Virtual School Meanderings

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 10, 2022

What Happens When Students Own Their Learning

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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.


September 3, 2022

A New School Year

An item from a K-12 blended learning organization.

Welcome back message from Executive Director Shawn Rubin


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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

  • A New School Year message from our Executive Director Shawn Rubin
  • Explore our newest spotlight on leveraging students’ cultures and funds of knowledge to make learning meaningful
  • Highlander Institute named a National Partnership for Student Success Champion

A New School Year

Last year at around this time, I asked “can we center both joy and safety this year?” as I reflected on one of our partner school’s vision statements. As we enter the 2022-2023 school year, I find myself recommitting more than ever to words like joyful, resilient, and consistent.

We have witnessed — through the openness and generosity of our school and district partners — how the past year brought so many of our communities to the brink. But even during these times of stress and shortages, we’ve also seen how strategies that build joyful learning experiences have proven to show significant impact. We are dedicated to taking action within our spheres of control to elevate the incredible, resilient educators returning to the classroom this fall to build meaningful relationships with students. And, we are grateful for the many partner districts, schools, and organizations across the country who continue to collaborate with us. We believe that our consistent, shared focus on instructional equity will continue moving us forward, pushing past a return to the “status quo” of 2019.

We choose to imagine and implement more affirming, engaging, and empowering experiences for all educators and learners, this school year and beyond.

– Shawn Rubin, Executive Director

Teacher Practice 3.1 Leverage students' cultures and funds of knowledge to make learning meaningful

Explore Our Newest Spotlight

Everyone learns new information best when it is linked to what they already know, a concept known as “schema”. Integrating patterns of learning, knowing, and doing that are familiar to culturally and economically diverse students makes academic content easier to understand and apply on a deeper level.

Kickstart your school year by checking out our latest spotlight from the Cognitive Development domain. Discover what the research says and explore actionable strategies related to: Teacher Practice 3.1 from our instructional framework: Leverage students’ cultures and funds of knowledge to make learning meaningful.

Interested in reading more about the Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Pedagogy Framework and how it supports instructional equity? Read the blog post and research base on our website.

I'm a Champion of the National Partnership for Student Success: Welcome New Supporting Champions, logos of Aurora Institute, giveback, 12+, Highlander Institute, Citizen Schools, and AARP Foundation Experience Corps

Highlander Institute is an NPSS Champion

Highlander Institute is proud to be named as a new supporting champion of the National Partnership for Student Success (NPSS), a diverse coalition that connects nonprofits, school districts, state and local education agencies, federal agencies, philanthropy, and national and community organizations to support increased access to and implementation of student support programs, provides technical assistance and research to enhance program effectiveness, and helps to recruit AmeriCorps members and volunteers to the effort.

All students deserve the opportunities and support they need to succeed. Despite the heroic efforts of schools, educators, and families, the pandemic exacerbated educational and mental health challenges and widened long-standing inequities and opportunity gaps. To address these challenges, the President has called for Americans to become tutors, mentors, success coaches, post-secondary transition coaches, and wraparound/integrated support providers. In pursuit of this goal, the NPSS focuses on these five key, evidence-based areas to support the needs of students both in and out of school.


August 27, 2022

💡 Energizing Opportunities as the School Year Begins

An item from a K-12 blended learning organization.

Vera De Jesus encourages us to invest in trust, belonging, & awareness

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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

  • In our staff summer recommendation series, Vera De Jesus shares the essay “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” by Audre Lorde
  • Our Data Analyst Application Deadline is Approaching! Apply by August 31
  • Take the Power of Us Workforce Survey Today
  • Job Opportunities from the Rhode Island Department of Education and Robin Hood Tech + Learning Fund
Audre Lorde's essay "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House" has been inspiring me as we head into the new school year.

What We’re Reading

I love coincidences and believe that there’s often a deeper meaning behind them. During a conversation about human-centered data practices, my colleague Danielle referenced an essay by the writer Audre Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”. A few days later, I happened to come across an old printout of a poem by Lorde that a friend had sent to me years ago. I took that as a nudge to find the essay Danielle mentioned, and I’m so glad I did. The piece is rich with wisdom and insightful social critique. In particular, I want to share with you all the following quote as a key takeaway:

“Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic…Only within that interdependency of [different] strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters.”

I share this passage because of its strong connections to our CRSP Framework. When we talk about Awareness and Community Building, we strive to learn about and embrace the identities and lived experiences of every student in order to build a culture of belonging in our classroom communities. A true sense of “belonging” goes beyond passive acceptance or tolerance — it requires deep interpersonal understanding and recognition of each individual’s unique contributions to the collective.

Lorde’s words linger in my mind as we welcome a new group of young people into our classrooms this year. She reminds us that learning about our differences can be restorative rather than harmful. Seeing the wholeness of our students (and supporting them to see each other as whole people) is essential for us to build a school community that is truly inclusive, engaging, and will bring us closer to a more equitable and just society.

We're Hiring!

Seeking a Data Analyst: Apply by August 31

You may have noticed that we’re hiring a Data Analyst to expand our Impact Team! Analysts support Highlander Institute’s mission by assisting in determining the efficacy of program efforts and promoting data literacy for teachers, students, families, and education professionals in our partner schools.

This is a full-time, salaried position with full benefits, with an ideal start date of September 2022. Learn more about the role, responsibilities, and additional information through the full job description and apply directly on our website by the August 31 deadline.

From Other Organizations

Power of Us 2022 Workforce Survey: Calling All Youth Serving Professionals!

Take the Power of Us Workforce Survey Today

Millions of staff and volunteers work with young people every day in the many settings where youth play, learn, and grow outside of the school day. On athletic fields, in afterschool programs, in libraries, in faith-based institutions, youth-serving staff and volunteers are making a difference every day. Through the Power of Us Workforce Survey, youth-serving staff and volunteers can contribute to a national effort to explore, define, and elevate youth fields workforce and their essential work with youth. If we know more, we can do more to support the youth fields workforce to thrive. Take the survey today and help us spread the word!

Rhode Island Department of Education logo above Robin Hood Learning & Tech Fund logo

Job Opportunities

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