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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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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Future Ready Learning: The new national ed tech plan

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on June 24, 2016

Cover of Future Ready Learning planThe first National Education Technology Plan, Getting American Students Ready for the 21st Century: Meeting the Technology Literacy Challenge, was published in 1996. This is noteworthy because prior to the release of this plan, there was little incentive for schools or other education-related institutions to invest much in the way of time or resources into developing instructional technology plans. The first national plan was built on four goals:

  1. Professional development for teachers
  2. Teacher and student classroom access to up-to-date hardware
  3. Internet connectivity for every classroom
  4. Access to digital learning materials

This early document became a catalyst for the American public to change its thinking regarding the impact technology might have on instruction. The next three plans—published in 2000, 2004, and 2010—incorporated these goals and introduced additional topics including assessment, leadership, integrated data systems, productivity, and funding. However, the 1996 plan is held up as having had the greatest impact on K-12 education—probably because federal funding for education technology was made available in conjunction with the plan’s release. Now, twenty year later, the US Department of Education has released the fifth National Educational Technology Plan.

Entitled Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education, this latest plan incorporates five focus areas. They are:

  1. Learning—Engaging and Empowering Learning through Technology
  2. Teaching—Teaching With Technology
  3. Leadership—Creating a Culture and Conditions for Innovation and Change
  4. Assessment—Measuring for Learning
  5. Infrastructure—Enabling Access and Effective Use

These five areas support expansion of topics included in previous plans, but also allow for conversations not included in earlier documents. For example, the first focus area (Learning) features a discussion about something called the digital use divide. This is an access gap that’s created when some students’ use of technology is limited to consuming existing content while others are encouraged to use technology to support their own learning by creating content. The digital use divide has been recognized for quite some time, but not referred to specifically in prior plans.

A new twist on digital divide issues is broached in the fifth focus area (Infrastructure). In this case, it’s the need for students to have access to high-speed Internet at school and at home. Educators know that schools often struggle to provide reliable high-speed connectivity, but it’s important to remember that more than one-half of low-income students under the age of 10 don’t have any Internet access at home and even more have inadequate access. We’ve told ourselves that these students can use smartphones or get online at a friend’s home or the local library, but it’s just not the same as high-speed connectivity in every home.

And finally, the importance of leadership is heavily emphasized in this plan. This emphasis is tied directly to a related national initiative called Future Ready Schools, which promotes transformation of teaching and learning through access to—and effective use of—technology. In order to provide these kinds of teaching and learning environments, district (and site) leaders must be fully engaged in their planning and implementation. The TICAL project is a regional partner of Future Ready Schools, providing assistance to education leaders in and outside of California.

Based on the fact that previous plans have impacted design and implementation of instructional technology programs throughout the U.S. and it’s likely that this new plan will also influence future developments in education technology.  I urge you to read and use the ideas presented in the plan to broaden and update the discussion about the role of technology in education, specifically within your school or district. You may also want to watch TICAL’s Quick Take on the 2016 National Education Technology Plan.

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Will Future Ready Make a Difference?

Posted by Stephen Vaughn on February 26, 2016

Future Ready logo with question mark overlaidMany superintendents of school districts in California have signed the Future Ready Pledge. Many of those districts have begun the process of evaluating the “readiness” of their districts for the future by using the great tools that Future Ready provides. They have developed plans to implement the suggestions generated from the surveys and tools. In some cases, districts have dedicated resources, including funds and people to implement and monitor their progress. However, even with doing all of this, I contend that it won’t be enough to make a significant difference for most school districts. Here is why.

There are still too many barriers to the implementation of an effective plan to be truly Future Ready. The first barrier is the existing employee contracts. Usually, most school districts have contracts that restrict and limit the process for staff development, as well as the evaluation process and the time that employees are in contact with students. The second barrier is the time constraints imposed by the transportation of students. This limits the options that are available for integrating training. The third barrier is the culture of autonomy that exists in most districts. Because most teachers still teach in isolation, they can ignore many of the requirements needed to have a 21st Century instructional program and no one will be either aware of it or able to do anything about it. The last barrier I will mention is the current tenure system. This system makes it very difficult to dismiss teachers who do not have the ability to implement an effective Future Ready program.

I recognize that there are a few districts that are making great strides, but the truth is most districts aren’t radically better than they were five years ago in terms of implementing a Future Ready program.  And I would submit that even in the case of districts that are doing well, the reasons why are tenuous and progress could end if a few things changed, such as the leadership of the district, the leadership of the associations, or the economy.

What do you think? Share your thoughts by clicking “Leave a comment” or by using the “Leave a Reply” form—you’ll see one or the other below this post.

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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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