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Redefining Learning: The Goochland Journey Toward Deeper Learning

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We welcome guest bloggers John Hendron, Ed.D., Director of Innovation & Strategy and James Lane, Ed.D., Superintendent, Goochland County Public Schools as they share the continuing journey of the district to meet the needs of 21st century learners.

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A few years ago, we were asked to join Leadership360 to tell Goochland's story about Values-Based Leadership. Since that time, we have seen phenomenal enhancements to and recognitions for our school division; however, we believe it was that initial focus on placing values at the center of our work that has brought us to this place. From those values we created a simple mission, To Maximize the Potential of Every Learner, and a strategic plan focused on personalized and deeper learning. We are excited to share some of our story along with the triumphs and challenges of leading, inspiring, and innovating with our team of amazing teachers.

Back in the the fall of 2013, Goochland County Public Schools in central Virginia piloted a 1:1 iPad program in grades 3-5 just at one of its elementary schools. Since that time, we have expanded the deployment of iPads to all students in grades 4-7, with plans to expand further next year to grades 3-8, and then 3-12 in year two. We have taken the journey towards 1:1 slowly and purposefully, despite being a small rural school division. We are not blind to the fact that buying and passing out devices is easy. Resource deployment comes with challenges, but the real work involved in redefining what learning can look like for students comes with redefining pedagogy.

In a recent blog post, Jill and Ann highlighted the promise behind a project-based approach to learning, which our administrators have embraced as part of a wider focus on deeper learning. Asking students to complete a digital worksheet instead of a paper one might save some paper and make the tedium slightly more engaging for the student, but in the long run, there's no real improvement in learning. As we have learned, the easiest things teachers can do right away can help them save time.

Amongst numerous digital resources, we provide all 1:1 students Google accounts for access to Google Drive, and we continue to utilize the enterprise edition of Schoology. As one 5th grade teacher recently put it, "I'm using Schoology every day right now to enable students to share their projects with one another in addition to using it to let me give them feedback and grades. Thanks for providing us the ability to send grades automatically back to PowerSchool". So, a learning management system can help make learning in a digital space more efficient, and teachers will immediately see the benefits. But what about projects and deeper learning?

We have put together a multi-year plan for innovative instruction that focuses our teachers towards models of learning that are both individualized and personalized for the student (an abridged version appears in our free eBook on innovation in iBooks format). Schoology, for instance, can make easier work for the teacher to send different assignments to students based on recent assessment data. But it's through the development of projects where students can have the opportunity to delve more deeply into topics related to our standards-based content that is of true interest to them, personalizing what gets learned. This switch to student-centered instructional design, where students have both voice and choice in what and how they learn, is at the center of our long term goals.

We often use the SAMR model as a conversation reference when we coach teachers on refining their instructional practice. We of course are interested in seeing the iPads used in classes, but that use alone should not be the justification for their purchase. In talking with and helping teachers see that we learn most deeply through an intersection of knowing, discovering, making, tinkering, and playing, we begin to reconsider what we might do with individual mobile devices in the classroom. A student is welcome to practice math facts on the busride home using an app on the iPad, but class time will not revolve around screen-time in one app. A well-designed project recontextualizes the relationships between students in a class, between teacher and student, and the autonomy students have to ask questions and seek answers.

As we progress with the roll out of our 1:1 program, we are using experienced teachers to help train teachers new to the program. At the same time, we continue to develop teachers with 1-3 years of experience at the "redefinition" stages of the SAMR model. We have learned that development likewise needs to take place with principals, with both opportunities for "in the trenches" training alongside teachers and to training for assessing the quality of learning teachers are designing and implementing. More importantly, too, we need to continue to train our parents on both the rationale and the benefits of pedagogical change. We believe having all stakeholders see our process as a deeper learning opportunity, rather than "an iPad program," goes to the core of communicating the appropriate message. And we do get questions, like, "Why?" "Why are you changing things? Why does learning have to look different from when I was in school?"

Everything we do is part of a larger picture, our previously mentioned strategic plan we call Inspire2020. The heart of that plan is a mission towards maximizing the potential of every learner. If we truly are poised to do that, then learning has to be personalized. We need to develop great thinkers, tinkerers, and scholars to fulfill the district's vision of both inspiring and preparing the next generation to make a positive impact.

The question you may ask is, "Are you guys there yet?" The journey will never end, and we still have a lot of work to do. So many districts will measure their success with test scores. In five years time, we hope our test scores are awesome. But the real measure of our success and effort toward deeper learning will be high school students that continue to dream big like they did in Kindergarten; middle school students who regularly collaborate on projects with students from diverse backgrounds outside our county; high school students with entrepreneurial spirit who start a successful business; a college graduate who returns home committed towards making our community even stronger through public office; not to mention the hundreds of other ways we have not yet imagined.

One of the greatest barriers to our progress is reliable and affordable internet access for every child. Through a grant from the CarMax Foundation, we provide free mifi devices to every low-income student in our 1:1 program; however some homes cannot even receive the signal necessary to connect the device. We are striving to permanently eliminate all achievement and growth gaps in Goochland yet the stark contrasts between what students can access at home and at school brings inherent issues. How long must we continue to have a rule that student homework cannot involve the internet? Many politicians talk about the what success in the modern economy looks like. We can tell you one simple policy issue that will move us forward: Let's make sure every child has access to the internet at home so that we can ensure that they can explore their learning passions any time of day because our school leaders are already working to make sure they can have access anywhere with our device and deeper learning initiatives.

Photo courtesy of Goochland County Public Schools

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