Like many other districts in the League of Innovative Schools, our team at Bristol Warren Regional School District (BWRSD) has a firm understanding of best practice and current research. However, the difficulty in scaling any innovation is converting the theory into action.
To help overcome this, we have adopted the Future Ready Schools Framework, a systematic approach to scaling innovative digital learning practices while promoting long-term sustainability. Putting a thoughtful transition to digital learning in place affords us the opportunity to provide greater clarity and coherence regarding our district’s vision of teaching and learning to educators, students, and our community. At BWRSD, we have used the opportunity to develop and communicate a new, shared vision of personalized instruction that fosters deeper learning for all students.
Our journey began in the Fall of 2015 with the convening of a Future Ready Leadership Team representing a cross-section of school and district leaders. (You can view our evolving implementation timeline here.) The team’s primary goal was to develop a shared vision for deeper learning through innovative uses of digital technologies.
In January 2016, the team collectively took a district self-assessment to gauge BWRSD’s digital learning readiness. We also engaged stakeholders across the entire district via assessment surveys conducted through the Future Ready Dashboard, then analyzed the results along each “gear” area, exploring our strengths and weaknesses. We decided to focus first on our technology infrastructure as well as our curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices.
We quickly realized we lacked the robust infrastructure and support systems needed to fully implement our district’s vision of personalized learning. BWRSD made several strategic investments to upgrade our network infrastructure, paving the way for our road to one-to-one device access. We also developed a comprehensive five-year device refresh plan, implemented a new inventory and IT support system, enacted new responsible use and device policies for students and staff, and redesigned the Technology Department to better support our Future Ready goals.
The district also committed to further supporting and expanding our Digital Learning Teams (DLTs). DLTs are comprised of two to four teachers who were early adopters of effective technology integration. There are currently 10 teams (33 total teachers) representing all six of our district’s schools.
The design of Bristol Warren’s DLT initiative is based on the theory that “successful school reform grows from the inside out”. These teams have assumed leadership roles in their schools, exploring emerging educational technologies and developing models of instruction that have the power to transform teaching and learning. They have participated in extensive professional development and received onsite coaching and support throughout the year.
To help DLT members evaluate the academic impact of their new strategies, the teams developed and conducted a series of short-cycle action research projects. These six- to eight-week cycles focused on improving a particular student skill/competency, during which the teacher chose a blended learning instructional model along with a set of digital learning tools/resources.
Since the goal of action research is discovery, it was okay if a particular project was not as successful as hoped. A “failed” project still proved beneficial since the team learned not to further devote time and resources to that particular strategy and ed-tech tool. On the other hand, “successful” action research projects moved to the next phase of iteration and scaling across the school and district.
When teachers are empowered to take risks and make changes related to teaching and learning, student achievement is enhanced, and schools become more effective learning communities. The outcome of DLT action research has been shared with colleagues at faculty meetings, during peer walkthroughs, at community technology nights, and even showcased at school committee meetings. For the 2016-2017 school year, the team has expanded to 33 members across six schools representing various grade levels and areas of expertise.
To further support our district’s vision, we are also developing a comprehensive communications plan through a new district Future Ready website, YouTube channel, and social media campaign (#BWRSD) to reach all district stakeholders to articulate our goals, monitor progress, and celebrate successes. Our Administration team also devoted time to conducting a crosswalk of our Future Ready Plan with the district’s newly adopted Strategic Plan, along with other initiatives underway that align to and support Future Ready. This has helped provide clarity and coherence regarding initiatives that have been viewed as competing, yet are actually integral pieces of our larger goal to become Future Ready.
Along with the focus on leadership and communications, we have recently partnered with Middletown Public Schools (R.I.) as part of a recently awarded Van Buren Grant to collaboratively scale innovative teaching and learning across our districts. Our work has started with a series of site visits, during which DLT members from each district observe classrooms and collaborate during afternoon share-out sessions. The overall goal of this work is to develop and scale model classrooms, as well as continue the process of meaningfully integrating effective digital learning practices across all curriculum areas.
Our expanded DLT has also provided key insights in making strategic investments in digital learning devices and resources across the district that best align with the instructional goals and learning needs of each student. To further support this, we are actively conducting pilots of digital learning tools, such as WeVideo Edu, SeeSaw for Schools, and Achieve 3000, that can help support our path towards personalization and deeper learning for all students. We are currently exploring use of the newly released EdTech Rapid Cycle Evaluation Tool to help us conduct targeted pilots that effectively measure the academic return on investment of new digital learning resources.
Everything we do is part of our goal to develop a robust digital learning ecosystem that supports innovating teaching and learning for students across the district. With a focus on student learning, strategic use of the Future Ready framework, and strong collaborative leadership, we believe BWRSD is on the path to being a world-class, Future Ready school district!