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Last month, our Verizon Innovative Learning Schools initiative held its second annual project-wide summer convening. For these events, Digital Promise and Verizon Innovative Learning collaborate to bring together learning coaches, storytellers, school administrators, district staff, and teachers from each school. Every attendee from each school, regardless of their role in the project, is on the same journey with us. No matter which phase of the journey they might be on, the end goal is the same: leverage enhanced learning environments to create confident, lifelong learners.

The Summer Soiree is a wonderful opportunity for educators to come together in person to share victories, lessons learned, and needs and concerns. It’s also a time for us to welcome the newest VILS schools, and for them to learn from the more senior cohort schools and begin to build relationships. This year in Denver, Colorado, we had 240 educators join us from each of our 46 schools across the country.

We focused this summer’s convening around a few themes, including clarifying roles and expectations, building strong district teams, and the importance of storytelling across the project. On day one, district teams met together to clarify their commitments, expectations, and follow up for the upcoming school year, using the following prompts:

“I commit to this project because…”
“You can expect me to…”
“I will follow up on this by doing…”

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Educators from West Ada School District in Meridian, Idaho map out their commitments, expectations, and follow ups.

These clarifications help teams build confidence in one another and make sure roles are clear. The conversations were tied to the importance of each individual focusing on telling his or her story, as well as working as a team to tell each school’s story. As Digital Promise’s Director of Story Marco Antonio Torres reminded our educators, “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will tell it for you!”

On day two of the convening, teachers from each of the most senior cohort schools joined us. One of our goals for the upcoming year is to help facilitate cross-school connections between teachers, and we planted the seeds for this at the Summer Soiree. Teachers were able to share victories and examples from their classrooms and had an opportunity to meet in subject-area groups to share tips and advice.

All 240 attendees also participated in breakout conversations; these conversation topics were based on a feedback survey administered prior to the convening. Topics ranged from Student Storytelling Teams, to Device Rollout, to Engaging Families and the Community. Many sessions were led by learning coaches and storytellers; it was amazing to see these educators in their element in front of a “class” of adults!

Perhaps the most inspirational moment of the Summer Soiree came during lunch on day two. Student storytellers from several VILS schools across the country joined us virtually via video chat to share their experiences and to further stress the importance of storytelling. Each student shared his or her story, and answered questions from the audience without hesitation. Hearing from students helps us refocus on the WHY of this journey. These students have learned so much in a short amount of time, and their self-confidence and passion was incredible!

As we wrapped up the Summer Soiree, we set aside a significant amount of time for reflection and planning for follow up. It’s critical that every single person return to their school with actionable ideas and plans for the year to come. We look forward to seeing their plans develop into action over the summer and when school starts up again in the fall!


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