Virtual School Meanderings

April 4, 2020

We’re Here To Help

A newsletter from a US-based K-12 blended learning organization.

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Join the conversation as we partner with communities to design and implement school-based change.

In This Week’s Issue

  • New Be Education podcast episodes available
  • Let us know how we can support your district
  • RI Distance Learning Helpline update
  • The Learning Accelerator launches new “Today’s One Thing” blog series

New Episodes of the Be Education Podcast

Christina Corser and Nick DiNardo, co-hosts of the Be Education Podcast, have released 2 new episodes that we hope you’ll find relevant and helpful in the current climate. Take a listen to the releases described below:

  • Episode 49 Pandemic and the Implications on Education: Two weeks ago feels like it happened last year.  This episode marks an initial discussion around COVID-19.  We talk about the implications that this might have through the end of the school year, what this is going to do to student learning, and to administrations who are making these decisions.
  • Episode 50 The Importance of Preparation in Education: What is the importance of preparation in education, in the classroom setting? Complete with a Home Depot analogy.

Be on the lookout for The Be Education Podcast on Spotify in the near future!

We’re Here to Help

This week, our Implementation Team has hosted 8 webinars related to different use cases of Google Classroom for our partners at Providence Public Schools. We are holding weekly virtual meetups for educators within the Diocese of Providence. Our Educational Strategies Specialists have been working with teachers individually and in small groups to support their needs in virtual coaching formats. If your district is interested in learning more about how Highlander Institute can support you during critical upcoming professional development days, please contact Kara O’Connell at

RI Distance Learning Helpline Weekly Update

As week 2 of the RI Distance Learning Helpline winds down, our Fuse RI Fellow volunteers have been receiving consistently positive feedback on their support. We have added a phone line option for accessing the helpline at (904) 414-4927‬. Here’s a glimpse at some of the coaching session topics that Fellows have discussed with RI teachers so far:

  • What resources are available to support differentiated learning once students have taken a formative assessment?
  • How can I have students share their artwork and talk about it in a virtual setting?
  • I’m trying to figure out a good routine for class. I would appreciate input about what kind of balance to strike between online meetups and independent work.
  • I’m looking for support for students to help guide them through their Google Classroom on their own, and some ways to be creative about assignments.
  • What tools work best for distance learning for students with dyslexia & ADHD? How do we make these lessons truly interactive & multi-sensory?

Serving students through distance learning formats is a massive undertaking, and we are all discovering the challenges and bright spots together. We plan to keep the helpline running indefinitely as Rhode Island students, teachers, and families continues to navigate the realities of this new normal. Please reach out today if you’d like 1-on-1 support, and spread the word to the educators in your life.

From Other Organizations

“Today’s One Thing” Blog Series

Earlier this week, The Learning Accelerator launched a blog called “Today’s One Thing“, a teacher-driven series on remote learning. Through survey results, educators helped us better understand the overwhelming number of resources being tossed your way. Our team is working to weed through the massive amount of information out there to find and vet the best resources and provide them to you weekly in a bite-sized format. Every Wednesday, we’ll share concrete resources, ideas, tools, and best practices around one specific topic targeted towards helping you solve your challenges in actionable ways. Our hope is to provide you with resources that you can easily and immediately utilize to reach as many of your students as possible. This week’s post is on creating connections with students.

Highlander Institute thanks our Mission Sponsors for their generous support:

March 28, 2020

Community & Support Amidst COVID-19

An item from a US-based blended learning organization.

No images? Click here

Join the conversation as we partner with communities to design and implement school-based change.

In This Week’s Issue

  • Spotlight on RI Distance Learning Helpline
  • Thank You to Our Mission & Premier Sponsors
  • Consider Highlander Institute During the First Ever 401Gives on April 1

Spotlight on the RI Distance Learning Helpline

This week, Highlander Institute launched the Rhode Island Distance Learning Helpline in partnership with our network of 100+ Fuse RI Fellows. This helpline is a free service open to any educator across any school in Rhode Island. The testimonial below speaks to the importance of human connection and thought partnership during this tumultuous time.

This was an outstanding experience! My assigned Fellow was helpful, friendly, and more than willing to dig deep in order to help me solve some distance learning and Google Classroom issues. She had real world experience – inside the classroom, as an administrator, and as a parent during this challenging coronavirus window of time. I couldn’t have been more pleased with how valuable she was as a problem solver 

– RI teacher 

We acknowledge that as teachers are rising to the challenge of creating a distance learning model, many of them may have questions or concerns on their minds. Please spread the word that the Helpline is here to offer support and a listening ear. Are you interested in submitting a request or know someone in need of support or thought partnership? Go to to fill out the quick form and a Highlander Institute representative will be in touch to connect you with a Fellow via a calendar invite and email. Have a more general question? Reach out to at any time.

Thank You to Our Mission & Premier Sponsors 

We want to take this opportunity to thank those who partner with us as sponsors. Mission Sponsors are a select group of companies and organizations that enter into an intentional, long-term, and authentic partnership with our organization, providing our team with a lens into the newest, most innovative, and scalable educational technologies available to students and educators. In exchange, this partnership allows Highlander Institute to leverage necessary funding to provide low and no cost support, oftentimes to the most under-resourced of school systems.

When we canceled our Personalization 2020 Conference a few weeks back, our Mission Sponsors and Premier Conference Sponsors rose to the occasion, continuing to support our work regardless. This operational funding support allowed us the flexibility to roll up our sleeves and help educators through this challenging time – including the development and launch of the RI Distance Learning Helpline.

A sincere thank you to our Mission Sponsor partners: Greg Moore and the team at Edgenuity, Christian Hartjes and the team at Newsela, and Ken Hoover and the team at IXL, as well as to our Premier Conference Sponsors for sticking by us during this no-conference year: Meghan Little and the McGraw Hill team, Michael Bell and the Soundtrap by Spotify team, Diane Houle and the Renaissance Learning team, and our friends at Getting Smart.

Consider Us During 401Gives Next Week

April 1, 2020, marks an important day for Rhode Island. On that day, nonprofits from across the state host the first ever 401Gives, Rhode Island’s largest statewide day of giving. Powered by United Way of Rhode Island, 401Gives includes 300+ nonprofits, from Westerly to Woonsocket, that work hard to make a difference every day.
Check out Highlander Institute’s 401Gives Fundraising Page below, and consider donating during this very hectic and unpredictable time. All funds will go toward free supports for educators as they navigate this new normal of distance learning.

March 24, 2020

Announcing The RI Distance Learning Helpline

An item from a US-based K-12 blended learning organization.

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Join the conversation as we partner with communities to design and implement school-based change.

Announcing the RI Distance Learning Helpline

Last week, Rhode Island’s Commissioner of Education Angélica Infante-Green took up the challenge from Governor Gina Raimondo to run school online for two weeks. Commissioner Infante-Green called the effort on the part of districts, schools, teachers, families, and students “a bold and innovative statewide experiment”.

We commend the state’s leadership for pushing us to tackle this complex work, acknowledging its unprecedented nature, and recognizing the potential messiness associated with this herculean effort.

At Highlander Institute, we were inspired by this call to action. As a go-to resource for accountable technology use that supports personalization based on student needs, we knew we had expertise that we could share. Last week, we put a call out to our Fuse RI network of 100+ Fellows across the state. The response we received was overwhelmingly positive! Our Fellows wanted to help any and all Rhode Island teachers who are struggling in this new distance learning environment.

So, today we are launching the Rhode Island Distance Learning Helpline

This helpline is a free statewide resource for any teacher in any school across the state of Rhode Island. Our Fuse RI Fellows are trained to be adaptive coaches, willing and able to listen to teacher challenges and concerns before offering targeted suggestions and solutions. Whether you’re a teacher in a large district, a small charter, or a private school, our Fellows are here to help!

The helpline will be staffed for 6+ hours each day, to support Rhode Island teachers as they navigate how to best implement state-required distance learning plans with their unique student populations. We will begin tomorrow, Tuesday, March 24, 2020 and run indefinitely.

Interested in submitting a request for support? 

  1. Click on this link to fill out the quick form
  2. A Highlander Institute representative will be in touch to connect you with a Fellow via a calendar invite and email
  3. Get online at your approved time for a 30 minute coaching session
  4. If you need more support, just ask your Fuse Fellow for additional time or fill out the form again to get paired with a different Fellow or staff member

We want to make this process as simple as possible for Rhode Island teachers. If you have additional ideas or ways we can improve this process please let us know by sending an email to

We are deeply indebted to our Fuse RI Fellows. These are Rhode Island educators who are continually looking to learn and grow. They want nothing more than to help other teachers and families be successful.

Thank you for all you do during this difficult time for families and students. Let us know if you can think of additional ways for us to help support your work.


The Highlander Institute Team

Highlander Institute thanks our Mission Sponsors for their generous support:

March 21, 2020

A Message from Our Executive Director

An item from a US-based K-12 blended learning organization.

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Join the conversation as we partner with communities to design and implement school-based change.

In This Week’s Issue

  • Message from Executive Director Dana Borrelli-Murray
  • Spotlight on Fuse virtual meetings this week
  • Congratulations to Parents Leading for Educational Equity RI
  • Resources from Teaching Tolerance & WIDA

A Message from Our Executive Director, Dana Borrelli-Murray

As a nonprofit that works with communities to imagine and create more equitable, relevant, and effective schools, our work scope and priorities have been taken to task during the continued growth, transmission, and spread of COVID-19. This past week, we’ve cancelled our annual national conference. We’ve issued a statement of support to all of our partnering schools and districts across the country. Organizationally, we’ve moved to a remote work model to do our part in flattening the curve.

Here in Rhode Island, Governor Raimondo has ordered all school buildings to remain closed through April 3rd. While it is hard to predict what will happen after that, we can ensure that the Highlander Institute team, along with our Fuse Fellows and alumni, are mobilized, ready to roll up sleeves and support teachers, schools, and districts through this unprecedented time.

We understand that school closings and distance learning plans result in a myriad of tough decisions for school system administrators. Ensuring uninterrupted social services while still educating students remotely will be a difficult task for systems, schools, and especially stakeholders. To all of our school and district partners: we are here to help you strategize around remote learning and can provide virtual support for teachers and school leaders as they navigate this shift.

At at time like this, I am reminded of Fred Rogers when he said “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Together, let’s work to alleviate the burden this new normal is causing for our valued students, families, and educators.

Spotlight on Fuse RI & MA Virtual Meetings

This week, our meetings with both Fuse RI and Fuse MA Fellows went virtual! Thank you to the 60+ Fellows and staff members who joined us on Zoom to discuss topics like Equity & Access; Accountability; Social Emotional Learning Supports; Long-Term Thinking; and Alignment with Co-Teachers/Other Staff.

We were inspired and rejuvenated by our conversations and the ideas you shared for supporting students, families, and other educators during this unpredictable time. We are incredibly grateful for the grit, empathy, and creativity of the Fuse community and look forward to checking in with you frequently over the weeks ahead. Want to know more? Visit The Education Cooperative website (our Fuse MA partner) or follow #FuseRI and #FuseMA on Twitter to hear directly from Fellows about what they’re trying out in their virtual learning environments.

Congratulations to PLEE RI

Ramona Santos Torres, co-founder of Parents Leading for Educational Equity RI (PLEE RI), just announced that their organization has received funding from the Rhode Island Foundation. PLEE RI will be joining forces with Equity Institute to advocate for parents of color in decision-making spaces across the education landscape. We look forward to learning and hearing more from you all as you continue expanding your work and leading such important conversations. We send our heartfelt congratulations your way!

Resources from Other Organizations

We believe that the two resources linked below provide important guidance that has application across multiple contexts and can be implemented with deep cultural responsiveness in an online setting. As we listen to educator needs and curate other strategies over the coming weeks, we will be sure to share our findings.

Highlander Institute thanks our Mission Sponsors for their generous support:

March 14, 2020

Personalization 2020 Has Been Canceled

A final item on a busy Saturday…  This one from a US-based K-12 blended learning organization.

No images? Click here

Join the conversation as we partner with communities to design and implement school-based change.

In This Week’s Issue

  • Our Personalization 2020 conference has been canceled
  • Spotlight: Sharing our work at the MassCUE/MASCD Leadership Conference
  • Congratulations to the XQ+RI award winners!
  • Take the Blended & Personalized Learning in Special Education Survey

Personalization 2020 Has Been Canceled

Given the evolving and intensifying developments that have occurred this week regarding the coronavirus in Rhode Island, the Highlander Institute team has elected to cancel the Personalization 2020 conference scheduled for April 2 – 4, 2020 in Providence.

We are heartbroken to share this news. We appreciate the support and understanding of our growing network of participants, presenters, partners, and mission sponsors whose enthusiasm and energy for improving schools and sharing insights at this event sustains us all throughout the year. As always, we are grateful for your support and understanding during this unprecedented time. We look forward to reconnecting soon. Meanwhile, keep yourselves and your families safe and healthy.

As we regroup, we are considering how to design potential virtual learning opportunities that honor the time, energy, and expertise of the presenters and participants. We would love to hear your thoughts. Please click below to share your feedback, interest, and ideas.

Spotlight: MassCUE & MASCD Leadership Conference

Last week, a team from Highlander Institute traveled to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA for MassCUE & MASCD’s Spring Leadership Conference. Our Chief Education Officer Shawn Rubin kicked off the day with the keynote Achieving Aspiration: A Personalized Approach to School Change, a presentation inspired by the book he co-authored with Cathy Sanford.

Next, Meg Smallidge, Program Manager for the Fuse MA Fellowship in partnership with The Education Cooperative (TEC), facilitated a panel discussion with TEC’s Executive Director Liz McGonagle and two Cohort 1 Fuse Fellows: Eva Urban Hughes of Wayland High School and Dana Gurwitch of TEC High School. This session focused on creating a regional community of empowered educators and coaches to build momentum for new visions of teaching and learning in schools.

During lunch, our partners from the Quabbin Regional School District shared their story of district-wide professional learning with an afternoon keynote titled Quabbin’s Pathway to Personalization. The presentation featured anecdotes from administrators and teachers focused on fostering deeper student engagement, metacognition, and higher-order thinking. Kara O’Connell and Melinda Lopez from our Implementation Team also joined the conversation to help spotlight the work of these dedicated educators.

Thank you to the MassCUE & MASCD team for welcoming us to this event and providing the opportunity to share our message and resources!

From Other Organizations

Congratulations to the XQ+RI Winners!

On Tuesday at the RI State House, XQ officially announced the results of the XQ+RI Challenge. From the Highlander Institute team, we send our heartfelt congratulations to Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts (TAPA) and Ponaganset High School, who become the 2 newest members of the XQ schools cohort. TAPA and Ponaganset will each receive two-year grants of $500,000.

XQ also recognized 360 High School and Woonsocket High School with XQ Accelerator Awards of $120,000, while the 16 additional high schools in the design cohort will receive support through $20,000 XQ Momentum Awards.

We look forward to following along with the redesign plans at all 20 schools and congratulate everyone on their deep engagement in such a rigorous process!

Spread the Word: Blended & Personalized Learning in Special Education Survey

Professor Marie Lynch from Rhode Island College is conducting a survey about blended and/or personalized learning practices to better understand the impact on students with special educational needs. She is most interested to hear from classroom teachers and administrators who have firsthand knowledge about these practices for these students. The survey, which is anonymous, is made up of multiple choice questions, with few text based responses, designed to help Rhode Island College better prepare beginning special educators for the field. Your help is most appreciated. Marie can be reached at or 401.456.8763 with any questions. You can access the survey through the QR code above or the button below. Thank you!

Highlander Institute thanks our Mission Sponsors for their generous support:

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