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How to calibrate curriculum while ensuring teachers have flexibility

How to calibrate curriculum while ensuring teachers have flexibility

Jessica Hunsinger

Jessica Hunsinger

Product Manager, Kiddom

Former educator passionate about building human potential. Saving teachers time through interoperability is what currently drives me. 

We chatted with Jessica Hunsinger, Product Manager at Kiddom, to learn about the “Curriculum” element of a groundbreaking new feature, responsive curriculum management. Jessica brings a unique perspective, as a former teacher who has been involved with Kiddom from the building of our free product for teachers, Kiddom Classroom, to Kiddom Academy, our paid product for administrators.  

You can view the other stages in this series as posted here:

  • Curriculum (Stage 1 & 2): curriculum developers & teachers
  • Instruction (Stage 3 & 4): teachers & students
  • Assessment (Stage 5 & 6): administrators & teachers

Teachers are not robots — the beauty of what a teacher does is in how they put their own passion and personality into bringing these lessons to life.

 

 

Why Would Curriculum Developers Want to Share Curriculum With Their Teachers?

This was one of the first questions we asked in our research to build Academy, and of course there are many reasons. The end goal for all schools is the students — learning and achievement. But why would they want teachers to work on the same thing?

 

Student equity is the goal post.

It’s always about making sure every student in your school receives an excellent education.

And yet there is also this understanding that teachers are not robots — that the beauty of what a teacher does is in how they put their own passion and personality into bringing these lessons to life.

Yet in order to promote student equity and give every student a quality education, school leaders need to make meaning of their data.

Sometimes they try having these normed benchmark assessments a few times a year. But the problem is, those aren’t teacher created. So they don’t come often enough to respond quickly, and since the teachers didn’t create it, there isn’t always alignment to the testing.

So the goal is, at the bare minimum, to say, “by this date, we would like you to cover this.”  We knew that administrators wanted to sort of set expectations — we later defined that as calibrating expectations — across classrooms and in talking with a variety of people involved with curriculum, we made some discoveries.

 

Curriculum Developers

Teachers

Administrators

Who’s in Charge of Curriculum? The Many Faces of the “Curriculum” Role

Some of the roles we talked to in our research process so far:

 

  • Director of Curriculum and Instruction
  • Teacher Leader tasked with helping their district build curriculum
  • Principal doing project-based enabling teachers to define loose curriculum projects
  • Kiddom user who was already using Kiddom’s Planner tool
…but the person responsible for building curriculum varies at every school, including:

 

  • Director of Curriculum Instruction
  • Instructional Coach
  • Team Lead of X Department (Science, etc.)
  • Assistant Principal — who happens to also be responsible for instruction
  • District-wide instructional support

The Collaborative Curriculum Building Solution

As you can see, every school has a different system. But at the end of the day, we see teachers submitting plans to administrators or school leaders are often collaborating back and forth.

So with our instructional days and skills attached to the unit within the app, we’re helping them say “within this time frame you can cover this skill in anyway you want.” That way, everyone wins. Teachers are teaching what they want; and the curriculum role is able to look at apples to apples comparisons about their curriculum.

What Academy’s Classroom Insights Aren’t Made for: 

The point is not to see how far one classroom has gotten versus another. While you administrators do have the visibility to drill down and see that discrepancy — we see this more as a way for school leaders to make sense of the day-to day instructional data, as opposed to benchmark assessment data.
It’s also not made to spy on teachers. Rather, it’s made so teachers won’t have to waste time explaining classroom insights. Admins can see in realtime what is happening in the classroom. So they can plan to do observations on a meaningful day, or see that a certain student didn’t attend the day that x skill was taught.

Which steps take place in the Curriculum stage?

Step 1: Plan, Design, & Align

In this stage, a school leader would plan out courses. Here, a curriculum role can build the scope and sequence, align each unit to standards, and design the content, if he or she wishes.

 

This can be shared with teachers who can then collaborate, with the curriculum director or with each other, to design content.
 

Here administrators can add units, standards, and other details, then click into any teacher’s curriculum to view what resources teachers have added into their Planner.

Step 2: Share & Fine Tune

In this stage, the curriculum is shared with teachers where they can then build it out in Planner. This is where Academy is unique, in that it bridges a gap from the curriculum management tool to the Classroom.

Here teachers can build out their student Timeline by choosing content for the Units that have appeared in their Planner — whether they wish to add their own custom content by attaching a file or integrating with Google Drive, or choosing one of the 70,000+ resources available within Kiddom’s content library. The curriculum director and teacher both have the visibility to see the plan and share resources freely.

 

 

Teachers can access and use the curriculum designed in Academy, simply dragging resources from Planner and dropping them into a a student’s Timeline.

The Greatest Benefits of Responsive Curriculum Management for Curriculum Developers

For one, curriculum developers using responsive curriculum management serve to gain a deeper understanding from the rich measurement of multiple layers of teaching and learning, which allows their curriculum to be analyzed and improved upon swiftly — an added bonus here is the ability to measure personalization efforts. Both of these points roll up into the greater goal shared be most learning communities: every child can receive a quality education.

Another crucial benefit is the ability to collaborate with transparency. As teachers and curriculum developers collaborate to build a shared framework, they’re able to discover and reuse their “greatest hits” curriculum. This can be carried on to new semesters, or across multiple classes in a subject. In effect, the most successful content or teaching styles will surface to shape that curriculum into something far greater through collaboration.

 

You can view the other stages in this series as posted here:

  • Curriculum (Stage 1 & 2): curriculum developers & teachers
  • Instruction (Stage 3 & 4): teachers & students
  • Assessment (Stage 5 & 6): administrators & teachers

What is Responsive Curriculum Management?

Responsive Curriculum Management (RCM) is a feature that calibrates curriculum across school systems so that learning trends can be discovered and acted upon in a timely manner.

By including all stakeholders in a child's education, RCM effectively bridges the gap between curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Kiddom Academy picks up where the LMS leaves off, offering an operating system for K-12 schools and districts to measure and act on classroom intelligence. We define a K-12 operating system as a set of interconnected tools to enable schools to operate more productively, increase student outcomes, and improve upon their respective instructional models.

What People Are Saying

“Kiddom is great for assessing data and then assigning appropriate work based on individual student performance. I love that it’s very easy to attach standards and rubric to every assignment.”

Jackie Curts, Middle School Teacher

“Using Kiddom has made me stop and ask ‘Am I just letting this student repeat what they already know or am I really challenging them?’”

Ann Leghorn, High School Literacy Specialist

“I can see where my class and any student is at any moment in their educational journey. This way I can take action to assist them to work towards mastery.”

Mr. Albrecht, High School Teacher

You might also be interested in these articles:

How to Track Student Development with Responsive Curriculum Management — Part 2 of 3

How to Track Student Development with Responsive Curriculum Management — Part 2 of 3

Nicole Plante

Nicole Plante

Support Specialist, Kiddom

Nicole Plante is a former middle and high school ELA teacher who received her B.A. in English (U.C. Berkeley), M.A. in English Education (CUNY-Brooklyn) and B.A. in Web Design & New Media (Art Academy, SF). At Kiddom, she is a Support Specialist who uses her experience and skills to support a diverse range of educators and students.

Take a moment to remember how middle school felt. Really dig into those golden awkward moments, mounting responsibilities, and feelings of uncertainty. What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about others?

Often, academic progress rests on social-emotional skills that students may or may not have developed. This has many educators asking themselves: “Are we addressing all the needs of the child if we do not include social-emotional learning?” As a result, many schools have begun to integrate social-emotional competencies as essential traits to prepare students for college, careers, and citizenship.

How can we expect a student to learn if they’re emotionally in turmoil? How can we do more to ensure our students are becoming responsible and empathetic members of society?

I’ve had the chance to see this initiative in action, from teaching at a suspension site in Brooklyn, New York to a K-8 Catholic school in California. In my experience, I learned that the social-emotional well-being of a student is often the basis of their achievement (or lack thereof). How can we expect a student to learn if they’re emotionally in turmoil? How can we do more to ensure our students are becoming responsible and empathetic members of society?

You can view the other articles in this series as posted here:

Also related: Introducing Responsive Curriculum Management

Looking Back

Teaching the whole child was a part of my Catholic school’s mission. In order to convey the desired outcomes of our graduates, we created Student Learning Expectations (SLEs) that encapsulated the academic, social, emotional, and spiritual objectives of our graduates. This lent insight on the essential question: What do we want a graduate of our school to embody? However, how to gather and assess student progress for those learning objectives was often an afterthought.

In order to understand what administrators and teachers might find useful with our new tool, Responsive Curriculum Management, we organized sessions with a motley crew of Kiddom employees to experience something that may be unfamiliar to non-teachers: the process of planning and collaborating on curricula.

I highly recommend for you to check out Melissa’s blog article, the first of our series, if you’re interested in learning about the purpose, set up and learnings from our first planning cycle.

For my session, I wanted to represent a challenge we had at my former school: How might we authentically gather evidence to track student progress for SEL objectives?

So I put my administrator hat on and thought about the challenges to initiate SEL curriculum.

Our Objective

I first set the context for empathy: We are a group of middle school teachers interested in creating a Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum for our students.

Our objective as a curriculum team was to find a management system that would help us align to CASEL competencies and gather evidence to assess students.

When developing curriculum as a team, there can often be too much structure, which limits teacher creativity — or too little, which affects school alignment.

Setting a Vision and Purpose

Like many teachers, I was taught to begin with the end in mind. What did I want our school to achieve? How could we use the data to inform intervention or opportunities for social-emotional development?

When implementing an initiative, I realized how essential it was to do some deep thinking about our school mission beforehand. This helped set our purpose so I could energize my team and align a new tool with our objective.

Solutions for Measurement

As an administrator, I created a basic SEL curriculum aligned to CASEL standards. While I would normally like to have a team of teachers come up with common measurement and language, I provided a method to have consistent rubrics for evaluation by creating a structured rubric and self-assessment document that could be adapted for different standards.

I wanted to provide a common language but have teachers rephrase it for their students — which would ultimately enable greater student ownership. As a result, the standards were rephrased by the teachers to be appropriate for student self-reflection and linked to a 3 point rubric.

Here you see a view of the units in Academy, our product for administrators.

 

Learnings

Click the image to visit our new On-Demand PD Portal

At the end of our session, I knew this was just the beginning. Really the greatest work would be making the venture authentic and useful: How might the curriculum be integrated into students’ daily lives? How might we use evidence for intervention or support?

Taking my administrator hat off, my key learnings as a Kiddom employee was less daunting, yet humbling:

1. In order to give purpose to our process and tool, I needed to have a sense of where my teachers were, in terms of attitude and readiness. I took the time to think like a teacher to set them up for success.

2. When developing curriculum as a team, there can often be too much structure, which limits teacher creativity — or too little, which affects school alignment.Frameworks for organizing, planning, and measuring curricula may limit or liberate innovation — so it’s important to focus on the areas that are important to your objectives.

3. I modeled to the teachers how to use the curriculum management tool: How can we provide the supports to make it easy for educators to understand how Academy and Classroom work together?

4. Empathy is not reserved for middle school students. Incorporating empathetic design processes at Kiddom is essential for making products and resources that can solve the same problems I faced as an educator.

I took my own advice and got creative. Check out the resources below to see the fruit of my learnings in order to (hopefully) make your life easier with curriculum planning.

 

Questions to Guide Curriculum Planning: Use our guiding questions to facilitate discussion, establish norms, and include the community when developing objectives.

Curriculum Planning Templates: If you’re like me, you may need to get your unit planned out first before inputting it into our curriculum management tool.

Lesson Plan Template for Diverse Needs: Plan in advance for the resources and supports needed for personalized learning.

You can look forward to more updates from our Curriculum Development team as part of this blog series:

Also related: Introducing Responsive Curriculum Management

To learn more about our new responsive curriculum feature, visit this page. To see a demo of this exciting new feature, book a call today.

Kiddom Academy picks up where the LMS leaves off, offering an operating system for K-12 schools and districts to measure and act on classroom intelligence. We define a K-12 operating system as a set of interconnected tools to enable schools to operate more productively, increase student outcomes, and improve upon their respective instructional models.

What People Are Saying

“Kiddom is great for assessing data and then assigning appropriate work based on individual student performance. I love that it’s very easy to attach standards and rubric to every assignment.”

Jackie Curts, Middle School Teacher

“Using Kiddom has made me stop and ask ‘Am I just letting this student repeat what they already know or am I really challenging them?’”

Ann Leghorn, High School Literacy Specialist

“I can see where my class and any student is at any moment in their educational journey. This way I can take action to assist them to work towards mastery.”

Mr. Albrecht, High School Teacher

You might also be interested in these articles:

Principal Tammy Taylor: The Teacher Advocate

Principal Tammy Taylor: The Teacher Advocate

Principal Tammy Taylor

Principal Tammy Taylor

The Teacher Advocate, Star School Leader Recipient

This is the third spotlight in a series of twelve, in which we feature the winning recipients of Kiddom’s annual Star School Leader Award. Look for the others over the coming months by signing up for our newsletter, or check out our School Leadership page, which we will update with each new spotlight.

 

To the compact gait of an elementary school student, the path between a teacher’s classroom and the principal’s office may seem far and long. Such is not the case at the Wellton Elementary School District in Arizona, where Principal Tammy Taylor leads her staff by example. Mrs. Taylor started her journey in education as a classroom teacher for fourteen years, and she continues to teach today, in addition to being principal of a school that serves K-8 students.

The Makings of a Star School Leader

In college, Principal Taylor made an honest effort to become a veterinarian, but her grades in organic chemistry wouldn’t cut it. (Who among us can relate?)

Her friends and family pointed out that she thrived in roles that let her work with kids: one job as a daycare provider, another helping kids find books at the public library. When she found her true calling as a 2nd grade teacher, she put away her chemistry textbooks and never looked back.

“The thing I like most [about being a principal] is being able to interact with all the students. Because we are a small school, everyone knows me. Seeing the kids outside the community and they still recognize you—that close-knit kind of a family atmosphere is what I really like the most.”

— Principal Tammy Taylor, Wellton Elementary School

Principal Taylor stays connected by regularly popping into classrooms to say hello. But these visits are strictly as a community member and not a supervisor. Under her leadership, teachers receive a lot of trust to lead their classrooms without intervention. “Unless they need help or I see a problem, I just let them do their job.”

Wellton Bulldogs and the Wall of Kindness

As a small school for a wide range of students, Wellton Elementary emphasizes a personal responsibility to the community. But the community wasn’t always so harmonious. After observing a need for dissolving conflict between grade levels, Principal Taylor implemented some creative ways to bring students together.

With the help of its students over the past three years, the school has added five murals to the campus, each brandishing quotes about kindness. Throughout the project, students had the chance to adorn the walls with their own handprints and express themselves creatively in honor one of the greats, Vincent Van Gogh.

Another way Wellton imparts a sense of kindness and responsibility is through a house system inspired by Harry Potter: every year, fourth through eighth graders are sorted into four houses. Through themed challenges and activities, they exercise teamwork, kindness, and inclusivity. This gives students a chance to work with people of a different ages and interests.

World Kindness Day brought on another opportunity for the initiative — students wrote anecdotes about giving, receiving, or witnessing kindness on pieces of paper. These speech bubbles were housed in the cafeteria for several weeks. This let students read stories from their peers at lunchtime, and keep the theme of the activity at the top of their minds at least once a day.

How does Mrs. Taylor foster a supportive teacher community?

Wellton is a school of 200 students and 10-12 teachers. In many cases, there is just one teacher per grade level. As such, getting teachers to convene and align can be difficult, but Principal Taylor keeps an open environment for communication and colleague support holding morning meetings for professional development.

These trainings are sometimes divided by grade level, but are often conducted as a unified group where staff invent ways to collaborate across grade level. For example, in one meeting, the intermediate staff shared activities and games they created for the primary staff. 

Before she became principal, Mrs. Taylor worked with Donors Choose to get sewing machines for our school. Now as our Principal, she helps teachers apply for donations through Donors Choose. This is just one of the ways that Mrs. Taylor has inspired teachers and staff members at Wellton Elementary. With her positive attitude and incredible energy, she has been an excellent role model for our teachers and staff. 

— Lisa Jameson, Teacher at Wellton Elementary

The State of Technology at Wellton Elementary

For many school districts, technology used to be an afterthought, or a special treat. But Principal Taylor has witnessed technology tunnel to the forefront of her students’ lives and helped her school in the effort to become a 1:1 (student to device) community. “It’s not like when we were students and, you know, ‘Yes! We got a computer class this semester.’ This is their life.”

The longer we prolonged having (technology as) part of their educational and academic life—which is the majority of their time during the year—I think we felt like we were holding them back. So having added that in, to me, is just important.

— Principal Tammy Taylor

This initiative also helped Principal Taylor to extend a helping hand where her teacher’s didn’t have bandwidth. “We are short-staffed to be perfectly honest. So our ideas, we have incorporated this year some online tutoring.” Eighth graders that are eligible can take algebra online, which frees up the math teacher to work more closely with students still approaching that level.

Advice for Other Schools Implementing 1:1 Technology

As the principal at a 1:1 school, Taylor understands that implementing a new tech initiative can be scary. But first and foremost, it’s important to remember that everyone learns at a different rate. “Baby steps. Start with one program and get them to where they’re competent and then you can add another one. Even our most reluctant teachers have slowly started to use it more and more in the classroom.”

For administrators that are hesitant to embrace technology, Principal Taylor recommends leaning on the people and resources in your community as mentors. She notes that kids are often more likely to listen to other kids than to a teacher.

Just find those teachers and students that have those strengths, and use their strength. Having the older kids who know how to do it go in and show the little ones can take some of the pressure off the teacher trying to figure it out all on their own.

Whereas the teachers may be reluctant to use tablets and other devices as part of their instruction, the students themselves often feel right at home. “We had the 7th graders go in and help the kindergarteners learn how to log into the program and show the teachers how, for about two months.” By encouraging collaboration and relying on the students to step up for their community, Principal Taylor enjoyed a much smoother transition to using tablets in grade K. “By that time the kids could get in on their own. And the teachers were less worried about spending time with log in.”

This anecdote emphasizes the dual intent of technology at Wellton Elementary. Principal Taylor understands that it can be used to enhance the classroom experience in different ways. “At the primary level, it needs to be there to help support and help fill in the gaps of our students. In the intermediate, we have it to help and improve their comprehension and understanding of the subject areas, as well as knowing that our state testing is done on the computer.

All in all, what makes Mrs. Taylor such a sensational leader is her ability to pinpoint and rely on the individual strengths of people in her community. “The kids are why we’re here the most. The adults, we help guide them, but you have to trust them to do their job and that’s what I do. I trust them to do their job.

Recap: What Makes a Star School Leader?

Great school leaders empower their teachers. What teachers do is one of the most difficult, and often thankless jobs. And while we all agree that teachers are the true heroes of every school system, it takes a special kind of leader to enable their teachers with the right support to focus on the important things. Like teaching.

The Star School Leader rubric stands on three pillars, hanging from one common theme:

  1.  Empowering others by setting a positive attitude, culture, and environment.
  2.  Empowering others with the right use of technology as a means and not an end. 
  3.  Empowering others through supportive coaching and access to professional development. 

To read about the rest of the Star School Leaders, visit our recipient announcement page.

 

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Principal Shameka Gerald: The Inspirational Leader

Principal Shameka Gerald: The Inspirational Leader

Principal Shameka Gerald

Principal Shameka Gerald

The Inspirational Leader, Star School Leader Recipient

This is the second spotlight in a series of twelve, in which we feature the winning recipients of Kiddom’s annual Star School Leader Award. Look for the others over the coming months by signing up for our newsletter, or check out our School Leadership page, which we will update with each new spotlight.

 

The Makings of a Star School Leader

Principal Gerald, a former math teacher, wasn’t always a star at school. Believe it or not, she says, her younger self was “not the best student. I started out not loving math at all — actually, hating it.” After failing math in nearly every year of high school, her early math experience nearly threatened her ability to graduate. It wasn’t until she got to college that she found a professor who helped her turn it all around.  

Professor Kirby taught me the steps in the process that I was missing. Once I got the process, I was like, “Oh, I can do this… this is easy.” After that, I did really well in math. I was in school to be a computer engineer until one of my math professors was like, “You know, you should consider teaching math, because you’re really good at explaining the process to folks.” And I think that came from me not understanding before. So I went and got my degree in applied mathematics, with a minor in education. I decided that I was willing to do for other kids what hadn’t been done for me.

— Principal Shameka Gerald, Heritage High School

Having a teacher who took the time to break the processes down so that Mrs. Gerald actually understood the logic behind the math helped her apply math in her everyday life. And so Principal Gerald made it a point to bring that understanding to her students. As she shares her story with the Kiddom team, we can feel the excitement and authenticity her school community likely feels on a daily basis.

What inspired Principal Gerald to take the leap from teacher to administrator?

At first, Mrs. Gerald had no interest in being a school leader — or so she thought.

As a ninth grade teacher at Booker T. Washington High School, she was asked by her principal to be the freshman team lead. She kindly declined the offer.

So it must have come as a surprise when about two weeks later Mrs. Gerald’s then-principal introduced her to their executive director as the freshman team lead. In that sink-or-swim moment, Mrs. Gerald decided she didn’t have much of a choice! And so the journey began.

It didn’t take long before Principal Gerald realized how much she enjoyed having an impact, not just on her classroom, but on the whole grade level. At that point, she says, she stepped back and thought, “Okay, this is pretty cool. If I can take this, what next?”

She knew she wanted to continue building relationships with the kids and teachers. At one point she thought she was going to be a curriculum supervisor, but that drive to build relationships took her on the path towards becoming a building-level administrator instead.

I’m trying to figure out how to have more of an impact on kids’ lives every single day. Having been the principal for five years, I’ve probably had somewhere around ten thousand kids come through this school, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing teachers who’ve made some big differences in kids’ lives.

— Principal Shameka Gerald

Impacting the lives of children is no easy task, but it continues to be the driving force behind Principal Gerald’s career. Her long-range goal is to be the US Secretary of Education, she shares. “You impact every kid in the United States of America’s education. That’s our job, too.”

What does Mrs. Gerald enjoy the most about being Principal?

“The best part about being principal is that I get to play with kids every day,” Mrs. Gerald shares. “I was just in the cafeteria with them today singing Lauryn Hill, ‘Killing Me Softly’ as loudly as I could, with them as my backup singers.”

Being able to see kids grow every single day, in a different capacity than she ever could before — and being able to inspire teachers to inspire those students to grow — is what Mrs. Gerald likes the best about being a principal.

But she does miss being in the classroom. “A lot of people miss it when they leave,” she says. But she believes it helps her be better at her job to have that exposure.

I make it every part of my job every day to be around the kids, because that reminds me why I’m back in the office, doing the things I’m doing. It reminds me why I’m going in and doing the observations with teachers, and helping teachers help their students’ needs. I think the best part is watching kids grow and getting to learn from them every single day.

— Principal Shameka Gerald

 

All About Heritage High School

“We’re a school of twelve hundred forty-eight. I try to keep my finger on that number every day,” says Principal Gerald.

The educators at Heritage High School serve what they consider an underserved community in the southeast end of Newport News. As the first in their school district to become a 1:1 Chromebook school, one of their greatest initiatives is to create a learning environment in which kids and teachers can thrive. “Because Heritage High is a school where everyone excels, and that means not just the kids but the teachers have to grow too — as well as myself and the administrative team,” she adds.

In an effort to build that community of learning, Principal Gerald makes sure her school stays very active on social media. This sends a message of inclusion that extends beyond the walls of the school to the parents and families of students, and all stakeholders in her community.

We’re making sure we tell our story and that it’s our own narrative about that story, because we have an excellent community built around us who want to hear it. We’ve had some negative press prior to my arrival, and even when I got here, but we choose to use social media as an outlet for sharing all of the positive things that are happening. If you follow us, you’ll see we have our own hashtag #5800family — because we really do operate as a family.

— Principal Shameka Gerald

One look at the school’s socials and we find just that — an overwhelming sense of family and community. It’s almost like a living year book of photos from school meetings, encouraging messages from various sporting events (Go Canes!), and even images of Principal Gerald running in a race with students. “I go running with my students every Tuesday!” she shares excitedly.

Mrs. Gerald is an amazing leader that inspires both students and staff. She is very caring and seeks to meet the needs of everyone. Mrs. Gerald’s leadership has allowed faculty and staff to go above and beyond in many areas. This includes teachers being leaders in and out of the classroom. Over the past five years as our leader, she has instilled many leadership qualities in teachers to be an effective teacher leader. This has allowed many to step out of the normal box and try new things in the classroom. Her leadership is very unique in that a few teachers have moved on to higher positions.

— Tiffanie Smith, Teacher at Heritage High School

“Blatant Transparency:” How to Create the School Environment That Thrives?

“The first thing I had to do is get the kids’ buy in,” says Principal Gerald, matter-of-factly. “If you can get the kids to buy in and change their mindset, that’s where it all starts.” Mrs. Gerald also recalls the first faculty meeting where a discussion was started around shared goals and initiatives. She believes that blatant transparency was a driving force behind the change — “Like, we don’t hide anything.”

Our data is our data. Our numbers are our numbers. If we don’t put it out there, we can’t fix it. So one of the first things I did is put the numbers in front of the kids and said, “People are judging our school based on these numbers.” I did the same thing with the staff. “Here are our numbers. — this is what people buy.”

Principal Gerald made it clear to her staff and students that if what the state report card says is not reflective of who you are as a school, you have the power to change that. One initiative that supported this line of thinking was the Youth Development Team, which put a lot of trust in students to lead. “We have so many student leadership initiatives, and we have used them to model for the division what student leadership looks like,” says Mrs. Gerald.

By giving students the responsibility, as well as laying out the steps on what was needed to do, Heritage has achieved new levels of transparency and growth — they are now a fully accredited school, and have been for two years.

Teachers are now holding students accountable and students are holding teachers accountable, as well as each other, for the work they do every day. And it all began with changing the culture and mindset of the students — letting them know they can do absolutely anything. “You know, us grown folks, we’re tough to crack. Sometimes it’s harder to change the adults than the kids,” she shares with a grin. 

But when you start with changing the mindset of the child, and the teachers can see the child’s mindset is changing, it’s easier for them to take calculated risks. Because they see that the kids are buying into what we’re telling them; they’re giving their support. So then the teachers know they can move forward and take this risk and feel less afraid that they might fail.

What does Principal Gerald believe technology’s role should be in the classroom?

Principal Gerald has many opinions on this topic — and well-studied opinions, at that. In fact, she’s currently writing a doctorate dissertation on the impact of school leaders on 1:1 implementation and initiatives. “This is where I’m going to get real nerdy on you,” she tells us. (Of course, we’re all for it!)

Principal Gerald shares that we’re all moving from where we used to be agrarian or industrial — in terms of design, we’re now global. She believes that having technology like 1:1 Chromebooks in class helps to build global, real-world skills like how to be a good digital citizen, and how to conduct yourself in a digital meeting.

“Like, you can’t just show up in your jammies and have music playing in the background,” she jokes. “But also how do you collaborate with people who might not be from the same areas as you, and How do you use technology for research? Because a lot of our kids — the jobs they’re going to have don’t exist right now.”

 

Our kids are going to create their own space, and the way that they’re going to do that is through technology. Technology skills are just as important, if not more important, as the research shows, to those kids who don’t have parents in the home who are familiar with technology. If you don’t know how to use technology when you go into a job interview you might not have the skill set to thrive. You can’t not know how to send an email and use appropriate email editing. You can’t not know how to access the resources to teach yourself when you don’t know how to do something.

Principal Gerald’s perception of technology’s role in education shines a positive light, in that technology will likely be used as an enabler and not a replacement for students who grow on to join the work force. From her view, technology can help educators create an environment that fosters learning, not just for today, but life-long learning. On that note, we had to ask:

 

How does a principal writing her dissertation find time to sleep?

“Oh, I do get sleep. I go to bed around 9:00 every night or else I just get tired — I have a five year old, I’m married, it’s a lot!” she says, with a laugh. But Principal Gerald believes that doing the research helps her become a better school leader.

One thing she’s finding particularly helpful in her research is the topic of leadership styles. She’s very interested in how a school leader’s comfort level with technology can play out in school-wide implementation. And she’s certainly in the right environment to see that first-hand, as she leads the effort in bringing technology to her own school.

I love technology. I will take any risk. I get up in the morning and I come to work and I go to class, and use my weekends to work on my dissertation. The dissertation is something I’m passionate about, and I think it’s valuable; It’s very applicable to my job.

— Principal Shameka Gerald, Heritage High School

Recap: What Makes a Star School Leader?

Great school leaders empower their teachers. What teachers do is one of the most difficult, and often thankless jobs. And while we all agree that teachers are the true heroes of every school system, it takes a special kind of leader to enable their teachers with the right support to focus on the important things. Like teaching.

The Star School Leader rubric stands on three pillars, hanging from one common theme:

  1.  Empowering others by setting a positive attitude, culture, and environment.
  2.  Empowering others with the right use of technology as a means and not an end. 
  3.  Empowering others through supportive coaching and access to professional development. 

To read about the rest of the Star School Leaders, visit our recipient announcement page.

 

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