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Slow Down School and District Leaders: You’re Moving Too Fast

Slow Down School and District Leaders: You’re Moving Too Fast

Four tips for successful school initiatives.

There is no shortage of news about schools adopting and then quickly abandoning new technologycurriculum, or assessment frameworks. Change is constant in education policy.

As federal and state administrations shift and new research comes out, school leaders race to keep up with trends and purchase or adopt the next best thing. But this ever-swinging pendulum moves at the expense of teacher buy-in and professional training, and the ‘guinea pigs’ of these experiments, our students, can only stand to lose. Often, the failure of an initiative isn’t a reflection of the tool or strategy itself, but the plan for implementing it.

Change fatigue is defined as “a general sense of apathy or passive resignation towards organizational changes by individuals or teams.” Every time a school or district decides to change a curriculum providers, an assessment system, update a gradebook, or adopt new software (and hardware), teachers are going to get increasingly tired, checked-out, or resistant. This is bad for professional development and damaging to kids.

With so many stakeholders involved, and with such high stakes, new initiatives led by school and district leaders must be planned with four key things: vision, time, communication, and reflection.

Have a Clear Vision

What is your goal for using a new tool or strategy? You’d be surprised how many school administrators choose curriculum or other education technology based on brilliant sales pitches instead of first developing objectives and goals for seeking new tools.

Just as teachers are asked to set objectives for learning, administrators should know exactly their intended outcomes before moving their whole school community in a new direction.

Be Mindful of Time

Be more intentional in launching organizational change. Do not select a new system or tool in August, roll it out to your whole staff in September, and expect immediate buy-in and impact.

  • Build a planning committee made up of a diverse range of stakeholders — parents, students, teachers, and administrators will all bring unique perspectives and needs to the process. This will help you develop a clear action plan for which resources and supports your community will need.
  • In all likelihood, seeing the results you’re hoping for will take longer than a single school year. Do your research and plan backwards. For example, if you expect all classrooms to effectively adopt 1:1 technology in three school years, you might use year 1 to pilot with a small team of teachers and cull best practices, use year 2 to have successful pilot users train the larger community, and by year 3, your whole community will have had time to train, internalize, and integrate new practices seamlessly into their workflow.
  • We can’t emphasize enough the importance of setting aside time for staff training and collaboration when adopting new school-wide practices. Without space to safely take risks, refine their practice, and learn from each other, teachers will only implement new tools at the surface level or not at all.

 

 

Communicate Effectively

No matter how strong your plan is, if you’re the only one who understands it, it will fail. Ensure that all stakeholders are able to participate through clear and frequent communication.

  • Build buy-in and encourage feedback with surveys and town halls. Invite your community to participate in the decision making process, test possible tools, and discuss obstacles to implementation.
  • Develop shared language and help everyone get on the same page — keep an ongoing glossary public for all in your community to be able to communicate effectively and ask questions.

Reflect, Reflect, Reflect

In some cases, as soon as any data, whether reliable or not, indicates a new plan “isn’t working,” schools tend to abandon ship.

Make space for reflection and fine-tuning to adjust course. Collect diverse sets of data to allow for deep root-cause analysis. Anecdotal information from teachers, student achievement data, and community surveys will all highlight different barriers to success.

How do I start?

Despite the possible pitfalls of too much change, at Kiddom, we don’t believe school leaders should shy away from evidence-based, carefully planned initiatives. In fact, we’ve developed specific resources to support this work with educators around the United States. In this excerpt from Blended Learning 101, we offer some considerations for administrators and teachers transitioning to a new teaching and learning model:

For Administrators:

1. Prepare for internet issues (infrastructure and technology). A reliable Internet connection and sufficient bandwidth are vital.

2. On-site IT support and backup plans are critical to buffer schools from the inevitable technology issues.

3. Blended learning coordinators played an important role in supporting schools’ adoption of blended learning.

4. Establishing productive, self-directed learning cultures is important for students to fully benefit from online learning.

5. Single sign-on portals can allow even very young children to quickly access online programs.

6. Teachers’ satisfaction with training associated with the adoption of the blended learning model varied by site.

For teachers:

1. Determine your technological requirements and constraints. How are you planning to use technology? How prepared are you to take advantage of the technology addition? Do you have enough devices or know how to get more?

2. Explore how other educators are implementing blended learning in their classroom and decide what works best for you. There is a video directory of blended learning in action that features different blended learning methods.

3. Get excited about enhancing your curriculum! This is an opportunity to hone your craft: you can revive the joy of teaching that can sometimes get lost in the day-to-day. Finding the right tools to support the procedural skill development to allow you to plan engaging projects is an important part of this process. Try not to feel like you need to reinvent the wheel or record countless videos of yourself (unless you absolutely love it).


By: Melissa Giroux, School Success Lead

 

Blended Learning Initiatives

Were you thinking about adopting blended learning initiatives at your school or district? A successful blended learning program is the intentional integration of educational technology within classrooms to enhance the learning process. Implementation can take many forms.

Use our free resources on blended learning to start planning.

 

Blended Learning 102 (above) provides a comprehensive look at the most effective models.

 

Interested in learning more about how Kiddom’s tools are supporting teachers? Book a short 1:1 walkthrough. The tools are free, so we’ll leave out the sales pitch.

Great Educators Teach the Whole Child

Great Educators Teach the Whole Child

 

“Mister, why do we have to do this? I’d honestly rather work on math right now. Or anything else.”

This was advisory class (also known as “guidance”). I was a certified high school math teacher, but like so many of my peers, I also taught advisory. In advisory, teachers met with students to develop their social skills and help them explore college and career options. The class sounds practical, particularly because I taught in New York City alternative high schools serving at-risk students.

Oddly enough, New York City’s academic policy mentions advisory only once, in a footnote:

“There are no standards in ‘guidance’ or ‘advisory’; such courses may only bear credit if they are taught by appropriate subject certified teachers…”

This might explain why advisory was so often treated as an afterthought in New York City public schools. We weren’t provided thoughtful or engaging curriculum and yet, every student took advisory twice a week to accumulate elective credits and meet graduation requirements. I rarely felt underprepared teaching math, but unfortunately it was advisory that helped me perfect the art of improvising.

Being in an alternative high school, my students were academically behind and at risk of getting sucked into the school-to-prison pipeline. It was vital they graduated high school, but a diploma doesn’t guarantee students the social emotional learning (SEL) skills needed to be informed citizens and productive members of society. SEL, across schools in this country, is often put on the backburner and siloed off in classes like advisory or guidance.

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, (CASEL), social emotional learning is “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” CASEL defines these in terms of specific competencies that can be assessed and mastered: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making.

I can say with confidence my students didn’t learn anything in advisory in my first two years teaching it. I had no idea what I was doing and I was never paired with a veteran teacher. In my third year, I decided to write my own advisory curriculum, grounded in debate and civil discourse. I wanted my students to learn how to reason effectively: I loved hanging out with them during lunch and I was getting `irritated hearing them argue with faulty logic. That year, my students would learn how to listen actively, communicate clearly, and control outbursts. They chose to debate over issues resonating with them the most: police reform, stop and frisk, housing segregation, and gentrification. Near the end of the semester, we held a formal debate. It was fantastic, causing me to have a “this is why I teach” moment and restoring my confidence in my curriculum and the class.

 

 

When it came time for my advisory students to defend their logic in Algebra, the skills just did not transfer.

“This isn’t advisory Mister, this is MATH AND I’M TRYING TO TELL YOU MY ANSWER!”

It took a couple more years of this disconnect for me to finally figure it out:teaching social skills in isolation is absolutely ridiculous.

In “the real world” as teachers say, challenges are complex. You’re never justsolving a math problem. You’re communicating, collaborating, managing yourself, the list goes on. Life is interdisciplinary, and while our education system has finally started to acknowledge this (e.g. STEAM, the CCLS ELAstandards, etc.), we’re still compartmentalizing what makes us human: social emotional learning. The head and the heart are connected, and our schools, curriculum, and education technology should reflect this.

At Kiddom, my classroom experience with at-risk youth has proved invaluable in helping us build a platform that connects content, curriculum, and analytics. Being standards-based, we support CASEL’s SEL competencies and we encourage our teachers to track them in tandem with academic standards. Our content integrations help teachers personalize learning and provide students with the ability to self-advocate and manage their own learning, two key SEL competencies.

Here’s how it might work for an English teacher: imagine you’ve assigned students a persuasive essay and provided them with a rubric communicating academic expectations. With Kiddom, you can append SEL competencies directly into the same rubric, and track those skills in one place. If you want your students to manage themselves (e.g. complete and submit the assignment on time), you can add a self-management rubric row. Thoughtfully mixing SEL with academics ensures SEL isn’t being taught in isolation. If you want a framework for this or just more examples, download the free guide we co-authored on integrating SEL into K-12 academic curriculum.

Kiddom is just one education technology company. Teachers need more education technology companies thoughtfully creating and providing SEL content and services. And they need schools to provide the professional development they need to learn how to effectively weave SEL into curriculum. As technology gets smarter and continues to empower us, the future does not depend on all students learning how to code or take AP calculus. Rather, the future will lie in learning how to solve complex problems with empathy and sound decision-making because social emotional learning transcends the classroom.

 

 

Resources for Teachers and Administrators

This resource list is excerpted from Kiddom’s guide, Social Emotional Learning 101: Integrating Academics with SEL.

This article originally posted on EdSurge.