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Skills to Prepare for Tomorrow and Enhance Safety Today
Front cover of the August Edition of School Administrator Magazine.When my husband was a young boy, he worked as a pinsetter for the local bowling alley.  The job was pretty straight forward, as were the skills required. When the pins were knocked down, he placed them back in the correct order. The job required a certain level of dexterity and the ability to duplicate an exact pattern with the pins.  

The world no longer needs pinsetters, switchboard operators, or gas station attendants to pump gas, thanks to ever-evolving technologies that enable humans to be replaced by automation. In fact, few jobs exist today that require only the most basic skill sets.  

However, as we move from the information age to the innovation age, new jobs are being created at a rapid pace. For example, one job that did not exist a decade ago is customer connection technician. Companies rely on this person to use social media tools effectively to interact with customers. Growing up, I would have assumed a webmaster was in charge of cleaning up spider webs, but that is another common position in organizations today.

It would be great if educators had a crystal ball to tell us all the challenges, changes and opportunities our graduates will face in the future.   That is, however, one technology that does not exist—yet.  

So how do we support our students and ensure they have what they need to be productive today and when they leave our schools?  We must redefine the competencies that prepare students for a new era of work and life.    The focus on social-emotional learning we are seeing in education speaks to a skill set that is better aligned to living in an information and innovation age.   Empowering students to own their learning and demonstrate competencies such as self-efficacy, grit and social awareness helps prepare them to adapt, adjust and create their own opportunities. Those competencies also help us create healthier and safer school environments for our students.

Public school districts across the nation are embracing the challenge to redefine, redesign and re-imagine schools, changing what we expect in a profile of a graduate.   The Virginia Beach City Public Schools built a graduate profile that identifies competencies such as being personally and socially responsible, being problem solvers and value creators.  

In my own district, the Dysart Profile speaks to graduates being effective communicators, being innovative and having initiative. Dysart is partnering with other districts across the country to develop ways to help students and educators measure growth in these skills.  

With the theme of this issue of School Administrator in mind, I suggest that incorporating skills into the graduate profile that address social responsibility and effective communication proactively support a safe learning environment by creating a positive atmosphere.  Helping students become problem solvers, develop grit and be personally responsible contributes to the positive mental health of students.  

Embracing social-emotional learning and new-era life skills and dispositions can benefit our schools in both the short term and the long term. Short term, a positive learning environment is created that enhances safety and student social and emotional health, and in the long term can better prepare students for the challenges and opportunities they will face after graduation. These skills and competencies are sometimes referred to as soft skills; however, research indicates these are critical life skills that contribute to improved futures for students.

Our world continues to evolve, and so our educational system must continue to change to meet the new expectations and required outcomes. Not only must we redefine the profile of a college and career-ready graduate, we must redesign our teaching and learning environments to meet the needs of the whole child and re-imagine our educational systems to support the change that must happen.

By embracing these skills, our schools will prepare students for their tomorrow, while tending to safe, supportive learning environments today.
Posted : 7/31 | Direct Link
Powering Future Ready Innovative Strategies
September 7, 2016

The Dysart Unified School District is committed to creating a teaching and learning environment powered by innovative learning strategies.  If we are to prepare students for the world of work and life they will step into after graduating, the learning environment must support the development of relevant work, life skills, and dispositions embedded in a strong foundation of core instruction.  Dysart is building a 21st Century learning environment that includes innovative approaches.  This work includes the use of technology to transform teaching and learning towards personalized education that uses competency measures to demonstrate student success and mastery.

In this competency based environment, students apply lessons and skills by engaging in real-world, authentic problems and learning strategies to become independent and innovative thinkers. These strategies are the keys in an ever-changing world focused not only on a strong knowledge base, but also on the ability to work creatively to find solutions in the workplace and in society.

Our students are using technology to transform the learning environment beyond the walls of a typical classroom and beyond a traditionally defined school day schedule. The use of blended learning, online options, and innovative classroom instruction support student learning. Additionally, we incorporate the skills of creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking into the curriculum to ensure our students are future ready.

What we have heard from employers is that they are looking for students who know how to use these skills to meet the demands of today and tomorrow.  They are looking for marketable skills including leadership, team building, goal setting, planning, decision making, ethical judgment, and higher-order thinking through critical thinking and problem-solving.  Relevant hands on strategies enhance the utilization of the skills through authentic learning experiences including the use of makerspaces and project based learning enhance our student’s opportunities in addition to our expanded pathways, signature programs, and academies.

In 2016, we launched another option for students who are looking for a technology rich personalized learning pathway. The Dysart Innovation Academy provides a personalized learning environment for students in grades 6-8. Utilizing digital learning tools and relevant, project based Instructional approaches, this academy personalizes education for students by addressing the distinct learning needs, interests, and aspirations of individual students. Personalized learning allows instruction to be paced to student needs, modified to address learning preferences, and tailored to the interests of each learner. Student voice is an important component with children engaged in decisions about the what, when and how of learning.

Teachers facilitate and mentor students who are engaged in integrated, real life learning experiences while technology allows students the opportunity to take ownership for their learning. Providing students with the necessary support and the freedom to make choices regarding the place, pace, path, and time of their learning meets the needs of every learner. Because this environment provides for individualized educational plans, the Innovation Academy is able to meet the needs of special education students, students identified as gifted learners, and every child who chooses to enroll in this transformative educational environment. This incubator of innovation will help identify additional strategies for personalizing learning throughout the Dysart Unified School District.
Posted : 9/7/2016 | Direct Link
Preparing students for their future
Technology has changed the world we live and work in and how we learn.  If you want to check a fact - just Google it. If you need to verify information-ask Siri.  If you want to check if you did a math problem correctly-use the PhotoMath app.  Of course, we still need to have a strong knowledge base across all core curriculum areas, but we also need to develop the skills and dispositions that will ensure we can take on the challenges and opportunities in this ever changing world we live in.

The students entering our kindergarten classrooms will graduate into a world that will have technology tools that we can only imagine.  These students will enter jobs that do not even exist today and they will face problems that are not even on our radar.  Our schools must empower students to take ownership of their learning. Being a life- long learner is no longer an option, it is a necessity.  The learning environment in our schools must not only help students be critical thinkers, but critical challengers.  As Google Chief Education Evangelist, Jaime Casap, put it, we shouldn’t ask students what they want to be when they grow up but rather what problems they want to solve.

To prepare students for their future, the stakeholders in the Dysart Unified School District will need to join together to redefine, redesign and re-imagine education.  That will happen this year as part of our Strategic Plan revision process.  More information on this important process will be coming soon.
Posted : 8/4/2016 | Direct Link
Time for the 3R's PLUS
May 31, 2016

Did you know the 3 R’s of education we are all so familiar with, reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic, can be traced back to a speech made in 1795?  The problem is this is not the 18th, 19th or 20th century and our students need to be prepared for work in  the innovation age of the 21st century not the industrial age of the past.  The 3R’s are still important, but not enough to prepare students for the challenges and opportunities they will face when they graduate and enter the work force.

History has shown that the invention of the printing press changed how people accessed books and information and it transformed the world. Similarly, we know technology and digital content provides more people more access to more information than ever before and at a speed that just keeps increasing.  A new renaissance in learning is fueled by technology and digital content and creates incredible opportunities for learners-children and adults. We no longer need to limit our definition of the learning environment to the classroom.  Learners can access information from any place they have connectivity.  Learning time is no longer defined by the school day but rather is 24/7.  

The synonyms we often associate with the word renaissance is rebirth or resurgence.  When we think of the impact of technology on teaching and learning, the word renaissance is very appropriate, but that resurgence or rebirth can only take place if we embrace it.  If no one ever bought or read the books mass produced by the printing press, the access and availability to knowledge provided by that innovation would not have made an impact on the world.  We must transform our classrooms and access what is possible and available utilizing technology and digital content.  It is time to expand the old 3R’s of education.  Reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic need to be joined by redefining, redesigning and re-imaging education, so we can experience that renaissance, resurgence and rebirth in teaching and learning.  If we redefine what we want our outcomes to be for each child, we will have to re-design what the teaching and learning environment is and that will cause us to re-imagine how students access and engage in learning.  By addressing the old and the new 3R’s we can create a current day renaissance in learning.  It is time to move past the rhetoric and recreate the learning environment of the 21st century.  Check out the IGNITE session to get a glimpse at how the new 3R’s are sparking conversation and change in Dysart.
Posted : 5/31/2016 | Direct Link
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