Hessian Education Policy

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2015-10-06 09:53

As Rick Hess would say, “Policy is a blunt tool that can make people do things, it just can’t make them do it well.”  While I agree with the blunt tool part, I believe policy can make people do things well.  The key?  Making sure good policy is grounded in good practice.


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What’s your dream job?

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-10-05 09:07

future-ed-jobsWhat job would you dream up for yourself? This is pretty hard question for me as I’ve always had a lot of different interests. Trying to narrow my focus while and thinking “why do I have to choose?” can make job searching tricky. Reading KnowledgWorks’ most recent publication, Exploring the Future Education Workforce: New Roles for an Expanding Learning Ecosystemprompted me to spend some time thinking about what my dream job of the future would be.

Since this is a huge topic, I used the seven roles already presented in the paper to set some parameters. Of course I also wanted to incorporate the qualities of a healthy learning ecosystem, “learner-centered, equitable, modular and interoperable, and resilient.” Ok, so where do I fit in? I enjoy connecting people with ideas, teaching, and most of all, using all the resources of museums to serve the public. After some reflection, I came up with a future role that I am calling a “Museum Learning Manager.” This position would be sort of a floating manager within the museum of all things ecosystem related.

My first priority would be to collaborate with students who have curriculum goals that the museum can meet. Interested in history? Let’s work in the archives. Love building stuff? Exhibition design is for you. A lover of language and writing? How about working on text labels, press releases, exhibition catalogues and social media? Independent with attention to detail? Collections care is for you. Enthusiastic people person? You belong in the development office.

I wouldn’t just find a place for them though; I would also fill a sort of supervisor/mentor role. I would meet with them often as they work on their projects, complete assignments, and achieve their goals. Benchmarks could be set with the students, their parents, and learning pathway designer. I would work with the competency tracker and learning naturalist to ensure they are getting the most out of their time at the museum. I would also serve as the liaison between the museum and the pop-up reality producer. Providing access to resources, space, content specialists, etc. as they create their next learning experience.

I love all of this personally, but it would also be great for museums and schools. What better way to train young people who might go on to pursue a career in museums? What a great opportunity to allow access to resources schools might not have, such as object collections and exhibit space. Many people don’t realize all the different types of jobs there are in museums until they are well on their way to some other career. With a system like this one, students can find areas they are passionate about and want to keep pursuing as adults. Another benefit of this system is that it breaks down the perception that museums are elitist. By being a small part of a larger learning ecosystem, museums can know and be known by their communities and stakeholders.

What’s most exciting is that some of the activities above are already happening. The National Association of Museum Schools is working toward engaging, experiential learning for students through partnerships between museums and schools. I recommend reading Laney Tillner’s two posts on the Center for the Future of Museums for a bite-sized look into the world of museum schools. It is so exciting to read about students working in museums to meet their educational goals!

This is what excites me about the future of education. What about you?



Adrienne Turnbull-Reilly is a museum educator living and working in Dorchester, MA. She got her Masters in Anthropology and Museum Studies from the University of Denver. She sits on the Greater Boston Museum Educator Roundtable planning committee, as well as serving as the Emerging Museum Professionals chair. She is interested in museum education, museums as agents of change, and quality education for all. Read her blog at cabinetsandcuriosity.squarespace.com.


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From Family- and Patient-Centered Healthcare to Student-Centered Learning

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-10-01 08:00

At KnowledgeWorks, our approach to education is based on a philosophy of student- or learner-centered learning.

I came to education by way of pediatric healthcare. When I started working at the medical center out of college, it was in the midst of a movement towards family-centered care (for the very young patients) and patient-centered care (for the adolescent and teen patients). Watching the medical providers around me transform the way they delivered care was enlightening. No longer was it assumed that a doctor knows best. Instead, patients and their families were driving decisions in their own medical care.

As a healthcare consumer, its changed how I approach my own care. I assume my own leadership in each interaction and change providers when that leadership isn’t welcome.

Why should that apply in education and learning as well? It can.

Student-Centered Learning

At KnowledgeWorks, our approach to education is based on a philosophy of student- or learner-centered learning.


We live in a customized world, except in school.We live in a customized world, except in school. At the schools we partner with, We honor that each learner is an individual with a unique learning style. In competency education and early college high schools, learners have learning experiences that are truly meaningful to them. We personalize the education experience.


School as we traditionally know it is built around the agrarian calendar for rural communities and climate in urban communities. There is no need for those factors to dictate when and were learning occurs. Competency-based education is founded on the idea that learning can occur anytime, anywhere and for people of all ages. Learning is now inclusive of the entire community, making opportunities for engaged learning within our schools and throughout our learning ecosystems.


When education isn’t equitable, it creates barriers for entry to learners of lower socioeconomic status to advance in quality of life and contribute to economic development. In competency-based education, there are not the physical constraints that come with traditional schools. Learning is not place-based and it is not something that happens to the child. Learning is something children actively pursue. In early college high schools, we serve first-generation college goers and make the dream of college a reality.


The role of a teacher is evolving to more of a coaching role or a facilitator of learning. We live in a time when a teacher as “sage on the stage” is no longer the only acceptable instructional practice. The role of a teacher is evolving to more of a coaching role or a facilitator of learning. Teachers can help coach learners to manage time and learning opportunities. They can help learners to take advantage of expertise throughout the community at local businesses, museums and libraries; all known as active members of the learning community.

Business and community leaders have the opportunity to take an active role in helping to improve workforce readiness and create economic development that benefits their community directly. They can do this by creating learning opportunities for students in the form of internships, co-ops and mentoring as well as partnering with schools and teachers to develop curriculum that delivers hands-on, real-world-relevant learning opportunities throughout the learning community.

Students in Birmingham are working alongside the staff of Jones Valley Teaching Farm in vegetable gardens and at farmer’s markets. Students at Marysville Early College High School are benefiting from a curriculum that was co-created with area employers to ensure that school curriculum aligns with local economic needs.

Learn more about KnowledgeWorks and our work in schools.


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Oh Snap.

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-09-28 12:24

 Is it getting in the way of learning or a tool that can enhance learning?

Another school system banned Snapchat, a popular photo-sharing app, from the school’s Wi-Fi networks. That decision lit-up twitter as students complained, whined and begged for the decision to be reversed. They even started an online petition.

Not quite sure what Snapchat is?

Some schools and teachers characterize the app as a distraction – a teacher’s worst nightmare. And a majority of parents tend to agree, with school district administrators adding that it has no instructional value.

A mobile app that started in 2011 as a photo messaging service, Snapchat enabled teens to trade spontaneous selfies of their everyday lives. The messaging app then evolved into a social network once they launched a feature called My Story, which lets users post photos and videos for large groups of friends to see for up to 24 hours. Even news outlets are using the Snapchat Discover feature, which lets publishers reach new younger audiences with well-produced stories that are made specifically for that platform. And now, with their newest feature, Live Story has become a broadcast platform, crowd-sourcing real-time content – in September, for example, Snap users could see others’ experiences shared over Snapchat of the Pope’s visit to the U.S. and even travel across the world to discover curated shared stories of Namibia.

Admittedly, when I first downloaded Snapchat two years ago, I didn’t get it. My teenage girls snapped all the time. It was a constant struggle to have dinners, a conversation, or even a walk around the neighborhood without a selfie being snapped.

And then a light bulb went on. It was all about engagement. Meeting them at a place where they felt comfortable and connected.

GlobalWebIndex, a marketing research firm, said that Snapchat is particularly popular with teens, with 84 percent of the app’s estimated 200 million users younger than 35.

Couldn’t this be more of an opportunity to engage students in learning? Through storytelling. Tapping their creativity. Building competencies like communication skills, decision-making and good judgment. What a powerful medium to reach learners.

I attended a school-to-career meeting that convened educators, business leaders, community volunteers and student representatives – ideas were being tossed around by the adults, suggesting ways to engage students. I sat next to a student who twisted uncomfortably in her chair, ringing her hands, awaiting her turn. She finally burst out:

“I think you’re all thinking about it the wrong way. We should share information over Snapchat and Twitter. That’s how we connect and share information.”

Most of the adults scoffed and the conversation continued.

Later I talked with her and other students.

Junior: “Ok yeah. Snapchat is fun. But it’s also a way that we can share information. At lunchtime and during passing period, kids are always on their phone. Sharing information, and ok yeah, selfies. But we also chat about school. Homework assignments, project work.”

Freshman: “Yeah. Like over Live Story. We could like create a School Story and share announcements out or like that SAT word of the day thingy.”

Senior: “We use Snap in my Spanish class to help with vocabulary and pronunciation. It’s kinda cool to be able to snap a video of me talking in Spanish and then the person I’m paired with has to chat back how it’s spelled. But now that’s done. They banned Snapchat.”

Opponents say Snapchat has no instructional value or can’t serve as a learning aid. Didn’t they once say that about computers in the classroom, YouTube (think Flipped Classrooms), and Twitter – which btw, @wcpss and many schools successfully engage with tens of thousands of followers daily through this social media app.

I read on one of the comments by parents reacting to the school system’s decision to ban Snapchat:

“Kids need to be learning. Not distracted by technology, social media and other devices. We need to prepare them for the 21st century.”

We are in the 21st century. Preparing our students for the future also means allowing them to be innovative and help shape the way technology better connects and engages them and others to learn.

As KnowledgeWorks prepares to release our Future of Learning Forecast 4.0, this exchange with students about Snapchat and other new technologies really made me reflect. With the exponential advancement in information and technology, we are ushering a new era of learning and living. Snapchat is just one example of a technology that is reshaping the social realities that influence learning.

Perhaps we all can be more open to learning how new technologies may do more to engage than to distract.


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Missed our Personalized Learning webinar? Check this out.

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2015-09-25 10:21

photoThroughout the past two years, KnowledgeWorks has interviewed and visited more than 30 school districts, organizations and state education agencies throughout the country. In talking to educators, administrators and state leaders, our policy team noticed that they all pretty much said the same thing:

Personalized learning is the best way to educate students.

Most of KnowledgeWorks’ policy focus throughout the past year has focused on that very concept. From our District Conditions for Scaling Personalized Learning to our first-ever e-book about competency education to our ESEA recommendations to meetings with state and federal policymakers, our team works to shape policy environments that break down barriers to personalizing learning for all students.

In September, KnowledgeWorks Vice President of Policy and Advocacy Matt Williams hosted a webinar that focused on how state education agencies and local districts can work together to scale personalized learning. Based off our most recent policy framework, the webinar explored the topic with: Virgel Hammonds, KnowledgeWorks Chief Learning Officer and former superintendent of RSU2 District in Maine; and Gretchen Morgan, Executive Director of the Choice and Innovation Unit for the Colorado Department of Education.

While we highly recommend the webinar as a resource, we fully realize you may not have an hour to spare. So here are five takeaways to fill you in:

  1. Our current school structure doesn’t match the world around us. “We live in such a customized world,” Virgel said. “That’s all our kids know. That’s the world they’ve grown up in. But when you look at our learning environments and schools, we’re very reluctant to customize anything when it comes to learning structures.
  2. It’s crucial to ground policy in practice. By focusing on this, it’s easier to get a notion of what on-the-ground expertise is important, and also to see what is working. “The logic just doesn’t hold up for us to act any other way,” Gretchen said “If you are really in it for some kind of sustainable change, then you have to figure out how to work at this in a systems way. There has to be some very close connection between what is happening on the ground and what is going on across the system. Trying to pull levers in one or another place isn’t going to make it happen.”
  3. State education agencies should be interested in developing ‘agency’ in students. Our current school system was original build for the manufacturing world. Today, leaders in those industries are talking about needing employees who identify and solve problems, while looking for ways to continuously improve. “We need to be producing kids who are both competent and have a sense of agency,” Gretchen said. “That’s where our interest in personalized learning comes from; kids are only going to develop that agency if they get a chance to practice that at school.”
  4. Schools and districts sometimes have to work around barriers. As former superintendent of a district that made the move to competency education, Virgel had to move some barriers out of the way to create flexibility for the vision of competency-based education, a form of personalized learning, to become a reality. “Otherwise,” he said, “we’re trying to work within the old structure. Being able to be strategic and systemic in policy gave teachers, students and community a green light to move forward in our vision.”
  5. States should allow for flexibility, but still figure out how to hold schools and districts accountable. “We’re trying to figure out ways to look really differently at accountability and assessment, without forgetting that there were good reasons that we built the system that we have,” Gretchen said. “For example, this is a huge public investment, and there should be accountability for large public endeavors like this. And, we had an equity issue in our state that there was, and still are, significant achievement gaps. When sitting in a state role and trying to find out about the flexibilities that matter, it’s important that we all think about the reasons why this inflexible thing was created, and if we still value that.”

For more on these five takeaways and more personalized learning insight, view the webinar in its entirety.


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Watch a Preview of Our Next Forecast!

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2015-09-18 14:09

In November, KnowledgeWorks will be releasing our fourth full forecast on the future of learning, “Education in the Era of Partners in Code.” Many long conversations and rounds of editing go into getting the content just right, and we’re nearly there. In the meantime, we’ve created our first video trailer previewing the changes that we see shaping learning over the next decade.

The new forecast will raise big questions about how we might all be living, working, and learning in ten years’ time. We hope that the trailer will whet your appetite for exploring it with us!

So have a look at the changes on the horizon for learning.  You can also sign up to receive a copy of the forecast when it comes out.


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Communication Tips: Six ways to increase partnership engagement

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-09-17 11:20

communication-engagement‘Well done’ is better than ‘well said.’

How many of you have read or heard this before?

Through increased communications networks, parent involvement, family engagement initiatives, and strategic community partnerships, [organization/school district] will build strong family and community relationships to increase expertise, trust, and shared responsibility for student success.

Great sentiment. But it takes a commitment to act and dedicate resources and time to cultivate those partnerships and advocates.  Here are six ways you can increase engagement:

  1. Share their stuff. Subscribe to their newsletters, social media and blogs. When they publish something or speak at an event that’s aligned with your organization’s mission, help them to promote it. Push it out to your subscribers/audiences with a mention.
  2. Give them a shout out. Mention partners in your own blogs – not only do individuals and organizations like to be recognized, but then your readers see what ‘good/reputable’ organizations or individuals are in support of you.
  3. Tap their expertise. Ask them to join a panel discussion or write a guest blog (hint: interview/Q&A styles work best for busy folks).
  4. Create a regular dialog with them. Start with a periodic call/email asking their thoughts, what are they hearing in the field/ who they influence… share insight and get their insight. This helps build relationships and dialogue to have them continue to feel like a valued partner and will encourage/incent them to want to continue to talk about your organization.
  5. Treat them like VIPs. Extend pre-information on news releases; provide sneak peeks of resources or papers. If there happens to be an event in their local community, invite them to meet up or join.
  6. Keep an advocate database. Ok, that should have been the first tip. The basics, social media aliases, special skills or connections, and if you’re really good, track the events and meetings of yours they attend – a great way to measure their engagement.

Strive for ‘well said’ and ‘well done.’


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Steel City Credentials: Building the future of credentials in Pittsburgh

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2015-09-15 17:28

epittsburgh-credentialsSchool News recently reported on the new digital badging initiative that launched in the city of Pittsburgh. The initiative comes to the area courtesy of Pittsburgh City of Learning, and consists of three programs; county-run program called “Learn and Earn” which focuses on youth employment, a mixed academic and digital literacy program called the “Summer Dreamers Academy” being led by Pittsburgh Public School, and a summer reading program for middle and high school students organized by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

While digital badges are no longer a new concept, they are a signal of change and point towards quite a few possibilities for the future of credentials. In my paper focusing on the future of credentials, I explored four scenarios of how credentials might appear in the year 2025. Those scenarios are:

  • “All Roads Lead to Rome” imagines a future in which degrees awarded by the K-12 and post-secondary sectors still serve as the dominant form of credentials, but there are many roads toward gaining those credentials, such as diverse forms of school and educational assessments.
  • “The Dam Breaks” explores a future in which the employment sector accepts new forms of credentials, such as micro-credentials, on a standalone basis, leading to major shifts in both the K-12 and post-secondary sectors and new relationships between the academic and working worlds.
  • “Every Experience a Credential” considers what credentials might look like if new technologies enabled every experience to be tracked and cataloged as a form of credential for both students and employees.
  • “My Mind Mapped” imagines a future in which breakthroughs in both the mapping and tracking of brain functions have created a new type of credential reflecting students’ cognitive abilities and social and emotional skills.

Pittsburgh City of Learning’s digital badge initiative is an excellent signal of change for the future of credentials and serves as a signpost for two scenarios that the paper explored; “All Roads Lead to Rome” and “The Dam Breaks.” The question as to which future this initiative might be a signpost towards centers around the critical uncertainty as to whether new kinds of credentials, in this case, digital badges, will be accepted on a standalone basis, thus steering credentials into the future outlined in “The Dam Breaks.” Or, will there be hesitancy to acceptance of new types of credentials as replacements to the long dominate traditional diploma, in effect pushing digital badges into territory where they are used to augment existing degrees as described in “All Roads Lead to Rome?”

I will be keeping my eye on this initiative to see how the Steel City embraces digital badges. With their focuses on areas such as workplace readiness, summer reading, and digital literacy, as well as their cultivation of such a wide variety of partners ranging from the county, informal learning spaces, to city’s public schools, Pittsburgh City of Learning digital badging initiative is actively shaping the future of credentials and the future of learning.


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I was lucky

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2015-09-11 10:39

i-was-luckyTwenty years ago, I got lucky.

I was a pretty typical student at my public high school in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio. I did my homework, studied when I needed to for tests and had a solid GPA. My social life was the most important thing on my mind; school didn’t really challenge me, and I didn’t challenge myself.

One day, my sophomore English teacher told me she thought I had a skill. She held up a paper I had written and told the class it was a great example of strong writing. She recommended me for AP English and when junior year rolled around and I had to start thinking about life after high school, finding a way to use these skills was the natural next step for me. My mom told me about potential degrees and careers where I could use my writing skills. And by the start of my senior year, I had a plan.

There was never a question in my mind that I would go to college and stick with it. My mom and dad set a powerful example, spending years working toward their bachelor’s degrees while working and raising two girls. My mom even went on to finish her Master’s degree when I was 12, then her doctorate when I was 25.

Twenty years ago, I was lucky. I had a teacher who helped me uncover a skill. And I had parents who showed me the importance of a college education, and knew how to help me find a career path and degree program. I completed my journalism degree and built a successful career in marketing communications

But not every student is as lucky.Emily Grad NKU 1 1 (1)

This week, I traveled to a rural community with some of my KnowledgeWorks and EDWorks colleagues. We met with local leaders working hard to improve the local economy, create jobs, increase wellness and help local students succeed.

For decades, the majority of students in this community have not had the same support that I did. While 91 percent of students graduate high school, most do not have the skills needed to succeed in college or careers. Local parents want to help their kids succeed, but don’t necessarily know how. Only 20 percent of residents have a college degree, the majority of students who succeed in college are not returning to the community to work, and new businesses coming into the region are not finding the talent they need locally.

Education results and workforce needs are out of sync. And this challenge is common in rural communities across the country.

To overcome this challenge, the K-12 education system, higher education, business and local economic development efforts have to come together. And the community leaders I met this week are working hard to make this happen. They’re looking at early college high school models to help students start their college journey as early as in the 9th grade. They’re focusing on STEM and career-focused curriculum and experiences to help give kids the skills they need to fill the jobs local businesses are creating today and in the future. And, they’re investigating competency education approaches to ensure that students master the skills they need to succeed.

Until just recently, I didn’t realize how fortunate I really was to find my path 20 years ago, and to have the support I needed to get to college, finish and be successful. Today, as I worry about my son’s path and how to make sure he has the education and support he needs, I’m inspired and encouraged by the leaders I met yesterday and others across the country that are working to change the system to ensure every child can succeed.


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Policy Research from the Ground Up

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-09-10 12:20

echo chamberLike most people, I like to talk about what I like. It’s the most fun when I can talk about things I like with other people who understand and like what I like.

When it comes to education policy, that can be a blessing or a curse. The blessing is the education policy space is full of people constantly releasing papers, blogs, articles, and reports exist, creating infinite possibilities for thought-provoking conversations. The curse is that spending all my time exchanging ideas within the policy world makes me pretty unrelatable.

We hit major bumps in education policy when we think that our echo chamber alone will create the transformation needed in the education system. While our research, knowledge, and skills are important and can’t be disregarded, neither can the individuals who make up the system—principals, superintendents, students, teachers, and entire school communities. On the Policy and Strategic Foresight team, we often talk about the idea that policy can’t be transformative without a grounding in practice. This created the foundation for our recent state policy framework.

My first year at KnowledgeWorks centered on our district conditions project. A few months into that year, our team released the first paper of the project: District Conditions for Scale: A Practical Guide to Scaling Personalized Learning (you can learn more about the research behind that paper here).

Even after publication, we continued conversations with district leaders to learn about their particular successes and challenges in the shift to personalized learning. Based on those interviews, we started to form our priorities for how we could be a support to the work that is happening on the ground in districts. A theme that was continually repeated in interviews was that there are many barriers in states that create significant challenges to the implementation and scaling of personalized learning. As a result, we were able to start shaping a policy framework for states to allow the flexibility for districts to pursue transformation.

My colleague, Jesse Moyer, created a draft of a state policy framework that would give districts flexibility to scale personalized learning. Because we prioritize creating resources that are useful and resonate with the education field, we brought together a group of district leaders, state education leaders, and policy experts to analyze our work and give us feedback. Thanks to their insight, we were able to craft A State Policy Framework for Scaling Personalized Learning.

As we move forward in our desire to support practitioners towards the future of education, we will continue to take the same approach that we did with our research throughout our district conditions project. By listening to the needs of individual districts in the states we will work with, we can identify how our knowledge and expertise support the practitioners, making sure that we step outside the echo chamber to act on the real and immediate needs of educators across the country.


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Football and the Mississippi River

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2015-09-09 14:09

This week, I talk about the importance of student voice and choice in quality competency education implementation. While there are other important aspects of competency-based education (CBE), I think I could make the argument that none are more important to the students themselves. Listen in as I talk about football, the Mississippi River, and student voice and choice.


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Engaged vs. Over-engaged: Is classroom technology enabling helicopter parenting?

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2015-09-08 08:00

Am I just an engaged parent or have I become the dreaded helicopter mom?

When I was working in college admissions back in the early 2000s, we were just starting to talk about a phenomenon we were seeing more and more called “helicopter parenting.”

I can distinctly remember sitting down with a family for an information session in which the prospective student, we’ll call her Emily, sat quietly between her parents as they talked incessantly about how Emily would be applying to the honors program, majoring in Biology, that she wanted to become a doctor, and would study abroad in her junior year, etc. I found myself wondering, can Emily speak? What does Emily want to do?

I tried to engage Emily in the conversation and she timidly asked about requirements for the Interior Design program, to which her mom quickly chided her that art was just a hobby and that she would need to focus on her honors biology studies in order to get Early Admission to Medical School. I walked away from that conversation with great disgust for Emily’s parents and feeling very sorry and a bit worried for Emily. How would she survive college? How would she adjust to the freedom? Would she make her own choices or would her parents continue to control her from afar?

In that moment I vowed to myself that if I ever had children I would never become the type of overbearing, helicopter parent that I encountered so often through the college admissions process.

Using the app ClassDojo on my smartphone, I can monitor how my child is doing in class during the day.

Using the app ClassDojo on my smartphone, I can monitor how my child is doing in class during the day.

Fast forward 15 years later and I’m a parent of three. I went to my second grader’s curriculum night and the teacher gave us information about an app we could download on our smartphone called ClassDojo, which allows me to monitor how my child is doing in class during the day. So here I find myself, at work, and completely distracted by this app, watching my daughter Audrey earn points in real time for being “on task” and a bit worried about how I’ll feel or what I’ll do if I learn she’s off task.

As I hover over my child like this I wonder… Am I just an engaged parent or have I become the dreaded helicopter mom?

On one hand I love that there are so many incredible technology tools that enable us as parents to engage with our children’s teachers and see what’s happening in the classroom. For example, beyond ClassDojo, I also have Remind, an app that enables me to communicate with Audrey’s teacher via text. There is an abundance of research that shows how important parental engagement is to student success and it would seem that making this engagement easier through the use of technology could actually help address some of the income disparities when it comes to parental engagement. But on the other hand, I worry about how tools like these can cause parents to become too involved and invested in their children’s lives.

There’s an abundance of research on the importance of children building character traits of resiliency or grit. An overprotective or overinvolved parent can prevent a child from experiencing the pitfalls and setbacks that happen in life. There’s additional research that shows the negative impact of showering too much praise for showing up or being smart. To build grit in our children we should praise them for demonstrating a hard effort or persevering when times are tough.

In the time I’ve spent writing this, I’ve looked at Audrey’s ClassDojo and I see she has received another point for being “on task.” I could praise her for this at the end of the day but what does that really show her? That her mom has been hovering around all day watching her and that I’m proud that she was “on task” at 9:48 a.m.?

There truly is a fine line between being engaged vs. over-engaged. I’m not sure I know the answer to how much engagement is too much. As a parent with the resources to do so, I want to be engaged in my child’s education. I want to know how I can help her succeed. I also know that part of that success includes her getting “off task” and then getting back on, failing and learning from her mistakes, experiencing things without me hovering when I don’t need to, which is why I’ll promptly be deleting the ClassDojo app from my phone.


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Learning From the Fingerprints of Our Children

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2015-09-04 09:23

 What do you love most about school? | Maya: I love going to specials like gym, art, math and music because you get to learn in fun ways.

For the last month, my six year old daughter Maya has been counting down the days to the start of school. Each morning I was reminded “22 days ‘til school, daddy.” This response was followed by 21, 20, 19 and so on until yesterday I heard an excited “time to go to school!” She jittered in her seat, swinging her feet under her chair continuously as she waited for the time to catch the bus. She constantly glanced at the microwave clock in between nibbles of her muffin. Her enthusiasm was beyond control.

As a former teacher, principal and superintendent I saw a great deal of this excited energy in children. It is this joy that makes the education profession so enjoyable. So what is it about school that made life so great? How can I capture this zeal and share it with the education world? Sure, she’s only six, but I knew her insights would be great fingerprints for our work at KnowledgeWorks; so I asked:

Maya getting on the schoolbus.Me: What do you love most about school?

Maya: I love going to specials like gym, art, math and music because you get to learn in fun ways.

Me: Learning in fun ways certainly sounds great to me. Do you find anything challenging about school?

Maya: Yeah, writing because it’s tough to practice spelling my words while thinking about my stories.

Me: Yes, I could see how that would be difficult. If you could change school in one way, what would it be?

Maya: I wish I could do school anywhere. Like, I wish I could go to school here, and over there (pointing out my office window), and there, and at the lake. Yeah, the lake, that would be cool.

Me: If you could share one thing from your school with the children around the world, what would it be?

Maya: Probably my teachers. (She tilts her head, thinking…) But they’re my teachers and I don’t know if I want to share.

In between thoughts of pride and love for my daughter, these tiny insights lead to wonderings. What would it take for children to consider all areas of academia as “specials” that are fun and engaging? Is it so outside the box for us educators to not consider learning opportunities in any environment? And, what if we could share our amazing educators with the world? Is this all too hard to do? At KnowledgeWorks, these are exactly the ideas, processes and learnings we discuss with learning communities each day. Perhaps Maya will become the first teaching and learning coach in the Hammonds family.

In my travels, I have had the luxury to experience Maya’s insights in numerous learning communities. I see learning communities make magic happen every day. It is these fingerprints and insights on learning that will help us support all children, educators, and learning communities throughout the globe as we consider…

“Come on daddy, it’s time to wait for the bus outside.” Sorry, I have to go. It’s time to collect more fingerprints.


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Encouraging independence, self-reliance and grit

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-09-03 11:07

We parents get to serve as coach, math tutor, rule setter, medic, stylist, driver, proofreader, and, perhaps most importantly, biggest fan. And then, just like that, we let go.

At work here at KnowledgeWorks, we talk a lot about college access. We talk about subject mastery, including the soft skills students need to succeed beyond the academics. We talk about the importance of the learning that occurs outside the classroom. We parents get to serve as coach, math tutor, rule setter, medic, stylist, driver, proofreader, and, perhaps most importantly, biggest fan. And then, just like that, we let go.

For me, sometimes I feel like I was harder on mine than I should have been. Study like it’s your job. Not that I’m a tiger mom, mind you. We just put a lot of stock in developing those “agency” skills: independence, self-reliance, and the all-important grit.

So, when she was in grade school, I wouldn’t drive her to the bus stop when it rained. I’d hand her an umbrella and make sure her jacket was buttoned up. When she had strep throat, I’d stay home and make homemade soup; when she had a cold, she went to school, and I went to work.

Mistakes were made along the way, judgment calls were sometimes wrong (“Hon, I really don’t think your arm is broken”), and lessons were learned by both of us.

This is Erin on her first day of college in her dorm room.

This is Erin on her first day of college in her dorm room.

Aside from a nudge or two to finish what was started, she made her own decisions. Marching band, Science National Honor Society, and snowboarding stayed; fencing, tennis, and the INTERalliance business club were out. Life skills were learned: eating with chopsticks; making the family’s chief culinary indulgence, fettuccine alfredo; taking care of your laundry and your money; making and keeping your own dentist appointments. The learnings that occurred outside the classroom – in the community, the home, the surrounding city – turned out to be some of the most critical, life-shaping forces that influenced her.

Learning when to lean on others is important, too, like the time when she couldn’t get out of bed for a week after a tonsillectomy (at which point said homemade soup was put in a blender), requiring round-the-clock care. I’d never thought of cutting up a Popsicle in a bowl, but days 1-3 demanded it. Family, and community.

She’s become an intriguing and engaging person. She has different views than I do, and makes a convincing enough case to change one’s mind now and again. She’s got a silly sense of humor and has developed a fondness for green tea. And she’s got self-determination to spare, which I guess you would need if you want to be a trauma surgeon. Agency skills come into play yet again.

At freshman orientation, one of the session leaders talked about independence. He said a good exercise for the students over the summer would be to practice ordering pizza over the phone. This, he said, would start preparing them to make a doctor’s appointment by themselves.

As we unpacked her things in her dorm room this weekend, and I watched her little sister put away green tea and Star Wars Easy Mac while her boyfriend helped hang up clothes, I made her bed for her and tried not to think about what was coming after we all went to dinner.

In the end, after the hugs (did I squeeze too tight? did I hold her soft, curly hair too hard?), she disappeared happily into the campus night, her boyfriend’s arm around her waist and a leftover pizza box in her hand. And she was gone.


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Competency Education, Innovation and 10 Links

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2015-09-01 08:00

This pictures was taken at the July 1 lighting of the Carew Tower for the 2015 All Star Game

This photo was taken at the July 1 lighting of the Carew Tower for the 2015 All Star Game.

As schools get back into session and summer winds to an end, it’s a chance to reflect on the past several months. How did you spend summer? I connected with efforts to educate more than 50 million kids in K-12 education in the United States through a Summer Graduate School Fellowship with Education Pioneers and KnowledgeWorks.

My summer was an adventure. This was my first extended stay in Cincinnati. The journey between Chicago and Cincinnati via Megabus went without hitch. In my free time I explored the city – from live music at Fountain Square to the Art Museum in Eden Park, Cincinnati is a fascinating and gracious city!

At work, efforts to bring early college education to high school through EDWorks, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks, were new to me, as were endeavors to organize communities through StriveTogether. Thankfully, colleagues were helpful and kind. My previous work experience and training were put to good use as we reviewed contracts and launched a competency-based education practice.

Because competency-based education was new to me, I spent time learning. If you are also new to this education approach, take advantage of my research! It is not possible to share all resources in a brief blog post, but I can offer 10 sites for your further consideration. Happy surfing!

The fountain at Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio.Ten Resources For Learning About Competency Education

  1. EDSurge shares great, easy to understand stories for people interested in education technology.
  2. iNACOL (International Association for K-12 Online Learning) began in year 2000 with a growing interest in online education. They work with online learning, blended learning, competency education, and personalized education.
  3. CompetencyWorks offers regular posts with many interesting links from a variety of people.
  4. Nellie Mae Education Foundation provides many reports that can be downloaded.
  5. CCSSO’s (Council of Chief State School Officers) Innovation Lab Network (ILN) addresses college and career readiness.
  6. From policy to practice: How competency-based education is evolving in New Hampshire, a paper by Julia Freeland and the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, offers an interesting perspective on recent competency education efforts.
  7. The New Hampshire Department of Education provides competencies approved by the State Board of Education for statewide use.
  8. RSU 2 (Regional School Unit) in Maine – Learner Centered News illustrates the efforts at a specific school district.
  9. Getting Smart explores and reimagines the future of learning.
  10. KnowledgeWorks hosted me this summer and is also preparing students for college and career through competency education.

nathan-kaufmanNathan Kaufman, a Fellow at KnowledgeWorks through Education Pioneers, wrote this post about his adventure this summer. Using a business background and interest in education, Nathan analyzed data at KnowledgeWorks and provided key findings for financial operations, risk management, growth and social impact.Nathan Kaufman, a Fellow at KnowledgeWorks through Education Pioneers, wrote this post about his adventure this summer. Using a business background and interest in education, Nathan analyzed data at KnowledgeWorks and provided key findings for financial operations, risk management, growth and social impact.


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Harnessing exponential change for an equitable future

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2015-08-28 10:04

KnowledgeWorks submitted a proposal for a South by Southwest EDU session, which focuses on our next future forecast. Learn more and vote for the session here!


If Iexponential-change were to ask you to take 30 linear steps across the room you are sitting in, how much distance do you think you would travel? If you answered 30 meters, you are correct.

If I were to ask you to take 30 exponential steps, how much distance do you think you would travel? The answer might surprise you. If you were to take 30 exponential steps, you would have covered a distance of 1,074,741,824 meters.  This is the power of thinking exponentially; those 30 steps were actually 30 doublings, moving you from one to two,two to four,four to 16, and so on. When you finally arrive at the 30th doubling have circled the world 26 times!

Our forthcoming Forecast 4.0, “Learning in an Era of Partners in Code” posits that we are entering a new era of living, working, and learning.  One of the main drivers helping to usher in this new era is the exponential advances in the key technology areas of information and nanotechnology.  How might these technologies affect learning in the future?

Let’s first consider your smartphone to illustrate how powerful exponential change can be in these critical areas. Inside of your phone is a chip called an accelerometer. This chip helps your phone determine if it is being held vertically or horizontally or if you might be shaking it. In the 1960’s that chip was part of the early navigation systems of ICBM missiles. They weighed around 50lbs and cost somewhere around $50,000,000. That same technology today is small enough to embed in your smartphone and costs about $0.30.

Thinking more broadly than just smartphones, we are already seeing advances and innovations that even just a few years ago would have seemed almost like science fiction. We have robots that work side by side with human counterparts, machines that create art, and cars that can drive themselves.  Much like the accelerometer in your phone, we can expect these innovations to become smaller, faster, cheaper, and increasingly more capable as time goes on. The learner of 2025 will have access to vast oceans of data. They will learn from and with digital companions. Advances in nano and information technology will help reveal new insights into how our bodies and minds work, allowing for personalized learning that is tailored to the very core of who the learner might be. Ultimately such rapid technological advancement will not only change how and where the learners of tomorrow learn, but they will also change the world in which the learners of tomorrow live.

We will need to consider how to best harness exponential change in order to create equitable outcomes for all learners so that as the pace of change accelerates the most vulnerable among us are not left behind, and as technology rapidly reshapes the world around us we have an education system nimble enough to keep pace.

We invite you to come explore what learning might look like as exponential change leads us into a new era of living as part of this year’s SxSW Edu conference in March, but to get there we need your vote!

Please consider voting for our workshop at SxSWedu,  and together we can begin shaping the future of learning.


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The Values and Expression Cycle and the Future of Learning

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2015-08-26 10:02

What is we could look back in time to better understand the future? That’s what Jim Lee considers in his Values and Expression Cycle.

In July, Katherine Prince and I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at this year’s World Future Society conference. Over the course of the conference I had the pleasure of hearing quite a few mind-bending presentations on topics ranging from generational shifts, to the role of artificial intelligence in the future of work, to even  the future of the American dream. For me, one of the highlights of my time at the conference was Jim’s session, “Cultural Trends in Foresight,” where he presented on the Values and Expression Cycle.

Image courtesy of Jim Lee

Image courtesy of Jim Lee

Lee, a futurist and financial engineer based in Wilmington, Delaware, uses cycles to understand how and when trends change over time. His Values and Expression Cycle operates on a 40-year rotation, with the values segment alternating between a shifting emphasis on relationships and material growth and the expression segment  shifting from a small-scale, internal focus to a large-scale, external focus. The cycle itself runs in 4 phases, each represented in the four quadrants in the chart above.  The top two quadrants concentrate on building social capital while the bottom two focus on accumulating financial capital. Moving right to left, the quadrants on the right are focused on the outside world while those on the left are more focused on the individual and family.

Lee started off his session with the Twain quote, “History seldom repeats itself, but it usually rhymes.”   His Values and Expression Cycle captures this sentiment perfectly.  During his session, Jim used examples such as our current economic uncertainty, our questioning of authority, the artisanal movement, and today’s focus on self-expression to consider how similar phenomena appeared in the 1930s and the 1970s and how  the 40-year cycle is at play today.

According to the Values and Expression Cycle, we are currently resting in the upper right quadrant, or an “external / relational” period. As a result, we are in a time of contemplation, thinking about our relationship with authority and institutions. This is a time of economic uncertainty, yet we are making progress in terms of social equity and environmental sustainability, as well as a time characterized by institutions hitting the “reset” button.

Image courtesy of Jim Lee

Image courtesy of Jim Lee

Using Lee’s example of economic uncertainty, we can see echoes of our current state of economic malaise in the 1970s and the 1930s. In the 1970s, this theme expressed itself in the form of the gas crisis. In the 1930s, it manifested as the Great Depression. In today’s world, we see this theme reflected in the finical crash of 2008, the idea of “too big to fail,” and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Looking back in this way almost gives one a sense of déjà vu!

Applying the cycle to education, our current education system appears to be in a period of experimentation with examples such as ReSchool Colorado, Alt School and the competency-based education movement. This experimentation could be driven, at least in part, by the uncertainty and skepticism of our times, as well as society thinking about its relationship with  existing institutions, and institutions themselves having to reexamine their place in today’s world.

Looking ahead ten years, we can expect to be moving into the lower right quadrant of the Values and Expression cycle matrix. As part of this shift, we can expect rising optimism, increased conformity, and deregulation, similar to what was seen on the 1980’s and 1940’s. For education, this could mean that today’s experimentation will have paid off and that many of the fringe or more experimental educational efforts of today will have moved into the mainstream, creating increased choice for learners and their families as they shape their learning journeys and potentially disrupting today’entrenched education institutions, with deregulation allowing states and local learning ecosystems more room to navigate in order to meet learners’ needs. This disruption might be countered by a rise of conformity, which could signal a change back to “one right way” to educate.  Thus, it becomes crucial to encourage today’s experimentation in hopes that the new landscape of learner-centered choice could come to be seen as the dominant mainstream choice, with the window for experimentation possibly closing as we enter the next decade.

Ultimately Lee’s Values and Expression cycle is not a tool for prediction, but a way of helping us think through the many possibilities that the future presents.  It makes for an excellent tool for considering what might be coming next. What do you think the next ten years holds for learning?


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I don’t think I’m a dummy…

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2015-08-26 10:01

My experience in a traditional education system resulted in me taking college algebra three times. I don’t think I’m a dummy. Hear about my experience:

To learn more about competency-based education, check out what Vice President of Policy and Advocacy Matt Williams and Chief Learning Office Virgel Hammonds have to say on the subject.  If you like what you hear, pop over to the SXSWedu page and vote for our proposal, From Butts in Seats to Minds on Fire.


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From Pipelines to Professionals

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-08-24 09:29

future-educator-quoteDuring recent conversations about prospects for teaching, I’ve been struck by the emphasis on the teacher preparation pipeline. Of course we need to make sure that the United States has enough qualified educators in the right places and address the impact of changing expectations and demographics (for example, the recent finding that 17 percent of people who train as teachers expect to leave the classroom within the first five years). It would be great if teachers here had the esteem of those in Finland or Singapore and were paid accordingly.

But more importantly, we need to have bigger conversations about the future of teaching.

In fact, we need to broaden the conversation beyond teaching to consider what kinds of educator roles we need and want for future learning ecosystems. Then we need to consider what those roles might mean for current teachers and administrators and for the preparation of future educators.

In exploring possibilities for the future educator workforce, we need to think beyond staffing classrooms, buildings, and central offices to supporting flexible educator swarms that might form and re-form to reflect learners’ changing needs. Educator swarms could span organizational boundaries as well as the line that we draw today between the formal and informal or community-based learning sectors.

My latest paper, co-written with Andrea Saveri and Jason Swanson, looks to the future to inform today’s consideration of how best to cultivate an education profession that can effectively support learners for a rapidly changing world. “Exploring the Future Education Workforce:  New Roles for an Expanding Learning Ecosystem” explores seven possible roles that promise to fit flexible and rigorous learning ecosystems that enable both learners and the adults supporting them to thrive.

learning agents

For each role, the paper includes a job description, a fictional recruiting announcement, and a stakeholder quote demonstrating how the role might add value to future learning ecosystems.  It also explores potential promises and pitfalls that such a diversification of educator roles might present.

I think that exploring new educator roles can advance the country’s conversations about how to support learning for the coming era. It can also help us get beyond the pipeline conversation to a new level of exploration about what we want our education jobs to be and how to train and support the people working in them as professionals.


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Walking the Data Walk: Reflections on a KnowledgeWorks board meeting

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2015-08-21 13:32


The KnowledgeWorks board of directors talks through data with the communications and marketing team.

“Driven by Data” may be a decade old – school people may be tired of data rooms – but the power of data to drive great conversation and insights was abundantly clear at our quarterly KnowledgeWorks board meeting in Cincinnati this week.

The agenda carved out an hour for the board to engage with eight operating units, and each team presented about three posters of key outcomes data to us. We walked in pairs and trios from team to team, with less than 10 minutes with each group, actively reviewed the data and peppered the teams with questions. A lively exchange resulted.

Some of the things I learned:

  • KnowledgeWorks only claims to have influenced a state or national policy when it actually is involved in drafting language for legislation or regulation. In a sector abounding in white papers, this is a very rigorous definition of outcomes!
  • 30 percent of the students involved in the Ohio Early College High School project, which included 10 schools, obtain an associate’s degree upon graduation from high school. Imagine if we could replicate that success elsewhere!
  • Despite yearly fluctuations, the StrivePartnership in Cincinnati is showing strong gains in its collective impact work when looking at the data in a time series. I was particularly interested in the pioneering early childhood work they are driving, but also in the flat performance in 8th-grade math. Perhaps a program targeting digital math interventions will help them move those numbers up!

We gathering together as a board and debriefed the data walk. Several clear themes emerged:  we would love to tell the individual stories of our work better, so that we can encourage others to follow these bright spots. Secondly, we asked ourselves as a board about our resource allocation policy and how it was related to the outcomes.

KnowledgeWorks has long been known for its attention to data; it was terrific to have board members “walk the walk.” In this case, “the data walk.”


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