One of the benefits of hosting the Learning Counsel’s Regional Digital Transition Discussions is we get to sit face-to-face with some of the most respected thought leaders in American education, and then gather their thoughts across common themes. The result is often the advancement of wisdom in key discussion areas, and more often than not, an opportunity to quicken the discussion towards permanent solutions.

Leading these discussions is LeiLani Cauthen, CEO of the Learning Counsel and one of America’s education thought leaders in her own right. One of the top discussion topics is the fact that education is at a point in its evolution when its very structure is changing. To start the discussion, Cauthen posed, “Since the pandemic came into play, we're actually in need of a structural shift. We're playing with space and time in every single school and district in America and people seem to have moved in their expectations. So, let's talk about your thoughts and maybe what you see in your own district for structural shift.”


Dr. Ryan C. Hansen, Director of Digital Learning from the Davis School District said, “One of the things I think all parents love about what the pandemic did is it created more flexibility for the family. If a student wants to end their day early and go to work or train athletically, there's lots of things that they can do, maybe a later start because they moved their English class to an online class. We even have different options available for kids as to what online looks like. There's an online classroom, there's an online independent study. There's totally open ended online. We can help kids find what works best for them. They can still keep the traditional experience, and then they can try online things as well.

“One of the things we're really excited about as well is we've partnered with Snow college, which is a community college here in Utah, and also Arizona State. We can now offer some dual enrollment options for kids that are moving through curriculum faster. So, a student can be enrolled in an English class with Arizona State and Arizona. State's doing incredible stuff with introductory classes, for kids, meaning  they'll let a kid take a C class from them. And then the student can determine later if they want that on their college transcript. So, they're picking up high school credit in addition to college credit, all at the same time.”


Senator Howard Stephenson, Retired, Utah State Senate added, “In Utah, we have had an opportunity for the legislature and the state board of education to work together on a digital teaching and learning master plan for five or six years. And it was a collaborative effort. The legislature funded it, the state board of education themed it and the LEAs trained in it. We didn't know COVID was coming, but better than any other state I think, we were able to hit the ground running because we had already trained the teachers in the effective use of computer assisted instructional software for 20 minutes, a half hour day in math and that same period in English or reading. The Education Commission of the States gave Utah its Frank Newman award for innovation and education because of the way we worked this out.

“And our state superintendent Sydnee Dixon received the Policymaker of the Year Award, because of the team she brought together and the way they interfaced with the LEAs and enabled the LEAs to do their job more effectively. We weren't caught flat footed with the closures of schools in the spring of 2020, but instead, we were more nimbly able to make those shifts. And I can say that the legislation we've had in the years previous to that such as our Upstart Program for four-year-old, pre-K which Ted Global called one of eight audacious ideas that can change the world, because these low-income minority English learners start kindergarten on average at a first-grade level. There's never been anything like it in the history of early learning. Our early intervention reading software that schools are implementing with fidelity and using the software to do some of the heavy lifting of personalized learning that they aren't able to do remotely as well through zoom meetings and that kind of thing.

“And then our math software program through our STEM action center, the latest legislature helped to fund and enact those things. But I tell you the legislation and the funding is essential, but it's not sufficient until you have people to implement these things who have the passion for reaching kids in better ways as we do in Utah. It is almost global, that you can feel the spirit of that desire to reach kids in spite of the challenges of COVID or anything else.”


Sam Quantz, Chief Information Officer from the Salt Lake City School District said, “The structural shift that I've seen is more of a paradigm shift. Prior to the pandemic, you’d look at technology in the classroom or in public education as a novelty, you'd see it in pockets. Maybe it was a whole school. Maybe it was an individual classroom, a specific student. But the pandemic really brought it out to the forefront, how much technology is needed. And it's a cultural shift that it's now an expectation, right? We're even talking about how it's an expectation that schools are ISPs, internet service providers for students. Schools didn't do that. The demand from what I've seen has increased 10, 20-fold for new software to review, new devices, new technology, just to meet the increased demand of what the pandemic's brought on.”


Chris Knutsen, Superintendent at Florence Unified School District said, “Two years ago, I was sitting in a superintendents’ symposium in LA on February and the main keynote guy comes on and he says, ‘You know, basically, are you guys ready to educate all your kids online? Because it's coming.’ We didn't really know much about COVID at the time and here it is two years later. We know that COVID has been a very bad thing, and it's been a very challenging issue to deal with for all schools across our country. First thing I did is I walked outside, and I called my tech director and I said, ‘all right, are we going to be able to do this?’

“You know, Looking back over the last two years, the shift is real and I think we've navigated about as well as we could. I mean, we were able to get all our kids online and I think it went rather well. And I think we've learned a lot. We've learned that technology is something that we can use in a better way in the future. So that's where we're headed.”


Tony Camp, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning at Phoenix Union High School District added, “I think everybody did the best they could, given the circumstances of shifting. In my district, we had more computers than students if you were to inventory them, but we were not a 1:1 district. So, it pleased me in the fact that it forced us into that world. That was an inevitability I believe. Instead of technology being a supplemental resource or an addition to instruction, it has now become an integral part of the work we do. I've heard from other colleagues here today about their block schedules that they were on. Our district was in a, a standard class, six 55-minute periods, six periods a day. When we went virtual in March, we admitted to ourselves that mental fatigue is definitely something that was going to hit our kids and adults.

“So, we switched, and now we're in sort of this modified block. So, we went all the way to the other end. Now we're in the middle and now we're talking about the future of next year. Just like with traditional paper-based teaching, not wanting to go back to the old, this is the new norm. And we are looking at utilizing what I think is House Bill 28.62, that gives districts a little bit of flexibility in their instructional time. As a result of the variant really hitting attendance. I don't know if anybody knows the true answer, but I think everybody's trying to find it.

“My takeaway today would be the next 10 years, what we'll need to do and what's coming, right? The individualization, as well as personalization for students, while also keeping that connection to a teacher at some point. We all know as a result of this pandemic that social interaction is important, not just for kids, but also for adults. I think the biggest takeaway is what will happen as a result of COVID and education over the next 10 years. And we probably can anticipate a lot of the effects and there are some that we can't, and it makes me think about in education I've experienced all of these, not as an employee or as a teacher or an administrator, but even as a student.

“So, there's three Cs that pop in mind that really had a drastic effect on education. And the first one was computers; when a computer came out, I was in middle school, sorry, dating myself. And then the second C is Columbine, and Columbine changed a lot of the way we looked at safety for schools. And then the third is COVID and we are responsible for so much, as if a principal of a school is a mayor of a town. We have to be able to roll with the punches, dust ourselves off, get up and move forward, because our kids are coming tomorrow and the next day and the next year.


Dr. Gayle Galligan, Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at Deer Valley Unified School District said, “We really focused on the S.A.M. model and pushed that through and tried to work that minimally into our four content areas. We were bubbling along with that, as well as a flipped classroom model working with mainly our math teachers, helping them to think about how can you flip your math classroom and think about it just a little bit differently. And then we managed to get into a pandemic. And so in our mind, we decided we're not gonna waste a good pandemic.

“And hopefully only once in my lifetime to accelerate some of the things that we laid down the foundation, but it was not moving at a good pace. And that included changing to a single learning management system, requiring all teachers to do certain things a certain way so that our parents and our kids had some consistency and that our teachers also had some consistency. Now, there are people that don't like consistency, and you've talked to us about laying down a track. And we actually did lay down a track because we created our own the summer of 2020 all the way through our K-8 curriculum in Canvas for every single content course, every assessment, every, every you name it, we built it. And so we have a track for every single teacher, whether they were online or in brick and mortar. And what that does is for some teachers, it is a sense of comfort. And I can do this now for other teachers. It's like get that away because in my PLC team identified that this is the need for the kids that we have right now. And I don't want to go lockstep here the way you've told me. So that's where you and I probably will have a conversation, is how do we bridge something like that? But we truly didn't let a pandemic decrease where our goals were. It actually accelerated what we were doing. Are we doing it? Well, probably not. Are we doing it poorly? Probably not. But we still have areas that we can shine in and areas that we can get better. We still look like a traditional unified school, but not as much as we did prior to the pandemic.”

As a follow-up question and point of discussion, LeiLani Cauthen asked, “How do you feel about needing the ultimate tech in order to have the ultimate in humanity and personalized learning?”

According to Sam Quantz, “Personalized learning, I think that is the key. I think that's what classrooms and teachers and districts want. Every single student that walks through their door has an education tailored to their needs. Now they may look like the student next to them a little bit. But ideally, I learn a little bit differently than Senator Stevenson does. Right? And what are the tools that will help me to do that? So, from an infrastructure standpoint, I look at it as standardization helps me support, right? No increase in staff prioritization helps me. So how do we balance standardization versus the innovation needed to provide personalized instruction? You could go through and provide a single application for every single student, but the management of that would be challenging.”


For Senator Howard Stephenson, “the most important thing is to get every child competent at grade level in reading, writing, and math. All the rest of an education is important, but if you don't have that base of Bloom's Taxonomy of academic skills and content knowledge in reading, writing, and math, how do you achieve all the rest? The upper levels of synthesis, evaluation, critical thinking, and all those kinds of things that we really want our students to understand and to be able to do, because that that's how you live life. But if you don't have math and reading down, you're going to be struggling with those other things.

“You have to be a master at using the software with fidelity; and by fidelity, in order to personalize it, you need to make sure that every student gets their minutes or units every week and they celebrate that every Friday. You have a common goal in the classroom of working together toward this goal at the end of the year of being grade-level proficient in both reading and math. And then the teacher takes the reports from the software and uses it to do small group and one-on-one instruction to make up where kids are stuck. And what she has found is that she can get 90 percent of any classic grade level proficient in a single academic year, no matter how low they started, if she does that with fidelity.

“The data show that if you dabble in technology, you're probably getting lower scores than if you were to go back to the sage on the stage and go back to the analog teaching and learning. You have to get the minutes each week. You have to look at the data and provide that small group one-on-one instruction. If you're not willing to do that. And by the way, what I say is that teachers across America are working too hard. Yes, they're just working way too hard because they don't trust the machine to assist them in their role. You know, accountants trusted electronic spreadsheets, and now their jobs are much easier and their role has been repurposed to a higher calling. Teachers, you're not going to be replaced by the software. It will enrich your ability to reach every child. And that's where your heart is anyway. And then you will have the ability to enjoy exploring other things with them because they are competent in math and reading.”


Dr. Ryan C. Hansen added, “It's a great topic. And to build on the senator's comments, the tech really becomes the extension of a great teacher. Teachers will never be replaced. One of the challenges of technology is, there are no shortcuts with the technology. It requires planning. It requires the thoughtful placement of resources, uh, all of those things. When we effectively do that, it magnifies the impact that a teacher can have, or that the teacher does have.”


Your invitation to attend

Every Digital Transition Discussion Event includes a panel discussion, invariably featuring some of the brightest minds in education. And perhaps the only thing better than watching the video replay of the panel discussion is being there in-person while the discussion is taking place. If you haven’t yet made it to the Learning Counsel’s regional events, we would love to see you there in-person. And if you have, you know what a great learning experience it can be. To reserve a spot at your next regional event, Click on this link and attend the next event in your area. With events nationwide, there’s sure to be one in a city near you.