Unlocking Your School District Transformation

Last Installment of Digital Transition Sustainability Tips
LeiLani Cauthen, CEO & Publisher

We are all facing serious disruption in learning content, implementation and modalities. As I’ve stated before, we are in the eye of a storm of change and it can be pretty chaotic for the teachers and administrators in the middle of it. Leaders must answer to their communities, parents want the latest technology and results, boards want standards, it goes on and on. The most recent Learning Counsel Special Report covered the thirty-four leading tips to help you navigate through this. In this final installment, I will share the last fourteen tips of that report with you.

For a deep dive into this research, professional development and unique networking and sharing, you should visit us at our specialized forums, called Digital Curriculum Sustainability Discussions. These meetings of executives, principals and teachers expand one’s vision of digital transformation for everyone in K-12.

In every city we visit—fourteen just this last spring (and twelve more this fall)—we found that every school and district is somewhere on the education continuum but they tend to be involved in all types of tactics without a sustainable transition strategy. That’s what we hope to help you with in our special reports and with each event—to unlock your school or district transformation strategy and win.

I’m not messing around and I know you aren’t either, our results are too important. Join me. Let’s do this.

TIP 20. Standards

The Common Core and other academic enumerated Standards are the new equivalency to a determining equation, a single algorithm that will be deterministic from the level of an individual student all the way up to a means of measuring the outcome of whole schools and the whole system. The Standards are constructed in such a way as to allow for disparity in interpretations and a degree of chaos, but still with the initial condition of a stated core of ideas, a defined set of things to know.  This is a sort of reset to a new base that allows a new sort of administration. 

The understanding of all the types of Standards and where they are going is the first stage to understanding the remodeling going on at the teaching and learning level towards sustainable systems.

Technical Standards have been created to facilitate learning object interoperability with systems and repositories. Movements by groups like IMS Global and Ed-Fi have been busily creating interoperability technical standards. Meta-Data Standards are a schema for how learning objects should be tagged to make them easily discoverable on the internet by major search engines – standards in this area offer field normalizing. These come from groups like the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI), which is now the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative.

Commercial (Combo) Standards are, or will be, academic standards, and/or technical standards, and/or technical models, and/or meta-data tagging standards. One that crosses technical with academic (what fields are used) is the Mozilla badging standard which is now part of IMS Global.

Standards are the building blocks of education’s future in terms of the distribution of knowledge, a potential boon for everyone. 

TIP 21. Endurance

Keep your mind on the future of where schools will inevitably end up as facilitators of the present culture.  Sustainability means enduring all of the human emotion and reactions while going through change.  This requires stiffening discipline and leading through all the confusions.  Focus on wins, ignore the losses.  Repeat. 

The phases all schools are going through are cited in the book, The Consumerization of Learning, available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  They start with valid strategy, move through years of tactics battles, then hit so much confusion that worries of sustainability due to not enough change happen.  Next it will be worries about analytics as a deepening reliance on systems ensues and drags up a whole other set of confusions and tweaks to strategy and tactics and sustainability.  Next will come a more thorough design phase, this time way more liberated through a familiarity with the capabilities of technology.  Finally, this redesign will bring in the reign of truly individualized learning and a new golden age of administration. 

The result, and end-point for the present, will be the same as the rest of the economy in already having gone past services and technology to the Age of Experience.  Schools are enduring the tech onslaught through to becoming expo centers of learning, well fit to the current values and outside context by delivering each learner with a customized experience.  One company is already starting a robust conversation about “Digital Cohesion,” Juniper Networks, where the internet-of-things will be have active interplay with students to relate their world to them with lessons that pop in as games or instructs via location-aware devices and intelligent learning management systems pinged as the student

TIP 22. Seamlessness

Being sustainable means being seamless technologically.  Being plug-and-play is in the purview of companies whose job it is to serve up all the various parts and pieces like Insight Public Sector, who offers comprehensive lifecycle & IT management services alongside all the pieces and parts of the technologies they sell.  Troxell takes a wholistic view to helping schools build out their seamless tech picture from mobile device management to filtering and everything in between. T-Mobile will assist even have staff roll-up their sleeves and spend days in tagging and mass-device roll-outs, as well as provide customized plastic cases for internet hot-spots that fit into library check-in slots at a low cost for student homework use.  

Being seamless has to include a lot of evangelizing and working through exactly how devices will be being used to have “meaningful deployment” according to Jasna Aliefendic of Garland Independent School District in Texas. 

TIP 23. Being Extralimital

Learning is busting out of the confines of its physical spaces and going rogue out on the internet while at the same time going mobile. Being extralimital means being outside the limits of your physical buildings and staffing.  It means using online teaching services for everything from on-demand pronunciation of foreign languages to math help, and apps that connect kids to students across the world. 

Wireless access on buses for students to do homework on their trips, or buses parked in known neighborhoods that need access, are both ways to be extralimital. 

“Piped in students” is another option when using internet-connected robots for kids to attend school while away or confined at home recovering from illness, which Virginia Beach Public Schools is currently offering according to Bill Johnsen, to great success.  VGo is one such company offering remote-presence robots.

TIP 24. Measurement & Reflection

To be sustainable, it’s important to measure and reflect on what is working and what isn’t.  Just testing is now so old-school.  The new measurement for learners is ongoing with embedded formative and summative assessments inside intelligent digital courseware, or hand-built in by teachers within Learning Management Systems.  Companies like MasterTrack offer ways to track actual mastery in mathematics.  Verso Learning is a digital platform designed to improve academic engagement by empowering teachers with quality questioning strategies for true personalization. GuideK12 is a software-as-a-service geovisual analytics tool that helps create visualize data, run scenarios and make informed decisions about an entire district.

TIP 25. Work Readiness

A lot of schools have increasing pressure to create workforce readiness for students.  Having a cohesive plan to deliver real skills may include coding skills learned in new “Experience Centers” such as Garland Independent School District in Texas does, robotics programs, and various other modern-day skills.  Other programs such as those at Cincinnati Public Schools include resume-writing help and four different career-based experiences with local business professionals to develop career awareness, explore career opportunities and gain essential skills. 

Sites like Solid Professor offer professional-grade courses that can be life-changing skills that set up students for life.    

TIP 26. Leadership

A leader needs to be a manager that can control issues and plan solutions that will be sustainable, so that what they put into place will be able to continue for future generations. Having a strong understanding of what that looks like is the most missing thing in school leaders today.  Many think they know, but it is often only a surface understanding of how deep the tech transition goes. 

The leader’s job today is to manage systems so that they are able to support and sustain themselves. Frequently, school and district leaders think it is to manage discipline of people and the art of what is taught.  To be sustainable, however, is to run the system of tech systems with attention to coverage and the flow of efforts accessing those systems.  Here are the essential leadership skills for today’s administrators:

  • Define the future, lead towards that
  • Tends the System with Tech Systems
  • Effective Planning with clear steps
  • See the problems/issues
  • Short-circuiting complexity
  • “Always done this way” to totally new ways
  • Disciplines when needed
  • Sets job descriptions and organizational charts
  • Mentors everyone
  • Gives firm Yes or No, never Maybe
  • Affirms the wins, Ignores the Losses
  • Responsible and Caring
  • Ability to project current issues/ideas/plans into the Future

TIP 27. Craft

Greater sustainability in anything comes about from applying a high level of professional craft.  Excellent craft for curriculum software can be found in companies like HMH, Waggle, ABCMouse, Dreambox, ThinkThruMath, MindResearch, Adaptive Curriculum, Follett, Britannica, Odysseyware, Brainpop, Reading Kingdom, Edgenuity, Edmentum, Dig-it Games, Safari Montage, Discovery Education, Fuel Education, Matific, Renaissance Learning, Imagine Learning, Apex Learning, Ignite Learning, Redbird Learning, Lynda.com and many others.

TIP 28. Set Reminders

It’s one thing to launch off into a big program with wild enthusiasm, it’s another thing to keep it all going sustainably.  One simple thing to do:  set reminders for each milestone or task.  Use Apps like BZ Reminder to keep up with a complex calendar of things-to-do, share knowledge along the way, and check for gaps in what’s happening so you can move things along. 

TIP 29. Human-ness

A new teaching value is a teacher’s human-ness. Teachers who lean heavily on tech delivery free themselves to create more interaction with their students, more collaboration, projects, and to just “be there” for the students.  This is the promised new wealth the transition to digital should create for the teacher-learner relationship – more attention. 

A new professional development focus being created by the Minnesota Department of Education will highlight a better Humanity to schools.  “We see so many variables from so many students, we find it hard to reduce it down to something we can predict,” stated Jeff Plaman the Online and Digital Learning Specialist from the Minnesota DOE. “We wonder how we haven’t figured it out by now. Learning is a complex interaction of variables. Tech is a great tool, but alone is never going to solve everything. Teachers need to believe in achieving results based on the actions they take, over time.” He explained further how learning should focus on the stuff machines can’t do. “It’s important to focus on the human elements. Look at what machines can’t do,” he stated. “They can’t choose objectives and hold values, they can’t do action based only on past-experience, can’t do causation, can’t imagine and invent the future.”

In addition, the software industry is talking about new courseware and custom speedy assessments with guided advice such as Leaps social-emotional learning resources that can be a game-changer for students struggling with being human, not math and literacy.  

TIP 30. Equity

Digital equity has been called the “Civil Rights Issue of our Time.” The Consortium of School Networking (CoSN) created a “Digital Equity Action Agenda” for use by schools to help them overcome the homework gap and wi-fi deserts that prevent digital learning.

TIP 31. Give Them What They Want

The value culturally today is experience, not just knowledge.  Pay attention to what your learners really want with unique programs like GoNoodle for dance moments to release a lot of youthful energy. 

A robot “fashion-show” might be just the thing to get the girls into robotics, and all STEM topics.  Companies like RobotLab even offer ways to have robotics curriculum without the robots through virtual programming.  In this way smaller investments stretch into a long-term sustainable program of robotics devices shared across a whole school or multiple schools. 

Virtual Reality headsets are all the rage.  Schools that figure out how to use them in school curriculum are giving students the feeling of being cutting edge and relevant. Victory VR has worked with Buffalo Elementary School of Davenport Community School District in Iowa elementary to use Oculus Rift headsets and their VR curriculum for science, covering grades five to eight with lessons on the solar system, the water cycle, ocean life and more.

TIP 32. Look Back

To be sustainable, sometimes it’s important to “look back” at what works in learning and the local community.  Previously mentioned, Zaner-Bloser’s unique handwriting program is one way to ensure that the benefits of skilled messaging aren’t lost.  The ability to use and sequence language start there, and are foundational to other skills such as coding machines where the logic of ordered commands requires a focused thinking that finds an antecedent in handwriting.  Awesome Stories is another way to go digital while looking back at one of mankind’s most successful learning modalities: the story.  Building lessons as stories in that platform allows teachers and learners a unique curation with an old flair. 

TIP 33. Ask

Budgets are never enough, but dedicating leadership time or staff to find money, either in applying for grants or just asking, is a step in the right direction.  For leaders it can be as simple as remembering to do so. Often there is just no one asking.  You can never get what you don’t ask for.

TIP 34. Make Friends

The Learning Counsel has found a remarkable number of new friendships and groups born through our local events and the national Gathering each November. This can be an overlooked aspect to becoming truly sustainable.  All of your educators and executives should be charged with making friends with peers, reaching out to their informal network frequently, and even joining more formal activities like the new Knowstory.com Learning Groups working together on emerging issues of digital curriculum transition.


The 34 Sustainability Tips are covered in full in the Digital Transition Sustainability Special Report which can be downloaded for FREE here.

LeiLani is well versed in the digital content universe, software development, the adoption process, school coverage models, and helping define this century’s real change to teaching and learning. She is the author of the newly released book, The Consumerization of Learning.

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