Virtual School Meanderings

October 1, 2022

Centering Student Perspectives in School Improvement Efforts

An item from a K-12 blended learning organization.

Highlander Institute’s Student Experience Survey


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Highlander Institute: Leveling the Field for All Learners

Join the conversation as we partner with communities to design and implement culturally responsive school change.

4 elementary-aged students engage in activity with their teacher while sitting around a table

Centering Student Perspectives in School Improvement Efforts: Highlander Institute’s Student Experience Survey 

Over the last twenty years teachers have been tasked with collecting, analyzing, and using endless amounts of testing data in their classrooms. While this data can help us identify where students are struggling and understand patterns of progress, it has not translated into more equitable outcomes for students.

How can we expand our thinking about student data to go beyond creating academic interventions? Can a holistic approach to measurement provide more meaningful insights and greater impact?

During the 2020-2021 school year, our Research & Impact team developed the Student Experience Survey to quantify and analyze the learning experiences reported by different student groups across grades 3-12. We know there is a strong evidence base connecting academic success to concepts such as belonging, academic mindset, cognitive skills, and engagement. Our team wanted to understand how student perspectives in these areas might differ based on lunch status, race, grade level, gender identity, or status as English Language Learners or Special Education students.

Initial survey administration at our partner schools yielded fascinating results. Click below to learn more.


September 24, 2022

Check out New Models to Alleviate Staff Shortages

An item from a K-12 blended learning organization.

Join us as participants in the Next Education Workforce learning cohort


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Highlander Institute: Leveling the Field for All Learners

Join the conversation as we partner with communities to design and implement culturally responsive school change.

Explore New Models to Alleviate Teacher Shortages: Join Us in the NEW Learning Cohort! 

One of the best parts about being a Pahara Fellow has been the opportunity to discuss persistent education challenges with my brilliant cohort. One of the members of my Pahara class —  Rachel Skerritt — recently authored a fantastic article in the Fall 2022 issue of Education Next entitled, “What I learned Leading America’s First Public School.”

In the article, Rachel reflects on Boston Latin School, a public exam school in the Fenway area of Boston that was founded in 1635. As our Highlander Institute team grapples with how to support a growing number of school partners struggling with staff shortages this year, I couldn’t help but reflect on Rachel’s insights on teacher hiring. Among the teacher competencies of content expertise, pedagogical skill, and the ability to build relationships with students, our system currently places the most value on content expertise. Rachel writes:

“Districts should create pathways for [educators who are ‘great with kids’] to become proficient in hard-to-staff content areas so that school leaders do not need to feel forced to choose between content knowledge and the ability to forge trusting relationships with students.”

I wholeheartedly believe that our current system is ready for models that fundamentally redesign how we staff schools.

This month, Highlander Institute is excited to participate in the Next Education Workforce™ learning cohort series, as they explore ways to build team-based staffing models that support equity and improve learning outcomes.

Next Education Workforce™ (NEW) is currently accepting district teams of up to five leaders who are interested in thinking about innovative teaming structures within schools. We are looking for East Coast districts who may be interested in implementing what we learn from NEW. We are calling on our Highlander Institute network of leaders to reach out if you are willing to tackle this challenge together.

If you or your colleagues might be interested in participating in the Learning Cohort or you’d like to recommend a potential partner, please be in touch by contacting our Communications Manager, Maeve Murray.

I am so grateful to Rachel and my Pahara Fellowship colleagues for continuing to push the conversation and elevate ways that building leaders are succeeding and striving to better support the students and families they serve.


September 17, 2022

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month 2022 🎉

An item from a K-12 blended learning organization.

This year’s theme is Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation


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Highlander Institute: Leveling the Field for All Learners

Join the conversation as we partner with communities to design and implement culturally responsive school change.

In This Week’s Issue

  • Resources and readings to help you celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month 2022
  • Launching our SY23 partnership with Norwood Public Schools
Hispanic Heritage Month: September 15-October 15

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month 2022

Yesterday marked the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States, celebrated from September 15 – October 15. This year’s observance theme is Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation, providing a valuable reminder about the collective power of learning, sharing, and honoring diverse experiences. We know that welcoming and expressing curiosity about all members of our communities helps us recognize that our own worldview is not universal; helps us nurture a stronger sense of belonging for all individuals in our classrooms and schools; and helps to make our learning more meaningful.

We hope you’ll join us in honoring the wide range of identities, languages, and perspectives that make up the fabric of Latinx and Hispanic cultures throughout this month and beyond. Explore the resources below to get started:

Logos of Norwood Public Schools & Highlander Institute

Launching Our SY23 Partnership with Norwood Public Schools

Last week, our Program team — Malika Ali, Vera De Jesus, Stephanie Garcia, Danielle Lavoie, and Heidi Vazquez — launched our SY23 professional development series with returning partner, Norwood Public Schools. This September touchpoint included sessions with teachers from the middle and high school, as well as a non-classroom cohort specifically tailored to the needs of counselors, support staff, therapists, and other faculty members supporting the district’s equity goals.

Key takeaways from our data protocol and session conversations with participants included:

  • Notice: “Culture is important to students, so feeling as though they can’t speak on it, or that teachers do not care is a needed change”
  • Wonder: “What can we do over various subjects to allow ample opportunity for students to share their culture and unique attributes?”
  • Suggestion: “The more choices and chances students have to determine the work they do, texts they use, etc., the more opportunity there is for expression and celebration of their cultures.”

The Norwood team continues to build momentum for change during SY23. Each school will develop specific strategies aligned with growth areas identified on their Student Experience Survey results. One-on-one teacher coaching will also foster deeper implementation in model classrooms and collect evidence of impact. During monthly leadership meetings with building principals, we will work together to identify activities across communications, instructional leadership, and change management to effectively expand and sustain the work.


September 14, 2022

Online, Blended, and Distance Education: Building Successful School Programs (Online Learning and Distance Education) Book – Companion Website Update

Tom Clark and I published this book five or six years ago.  See:

There were other general notices that I haven’t included above (like a dozen or two) – but those five entries represent the main unique items.  I wanted to post about it here today and link these (and in an ideal world all 20-25) entries that I’ve posted about this book because in each one we mention a companion website, that we had hosted on Wikispaces – a service that no longer exists.

I had thought that the website was gone, but I want searching for stuff a few days ago to find an illustration for another book project that I am working on, and I discovered my wonderful co-editor recreate the companion website as a Google Site.

So be sure to check it out.

Please note that as one of the editors of this book, I do receive royalties on the sale of this volume.

September 10, 2022

What Happens When Students Own Their Learning

An item from a K-12 blended learning organization.

Research-backed student practices from our CRSP Framework


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Join the conversation as we partner with communities to design and implement culturally responsive school change.

In This Week’s Issue

  • Explore our newest spotlight on student ownership of learning
  • National PTA announces $600K in funding for local PTA programming
Student Practice 3.3 Own their learning journeys and talk about themselves as learners

NEW! Our First Spotlight on Student Practice

The Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Pedagogy Framework highlights both teacher practices and student behaviors that we hope to nurture in all classrooms. After focusing our initial series on Teacher Practices, we’re delighted to share our first Student Practice-centered spotlight!

Today’s spotlight features Student Practice 3.3: Own their learning journeys and talk about themselves as learners. Ownership of learning empowers our students to be the authors of their own learning stories, creating more engagement, more meaning, and better student outcomes. Learn more about the what, why, and how of this essential practice and consider sharing with colleagues.

Are you interested in reading more about the CRSP Framework and how it supports instructional equity? Read the blog post and research base on our website.

From Other Organizations

National PTA Logo

Grant Funding Available for Local PTAs

The National PTA invites applications from local PTAs for local efforts for K-12 students, families, and communities to participate in educational activities that are engaging, inspiring, and fun. A total of over $600,000 will be awarded to nearly 500 local PTAs across the country. PTAs can apply for $1,000 or $2,500 in program funding generally used to cover the cost of custodial services, food, transportation, and translation services to ensure all families can participate. Funding is available for the following programs:

  • Family Reading Experience
  • Healthy Bodies
  • Healthy Minds
  • PTA Connected
  • Reflections
  • STEM + Families

Learn more about these programs, the grant opportunity, and view the application through the link below.

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