Uncovering a powerful way to push teaching and learning in our schools.
GUEST COLUMN | by Amy Valentine
Innovation in America’s classrooms (Obama Administration’s Race to the Top competition aside) has historically been born of the frustrations and inspirations of those charged with the day-to-day academic, and, often, social growth of our children – their teachers. Parents, entrepreneurs, policymakers, philanthropists, and administrators all work to put in place policies, products, and processes that enable teachers to do this important work, but it is the teachers themselves who are tasked with execution. It is teachers who identify and then find alternative methods to close the gaps that separate students from achieving all they are capable of.
One way we do this is through our Innovative Educator Grant Program, an annual call for actionable, scalable ideas to further personalize learning at the classroom and school levels.
This is not to say that strong school-, community-, and district-level leadership aren’t essential to the success of our education system. They are, more than ever. It is merely that their remove from the active classroom environment can lessen the impact of their best intentions with respect to teacher practice and the transformation to personalized learning. Just as a group of students do not learn in exactly the same way at the same time, it must be acknowledged that teachers, too, work at differing levels and should be given freedom to experiment with and innovate their own practice to most effectively reach and teach the students they guide at a given time.
This is why supporting the ideas of entrepreneurial teachers is such an important aspect of our foundation’s mission to advance and improve the availability and quality of blended and online educational opportunities.
One way we do this is through our Innovative Educator Grant Program, an annual call for actionable, scalable ideas to further personalize learning at the classroom and school levels. In this first year of the program, out of a collection of proposals originating from 33 states, seven grants have been awarded to teachers pushing their own practice to provide an enhanced educational experience for their students (and themselves).
Grant applications were not limited to any single “type” of school and the pool represented traditional public, public charter, private, parochial, and fully online schools. Winning projects reflect a broad spectrum of what is possible in classrooms when teachers respond to the unique needs of their students and challenges within their communities using technology:
Vanessa Jimenez of Steubing Ranch Elementary School in San Antonio, TX will be developing a blended dual-language kindergarten literacy program utilizing online resources and technology tools in a progress-monitored environment that will allow students to document and reflect upon their learning journey through digital portfolios.
Micah Johnson of Headland Middle School in Headland, AL will design and implement a blended learning experience for geography students living in a low-income farming area that will connect them to the land and their community through project-based modules.
Julia E. Lyles of Heritage Elementary School in Waddy, KY will expand an open, competency-based blended math model and curriculum for 3rd Grade.
Joshua Miranda of City on a Hill New Bedford in New Bedford, MA will evolve a highly-regarded numeracy- and literacy-focused tutoring program to a data-driven blended learning environment utilizing OER content and personalized instruction that to more effectively reach students along a broad range of mastery.
Anthony Schmidt of Schurz High School in Chicago, IL will work to bridge the digital divide for inner-city students using a flipped classroom model and further developing an open physics curriculum for 11th Grade.
Peter Servidio of Holy Savior School & Saint Dominic Academy in Rumford, ME will actualize of a blended and online learning road map providing digital access to rural students and model a replicable program for use in Catholic schools throughout the state.
Patricia Shelton of Eatonville High School in Eatonville, WA will continue a transition to online learning for a successful alternative learning center supporting at-risk and over-aged/under-credited students.
Providing support for these educators to explore deeper and more personal educational experiences for their students, then sharing those ideas with their peers around the country is a simple, yet impactful way to push the transformation of teaching and learning in our schools. Stay tuned for progress reports throughout 2017.
Amy Valentine is Executive Director for the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning. She is a veteran of the online and blended school sector, and has worked in school development, marketing, and launching of virtual academies. She has been a teacher, facilitator, and teacher trainer. Write to: [email protected]