How can we better support students who struggle? We know that addressing the needs of struggling students strengthens our schools, creates stronger communities, brighter futures and a more equitable world. The average student who starts below grade level has just a 1 in 4 chance of catching up. This means a tremendous number of students are struggling nationwide. Through interviews with students, teachers, administrators, technologists and education influencers, we want to understand what’s working in our schools today, what’s not and how we can impact positive, lasting change.
Radical Transparency, Compassionate Leadership, and Embracing Failure: An Interview with Superintendent Dr. Quintin Shepherd
In this episode of Opportunity Thrives, Jason Mitchell sits down with Dr. Quintin Shepherd, a true visionary for the future of education, and the Superintendent at Victoria Independent School District in Victoria, Texas.
Throughout this fascinating conversation, Dr. Shepherd shares his views on education and the new approach that he's bringing to his district, including what he calls radical transparency and putting the public back in public education. He describes radical transparency as the direct connection between the communities we serve and providing unprecedented levels of accessibility to information and people - being transparent with absolutely everything.
But Dr. Shepherd's primary focus stems from his practice of compassionate leadership and expressing vulnerability, and he believes that's why radical transparency works. It's built on the foundation of compassion. He also shares his perspective of the terms complicated vs. complex and how his district is using crowdsourcing to foster open communication and identifying whether a challenge is complicated or complex.
He has also shares how he believes it's important to create a culture of innovation. One of the first steps he took to achieve this is by reducing the cost of failure to increase value. He believes that in too many education systems, failure is equated with blame. Innovation cannot or will not happen within in a culture of blame. He believes in embracing failure to foster a culture of innovation.
This is episode is filled with inspiration, hope and valuable insights about how we can transform the way we lead school districts by modifying our approach to some of the most basic leadership practices.
Tapping into Teacher Expertise to Inform the Future of Education
Jean Sharp had another opportunity to speak with John Watson, the founder of Evergreen Education Group and the Digital Learning Annual Conference in this episode. They discuss the role of the Digital Learning Collaborative had in contributing to the Biden/Harris leadership transition, the role schools play in supporting students - beyond just academics, and the silver linings the pandemic has created for new learning options.
We discuss the Digital Learning Annual Conference: https://www.deelac.com/
Digital Learning Collaborative: https://www.digitallearningcollab.com/
How Districts are Supporting SEL Needs Right Now
In this episode, we reconnect with Debra Giacolone, the Director of Student Services for Sarasota County School District in Sarasota, Florida, and Dr. Crystal Ladwig the Director of Research and Development for Suite360, a social-emotional learning provider that partners with districts across the country.
When Jean Sharp, Chief Academic Officer at Apex Learning, last spoke with Debra and Crystal in an Opportunity Thrives episode last fall, they raised concerns about the health and well-being of our students, particularly in these times of lockdowns and school closure. We revisit this conversation and they share the unfortunate reality that there has been a significant rise in mental health concerns as students grapple with isolation, anxiety, depression, and trauma.
We discuss opportunities to support students despite these challenges, how Sarasota County is addressing student and educator wellbeing, and what Crystal is seeing with other districts across the country. Regardless of the challenges, they share a message of hope for the future and practical guidance other district leaders should consider as they navigate how to best support the social and emotional needs of our students and educators.
Putting PD into Practice through Virtual Learning
On the show today, we have the pleasure of speaking with Stepan Mekhitarian, the Interim Director for Innovation, Instruction, Assessment & Accountability at Glendale Unified School District in Glendale, California.
Stepan is passionate about supporting teachers in the blended and virtual learning environments. In fact, he's so passionate about this topic, that he wrote a book about it: The Essential Blended Learning PD Planner: Where Classroom Practice Meets Distance Learning.
In this episode, he shares how his district is guiding teachers and leaders on how to effectively use instructional technology to benefit students and educators. Stepan shares more about how his district is applying these practices to support teaching and learning within his district and how they have been able to navigate the transition to virtual learning.
Addressing the Digital Divide: Interview with Beaverton School District
When the COVID-19 pandemic thrust students and teachers into virtual learning (literally overnight), existing digital inequities were quickly exposed. Matthew Hiefield, a teacher for Beaverton School District, and a member of their Digital Equity and Inclusion Team, shares how their district is addressing these challenges while also seeking out new opportunities to improve learning during the pandemic.
Matthew Hiefield has 25 years of experience teaching high school Social Studies and is currently a Future Ready TOSA focuses on digital divide issues and how they affect teaching and learning.
In this episode, Matthew shares the district's priorities in addressing connectivity issues, intentional outreach, how they are identifying opportunity gaps, and establishing consistency while still getting creative to ensure students continue to learn.
The Future is Now for Digital Learning
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that change is inevitable in every aspect of our lives. This couldn’t be more apparent than what we experienced in education and the evolution and mainstreaming of virtual learning this year.
We put together a culmination of some of the most powerful conversations, insightful projections for the future, and what educators believe will stick moving forward now and well after the pandemic wanes. What opportunities are you discovering as a result of this unique time in life and in education?
In this episode, we take a look back at all of the many leaders, students and educators who shared their insights, nuggets of wisdom and projections for the future of learning with us throughout the past year. We want to go back and consider what these leaders anticipate will stick with us long after the pandemic is over.
Lisa Rowbotham, the Secondary ELA Supervisor for Passaic Public Schools in New Jersey, Carl Hooker, Thomas Vacanti, the Online Learning Coordinator for the City School District of Albany, Kerrie Torres, Assistant Superintendent from Brea Olinda Unified School District, Kimberly Smith, the new executive director of the new Center for Inclusive Innovation from Digital Promise, Sean Slade, the Senior Director of Global Outreach at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), James Butler from Tucson Unified School District, and Nicola Peck an Apex Learning student, all share their insights and perspectives with us in this episode.