A Visit to Harrison

Posted by Michael Simkins on May 6, 2018

Last week’s TICAL cadre retreat afforded me my second opportunity this year to visit a district and glimpse firsthand some examples of what Arkansas teachers and kids are doing with educational technology. I chose Harrison because it was in a part of the state I’d not visited before and it’s home to Susan Gilley, one of our brilliant and indefatigable cadre members.

Located in the heart of the Ozarks near the Missouri border, the city of Harrison has a population of 13,000 and is the seat of Boone County.  Indians were the first inhabitants of the area, the first probably being the “Bluff Dweller”, who lived in caves in the bluffs along the rivers. Today, Harrison is home to Buffalo River National Park, a long, narrow park with over 100 maintained trails. Something I learned, in fact, is that there is such a thing as a “national river” and that the Buffalo was the first one!

Harrison Public Schools serve approximately 2,600 students. The district spends $9,453 per pupil, has a graduation rate of 90%, and a student-to-teacher ratio of 12:1. 48% of the student body is classified as low income, the percentage of English learners is less than 1%, and 9% of students are eligible for special education services.

Harrison Public Schools mascot
Go Goblins!

Tuesday morning, I reported to Dr. Aaron Hosman’s office. Aaron and I go way back. He was a founding member of the TICAL Arkansas cadre in 2002! Aaron has been a superintendent of schools for many years. Most recently, Harrison asked him to be interim superintendent and then stay on for a year to help the new person—new to both the role and to Arkansas—get oriented. It was great to see Aaron again after many years.

Aaron put me in the able hands of Adam Archer, the district’s manager of information technology. Our first stop was Harrison High School. Last summer, the school underwent a major renovation as well as the addition of two beautiful new facilities: a new gym and a performing arts center.

The highlight of my visit to the high school was the EAST lab where Kelly Regan shared some of the projects underway. For those not familiar with EAST, the acronym stands of Environmental and Spacial Technology. The program combines project-based learning with state-of-the-art technology. Students identify needs or issues that matter to them and then use the technology resources of the EAST lab to create solutions.

Kelly is completing her first year as the program’s facilitator. It was great to see both her enthusiasm and expertise as she shared some of the current projects, many of which involve virtual reality and 3D printing. For example, one group of students is working to promote one of the excellent but lesser known nearby hiking trails. To stir up interest, they are creating virtual “teasers,” each of which represents a certain place on the trail. You can literally see what you’re missing by not getting out and hiking the whole trail.

Two other projects combine VR with 3D printing. In one, students are creating a small bust of a student with the hope that it can be held by the student’s parent and serve as a comfort while undergoing some serious medical treatments. In another, students are designing a custom support attachment for use by a wheelchair-bound student to prevent the student’s arm from slipping off the chair’s armrest.

The next stop was the middle school, where there is also an EAST program.  It provided another example of 3D printing at work. In this case, students had designed a prosthetic arm for a kindergarten student in Rogers, Arkansas—over 80 miles away!

While I got to visit all four elementary schools, it is that time of year and “TESTING: Do not disturb” signs were on many classroom doors. At Skyline Heights, however, I was in luck. Second grade teacher Hannah Campbell’s students were just leaving, and she was kind enough to give up some of her prep period to tell me about how she was using technology with her students. All elementary classrooms, starting at first grade, have classroom sets of Chromebooks and Hannah puts them to good use. Clearly an organized person, she has set up systems to make it very fast, easy, and efficient for the kids to get their computer, get logged into the Google account, and get to work. She has also created custom menus for her students with just the resources and apps she wants them to have available, and no more!

Thank you to Aaron for welcoming me to the district (and for knowing where to find the best chicken salad sandwich you could ever eat) and to Adam for taking the time to be my tour guide. Once again, I’m impressed with public education in Arkansas and, in particular, how technology is being put to work in the service of learning.

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How Tech Can Help Align Systems

Posted by Aaron Palm on March 25, 2018

arrows in alignmentRecently we have been hearing a lot in education about “aligning our systems.” Sounds good, but how do we define alignment?  How to achieve alignment?  Are there technology tools at our disposal to get alignment?

The California Department of Education, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education and representatives of Future Ready Schools, hosted a webinar on this very topic.  We were told that we have to align all of our systems, but there are so many systems in education. It’s like drinking out of a fire hose!  The webinar tried to paint a path to alignment for a school and/or district, and the system they recommended to align all of the different systems is called “The Coherence Framework.”

In his book Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and SystemsMichael Fullan has created a mental model for aligning everything from our Single Plans, to LCAP plans, district goals, schools goals and everything in between. After reading about alignment for years and watching the CDE webinar, it became apparent to me that aligning our systems was absolutely critical to the success of any educational organization.  But I also understood that even using a framework such as Coherence left the user juggling a lot of balls in the air.  For example, After ensuring that your organization is aligned with the Feds, the State and your local institutions, you still have to align all of the elements of your school—in my case a high school.

Mr. Fullan speaks about every entity on campus needing to do four things:

  • Focus its direction
  • Cultivate collaborative cultures
  • Secure accountability
  • Deepen the learning at all levels.
Diagram of Fullan's Coherence Framework
Fullan’s Coherence Framework

Each of those topics comes with a set of elements that need to be addressed.  As I sat in my office one day trying to map it out I realized that I did not have the tools necessary to organize the task.

As I started to research how other schools and businesses organized and tracked their progress I stumbled across a resource that is common yet unfamiliar to many of us in education: project management tools.  Project management portals in and of themselves are straightforward and fairly simple to use.  But they are capable of building upon themselves and mapping out incredibly detailed plans.  When comparing my old SMART goal sheet to project management plans, it is like comparing two dimensional drawings to three dimensional virtual tours.  Let me provide an example from our school.

Using the Fullan Coherence Framework one is asked to look at any initiative in two major ways from the start. The first asks you to ensure that the initiative, whatever it is, aligns with your Single Plan, District LCAP, District Strategic Goals and School Goals.  If it doesn’t, it is not a priority and should not be taken on school-wide.  Second, if it does align, consider how it will address each of the four areas.

  • Focusing direction—everyone in the organization must know the purpose of the initiative, the impact if the goal is achieved, be clear in the plan and understand the need for change.
  • Cultivating collaborative cultures—the initiative must be taken on collaboratively.  An organization must have a collaborative culture that can pick up the initiative and run with it.
  • Securing accountabilityhow will the staff develop internal accountability around reaching the goals and what is the external accountability from the outside.
  • Deepening learning—we have to learn about the initiative and acquire the skills and content necessary to implement it.

If all of that feels overwhelming you are not alone.  This is where the project management portal comes into play.  On our campus we wanted to strengthen our formative assessment and remediate struggling students during class time instead of referring them to after school programs.  We created a project around formative assessment for remediation. The next step in the project management process is to define your team.  Everyone on the team has a log in to the online portal.  When they log in they can see a lot of information.  But the two most critical pieces of information are: the progress of each project they are a part of, and the parts of the plan they are responsible for with deadlines.  This has the ability to focus everything you are working on and put it on one, simple dashboard.

Screenshot of Trello dashboard
Screen shot of our dashboard – click to enlarge

The first project box under the topic was the first section of the Coherence Framework, Focusing Direction.  We detailed the data that identified this as a school-wide problem.  We stated the purpose of the initiative.  Then we defined the measurable goals we needed to achieve.  We then addressed how we would achieve the change, what change strategy we would use. Every member of the team has access to this project box.

With each element of the Coherence Framework we created a project box.  In each box, the necessary elements to complete the project are listed.  For example, under “Capacity Building” we identified the training we needed to send our teachers to.  Then each administrator was assigned a task.  They were responsible for working with the departments they supervised and finding two teachers to attend each training.  They were given a deadline for each. As principal, I could sit in my office and see the task being completed.  As each administrator checked their task complete the progress bar for that task got closer and closer to being 100% complete. For some tasks multiple people are responsible for completing it.

For Clarity of Learning Goals we had planned a presentation.  Different members of the team had different parts they were responsible for.  Our Google Drive integrates with our Project Management tool, Trello.  The presentation was in this project box and everyone on that particular part of the project could work on it in real time together.  As they completed their part they would check the completion box and we all could view how close the presentation was to being completed.

In our management meetings we bring up the school project dashboard.  The first thing we do in our meeting is run through all of the projects and check on their status.  This allows the whole team to see the whole picture of what we are working on and how it all aligns.  The power of the project management portal is in its plethora of tools.  A good project management tool syncs with tools such as Google Docs and your calendar. It has messaging in it to discuss shared tasks.  It is a storehouse for all related documents and media. It will also have a variety of permission levels that are very granular.  And the final feature is the ability to transfer tasks. We use the project management portal to do annual tasks like build our master schedule.  If a new person needs to take over the task you can just insert them in the project and now they have a checklist of what the job entails.  In an industry that does not cross train, this feature is crucial.

Education has always had an overwhelming amount of information and projects to manage.  But now we are being asked to align all of them in our overall system. Project management portals are what some organizations are using to make sense of it all.  I would suggest picking a very small project and giving it a try with different products to see which one works for you.  Once you find one that fits your culture show it to your team and bring order to your lives.

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A visit to Mena

Posted by Michael Simkins on January 22, 2018

Mena Station today
Mena Station today

The first train arrived in Mena, Arkansas in August 1896 with the goal of connecting Kansas City, Missouri to Port Arthur, Texas. I arrived in January 2018 with the goal of visiting the Mena Public Schools and, in particular, seeing how students and teachers were using technology.

Mena is a rural town of 5,700 people in the southwest of Arkansas, quite near the Oklahoma border. Originally a railroad town, the economy is now diverse   Health care and social assistance, retail trade, construction, educational services, and manufacturing are the top five occupational groups, in that order, and account for 72% of jobs. The median household income is $27,491.

Mena Schools Bearcat logoMena public schools enroll 1,750 students in grades K-12. The average class size is 15 and the district spends $9,200 per pupil. 92% of students are white, 68% are low income, and just 1% are limited English proficient.

My guide for the morning was TICAL cadre member Clifton Sherrer. I could not have been in better, more knowledgeable hands. Raised in Mena, Clifton attended all the schools we would visit and, after leaving for college, returned to coach and teach science for 15 years. Following that he was assistant principal at Mena Middle School a number of years before moving into the principal’s office two years ago. Clifton knows Mena.

My tour began at Louise Durham Elementary, a building currently undergoing major renovation. As we walked down one hall, we were passed by a class of kindergarten students, following the “red line” in single file fashion, each holding an index card with his or her username and password. No doubt on the way to the computer lab, we concluded, and I decided I’d like to see what they’d be up to when they got there.

The goal was for the students to play some games that teach early literacy skills, but first they had to get logged into their individual accounts. That was quite a process. At least four adults were going from student to student, helping with the chore, trying to get everyone to the same place so instructions could begin. Due to my tight schedule, we had to leave before that was accomplished. My hunch is this process was new to the kids and with a little practice, logging in will happen quickly.

Holly Harshman, a grades three to five school, was the next stop. Recently, every classroom got a set of Chromebooks, and the school also has Google Classroom. I spent most of my time talking with two teachers during their planning period.  Hollie, a fifth grade teacher, was clearly excited, if yet a bit nervous, about finally having the technology available to support the projects her class would be doing. Jill—an “early adopter” I suspect—was giving Hollie pointers and reassurance. It was a pleasure to see their enthusiasm.

Next on the itinerary was Mena High. Opened in 2011, it’s a striking building with great features that include open spaces, a huge library, playing fields, and a beautiful auditorium and performance space.

As we walked down one of the wide, bright halls, my attention was caught by the furniture in one classroom, so we ducked in to take a closer look. Instead of the typical “chair desk,” this room had a mix of flexible, movable furniture. I learned from the teacher that is was very new and she was experimenting with it.  So far, she likes it, despite the fact some of it arrived mismatched—stools intended for higher tables. In true educator-innovator fashion, she solved that problem with bed risers!

Alternative education is one program at the school that makes extensive use of technology. This program used to be housed elsewhere but when the new school was designed, the decision was made to dedicate space for it in the main building. Use of tutorial and other online educational resources make it possible to tailor both content and schedule to the individual needs of these students. However, my favorite part of this stop on the tour was meeting—and petting—Ellie, the therapy dog.

Photo of Ellie the therapy dog
Ellie, the therapy dog

I intentionally asked to save Clifton’s own school, Mena Middle, for last. Walking down the main hall, we passed a display of student art with a banner proclaiming, “MMS can Be the Good.” I asked Clifton about it. “It’s something started by one of our 6th grade teachers where students make positive comments about their peers each month and nominate them for being good. I asked her to put this display up before we presented the project to the school board.”

As for technology, the middle school now has a set of Chromebooks in each core classroom, which enables a 1-to-1 setting for those key subjects. The school chose this approach rather than issuing the devices to individual students for several reasons. It keeps the Chromebooks secure, onsite, and ready to use. Students store their work in the cloud, so they can access their files regardless of which Chromebook they are using, plus many students do not have Internet access at home. Also, having the Chromebooks available in each classroom frees the school’s computer labs for other uses.

Our visit to the cafeteria was an eye-opener for me. In 2016-17, the district outsourced food services.  The result is far more choice for students. There are different entree choices each day.  There’s a salad bar. There’s always pizza! No more lunch counts or teachers collecting lunch money to keep it safe till lunchtime. Technology is enabling personalization in the cafeteria, not just the classroom.

Besides the things I’ve described specific to each school I visited, I came away with some general observations and impressions as well.

  • Everywhere, I saw happy, well-behaved kids and friendly, dedicated adults.
  • From sayings on the wall to pictures of students in the hallways, the feeling tone in every school was uniformly positive.
  • Technology was being implemented thoughtfully, with attention to both its potential and practicality—no rush to adopt any technology for technology’s sake.

My half-day visit afforded only a glimpse, of course, but it was time well spent!

Quotation on the wall at Mena Middle School: "Every child is a story yet to be told."
On the wall at Mena Middle School. The picture says it all!
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Future Ready Assessment: A head start towards personalized learning

Posted by Gabe Soumakian on July 19, 2016

The 7 gears of Future Ready Schools
The 7 gears of Future Ready schools

Often, we hear administrators tout their success with technology innovation by pointing to the number of 1-to-1 devices deployed in their schools.  At the same time, we hear it is “not about the technology” but rather it is changes in the teaching and learning process that transform our students as 21st century learners. Although there is a major shift toward digital transformation and innovation in our schools, administrators need to understand how to connect the dots and develop a comprehensive implementation plan that impacts student learning.

A good place to begin the process—or to validate that the district is headed in the right direction—is to have the leadership team collectively take the Future Ready (FR) assessment tool. The report from this tool will identify critical gaps as well as help guide you in the development of an effective implementation plan to fill those gaps.

This collaborative process of taking the FR assessment provides a professional learning opportunity to build the leadership capacity within your team. Your leadership team will benefit from this process and understand the major implementation shifts and design elements for appropriate technology solutions.  Through the assessment dashboard, your team will discover where your district is on the continuum for digital conversion, identify gaps, access strategies, and review your progress toward the development of a robust technical and human infrastructure.

What innovative leaders will learn from this process is the need to move beyond 21st century learning skills toward a personalized learning environment that prepares students for college, career, and life readiness.  Linking learning in the classroom to a real world setting makes the learning relevant and brings life to the curriculum so that students are engaged and feel connected to their future career paths.

Begin the process at www.FutureReady.org!  First, the district superintendent must take the Future Ready pledge.  Then, take the FR assessment.  Review the report as a team, then move your efforts to the next level by taking advantage of the resources available at the Future Ready Hub, especially the regional workshops.  Using this model will bring administrators in your region together to examine the data and connect your district with other leadership teams who can collectively move forward on the personalized learning continuum.

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Being Future Ready

Posted by Gabe Soumakian on August 23, 2015

Future Ready Schools logoPresident Obama announced at the White House on November 19, 2014 that the Alliance for Excellent Education, would be leading 12 regional Future Ready Summits around the nation. Now almost 2,000 district superintendents have taken the Future Ready District Pledge. So much interest was generated that a 13th Future Ready Summit was added in Orange County, California, where 45 Districts and over 200 school administrators attended the two day dive into leadership, culture, systemic transformation and how to collaborate and redesign the learning experiences for all students.

The Challenge

The real challenge today is to prepare students to be college, career, and life ready as employers are experiencing a huge Skills Gap.  There are millions of jobs employers cannot fill because students and adults, even those who graduate from college, do not have the appropriate skills for STEM jobs. So how do we address this major global economic dilemma?

The Simon Sinek Ted Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” has over 23 million views to date. Sinek explains that great leaders start with the Why, then the How, and then the What to define the purpose for their existence and a possible solution to address the Skills Gap crisis. The Golden Circle, as Sinek describes in his message, is designed to work from the inside out, starting with the Why we support our students to be Future Ready.

Why

The Oxnard Union High School District (OUHSD) has designed a Linked Learning framework that prepares students for college, career, and life readiness. Starting with “Why?” we believe in preparing students for their future with the mindset of taking ownership for their learning, much like an entrepreneur. Recognizing that not every student will start a business, nevertheless, students do need to think and act like  entrepreneurs. The Partnership for 21st Century skills recently introduced a roadmap that addresses these hard and soft skills. In addition, we partnered with our local Oxnard Chamber of Commerce last year for the inaugural Young Entrepreneur Academy, which is an initiative led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

College and career diagram

Bill Daggett from the International Center for Leadership in Education designed the Rigor and Relevance Framework 25 years ago to emphasize that students must be able to apply their knowledge in both real-world predictable and unpredictable settings. This framework aligns with the Smarter Balance Assessment which is designed to ensure students master deeper learning while they demonstrate application within the Knowledge Taxonomy and not simply know the right answer. Be mindful that entrepreneurs think differently, and do not see the world with just one right answer as most of us have been taught.

How

For students to demonstrate mastery of the new State Standards, they must be fully engaged with 21st Century learning strategies and technology tools.  The challenge for teachers is to develop their skill set to learn “How” to design the pedagogy with the 21st Century digital learning environment that keeps students connected and engaged in their learning. This is where our Learning Design Coaches step in to help support our teachers in using the appropriate technology tools with job-embedded professional learning.

What

Backward mapping this process, the State Standards are the “What” students need to know and be able to do. As schools move away from traditional textbooks and migrate toward the process of creating and curating digital content, students are able to access the content from our Learning Management System. This repository learning environment is a game changer that will assist to personalize learning.

As we advance with data and learning analytics, educators and administrators will continue to evolve the way instruction is delivered and align it with how students learn.  We recognize that personalized learning is in a state of flux and is not an exact science. This huge instructional shift will provide students with options by redesigning their personalized learning experience. Technology is one component that will enhance collaboration and allow teachers to learn from, and work with, each other during this transitional period.

One educational option to engage students and produce deeper learning is through the Linked Learning Academy model supported by the National Academy Foundation (NAF). This Foundation provides rigorous and relevant real-world learning experiences. OUHSD has expanded from 12 to 22 academies in 2015-2016 aligned with business sectors. A Business Intermediary Model with over 400 businesses partnerships provides work-based learning opportunities such as job shadowing and internships. We are excited about the new NAF Branding “Be Future Ready” that addresses the STEM Skills Gap employers are demanding, while also promoting an entrepreneurial spirit.

For more information about the Linked Learning Academy Model download the brochure and visit the Academy website.

http://www.ouhsd.k12.ca.us/wp-content/uploads/docs/-Final-Alliance-Brochure.pdf

http://www.ouhsd.k12.ca.us/divisions/educational-services/academy-programs/

 

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