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Empowering Students for Today and Tomorrow

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This post is by Beth Colby, Senior Program Associate at the Council of Chief State School Officers


I was drawn to a large ad at one of the DC metro stops. It advertised a local college and stated that "Life's taught you well: You're ready to earn your degree". It then had pictures and words that described how well high school had prepared students for their next chapter - college. These words were Time Management, Team Work, and Courage!
Yet we hear time and time again across the country that many students coming out of secondary schools are often not ready for the next chapter of their life. We hear it in inner city schools and rural towns. If students are not ready, then what does it take to get them there? How do our students learn time management skills, team work, and the deep-down courage to go out on their own and problem-solve and think critically?


Last month I had the opportunity to visit Lindsay Unified School District in Lindsay, California The visit was orchestrated by the California Department of Education in an effort to share ideas on student-centered teaching and learning between Lindsay Unified and Inglewood Unified School District, California's Innovation Lab Network district.
Tired of disengaged students' and young adults' graduating from their system not ready for their next step, Lindsay Unified took a hard look at their K-12th grade education system and decided not to "tweak" but "transform" it. They wanted to empower their students to drive their own education, be motivated, and be challenged daily. They wanted their students to continually engage in "deeper learning" in all classes.


To guide the transformation, the school leadership brought together staff, parents, and community members in working groups to brainstorm, organize, and implement a plan that everyone could contribute to and believe in. Through community forums the district rewrote their strategic plan, mission and core values. At the center of the plan was the belief that all students can learn.


During the visit our team was led by the students who spoke about the changes and how the district-wide performance-based practices inspired motivation and their desire to learn. In the classrooms we found that every student knew what their daily learning goals were. They were able to find and use all the resources available to them and establish a working plan and timeline to reach their individual student goals. Data sheets with students' names and their individual course levels were printed out and hung in the back of each classroom. Benchmarks for each student were outlined and color coded monthly by the students for each teacher and student to look at and work from. Classrooms were set up with individual stations, small group centers, and teacher-led sections. In one class we witnessed students working at individual computer stations, while a small group of 10 students were being assisted by their teacher to learn math concepts. Meanwhile, two small groups collaborated together around a table to accomplish a group task for a social studies project.  Each student was given their own bucket, files, and folders that were filled with personalized learning recourses for the specific levels they were at for each subject. The facilitation of learning was collaborative, flexible, and centered around student growth.  Teachers and students were able to see where they were and where they needed to go each day. The students were able to take ownership of their academic goals. They worked on time management skills and established personalized timelines to complete their tasks and become proficient in a specific competency.


Lindsay Unified's belief that students learn in different ways and timeframes, and that mistakes are inherent in the learning process, helps guide the daily interactions between teachers and students. Students have choices and move at a pace that they establish with their teacher.  Technology, books, and other resources are provided for all students and for all learning levels. Students do not move on until they have met all their requirements.


Teachers are asked to inspire, motivate, and empower the learner every day. They do this by helping the students find their voice and express their needs. Check-ins and communication between the school, student, and home are continuous. Administrators provide resources to their teachers through specific professional development and are always walking through classrooms and checking in with the learners and facilitators to find solutions, help figure out next steps, and connect on a daily basis.


Lindsay Unified School District's transformation was not easy. It took time, reflection, and an entire community committed to the belief that all students are learners.  Through the hard work of the staff and the community, the district is seeing their students becoming engaged, life-long learners, and having the courage to think outside the box and be ready for the next step. Academically, students do not move to the next level until they become proficient in course competencies and grade level goals. This change has given students the courage to take charge of their learning, motivate themselves for a deeper learning experience and become proficient in time management skills needed for that next step to a career or college experience.







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