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Embracing the school that’s never closed

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October is Connected Educator Month. Stay tuned throughout the month for advice from your peers about connected teaching and learning. David Haglund, deputy superintendent of Educational Services for the Santa Ana Unified School District in California, shines a light on how the district makes learning available anytime, anywhere.

If you want to check your bank balance at 11:00 p.m., you can. If you wake up in the middle of the night and remember it’s your anniversary tomorrow, jump online and order flowers. Pondering on a lazy Sunday afternoon who the Prime Minister of England was in 1964? The answer is at your fingertips, thanks to search engines. (The answer is Harold Wilson, by the way.) In today’s on-demand world we can satisfy any curiosity or need whenever we want. So why can’t our students learn whenever and wherever they want?

In the Santa Anna Unified School District in California, we’ve made a commitment to giving students 24/7 access to learning resources. We’ve also made a commitment to providing a personalized learning pathway for each student. These two commitments are very closely related. Because we’re using a competency-based learning model, the more access students have to resources, the faster they’ll master concepts.

Technology has obviously played a big role in being able to transform teaching and learning in Santa Ana USD. All students in grades 5-9 have been provided with Chromebooks to support their learning objectives. Whether at school or at home, the embedded wireless cards allow them to login in to our LMS, to access learning materials, to check on assignments, to collaborate with fellow students, and to engage their teachers and peers with questions. At the high school level, we’re supplementing access with a BYOD model. The end result is the same — learning is no longer confined by the walls of the classroom or by arbitrary school hours.

This model is most evident at our newest school campus, the Advanced Learning Academy (ALA). We ensure that every student is tasked with the same academic outcomes and treat time as the variable in the learning transaction. Students move at their own pace through material as they demonstrate mastery. They may be several grade levels ahead in English but on-grade level in math. In fact, grade level doesn’t really play a role any longer. At ALA, students have a grade level homeroom but from there they move to different learning labs based on learning objectives, as opposed to moving from classroom to classroom at 50-minute intervals. We’re aiming for mastery and are making sure students get the support and resources they need, when they need them so that they meet the learning objectives.

Personalized learning journeys for students AND teachers

As part of the district’s move towards competency-based learning, we’ve embraced project-based and blended learning throughout the district. These have been big shifts for many teachers, but they are rising to the challenge. We’re letting teachers move at their own paces to implement these learning models and providing professional development that is targeted to their individual learning needs. This targeted activity is the essential core of personalized learning. We have clearly outlined for teachers what the expected outcomes are. We provide them with training, support and resources. Then, we step back and let teachers do the great work we know they’re capable of. We’re modeling how we want students to learn. We’re empowering teachers so that they in turn can empower their students.

Project-based learning is where we’ve really seen the biggest shifts for both teachers and students. When working independently in small groups, students take more ownership of their learning. They, in fact, are driving the learning. The teachers are there to facilitate learning but they’re not center stage. It’s amazing to see the energy of the students and how focused they are in accomplishing the goals they’ve been given. And it’s great to see teachers really embrace the role of facilitator rather than director of learning.

Children are naturally curious and want to learn and we are working hard to enhance their agency in that work. By expanding learning beyond traditional school hours we’re intentionally engaging the individual drive and curiosity of our students. Giving students access to learning resources whenever they want them and empowering them to be independent learners, we believe that we’re giving them the best foundation possible for success beyond high school.

David Haglund is deputy superintendent of Educational Services for the Santa Ana Unified School District in California. Haglund has been in education for nearly 30 years both as a teacher and administrator. He is actively engaged in the professional community concerned with the impact of technology on teaching and learning. Teachers in the district use technology such as Lightspeed’s FlexCat to monitor group work during project-based, self-directed learning.

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