03 May 2015

Is YOUR School #FutureReady? Here's What Some Students Said -

I had to pleasure of "crashing" the St. Louis Regional Future Ready School Summit last week as a part of the volunteer team, so I've been reflecting a lot on my own practices, some of the decisions we make as a school that we do have control over, the decisions our district makes that I have no control over, and how all of that meshes together to affect the "future readiness" of my students (and figuring out what that really means.)

According to the Future Ready website from the +U.S. Department of Education, a #FutureReady school commits to...
  • Fostering and Leading a Culture of Digital Learning Within Our Schools.
    • Future Ready district leadership teams work collaboratively to transform teaching and learning using the power of technology to help drive continuous improvement. We work together to protect student privacy and to teach students to become responsible, engaged, and contributing digital citizens.
  • Helping Schools and Families Transition to High-speed Connectivity.
    • Future Ready districts conduct comprehensive diagnostic assessments of the district’s technology infrastructure and develop a sustainable plan to ensure broadband classroom connectivity and wireless access. Future Ready districts work with community partners to leverage local, state, and federal resources to support home Internet access outside of traditional school hours.
  • Empowering Educators through Professional Learning Opportunities.
    • Future Ready districts strive to provide everyone with access to personalized learning opportunities and instructional experts that give teachers and leaders the individual support they need, when they need it. Future Ready districts provide tools to help teachers effectively leverage learning data to make better instructional decisions.
  • Accelerating Progress Toward Universal Access for All Students to Quality Devices.
    • Future Ready districts work with necessary stakeholders to ensure that all students and educators across the district have regular access to devices for learning. Future Ready districts develop tools to support a robust infrastructure for managing and optimizing safe and effective use of technology, so students have opportunities to be active learners, creating and sharing content, not just consuming it.
  • Providing Access to Quality Digital Content.
    • Future Ready districts align, curate, create, and consistently improve digital materials and apps used in the support of learning. Future Ready districts use carefully selected high quality digital content that is aligned to college and career ready standards as an essential part of daily teaching and learning. Teachers are able to share, discover, and adapt openly-licensed materials and teaching plans.
  • Offering Digital Tools to Help Students And Families #ReachHigher.
    • Future Ready districts make digital resources available that help access expanded college, career, and citizenship opportunities. Future Ready districts promote ways to leverage technology to expand equity through digital activities such as completion of the FAFSA online, virtual counseling services, college scholarship search tools, and online advising access, all of which help to return America to the nation in the world with the highest college completion rate by 2020.
  • Mentoring Other Districts and Helping Them Transition to Digital Learning.
    • Future Ready districts work to design, implement, and share their technology plans. Future Ready districts join regional summits, participate in an online Connected Superintendents community of practice, and publish their Future Ready technology plan at a site such aswww.MyDistrict.org/FutureReady.
How is YOUR school doing on these measures? The Dept of Ed partnered with +AT&T and +McGraw Hill to offer a dashboard to district leadership teams for self-assessment, planning and data tracking. Its a great tool for focusing your team on the vague idea of "21st century learning."

After the first day of the summit, I was curious what my own students thought about that, so for my second day out, I left the following writing prompt for them:
The way I wrote the prompt, the kids understandably took it down to their experience as students, but I was surprised to the extent that many of them said it was because their teachers didn't care about them. I don't know how different the results may have been with higher performing students (these were my juniors/seniors who have failed at least 1 semester of math and many of which will not move on to Algebra 2), or with kids from a different district, but rather than focusing on student use of technology and the lack thereof in most of our classrooms, the narrative I saw developing as I transcribed in the handwritten responses were that my school is failing students (in the sense of not fulfilling our mandate to prepare them for what's next) not because of irrelevant work, but mostly because teachers either did not care, were not good teachers, or both.

You can read the full text of student responses here.

The ones who DID respond positively usually referred to career and technical ed classes we offer (business, food, Project Lead the Way), or in offering the ACT or scholarship information, which almost hits on the second to last Future Ready principal listed above, but still discounts the technology that can be leveraged to enhance those opportunities.

I've also included a few word clouds trying to best visualize the narrative I saw developing. If you read the full responses, I think you'll agree none of these quite "get" it, but the ones where "don't" is most prominent come close.

So what do you DO with this information?
I'm pretty sure part of the discrepancy between their responses and the Future Ready principals was a combination of the way I worded the prompt and the students' own experiences. Obviously they wouldn't have anything to say about teachers' professional learning opportunities or mentoring other districts in digital learning.

What I DO take away from this is that a school's first priority should be in setting up procedures and systems that let students know implicitly and explicitly that they are cared for and who they are and will become matters. The Summit welcomed Dr. Tiffany Anderson of +Jennings School District, a district close to mine that has taken the pledge and seen a significant turn around from unaccreditation to accreditation in the last several years to tell the Jennings story.  Dr. Anderson laid out three principles they use to guide decisions in the district: relationship, pedagogy, and curriculum. I think its easy to tighten up pedagogy and curriculum - those are processes and fixed by training. Relationship is harder because relationships get hard and ugly sometimes. Relationships are made of people and people mess up.

The day can best be summed up for me and my students in what I tweeted just as Dr. Anderson was wrapping up with her experience guiding the students through understanding and expressing their feelings surrounding the Michael Brown and #Ferguson protests in our community last fall.

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Thanks for sharing!