Virtual School Meanderings

September 11, 2021

Can We Center Both Joy and Safety This Year?

Filed under: virtual school — Michael K. Barbour @ 10:05 pm
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An item from a US-based K-12 blended learning organization.

Hear from Interim Executive Director Shawn Rubin as the school year begins in earnest


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

In This Week’s Issue

  • A welcome back message from Highlander Institute
  • RSVP today for our 9/22 Leadership Roundtable
  • Spotlight on Norwood Public Schools
  • 2021 Learning Engineering Tools Competition open for submissions

Can We Center Both Joy and Safety This Year?

Yesterday, during a Design Team meeting with the fantastic staff at Baychester Middle School in the Bronx, we worked collaboratively to interrogate the school’s vision for change using the thinking routine Word-Phrase-Sentence from Project Zero. One teacher elevated the phrase “safe and joyful space” because it resonated with her as a powerful statement as the staff prepares to open their doors to students next week.

In the best of times, the phrase “safe and joyful space” is a cornerstone of back to school relationship-building. However, amidst the pandemic, these two descriptors become more important than ever. When our attention is focused on preventing the spread of the Delta variant – an immense task for folks trained in pedagogy, curriculum and assessment – we are prone to lose sight of joy. Our educators are not healthcare workers, but every day this line is blurred with PCR tests and quarantine planning. For even the most seasoned educators, this work pushes beyond our comfort zones, causing fear and anxiety.

Our mitigation efforts are undoubtedly essential, but we must name and own that such fear and anxiety can work against the second part of the Design Team teacher’s phrase – joyful space. We have the ability to stay safe this school year, but at what cost to joy?

Read our Interim Executive Director Shawn Rubin’s full Back to School Message on our blog by clicking the button below.

Join us on Wednesday, September 22 from 4:00-5:00PM ET for a Leadership Roundtable focused on the intersection of change management and instructional equity. This conversation is geared toward all PK-12 school leaders and district administrators interested in discussing strategies for driving toward scale and sustainability as we begin the 2021-2022 school year. RSVP for free today and help us by spreading the word with your networks!

Spotlight: Beginning with Awareness

Last week, Highlander Institute kicked off the 2021-2022 school year with the entire staff of Norwood Public Schools. Across 5 cohorts, more than 500 educators from PreK to high school explored the Awareness Domain of our Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Pedagogy framework. This domain asks us to start with ourselves, building our recognition that we all operate within an inequitable system so we can understand how inequity translates into schools and impacts our students. By building our awareness and teaching through an intentional lens of instructional equity, we can work to restore students’ natural competence and confidence and ensure they become self-directed learners and empowered leaders.

The session encouraged staff to shift from a sphere of concern to a sphere of control, with strategies shared at the classroom level. Participants concluded the meeting by making a public commitment in line with their roles and responsibilities as educators in disrupting inequity at the school/classroom levels. Some examples included:

  • Increase my communication with families
  • Ensure my students feel heard and respected
  • Get to know the backgrounds and cultures of my students beyond what I see in the classroom
  • Provide journaling opportunities and surveys to get to know students, not just at the start of the year but as ongoing check-ins because our circumstances change and are fluid
  • Start with surveying students, then build up to a community walk to build my awareness about students’ communities through an asset-based lens

Our coaching team left the sessions energized and grateful for the foundation that NPS administrators and school committee members built as partners last year. We look forward to our upcoming sessions with the full staff, and the launch of smaller Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) this fall.

From Other Organizations

The 2021 Learning Engineering Tools Competition is now open for submissions! The competition invites technologists, digital learning platforms, researchers, students, and teachers from around the globe to propose innovative tools or technologies that address one of the pressing challenges in education while advancing the field of learning engineering. This year’s focus areas are accelerating learning in literacy and math, improving K-12 assessment, refining adult education, and developing new research tools.

The competition will award at least $3 million in prizes, making it one of the largest edtech competitions ever convened. The deadline for applications is October 1, 2021. Join us for a series of deep-dive discussions on these topics among leaders in education and technology in our Futures Forum on Learning Series each week in September. If you have any questions, reach out to


August 28, 2021

Save the Date: Free Session for Leaders in September

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

Join us for a dynamic conversation moderated by Mike Miele


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

In This Week’s Issue

  • Save the Date! Free session with school & district leaders set for September 22
  • Launching Year 3 of Our Pathways School Initiative with Whiteknact Elementary
  • Last chance to claim your free book! Our summer giveaway ends on September 1

Mark your calendars! Join us on Wednesday, September 22 from 4:00-5:00 PM ET for a conversation geared toward all PK-12 school leaders and district administrators interested in exploring best practices as we begin the 2021-2022 school year in this time of uncertainty. Mike Miele will moderate this chat over Zoom and looks forward to engaging with visionary school principals, assistant principals, and district leaders across the country. Sign up for free at the link below.

Educators from Whiteknact Elementary School In East Providence brainstorm connections between the CRSP Framework and their existing classroom systems, routines, & strategies 

Launching Year 3 of Our Pathways School Initiative with Whiteknact Elementary

Earlier this month, Heidi Vazquez from our coaching team facilitated a professional development session with Whiteknact Elementary, one of our Pathways Schools, to launch Year 3 of the initiative. School principal and Lead Change Agent Laurie Marchand opened the session by reviewing the vision, priority practices from Year 1, strategy cycle work from Year 2, and overall goals for the year ahead.

Next, Heidi introduced the CRSP framework and shared research supporting why taking a “colorblind” approach to social emotional learning will fall short of the school’s goals without developing teachers’ own Sociocultural Awareness. Staff then reviewed how the CRSP framework aligns to Responsive Classroom’s 7 core beliefs, CASEL, and the A Little SPOT SEL series teachers will be leveraging this year. Teachers brainstormed what systems they already had in place, what new ideas they were thinking about, and shared requests for upcoming coaching.

We recognize that there was a quite a lot to unpack around the multiple components, in the middle of the summer, while getting used to the format of in-person sessions again! We are grateful (but not surprised) by how leaders at Whiteknact are already demonstrating signs of owning and sustaining the work schoolwide.

Summer Book Giveaway Ends September 1

It’s your last chance to snag a free copy of our summer book giveaway – Pathways to Personalization: A Framework for School Change! Claim your book or book club set on our website by September 1 to learn how our framework can help you construct a vision for school innovation, identify early adopters, and build momentum for scaling strategies across your building.


August 25, 2021

Bring Equity & SEL to the Forefront This Year

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

Our ESSER-aligned offerings help partners invest in instructional equity and student outcomes.

Hi Michael,

The time for innovation on behalf of our students is now.

Schools across the country are kicking off the 2021-2022 school year, and we know that successful planning is not a solo effort. At Highlander Institute, our design team facilitation process helps you to scale best practices by convening members of your school community (including teachers, students and families) to create an action plan that addresses and aligns to your district goals. Then, leveraging your targeted plan, we work with school leaders and classroom teachers to design and deliver responsive coaching aligned to school priorities.

Review Our Offerings

Our approach is research-based, integrating social, emotional, and academic supports to activate and empower learners. Additionally, our pedagogical framework for instructional equity is relevant and actionable and supports the landmarks outlined in the Return to School Roadmap released in August 2021 by the US Department of Education. If these topics are central to your reopening and redesign efforts, please don’t hesitate to reach out today.

Schedule a Call To Discuss Your
Transformational Vision For SY 21-22 Now!


Shawn Rubin
Interim Executive Director
Highlander Institute

Highlander Institute is a nonprofit centered on coaching and change management. We look forward to working together with diverse school communities to create more equitable, relevant, and effective schools for all learners.

August 21, 2021

Reflect, Recharge, Renew

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

Thoughts from our staff retreat sessions last week


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

In This Week’s Issue

  • Interim Executive Director Shawn Rubin reflects on our recent staff retreat
  • Let’s connect! Learn more about Highlander Institute’s work for SY 21-22
  • Reminder to vote & spread the word for our SXSW EDU sessions! Community voting closes on August 26

Connection & Clarity: Our Recent Staff Retreat

Over the past two weeks, we have been fortunate to spend 3 days together as a team, including 2 in-person retreat sessions. It really feels like we are growing up as an organization and everyone’s reflections and closing sentiments on the last day have solidified that feeling. I’d like to extend a special thank you to Cindy Kenney (Associate Partner) for organizing such a special, seamless experience and for liaising with our hosts at DeCordova Sculpture Park and CIC Providence.

I can’t state enough how energizing it was to be in the same physical space as a team. Organic conversation, jokes between meeting times, and just being able to leave our houses and routines was a wonderful way to close out our summer work. We also left with a lot of exciting next steps and major projects for us to tackle in the next few weeks, months, and beyond. I am confident that the school year ahead will be filled with so much great work, in partnership with our students, families, and educator communities.

– Shawn Rubin, Interim Executive Director

If you haven’t caught up with our work in a little while, this is the year to get engaged. Our pedagogical model, vision for liberatory data, coaching expertise, dynamic virtual facilitation, and strong research base are all reasons for your school to check our offerings and find time to chat! 

Help Send Us to SXSW EDU: Voting Window Closes August 26


August 14, 2021

Vote for Highlander Institute’s SXSW EDU Sessions!

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

Please help send us to SXSW EDU in 2022


No images? Click here

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

In This Week’s Issue

  • Help send us to SXSW EDU next year! Vote for our 2 session ideas on PanelPicker
  • Meet our newest team members: Stephanie Garcia & Danielle Lavoie
  • Join Maeve Murray & Vera De Jesus as we partner with NEB Chats on August 18
  • Free session hosted by RIDE & Highlander Institute for HR leaders from RI LEAs to tackle the substitute teacher shortage

Please Help Send Highlander Institute to SXSW EDU 2022! Vote for Our 2 Sessions

From L-R: Stephanie Garcia & Danielle Lavoie

Welcome to Our Newest Team Members: Stephanie Garcia & Danielle Lavoie

The entire Highlander Institute team is thrilled to officially welcome our 2 newest hires: Stephanie Garcia and Danielle Lavoie! These incredible educators will be supporting our coaching and change management work with schools across New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.

Stephanie knows that all students can succeed with the right tools in their toolboxes. She believes deeply in the power of different perspectives and is a strong advocate of co-creating a curious, trusting academic community as a catalyst for increasing rigor and relevance in the classroom and beyond. Prior to working at the Institute, Stephanie taught General Education and Special Education in Upper Elementary and High School in New York City. She holds a Masters in General Education and Special Education from Lehman College and is currently pursuing a Masters in Educational Technology. Before finding her purpose in education, she worked in the field of real estate in the big apple. Born in Manhattan and raised in Brooklyn, Stephanie enjoys the city life and vast cultures found in NYC. You can catch Stephanie spending time with her husband watching Netflix or reading in her spare time.

Danielle has been serving students in the New England and Midwest regions of the United States since 2012 upon graduating from the University of Rhode Island. She had over 8 years of experience teaching English before switching to the nonprofit world in 2019. Her teaching philosophy focuses primarily on relationship-based pedagogy, creating lasting partnerships with students and families, and empowering learners by highlighting their natural competencies. In her current role at Highlander Institute she is looking forward to working with educators by collaboratively learning about their students on an individualized level to disrupt and critique complex systemic inequities through thoughtful reflection of school-wide and classroom practices.

Calling All Educators! Be Part of the Conversation

Our NEB Chats session is quickly approaching! Join us next Wednesday, August 18 from 1-2PM ET for a free conversation centered around Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Pedagogy. Maeve Murray and Vera De Jesus from the Highlander Institute team will join our colleagues at New England Basecamp to discuss starting points for shifting your practice in the school year ahead. Be sure to check out the pre-reading and guiding questions before hopping on the Zoom.

All educators who attend will receive certificates as documentation for professional learning hours with their schools/districts.

Tackling the RI Substitute Teacher Shortage: Learning & Design Session for HR Leaders

Join RIDE and Highlander Institute for an interactive session discussing substitute teacher recruitment, training, and retention. As we reflect on the work to secure subs during the pandemic, we know there are opportunities for reflection, improvement, and redesign that will greatly improve our processes and plans for the school year ahead. During this session, we’ll highlight key learnings from Year 1 of the RI Substitute Teacher Training program, including a deeper dive into the online course. As Highlander Institute considers offering this open and free course for next school year, we want your input around some of the most common challenges in the hiring, onboarding, and training processes.

This session is open to HR staff from RI LEAs, who are encouraged to bring +1s from their leadership teams. The session will be held virtually on Wednesday, August 18, 2021 from 10AM-12PM Please use this link to register. Pre-registration is required to receive the Zoom link. Email Michael O’Connor at with any questions.

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