Virtual School Meanderings

April 3, 2021

Leading Inclusive Change

Filed under: virtual school — Michael K. Barbour @ 10:09 pm
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An item from a US-based K-12 blended learning organization.

Sign up for next week’s free session for leaders


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

In This Week’s Issue

  • Our Spring Learning Series has begun: read a recap of last night’s takeaways
  • Register for Leading Inclusive Change on April 8
  • 401Gives Thank You
  • We’re excited to take part in the Remote DEI Collective

Presenters Malika Ali & Heidi Vazquez describe Domain 4: Critical Consciousness, the final domain of Highlander Institute’s CRSP Framework during a webinar on April 1

Our Spring Learning Series Has Begun

Yesterday evening, Malika Ali and Heidi Vazquez kicked off the month of April with the first of 3 weekly sessions in our Spring Learning Series. Entitled Centering on Instructional Equity, the session introduced participants to our Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Pedagogy framework, grounded in the research of Gloria Ladson-Billings, Geneva Gay, Zaretta Hammond, Django Paris, and Sami Alim. Our presenters encouraged attendees to make connections & extend their thinking to their own classroom contexts and shared key strategies and projects to use with students around the 4 framework domains.

We are thrilled with the responses we received from our webinar attendees through both the chat and our feedback survey:

  • “I just loved some of the ideas of relating to my students through their community. I feel I have gotten to know more about their families this year with distance learning. If we go back to ‘normal’ classrooms next year, some of that could be lost. You shared a new way to connect.”
  • “The strategies presented were very practical for classroom application. I loved the Padlet as a way to capture our thoughts and reflections as a collective throughout the webinar. It keeps me engaged and focused despite all the other things that could be taking my attention.”
  • “I really enjoyed the time to ‘Connect and Extend’. It was a great interactive strategy that I haven’t seen used in many online PD sessions, and I hope more do this in the future.”

Up Next

Join us on April 8 for Session 2: Leading Inclusive Change with team members Shawn Rubin and Vera De Jesus. Geared toward building leaders and district administrators, this session will highlight concrete strategies and case study examples of how leaders can begin supporting the shift toward CRSP across a school community.

Thank You for Your Support! 

Our team is feeling incredibly grateful after participating in the second annual 401Gives Day! Thank you to the 36 individual donors who helped us raise $2,841 yesterday to power the free and low-cost offerings we’ve designed to support educators, students, and families. We will continue to tackle challenges head on, with a combined focus on instruction and change management that is infused with hope and honors the resilience of communities. We would also like to recognize United Way Rhode Island for hosting such a meaningful, inspiring philanthropic initiative. Thank you!

What does remote DEI look like for you?

Last week, Stephen Pham (The Learning Accelerator), published an article spotlighting the work of the “Remote DEI Collective (RDC), a community of practice focused on the intersections of remote work culture and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).”

Highlander Institute is excited to be one of the teams invited to participate in the expansion of this community, alongside 11 innovative education organizations across the country and with coaching guidance from Promise54. Our representatives Kaiya Letherer, Karina Rodriguez, and Maeve Murray have been attending monthly RDC meetings and are working to align the learnings from this community with Highlander Institute’s internal DEI self-study and goals.

Highlander Institute thanks our Mission Sponsors for their generous support:


March 27, 2021

Finding New Focus in a Turbulent Year

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

Sharing our CRSP Framework with a broader audience


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

In This Week’s Issue

  • Read our new blog post – “COVID Clarity: Finding New Focus in a Turbulent Year”
  • Countdown to 401Gives – join us next week on 4/1/21
  • Free NGSS courses from Stanford University

COVID Clarity: Finding New Focus in a Turbulent Year

By Cathy Sanford, Director of Research & Development

March 2021 marks the one year anniversary of the last time I saw my colleagues in person. It has been a year of urgency, adaptiveness, and problem-solving. Yet experiencing how the global pandemic and the national racial reckoning has impacted education has forced our team to double down on where our work can have the greatest impact.

At Highlander Institute, we drive change through purposeful instructional strategies, a tailored change management process, continuous improvement cycles, and world-class coaching that empowers administrators, educators, and students to innovate. However, during 2020 it became increasingly clear that our change model was not addressing root causes of gaps in student learning outcomes across demographic groups. Our education system breeds compliance, resulting in dependent thinking and an atmosphere of low expectations – particularly for Black and Hispanic/Latinx students, students who live in poverty, and multilingual learners. Without an awareness of how systems of inequity and learner identity connect to teacher expectations, the implementation of personalized practices does not sufficiently empower all students.

Our updated approach, crafted by my colleague Malika Ali, aligns aspirational instructional shifts within a process that restores and elevates the natural confidence and competence of students who have been marginalized by systemic inequity. The resulting Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Pedagogy (CRSP) framework is grounded in the research of Gloria Ladson-Billings, Geneva Gay, Zaretta Hammond, Django Paris, and Sami Alim.

Participants in CRSP sessions have found that the framework’s practices are extremely relevant and effective – and that the process infuses hope and renewed motivation in both students and teachers. While we will not have the opportunity to share CRSP insights at our annual April conference, we have designed the free Spring Learning Series, open to educators nationwide. We cordially invite all interested teachers and leaders to join us as we introduce the CRSP framework as one approach to imagining and creating more equitable, relevant, and effective schools.

Countdown to 401Gives

401Gives is coming up next week on Thursday, April 1, 2021. This is the second annual statewide fundraising event hosted by United Way RI, which is named 401Gives in honor of 401 (RI’s area code). We are participating for the second time alongside approximately 400 other incredible nonprofits.

Every donation we receive through 401Gives directly supports educators, students, and families as they work with Highlander Institute to imagine and create more equitable, relevant, and effective schools. Click below to make your plan for giving next week to some of the organizations enriching the lives of Rhode Islanders every day. We appreciate your consideration and generosity!

From Other Organizations

Free Online NGSS Courses from SNAP

The Stanford NGSS Assessment Project (SNAP) is offering a series of free, self-paced online courses to guide teams of teachers, instructional coaches, district leaders, administrators, specialists, and others in learning how to develop and/or use performance assessments to support NGSS teaching and learning. The courses can be started and completed at any time.

  • Course 1: Performance assessment in the NGSS Classroom: Implications for Practice
  • Course 2: Developing Instructionally-Embedded Performance Assessments for the NGSS Classroom
  • Course 3: Using Student Work to Strengthen Performance Assessments for NGS
  • Course 4: Developing & Using Scoring Guides to Support NGSS Teaching and Learning (coming soon!)

Highlander Institute thanks our Mission Sponsors for their generous support:


March 21, 2021

We Need to Talk About Atlanta

A newsletter from a US-based blended learning organization.

We must name white supremacy, misogyny, and hate if we are ever to eradicate these forces


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

In This Week’s Issue

  • White Supremacy, Misogyny, and Hate: We must name it if we are ever to eradicate it
  • Learning Pods Initiative with Central Falls School District
  • Sign up today for our free Spring Learning Series sessions starting April 1
  • Learn more about the SCORE project from CYCLE at Roger Williams University

White Supremacy, Misogyny, and Hate: We must name it if we are ever to eradicate it.

By Vera Elianna DeJesus, Partner at Highlander Institute

As a human being, my heart breaks for the lives lost in this week’s Atlanta shootings, for the families who are grieving, and for the loved ones who have yet to hear the worst news one could imagine.

As an Asian-American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) woman, I am terrified. Violent attacks and racist rhetoric against AAPI people have been on the rise. And I know too well that this violence does not come out of nowhere. Hateful thoughts preclude hateful speech. Hate speech can escalate into hate crimes.

Hate Crime: At the federal level, a crime motivated by bias against race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. Hate crimes have a broader effect than most other kinds of crime. Hate crime victims include not only the crime’s immediate target, but also others like them. Hate crimes affect families, communities, and at times, the entire nation (

Many of us move through the majority of our days without incidents that threaten our basic safety and well-being. But some of us went to work on Tuesday and never got to return home. Why did this happen? How can we prevent it from happening again? And what does this have to do with education?

We must understand the events and actions that brought us here if we are to prevent history from repeating itself. We can do this by learning about the historical, political, and socio-cultural context of anti-Asian violence and discrimination. And it is absolutely critical that we recognize this week’s tragedy in Atlanta as one symptom of a much larger, older, complex problem – white supremacy and misogyny.

Let us value human life and the dignity of others over our own personal beliefs and ideologies. Let us all acknowledge that we have each perpetuated racism and white supremacy in some way – consciously, unknowingly, or likely both. Let’s educate ourselves and our children, so that we may create a different future.

See adult-facing resources, student-facing resources at bottom, and the full blog post by clicking the button below.

Learning Pods Initiative with Central Falls School District

Recently, Highlander Institute kicked off a new model for student re-engagement with the Central Falls School District, in partnership with Freedom Dreams, LLC and TNTP. Funded by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and Walton Family Foundation, the concept of learning pods presents us with an opportunity to support students while directly partnering with community members to develop and lead the effort.

There are powerful historical examples to guide us. From 1950-1969, Septima Clark, director of education and teaching for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, trained community members as teachers to support voter registration. Her efforts enabled 700,000 African Americans to become registered voters. Her model combined education and activism, using talent recruited from inside the community to develop schools that were also grassroots organizations for social change.

We believe that a community-led learning pod model will provide relevant learning experiences that help students build deeper connections to school during the COVID crisis. In addition, we recognize this project as a powerful opportunity to diversify our educator pipeline. Click the button below to read the full press release from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE).

Join Us in Conversation Next Month

Our Spring Learning Series is right around the corner, beginning on April 1 with the first of 3, free, virtual sessions. We look forward to meaningful conversations with educators across the country centered around our Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Pedagogy Framework. Session participants will explore strategies to support the development of equitable, relevant, and effective schools with teachers, leaders, and community stakeholders.

From Other Organizations

Learn More about the SCORE Project

With the Schools and Communities Organizing for Racial Equity (SCORE) project, Roger Williams University’s Center for Youth & Community Leadership in Education (CYCLE) is amplifying the voice and expertise of parents and students through a community-driven design process for tracking progress toward educational equity in Providence’s public schools.

CYCLE will collaborate with the Social Policy Hub for Equity Research in Education (SPHERE) at Rhode Island College, Parents Leading for Educational Equity, and Providence public high school students to develop a set of equity-oriented priorities and measures to support improvement in the Providence Public School District. Through a year-long process, a parent and youth research team will drive the design of a “SCOREcard” to evaluate PPSD on equity indicators that the community identifies as important to them.

Highlander Institute thanks our Mission Sponsors for their generous support:


March 15, 2021

Spring Learning Series Registration Now Open

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

All 3 parts are rooted in our Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Pedagogy framework

No images? Click here

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

In This Week’s Issue

  • Registration links now available for our FREE Spring Learning Series
  • Last chance to snag a ticket for Monday’s Great Teachers in Action workshops
  • 3 new episodes of the Be Education Podcast
  • ASSISTments Impact Study stipended opportunity for teachers
  • Aurora Institute 2021 Virtual Symposium seeking proposals

Registration for this FREE 3-part event is now open! The series introduces Highlander Institute’s Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Pedagogy (CRSP) Framework – an approach for instructional equity grounded in anti-racist, personalized practices that is at the center of our school redesign efforts. Session participants will explore strategies to support the development of equitable, relevant, and effective schools with teachers, leaders, and community stakeholders.

April 1: Centering on Instructional Equity

Join us for an overview of our Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Pedagogy (CRSP) framework for instructional equity. Consider practices and strategies across the four framework domains of Awareness, Community Building, Cognitive Development, and Critical Consciousness.

Audience: Classroom Teachers, Coaches & Instructional Leaders

April 8: Leading Inclusive Change

Through the equity lens offered by our CRSP instructional framework, explore key leadership moves and a change management process to support targeted improvements infused with the flexibility and resiliency required to reach sustainable scale.

Audience: Building Leaders & District Administrators

April 15: Designing for Enduring Improvement

Elevate and explore the small and large changes underway in schools this year that are accelerating equity and access for families. Discuss the data, stories, experiences, and lessons learned that will help educators and leaders plan intentionally and strategically for September 2021.

Audience: All Audiences

Last Chance! Free PD on March 15 for Teachers, By Teachers

NEW Episodes: Be Education Podcast

Podcast co-hosts Christina Corser & Nick Dinardo have been hard at work recording new, bite-sized conversations about the most relevant education topics schools & communities are facing today. Take a listen to one of the newest episodes wherever you get podcasts!

  • Episode 74: On Stamina, and Why It’s Important
  • Episode 75:  Musings on Student Engagement 2.0
  • Episode 76: Post-COVID Impact on Relationships in Schools

Brought to you by Soundtrap and Highlander Institute, the Be Education Podcast is your one-stop-shop for all things related to K-12 classroom teaching including – practical tips to learn how to implement blended learning techniques, building strong classroom culture, differentiation, how to approach rigor and mastery, and much more. Whether you are a new teacher or a veteran educator, the Be Education Podcast has actionable tips to help you drive student learning.

From Other Organizations

Seeking 7th Grade Math Teachers

ASSISTments is seeking 7th grade math teachers to join an exciting study that will contribute to the field of math learning. Participating teachers must be using EngageNY/Eureka, Open Up Resources, or Illustrative Math to apply and be new to ASSISTments. Benefits include up to $1,300 in stipends for participation, and access to free high quality virtual professional learning.

Aurora Institute Symposium 2021 Will Be a Virtual Experience

The Aurora Institute Symposium 2021 will be a virtual experience, due to ongoing health and safety considerations around travel and large events. The annual call for presentations was launched earlier this week and will remain open until 11:59 p.m. on March 26, 2021.

The event, previously known as the iNACOL Symposium, is the field’s largest gathering of education innovators working in schools, districts, and statehouses to transform the future of teaching and learning and create personalized, competency-based education pathways and student-centered, next-generation learning. It will run October 25-28, 2021.

Highlander Institute thanks our Mission Sponsors for their generous support:


March 11, 2021

“We cannot wait for the perfect time…” Real-Time Redesign helps schools improve equity and resiliency

An item from the folks at The Learning Accelerator that may be of interest.

Real-Time Redesign
How can school teams tackle meaningful, practical challenges of equity amidst the swirl of COVID-19? Over the last nine months, The Learning Accelerator and Bellwether Education Partners have been partnering with seven school districts to explore this question as part of TLA’s Always Ready for Learning Strategy Lab network. Today, we’re excited to share with you a new toolkit we’ve co-developed through this process to help other districts and school teams tackle the work as well.
Real-Time Redesign is a free, open resource that provides leaders with an actionable, inclusive, and rapid process for making targeted improvement towards more equitable and resilient teaching and learning. The toolkit and related case studies draw on work conducted with these and other school systems across the country as they urgently responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, and demonstrates that even during crisis and disruption, schools can make practical and positive change.
The Learning Accelerator
Bellwether Education Partners
Our “Why” for this Work
“School and system leaders know they need to remove barriers to equity, but it can often feel difficult to find the right time to make these changes,” said Beth Rabbitt, CEO of The Learning Accelerator. “We cannot wait for the perfect time to take on the improvement and innovation we need to serve students. We believe that with the right team, tools, and processes school leaders can build durable mindsets and the muscles needed to inclusively tackle concrete, meaningful challenges in their schools, today.”
The toolkit reflects ideas from a number of design processes, but we think the Real-Time Redesign process is unique in its focus on the practical application of three key areas:
  • identifying concrete problems of equity and resiliency,
  • making targeted improvement towards bigger change, and
  • engaging authentically and inclusively with those most affected.
As mentioned above, it includes a series of guided activities paired with examples from real schools that were members of the Strategy Lab.
“Schools are resilient and making changes all the time, and recent events demand that we continue to hone our perspectives and actions around equity,” said Gwen Baker, Chief Operating Officer and Partner at Bellwether Education Partners. “Too often we let perfect be the enemy of good when it comes to designing and sustaining change. The Real-Time Redesign toolkit shows us that school systems can make small and intentional changes to efforts that are already underway that can sharpen their focus on achieving more equitable outcomes.”
What School Leaders Are Saying about Real-Time Redesign
We’re most excited to share that the school systems that have gone through the Real-Time Redesign process believe it is a way to build critical skills for practical, continuous improvement towards more equitable and resilient teaching and learning:
John Rice, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning at Cedar Rapids Community School District in Iowa: “This process is very doable and transferable to a range of problems schools face. [It] is really clear and attends to equity, and gives schools a way to define a problem from the perspective of those affected, test a solution with rapid iteration, and determine if and how to scale.”
Suzanne Newell, EdD, Director of Academics for Austin Independent School District in Texas: “One of the unique aspects of the Real-Time Redesign process was how we were able to really focus on student impact. We examined weak points in student data and interviewed students to learn more about what was/was not working for them. This has helped us to put human faces on this work and motivated us to be bold in our actions.”
Kevin Zimmer, Senior Director of Academic Operations for Mastery Charter Schools: “The most exciting part of this process that we will do more of is taking a more robust approach to gathering and incorporating the feedback and perspectives of families and students at the front end and throughout the entire strategic planning process. Through the empathy interviews and design thinking that puts student experience at the center via the Real-Time Redesign process, it’s incredibly important to elevate the voices of families and students to ensure that their input is driving our network’s priorities.”
We hope you find the examples from the Strategy Lab members as inspiring as we do and this tool useful in your own work. Please help us share it with others!
New from @LearningAccel & @bellwethered: The Real-Time Redesign toolkit provides practical guided activities that can help schools tackle small and large challenges immediately and realistically.
The Real-Time Redesign toolkit helps schools take steps toward sustainable, equitable, & resilient learning. Check it out from @LearningAccel & @bellwethered, featuring examples from schools that made meaningful improvements during COVID-19.
The Learning Accelerator | 103 Roaring Brook RoadPortland, ME 04103
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