8 Approaches That Are Making a Difference in Public Education - Digital Promise

8 Approaches That Are Making a Difference in Public Education

July 12, 2018 | By

News articles often highlight the challenges educators face and the ways in which students are not achieving. This kind of coverage is important; talking about challenges is critical to shining the spotlight on inequities and ultimately changing or removing structures that do not support students. As is, talking about solutions that work.

Educators across the country are addressing challenges and building solutions that work for their communities with big results. Within the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools (League), superintendents and other district leaders are taking on this work together in Challenge Collaboratives. In late April, League educators joined researchers and other leaders in the education industry at the spring 2018 League meeting in Charlotte, NC, to talk about the challenges they face and develop ideas for solutions.

In the process, League leaders shared eight approaches and solutions that are working now…and why.

1. Challenge: Edtech Procurement and Adoption | Response: The Educators’ Playground in Rowan-Salisbury Schools

In a colorful space adjacent to where teachers receive regular professional development training, Rowan-Salisbury Schools has created an Educators’ Playground of edtech where teachers can tinker and test new products. As an in-house resource, educators have the time and space to thoughtfully consider if the edtech products will work for their specific classroom needs. All products in the space have been tested and approved by the district’s technology department, and new products are cycled through regularly to keep the experience fresh and exciting. By creating a space within the environment where teachers work, the Playground provides a unique opportunity for teachers to decide what types of technology will best support their instructional goals.

Learn more: ISTE Feature

2. Challenge: Personalized Learning | Solution: Personalized Learning Case Studies in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

When Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools began its personalized learning journey, district leaders invited all of their 168 schools to apply to join the original cohort. They wanted to engage schools in designing and piloting work aligned with the district’s mission for personalized learning. The district selected an initial cohort of three schools to participate in the pilot and document their learnings in case studies. The lessons learned from the original pilots have informed the district’s personalized learning case studies allowed for a learner-centered curriculum to be thoughtfully scaled throughout the district. According to the Friday Institute, themes that emerged across all three schools are:

  • “Developing a shared culture focused on learning for all students in which what might be seen as a failure elsewhere is seen as part of the growth process.
  • Professional learning is embedded, protected, valued, and seen as ongoing.
  • Teaching and learning are student-centered and student-driven.
  • Focus on the whole child and social and emotional learning (SEL) in which achievement is one of several data points.”

Learn more: Case Studies via the Friday Institute

3. Challenge: Opportunity Gaps | Solution: “Back The Pack” in Rock Hill Schools

“Back the Pack” is a long-running program within Rock Hill Schools to feed hungry children. Students leaders within the high school’s Career Technical Education (CTE) program designed an assembly line that allows for the mass production of meals and supplies for approximately 600 students. The community supports the program with money and volunteer time, with the program design and implementation being student led. This is a real-world learning opportunity for student leaders to manage the production of packaging at scale, and a way of addressing some opportunity gaps in providing food to those students that need it.

Learn more: Program Overview of Back the Pack

4. Challenge: Social-Emotional Learning | Solution: #BetheKindKid at Avonworth Public Schools

JAM Enterprises – which stands for Julia, Amelia, and Maureen – is a collaboration at Avonworth Public Schools of two first-grade students and their teacher for “girls who make and girls who care.” Their dream was to make products. Their most successful endeavor so far is a T-shirt that reads “#BeTheKindKid,” which was worn by Avonworth students every Wednesday this past April to encourage a culture of empathy in their schools.

Two thousand T-shirts later, JAM Enterprises have ended their production line, but the message still carries through the school culture and the campaign has scaled to other districts in the Pittsburgh region. Julia, Amelia, Maureen, and the entire team at Avonworth have dedicated a lot of time and love to make Avonworth a place where kindness reigns.

Learn more: Follow JAM Enterprises on Twitter

5. Challenge: Connecting Family Engagement to Student Learning| Solution: STEAMFest in Compton Unified School District

Compton Unified School District created a festival that has helped change the narrative about Compton. In the words of superintendent Darin Brawley, “Compton is a great place to work. We’re doing some powerful things for kids. Don’t feel sorry for Compton.” STEAMFest is an annual event where the school district demonstrates how learning in coding, robotics, maker, and other programs occurs in classrooms across the district. Over 5,000 people attended the second annual event, immersing the whole community in what the district’s students are accomplishing.

Learn More: Compton Presentation

6. Challenge: Communication between Schools and Families | Reponse: Weekly Twitter Chat at Lakota Local Schools

Matt Miller of Lakota Local Schools walked into the #LISCarolinas meeting wearing his own brand: a #WEareLakota T-shirt. Students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members convene every Wednesday on Twitter for the #WEareLakota chat to discuss relevant topics together. This chat has elevated student voice across all audiences, with teachers and administrators responding to the questions and topics students have chosen.

Learn More: Check Out the #WEareLakota conversation

7. Challenge: Teaching with Technology / Edtech Integration | Response: Virtual Snow Days in Owsley County, Lee County Schools, and Pascack Valley Regional High School District

Rural school districts Lee County Schools and Owsley County Schools face the challenge of delivering a consistent educational experience when big weather systems come into play. Pascack Valley Regional High School District in New Jersey has also faced the challenge of losing too many days to weather, prompting administrative complications. In Kentucky, Lee and Owsley (and other districts throughout the state) have used Non-Traditional Instruction Days, where students leverage the connectivity and technology the district has lobbied for and provided to bring virtual snow days to their students, making sure the learning does not stop when the roads close. In Pascack Valley, they planned two virtual days of learning during spring breaks to make up for potential time lost for students during snow days – during which teachers came in, buses ran, and students were not required to attend. The flexibility was welcome to parents and community members, and allowed for adequate planning to address the inevitable inclement weather day.

Learn More: Virtual Snow Days

8. Challenge: College & Career Readiness | Response: Fostering Community Partnerships at Freehold Regional High School District

Freehold Regional High School District has fostered industry partnerships to create opportunities for students to explore careers while they are still in high school. In doing so, they have invited and embedded corporate partners from places like Wegmans, Vimeo, and the local police department to work alongside teachers in developing relevant curriculum, setting appropriate metrics, and fostering internship opportunities. The Freehold team aims to provide students with choices of what they can do post-high school based on the belief that kids need to graduate with real skills for the workplace. Freehold equips students with those skills to be able to make that choice according to their interests and needs.

Learn More: Culinary Management Program with Wegmans

At Digital Promise, we’re excited to kick off our Challenge Collaboratives and watch as new and scalable solutions are created and surfaced by the nation’s leading educators. We have a lot to learn from the leaders who are demonstrating how to utilize innovation approaches to create powerful learning opportunities and outcomes for teachers and students..

Thank you to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Rock Hill Schools, and Rowan-Salisbury Schools for their tremendous contributions at co-hosts at #LISCarolinas. To stay updated on the League of Innovative Schools, follow #DPLIS on Twitter.

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