesitant to speak up. Students may lack confidence when speaking in front of their peers, so creating a comfortable “space” for all students to connect with one another is essential so that they can thrive throughout the year.

In starting our school year and throughout the year, embedding activities into our days that help students to develop SEL skills and build community will not only positively impact their learning potential, but it will also best prepare them for their future.

Here are four tools and one activity that can be used for many purposes in all levels and content areas. What is nice about these options is that they can be used at the start of the year to get to know classmates, share learning, explore new ideas and build SEL skills. They are great to use for assessments throughout the year, whether through digital storytelling, digital portfolios, independent learning via PBL or genius hour, and more that promote student choice and voice. They are also good options for promoting student engagement by having students become creators rather than consumers in our classrooms.

Book Creator has new templates just in time for the new school year. For younger students, the new “About Me” template will be a great way to share stories and build relationships in the classroom. For older students, the “Empower the Learner Profile” template can help students to focus on self-awareness by creating a one-page profile to share their talents, hopes, challenges, strengths and more with their classmates and teachers.

Flipgrid is one of the tools that proved to be so helpful in getting to know my students last year, especially since we were not in person for so long. This summer Flipgrid launched many new features, which will make creating videos even more fun for students and teachers. Create a topic and ask students to introduce themselves, to respond to classmates, exchange ideas about what they are learning, and spark some creativity with all of the options available to enhance the video. It is also important that we create videos so students can get to know us as well.

Tract is a peer-to-peer learning platform that offers students a different way to learn about various topics of interest, to explore their passions, and to build essential skills now and for the future. Using Tract can also help to promote the development of social-emotional learning skills as students become self-aware as they design their own project and track growth, build social awareness as they learn from their peers, and build relationships during the learning process.

WeVideo has a lot of options for classroom use, especially for the start of the school year as a way to get to know students. Whether students create an About Me video that enables them to create with backgrounds, special effects, music, and more or teachers create a welcome-to-class video, those are just two ways to build relationships and a learning community. Also helpful for hybrid or virtual learning is using WeVideo to create announcements, for check-ins with students,  newscasts and so many more ideas to share information and learning.

One activity that had many benefits this past year and that can take very little time to create is a scavenger hunt.  There are tools such as Buncee, Flipgrid, Google Jamboard, Goose Chase, Padlet, and Wakelet, that can be used to set up the lists of items to find and then display. Depending on grade level and content area, it could be something as simple as having students post about themselves in a collaborative space and sharing items that help others get to know them. It can also be a list of items for students to find and work on teams, which helps with building SEL skills and fostering the development of essential skills like teamwork, problem-solving and sparking some creativity in learning too.

Each of these can be used for getting students to learn about one another, promote collaboration by creating a class book together, and they also promote more authentic and meaningful learning as students decide how to express who they are and what they are learning. Fostering a sense of community for students and for ourselves is important throughout the year, but especially important to start a new school year with a solid foundation.

For more, see:


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Four Statewide EdTech Rollouts: What Works in Public Education

By: Dr. Karen Beerer

Even now—nine years removed from a career in public education that included service as a classroom teacher, a principal, and an assistant superintendent— the beginning of a new school year brings a spring to my step. For me, the commencement of a new school year is a time of reflection during which I can look back on the previous year with a critical eye and think about what I could do differently in the future to better serve my students.

This year, my tendency for reflection is stronger than ever. I now serve as the Senior Vice President of Teaching and Learning at Discovery Education, and like many teachers and school administrators, am still processing the unprecedented 2020-2021 school year. Given that a large part of my role is focused on managing Discovery Education’s partnerships with State Departments of Education, I have looked there to learn more about what works in public education and how those lessons can be applied in school systems nationwide.

My first significant learning comes from the state of Nevada. Last year, the state partnered with Nevada Gold Mines to ensure public school educators and students in grades K-12 statewide receive access to an award-winning daily learning platform for teaching, creating, and growing professionally.

This unique partnership sets a new standard for public-private partnerships in education. In this instance, a corporation with a mission to support the students of today as they prepare for the opportunities of tomorrow aligned with the state government to fund access to high-quality digital resources. The collaboration between a corporate partner committed to the success of the state’s students and the Nevada Department of Education provides school systems a meaningful template that can be replicated in districts nationwide.

Through Discovery Education’s work with the Arizona Department of Education, I have experienced firsthand the importance and value of scaling and implementing a multifaceted professional learning initiative. The Arizona Department of Education (AZED) spent a significant portion of its federal relief funds to prepare students, teachers, and families for the return to classroom instruction.

While Discovery Education is supporting that effort by providing access to our K-12 platform, AZED is partnering with universities to provide professional learning to teachers across the state. The professional learning opportunities range from supporting teaching in schools serving Navajo students to providing all educators no-cost professional development that advances digital teaching and learning skills, to expanding capacity for the Arizona K-12 Center’s educator mentoring program. AZED’s efforts are a textbook case of how to pair any major educational initiative with professional learning to ensure a successful and effective implementation.

Through Discovery Education’s work with the South Carolina Department of Education (SC DOE), I have had the opportunity to witness the importance of leadership in improving equity. Understanding that not all students and teachers in the state have access to high-quality, standards-aligned content, ready-to-use digital lessons, and professional learning resources, the SC DOE undertook an effort to rectify the situation. By purchasing four Learning Management Systems, a Learning Object Repository, and a suite of standards-based digital learning resources, every student and educator in South Carolina now has full access to high-quality, standards-aligned content, ready-to-use digital lessons, and professional learning resources no matter their location or learning environment.

While South Carolina’s school systems have made significant efforts to provide all students access to dynamic digital resources, the SC DOE has chosen to lead efforts to level the playing field for all students. Through their leadership, the SC DOE has provided an example for improving instructional equity that can be followed by all school systems.

Finally, the State Department of Education in New Hampshire (NH DOE) offers another great lesson on what works in public education. As the NH DOE creates plans to support school systems in what will be an uncertain school year, they have provided stakeholders with clear communications outlining their direction. An example of this was seen recently when the state announced a new partnership providing educators and students statewide a digital daily learning platform through the state’s Canvas Learning Management System.

Communication is often at the heart of many challenges in any size school system, particularly when it comes to new implementations. However, the NH DOE was clearly thoughtful about the timing of their message and chose to share the announcement of their new initiative during their annual, in-person conference. This allowed the relevant stakeholders to see what they were getting, ask questions about its use, and network together to understand the specifics of the implementation.

Following their initial announcement, virtual launch events for curriculum leads and principals across the state were held. The NH DOE has also prioritized continuing to communicate news and updates surrounding this initiative throughout the months leading up to the opening of the school year, as they demonstrate their understanding that there is no such thing as overcommunication.

Over the last several months, Nevada, Arizona, South Carolina, and New Hampshire have taken a leadership role in scaling the use of digital resources statewide. While each implementation has varied its approaches to public/private partnerships, scaling professional learning, improving equity, and communicating change, each has provided shining examples of what works in public education.

In these challenging times, school systems would be well served to look at their unique approaches to improving public education and emulate the work of these outstanding state departments of education as appropriate in their own communities.

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Dr. Karen Beerer is the Senior Vice President of Teaching and Learning for Discovery Education. Dr. Beerer has more than 35 years of experience in education. She began her career as a classroom teacher. Dr. Beerer served as a reading specialist and an elementary principal as well as a Supervisor of Curriculum and Professional Development. In her last role, she was the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment in the Boyertown Area School District (PA) for 8 years.

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How do we prepare students to flourish in a VUCA future?

Design schools for today — not for tomorrow.

Our world and our future are said to be “VUCA” – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous.

The acronym VUCA was first used by military strategists and trainers who were trying to explain the change in military operations post the Cold War. Just the literal sound of the acronym is a little scary. The idea underlying it — that the world is unpredictable and overwhelming — brings up a prickly sense of danger.  After a year like 2020 where the only predictable thing was unpredictability, VUCA seems even more apt.

VUCA has become a popular term in business circles when discussing how management and strategy have to shift for this new world, and, even when it’s not mentioned directly, the sentiment is evident in our discussions about schooling. Phrases like the following suggest a VUCA perspective, and they can be found in most strategy, program, and mission documents discussing schooling:

  • “Technology is advancing so rapidly we have no idea how our world will be organized in 20 years.”
  • “65 percent of kids entering school today will end up in jobs that don’t even exist today. How can we prepare kids for jobs that don’t exist yet?” (to be clear, this is a made-up statistic – and not likely true – but you’ve likely heard one like it from education reformers)
  • “21st-century skills, 21st-century skills, 21st-century skills….”

Essentially, each of these statements or questions asks: “How are we ever going to prepare students for such a VUCA future??”

The counterintuitive, but true, answer is: if we want students to be prepared to flourish in an unpredictable future, we shouldn’t be focused on the future at all: we should be focused on ensuring they flourish now.

You can’t predict the future.

VUCA may feel more true today, but it has always been true. Think of how much changed over the last century, how many wars and conflicts there have been — WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, Cold War, to name a few — and how many social movements — women’s liberation, civil rights, LGBTQ rights (amongst others!). Then, think about how VUCA would have felt living through the revolutionary war, or the French revolution, or the Copernican revolution, or the 1819 flu pandemic.

Predicting in 1940 that women would be graduating from universities in the 1960s and make up a higher percentage of graduates by the 2000s would have been nearly impossible. In 1980, predicting the effects the personal computer would have on work, commerce, personal and enterprise would have been nearly impossible. In 2007, predicting the effects of social media and smartphones on our behavior, patterns of interaction, and relationships would have been similarly nearly impossible. For that matter, who could have predicted in advance how the printing press would undermine the most powerful institution of the time – the Catholic Church?

The truth is that the world, and the evolution of human society, have always been volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. While it’s always easy to create a narrative of the past that makes it seem predictable and obvious, it’s because we eliminate most of the alternatives — it is impossible to accurately predict the future — and ironically this is even more true if we accept the (questionable) premise that it’s exceptionally VUCA now.

This point is less to do with schooling and more to do with the obvious for all of our lives — and the real point of the acronym VUCA — you cannot accurately predict how all of the different societal, economic, political, and environmental factors are going to play out. Full stop. This means if you use your imagined future as a guidepost to design your experience today, you’re likely to be wrong.

However, if you focus on making the right choices now, you’re likely to come out okay in the future as well. As Aristotle already knew in his VUCA time 2000+ years ago, our habits and behaviors today shape our future selves – which means focusing on doing the right thing today is usually the best preparation for our tomorrow self.

We already know much of what’s needed to flourish in the future.

It turns out that the basics of what it means to flourish as a human actually hasn’t changed that much since the days of Aristotle. While we might not know the job titles of the future, jobs are not the sole factor in flourishing.

By flourishing I mean when a person’s core needs are met, and they have the freedom and capacity to make choices about their lives, according to their values and interests, and work with others to make the world better.

Our core social-psychological needs remain (and have remained) constant. For instance, we have a need to form meaningful relationships with others — interpersonally and belonging to a larger group (relatedness). We have the need to apply ourselves, pursue our interests, and feel we can master our social and physical environments (competence). We have the need to feel we make choices for ourselves and are not oppressed or forced into our situations (autonomy). And, we have the need to create meaning out of our lives, whether through finding our purpose, through religion, living our values, or otherwise (meaning). This means that, for individuals, we know many of the “design principles” for flourishing, whichever way society changes.

Furthermore, regardless of which way our VUCA future unfolds, as a society, we will have to grapple with many of the same questions we have always grappled with. Questions like: How can we organize so our communities thrive? How might individual safety and freedoms be protected while maintaining a collective? How might we socialize and educate our children? How might we create just, equitable, yet adaptable institutions?

This means that, while we don’t know what the future will bring in terms of technology, environmental disasters, political maneuvers, or new social movements, we do know that our society always needs creative thinkers, humanistic perspectives, empathetic citizens, and deeply principled people who can face big, complex questions and collaborate across lines of difference.

From the crafting of our constitution to the civil rights movement, to the effects of globalization — our society depends on individuals who can develop nuanced understandings of the complex issues, grapple with tough questions, collaborate with others who hold other perspectives and values, and who are dedicated to maintaining a healthy community and society beyond themselves.

Individual flourishing and societal thriving are mutually reinforcing: When our societies and communities thrive, individuals’ core needs are met and they have the freedom to make choices that align with their interests and values. When individuals are flourishing, they are more able and willing to be the kinds of citizens who contribute to the collective, consider others’ needs, and are willing to sacrifice for the good of all.

The best way to achieve future flourishing is to foster flourishing today.

The best way to ensure students will flourish as adults (and that we can thrive as a society) is NOT to try to mold them into the perfect graduate profile or to prepare them incessantly for an unknown future.

The best way to foster future flourishing is to create environments and design experiences through which they can practice the capacities, character, and beliefs they need to be empowered, informed, and engaged citizens of the world today.

When we try to design school to prepare students for the future, we inevitably have to define a set of outcomes we think we are aiming for and through this process we implicitly or explicitly narrow our definition of ‘success. ‘Success’ in the future becomes, “getting a good job” or “having a STEM career” or “high SAT scores”.

Then, we use these narrow metrics to try to shape students’ lives to maximize those outcomes. We say, “oh, it’s okay if you’re not actually all that interested in these activities — you should do them anyway because they’ll look good on your resume” and, “oh, it’s okay if test prep takes time away from inquiry if it means you get into the right college” and, “I don’t care if art class or theater is where you come alive — it won’t help you get a good job someday.”

Focusing on preparation for the future makes it very easy to mortgage childhoods: we require kids to sacrifice their current wellbeing in order to achieve some kind of future outcome.

This returns back a bit to the intrinsic (defining means) vs. the instrumental (defining ends) distinction of the four different purposes of school. Many perspectives and policies in education implicitly use instrumental frames. An easy way to spot this is basically every time something says, “this is important because it might get kids a job someday” or “our economy is going to need xy skills so we should make sure kids can do x and y.” Both statements are implicitly declaring instrumental aims for schooling.

Preparing students for instrumental future outcomes is flawed logic both because of point 1 — you can’t predict the future or what is needed in it for an individual or a society — and also because schools can’t actually do these instrumental goals. A teacher cannot go into school every day and make sure a student gets a good job or gets into the right college. What she can do is create an environment in which students’ core needs are met, and design experiences through which they get to practice the capacities, character, and beliefs of being competent, curious, courageous, creative, and kind adults.

One way to assess if something is instrumental is to ask the question, “Is that really why it’s important to develop those skills?” What if employers tomorrow decide they actually need robotic or sociopathic-type humans to do certain work, would we still think that’s how we should socialize our children to be? I hope not.

Job needs should not drive the design of K-12 schooling — we don’t know what they will be, and schooling has much broader purposes than workforce creation.

Trying to design schools to shape kids for the future can be like a Ponzi scheme — kids invest their childhoods but very few will ever be able to cash out on their sacrifices in adulthood for increased flourishing. As John Dewey famously says, “When preparation is made the controlling end, then the potentialities of the present are sacrificed to a suppositious future. When this happens, the actual preparation for the future is missed or distorted.”

In other words, asking kids to live a school experience meant to prepare them for the future that asks them to sacrifice the now often just means kids are less likely to ever flourish.

What should drive the design of K-12 schooling is a deep understanding of how individuals flourish, grow, and learn, a vision of the kind of community and society we want to create together, and an explicit set of values that underlie that community. These you can continually create and live every day — we can live them today.

In Sum

To conclude by reiterating: the absolute best way we can approach preparing our children for a VUCA world is (and has always actually been) not by focusing on the future but rather by focusing on the now. Focus on the kids in front of us today — their strengths, unique perspectives, and interests — to best ensure adults prepared for tomorrow.

Create environments in which students are valued, loved, and seen — and design experiences through which they get to practice the capacities, character, and beliefs that allow them to make informed choices about their lives and experiences through which they get to apply their strengths toward creatively solving problems they care about today.

This kind of environment and practice will prepare them to bring all of their ability, curiosity, creativity, and habits of mind when they face future VUCA worlds we cannot even imagine, much less plan for.

For more, see:


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Preparing for the Future: Building Interest in Computer Science

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been discussions focused on the need for computer science curriculum in schools. During recent Twitter chats and in webinars and panel discussions, educators have shared concerns about bridging the K-12 computer science gaps. There is a growing need for students to develop skills in coding and in STEM-related fields however, there are either real or perceived barriers to providing these opportunities for students.

Possibilities include, lack of resources, or inadequate staffing, perhaps not enough room in student schedules, or a perceived lack of knowledge by educators when it comes to bringing computer science into their classes. For some, it can also be a lack of confidence in knowing where to begin or a hesitancy to not start if we don’t feel confident enough, which was the case for me.

Fortunately, there are many options available for educators to bring CS into their classrooms. The benefits include promoting student agency and self-paced learning, the development of essential SEL skills, and promoting student curiosity and innovation in learning. What I believe is important is that all teachers create opportunities for students to learn about computer science, how to code, and apply coding skills to all grade levels and content areas.

Last year, I referred to the World Economic Forum, for the job outlook for 2022. The report shared the importance for students to develop skills such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving. The need for STEM skills will continue to increase as we see new and emerging technologies develop. A prior projection was that 3.5 million STEM jobs will need to be filled by 2025.

In addition to STEM skills, students specifically need exposure to computer science. I recently took one of the newer Microsoft Educator courses on computer science and it also shared some interesting statistics. It stated there will be 49 million more digital jobs created by 2025 in fields including AI, cybersecurity, and data analytics, which will require students to have computer science skills.  Families are also in support of bringing more computer science into our schools, as a Gallup poll from September 2020, reported that 69% of parents and guardians in the United States expect schools to integrate computer science into the curriculum.

As educators, we need to have resources available that enable us to build our own skills but that also provide students with personalized learning opportunities to explore computer science and find something that meets their specific interests and needs. The goal is to better inform students and hopefully to spark curiosity for learning and lead our students to become creators and innovators.

Here are six resources to explore that will give students a chance to see how computer science impacts our world and build their skills in a variety of focus areas.

Amazon Future Engineers: An interesting opportunity for students to learn how computer science, engineering, algorithms, and machine learning are used in Amazon’s fulfillment centers. There are options to take a tour focusing on computer science, or to interact with an Amazon tour guide or to sign up for a one-hour learning experience. There are many resources including slides and activities aligned to the computer science standard available in the Teacher Toolkit. This provides a real-world learning opportunity for students. Teachers can register for tours that will continue through July 1st. This is a good option for in-person or remote learning.

AI World School: Offers a variety of courses and resources for learning about STEM and coding. In addition to three flagship AI courses, there are several micro-courses available divided into the three age groups and with topics including creating with Scratch, building an Android or iOS app, and more advanced options such as JavaScript and Python coding for older students.

CoderZ: A cloud-based STEM learning opportunity, where students can code 3D robots. There are different courses available through CoderZ including CoderZ Adventure for ages 6 through 10, Robotics 101, a self-paced program for ages 11 through 14, Summer Robotics 1 or 2 for ages 11 to 14, and Python gym for students ages 15 and older. It has 3D simulations of robots, students can write and test their own code, and teachers have access to self-paced curriculum and teacher guides. Students receive immediate results of their work which is great for in-person or remote learning. CoderZ integrates with Clever, ClassLink, and Google Classroom.

Grasshopper: For teachers or adult learners looking to build their own skills, Grasshopper is a coding app for beginners. The name is in recognition of Grace Hopper, a pioneer in computer science. The Grasshopper curriculum is divided into topics including fundamentals, array methods, animations, web page design, and more. There are many types of coding activities and lessons available through Grasshopper that are available for free on Android and iOS as well as for desktop use.

Kubo coding: A good program for starting with elementary students specifically grades K through 5. Students can build their coding skills through a tag tile programming language which is a puzzle-like coding concept. Kubo Play is a new simulation tool that works well for a blended learning experience by giving students hands-on coding activities and 300 tasks that cover ISTE standards for coding.

Mblock: Easy to get started with coding by choosing to code with blocks or code with Python. They have featured coding products and additional resources such as online coding training for Scratch, robotics programming, and Python. There are also sample projects where students can view the code and then start creating their own projects.

These are just a few of the resources to explore that will be helpful for learning regardless of whether in-person or virtual. The end of the school year is always a good opportunity to try some new ideas that will help to keep students engaged, and hopefully develop an interest in computer science. These can even be fun options to explore with family and build skills together. Check out the Family code night!

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COVID Forced Schools to Innovate: Let’s Build on What They Learned

By Dan Weisberg, Tim Hughes, Katie Martin, and Devin Vodicka

The COVID-19 pandemic has tested public education in the United States like nothing else in recent memory. But with vaccination numbers on the rise, more schools are finally looking ahead to resuming in-person instruction—and confronting the potentially historic setbacks students suffered over the last year.

Helping students recover—socially, emotionally, and academically—will be a years-long effort that may prove even more challenging than the pandemic itself. Fortunately, schools have two powerful resources to draw on as they formulate their plans. The first has received plenty of attention: an unprecedented infusion of federal funding. Less well-known but just as important is the burst of promising new approaches to education that school systems, educators, and families pioneered in response to the crisis.

Across the country, schools rolled out and refined virtual instruction, partnered with community organizations to provide tutoring and other supports, and enlisted families as true partners in their children’s education like never before. Students and families adapted in creative ways, too, with many forming learning “pods” or more informal support networks. Familiar process-oriented metrics such as seat time were impractical measures of success, opening up new opportunities for communities to reflect on the purpose of schooling. This all happened mainly out of necessity: the traditional approach to school wasn’t possible, so we had no choice but to create alternatives.

But in their understandable haste to reopen buildings and welcome back students, it would be a mistake for schools to treat the work of the last year as relevant only during once-in-a-generation emergencies. After all, the traditional approach to school was failing to provide far too many students—especially students of color and those from low-income families—with the opportunities they deserve long before anybody had ever heard of COVID-19.

Instead of simply recreating the pre-pandemic educational experience, school and system leaders should consider which new instructional models from the last year have the potential to improve that experience for historically marginalized students over the long term—and set aside a percentage of new federal funding to expand them. Many of these “innovations” have actually been in development for many years and their utility has been magnified through the pandemic. More specifically, leaders should take this opportunity to:

Expand our view of success: The pandemic has made it clear that we must focus on whole-child outcomes that include knowledge, habits, and skills. Logan County Schools in Kentucky has focused on developing their Profile of Success to name, teach, and grow skills beyond traditionally tested outcomes. Throughout the past year educators have come up with mentoring programs, varied schedules, leadership opportunities, personal schedules, and redesigned their class schedules to address the needs of the whole child. Many schools and systems have recognized the value of social-emotional learning, including building relationships and fostering both confidence and competence as learners. It is not sufficient to just teach the content. Instead, we have seen the value of teaching young people the skills to manage their responsibilities, find and use information, and learn to chart their own path to more holistic measures of success.

Adopt flexible learning schedules: The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provides funds to help schools set up extended learning this summer and in 2021-22—and many students will need this extra instructional time in order to accelerate back to grade-level after the interrupted learning of the last year. But even as they look for ways to offer more total instructional time, schools may want to consider maintaining some of the flexibility students experienced over the last year around exactly when they access lessons or complete assignments. For example, Guilford County Public Schools proposed hubs being in the evening for students whose life circumstances prohibit them from attending during the day. Bedford County Public Schools has eliminated master schedules at secondary schools, instead of assigning 12-15 students to a “learning coach” who meets with students routinely to promote connectedness and to develop flexible schedules that meet the needs of each learner.

Create a wider range of instructional roles: Schools will need as many great teachers as possible to help students recover from this crisis—but that’s just a starting point. Over the last year, many communities recruited college students, parents, grandparents, clergy, retired educators, and professionals whose jobs were disrupted by the pandemic to offer mentoring, tutoring, and support for virtual learning. There’s no reason these partnerships shouldn’t continue—and expand—in the years ahead . Central Falls has hired people from the community to serve as “pod leaders.” Most hubs have students doing remote learning provided by the district, sometimes supported by non-certified staff (The Mind Trust / IPS, Miami-Dade, Cleveland, Chicago). Over the long run, these and other new roles may provide models for a more formalized “apprentice” approach to the teaching profession.

Deliver instruction in more ways: School systems and local governments have prioritized expanding access to high-speed internet connections and devices during the pandemic. Some students who thrived doing more self-directed virtual learning may benefit from having it remain part of their school experience even after buildings reopen. And there’s certainly no reason to undo the progress we’ve made narrowing the digital divide just because the pandemic is waning. For example, Dallas ISD is building on their personalized learning school model with a distance learning option for families. More flexible instructional delivery models could also help ensure fewer students drop out simply because they can’t be in a school building for six or seven hours a day—for example, high school students who work during the day to help support their family financially.

Strengthen partnerships with families: When school buildings closed, many families and caregivers took on new roles as assistant teachers. Schools relied on families to make virtual learning possible—which meant prioritizing clearer communication and greater transparency about the work students were expected to do in their classes each day. This focus on authentic partnership with families should continue even after in-person learning resumes—and no family should accept a return to being in the dark about their child’s day-to-day school experiences. To promote strong family partnerships, Oakland is hiring “family liaisons” to support parents and Vista Unified School District has developed a network of Family and Community Engagement (FACE) specialists.

Not all these approaches will work for every school system—or even for every school within a given system. Leaders should take stock of what they piloted over the last year and zero in on the options that showed the most promising results for students. Above all, that means asking students and families from all parts of the communities directly about what worked and what didn’t before making any decisions, rather than relying on assumptions.

While many systems have evolved specific aspects of their previous school model, others have completely redesigned their conception of the school itself. These innovations are also coming together in new models of “school,” including pandemic pods, hubs, and micro-schools that can leverage many of the flexible benefits of personalization with the important social elements of learning communities. In these new models, staffing and family engagement structures are also modified, frequently promoting higher levels of connectedness between students and adults. Leveraging the recent infusion of ARPA funding, educators anywhere and everywhere can make small steps to implement these new models by running afterschool and summer programs that incorporate elements of these innovative models.

Let’s not aspire to return to “normal” and instead use what we have learned and expand promising innovations to better serve all students. At this moment, with the challenges so daunting and the stakes for students so high, school systems can and should create a new and better normal to move forward.

For more, see:


Dan Weisberg is the CEO of TNTP, an education nonprofit that helps school systems across the country address educational inequities and achieves their goals for students.

Tim Hughes is the West Vice President at TNTP.

Katie Martin is the Chief Impact Officer of Altitude Learning and the author of Learner-Centered Innovation.

Devin Vodicka is the CEO of Altitude Learning and the author of Learner-Centered Leadership.  

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The importance of a Stellar Ambassador Team when Introducing New Tech

By: Whitney Green

I am an assistant principal at a mega elementary school in Chattanooga, TN. Our district has roughly 79 schools with a variety of demographics, including low-income rural and urban students, as well as upper-middle-class suburban students. Our district recently went through a change in administration and we now have an amazing superintendent who is focused, personable, and determined to be the highest-achieving school district in the state of Tennessee. And let me just say, we did it! Then came the pandemic.

As a former college athlete, Michael Jordan has always played a vital role in how I have viewed leadership and success. Michael Jordan understood that his failures made him successful. He also never looked back and always looked for the next play, next shot, next move. This resonated with me when we had to quarantine in March and our virtual learning experience was a failure, as students were not accessing or receiving the same level of rigor as they were when we were in school in a face-to-face setting.

The year before, I led the piloting of EL Education for 3rd-5th grades in our school, and we were seeing significant progress in English Language Arts (ELA) proficiency. Our administrative team recognized we needed students to be able to access the rigorous EL Education curriculum to continue this progress throughout the pandemic. But how would we do that for kids learning virtually? Since I led the EL Education pilot the year prior, I felt the pressure to continue this momentum with such an amazing curriculum.

I like to use the saying that our school is leading, not trailing, and fortunately, because of this, the district approached me about piloting a digital form of the EL Education curriculum available on the Kiddom platform going into the 2020-2021 school year.

Implementing anything new is something most leaders dread, as any change can bring about some resistance. To create buy-in with your teachers, you need to start off small. I developed a “think tank” by asking one teacher per team to participate. They loved Kiddom! It provided the EL Education curriculum at their fingertips, without worrying about all of the books. Also, Kiddom truly cared and wanted to meet the needs of our school, and was happy to hear all of our feedback in order to enhance the experience.

We then gradually rolled it out to the rest of our building. This “think tank group” became my ambassadors for our school. As the new year started, the ambassadors modeled how easy Kiddom was to use for both teachers and students as both interfaces are organized and simple to navigate. They were also a helpful resource when teachers had questions.

As we move beyond the pandemic, looking back, it’s incredible to see all of the things that Kiddom improved for us. Our teachers can now:

  • assign EL assignments that students can complete through the platform,
  • provide real-time feedback with each assignment, and have more accountability as students have avatars that are lit up when they were accessing the platform,
  • differentiate with assignments to meet the needs of students such as using the available K-2 read-aloud videos, adding in scaffolds, etc.,
  • post any announcements or links to other platforms within Kiddom, and
  •  live chat with the teacher/student portfolios, as all assignments are saved and housed within their account (a great resource when having conferences with families).

These are just a few highlights that made a huge difference for our virtual experience moving forward with ELA. Our teachers and students were able to pivot and provide a rigorous ELA curriculum that never stopped due to any of the circumstances that hindered us previously.

All teachers know that all about the numbers in the end and how students perform on state assessments. I have evidence to back that up as well! Our district provides three standards-based benchmarks throughout the year that are closely aligned with our end of the year state assessment. After completing two of these benchmarks, our school is leading the way on virtual learning, and our scores prove it. 

Out of all schools, including both middle and high, we have made the most growth in ELA in our district based on our second benchmark. We have stood out from the rest, as many schools have struggled to continue, particularly with their virtual learning, along with so many across the country. A local news station has noticed our success and is doing a feature story on how we have accomplished so much, regarding our data, and specifically our success with virtual learning.

We are just an average school that made a commitment to ensuring we would continue our EL Education curriculum. The EL curriculum brought about change in our school that was imperative, as we were not previously meeting the needs of our students based on their understanding and abilities within the ELA standards.

As we move beyond the pandemic, we are determined to look forward and focus on what we can control for our students, and that is providing every student with the opportunity to access this curriculum. If you are an educator who is at a loss for how to continue the curriculum, regardless of your circumstances moving forward, Kiddom is a great option. We’re happy to say that we have not looked back since and are proud to have only moved forward.

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Whitney Green is the Assistant Principal at an elementary school in Chattanooga, TN. She has experience as a teacher in both 1st and 4th grade, having taught all subjects and also familiar with departmentalized teaching. She has her coaching certification and completed her Ed.S. in Instructional Leadership.

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Schools Can Give America a Shot At Vaccine Equity

Since COVID-19 vaccinations began in December, nearly 60% of American adults have gotten at least one jab. In April, vaccines were made available to teens 16 and older in most states, and earlier this month, vaccine eligibility expanded to kids as young as 12—opening up the possibility of vaccines for an additional 17 million young people. In a landmark speech to a joint session of Congress, President Biden pointed out that 90% of Americans now live within 5 miles of a vaccination site. Then he delivered a simple imperative: “Get vaccinated now.”

Biden had reason to issue that plea: Today, up to 1 in 4 Americans say they won’t get vaccinated, and another 5 percent are undecided. To date, only about a third of the population has been vaccinated; America is in a race against time between new COVID variants and the pace of vaccinations. Without a more effective vaccination strategy that boosts the confidence of hesitant individuals of the safety and efficacy of FDA-authorized vaccines, we are unlikely to get back to normal—which Dr. Anthony Fauci says requires 70–85% of the population to get vaccinated.

Public schools can help: As trusted local institutions, our country’s schools are well-positioned with both the physical and social infrastructure needed to help hesitant Americans overcome their concerns and get vaccinated quickly.

The reasons for reluctance are as diverse as Americans themselves: Many people are worried about vaccine safety and side effects, others are dubious about the motives of the government or pharmaceutical companies, and many communities lack access to quality health information and convenient care. Unfortunately, as Americans vacillate over vaccines, variants are growing: The most common source of new infection in the U.S is the B.1.1.7 variant that’s more contagious, deadlier, and infecting younger populations.

The best way to boost vaccine confidence is through proximate, trusted, empathetic communication, and the best way to reach more Americans is to increase equitable access to vaccines. Schools can provide both, and they are, as yet, a nearly untapped resource in the vaccination effort.

Of all our public institutions, schools have the broadest and deepest reach into the everyday lives of Americans, from those in urban centers to those in rural outposts. Almost every community has a school nearby, even if its hospital is miles away. The reach of schools is also diverse and multigenerational, as students leave school buildings to return to parents, grandparents, extended family, friends, and other loved ones of every background, race, faith, and political persuasion.

Moreover, people trust school leaders, particularly principals. Teachers, social workers, school nurses, and office staff can leverage a foundation of trust to listen, understand, and respond to concerns of students, parents, and caregivers. School leaders are well-positioned to address delicate matters like misinformation, complacency, fear, and distrust of science and data.

There are several steps schools can take to address hesitancy and equitable access to vaccines in their local communities. A 10-Point Guide for Schools to Promote Equitable COVID-19 Vaccination outlines approaches and options.

The first is by taking a deliberate and empathetic approach to COVID-19 vaccination awareness and education. At Brooklyn Lab, a public school in downtown Brooklyn, New York, our staff start by listening, without judgment, to the concerns of our community. From this position, we’re able to begin addressing those concerns, both through one-on-one conversations and through broader communications such as town halls and newsletters.

Schools can also integrate vaccination information into curricula. In science and math classes, teachers invite students to understand the data behind the vaccine trials and use statistics, math, and science to place the risk of vaccines in context when concerns arise about certain vaccines, as has happened with Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca shots. In humanities classes, our teachers share and explore the history of medical racism that has contributed to vaccine hesitancy in some communities. They can explore successful campaigns to vaccinate Americans against polio in the 1950s or heroic efforts to use vaccination to eradicate smallpox globally in the 1970s. Teaching about vaccination history and COVID-19 in the classroom not only helps educate students with facts and science; it empowers them to become vaccine ambassadors with and for their loved ones.

Schools can also partner with local health organizations, governments, churches, businesses, unions, sports teams, nonprofits, or news outlets to run credible campaigns to educate their broader communities. To increase equitable access, schools can even offer their facilities as school vaccination sites, making it easier for working families, multigenerational households, or people in rural communities to have convenient access to a vaccine. President Biden said it: “Think of places that are convenient: School gyms, sports stadiums, community centers.”

This wouldn’t be the first time schools have served as vaccination centers; in 1954, the first polio vaccine was administered at a school in Pittsburgh and many individuals get their flu shots at their local schools. Some schools have done this during our current pandemic: Carmen Schools of Science and Technology partnered with the Milwaukee Health Department and four other schools to create a vaccination site for the school community. Within weeks, more than 80% of the staff had been vaccinated.

Some may argue that schools don’t have the time and resources to engage in the vaccine effort. Educators are overwhelmed trying to manage remote, in-person, and hybrid learning, while also supporting school communities that have endured unimaginable trauma and loss. This argument is valid, and schools do need extra support to take this on. But this is one of the greatest public health campaigns society has undertaken in generations, and yet even the most influential public health institutions don’t have the kind of local access we need to achieve herd immunity at scale. With the support of schools, we can reach more American communities.

Policymakers and government officials must support schools with the resources necessary to help communities overcome vaccine hesitancy and to vaccinate children when deemed safe. For American schools, vaccinations are a critical pathway to full reopening, and American schools might just be our next best shot for getting all Americans vaccinated.

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