Three Steps to Get Ready for Change

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Located in southeastern Massachusetts approximately halfway between Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, the North Attleborough Public Schools is dedicated to partnering with families and the community to provide a respectful, caring, safe, and supportive environment that actively engages and challenges our students and staff to reach their full potential.  In the spring of 2017, the North Attleborough Public School District embarked on three distinct, yet connected initiatives aimed at supporting that goal.  While these initiatives are still underway, they provide a solid base from which we can undertake shifts in teaching and learning. 

The first of these ongoing initiatives is the integration into our curriculum of the Understanding by Design framework, which heightens the rigor of instruction and helps better focus teaching on the development and deepening of student understanding and transfer of learning.  In addition, the district also conducted a review of our efforts to support student social-emotional learning (SEL) and following that, we began to embed SEL competencies into our written and taught curriculum. Finally, we studied and began to embed the relatively new Massachusetts Digital Literacy and Computer Science (DLCS) curriculum frameworks  into our written and taught curriculum, providing teachers, students, and families with clear and shared expectations for what all students should know and be able to do at the end of each year in these critical disciplines.

A critical piece of our effort to successfully implement these connected initiatives was the creation of dynamic digital learning environments that mirror how our students connect with and use technologies and media outside the classroom.  To help create the learning environments we needed, our superintendent, Scott C. Holcomb, was able to fast track our plans of going 1:1 in the district.  We started by providing laptops to all teachers and then, by November of 2018, we not only met our goal of 1:1 Chromebook in grades 6-8, but also purchased Chromebooks for students in grades 4 and 5 throughout the district.  As a result, we were also able to increase the availability of mobile laptop carts in the lower grades by repurposing the middle, high school, and intermediate grade mobile labs for use at the lower elementary levels.

This series of rapid changes was met with both enthusiasm and trepidation across the district.  I can categorically say that the North Attleborough Public School District educators realize that technology would help prepare our students for 21st century college and career, and that their dedication to making all our efforts to transform teaching and learning in the district never wavered.  However, adult understanding of HOW to combine our new curricula and technologies to maximize student learning varied.  Likewise, we did not want to create “initiative fatigue” among our district teachers.

So, school administrators and teacher-leaders collaborated and took a number of steps to connect our initiatives in a way that would allow them to complement each other as it prepared our team for the teaching and learning revolution we desired.  Here are the three major steps we took:

We migrated from Microsoft Office to a suite of Google services, designating Google as the one central platform from which we educators and students would operate.  While the district had been using Microsoft Teams and Onenote with some success, we believed we could do better.  So, after extensive research, we settled on a comprehensive suite of Google services as our district’s learning platform.  The Google services were easy to adopt, as they are both simple to navigate and familiar to many thanks to personal use outside the classroom. We further enhanced user knowledge with extensive and differentiated professional development.  Google Classroom has been embraced by teachers and students who use it to differentiate and collaborate. The adoption of Google by educators district wide provided a single, “go-to” location for district documents and information.

We began building capacity across the district in three important groups.  The first group was our Blended and Personalized Learning Cohort, which is made up of 24 change agent teachers across the district (8 each from elementary, middle and high school levels). The cohort meets regularly with our partners in full day learning sessions as well as on 1:1 instructional support days. Together, they have developed common understandings of student engagement, differentiation and personalization. 

We’ve also worked with our High School Curriculum and Instructional Leaders.  Similar to department heads, this group of 8 excellent teacher-leaders received coaching designed to build their own blended and personalized learning toolbox and their coach has supported them in building capacity in their departments.  Finally, we’ve provided professional learning to our Leadership Team, which consists of all principals and assistant principals and district leaders.

Choosing a partner to help us in our effort to build capacity in these three constituencies was an important step and we are pleased to have selected Discovery Education as our partner.  As we’ve used their supplemental digital content service and digital science and social studies curriculums for some time, we were familiar with their work, and equally important, they were familiar with us and what we were trying to accomplish.  Together, we’ve created a great partnership that is helping our educators create the learning experiences our students need for future success.

We clearly and succinctly articulated the North Attleborough Public School District’s educational goals. To help our team understand where we were going, how we were going to get there, and why we were changing in the first place, we created a succinct description of our goals and a vision for meeting those goals.  This vision was shared with teachers, students, parents, administrators, community members and other stakeholders.  This message was encapsulated in the North Attleborough Learning Logo (below), which was created by one of our amazing teachers who also happens to be a graphic artist.  This visual united our initiatives under the umbrella of Deeper Learning and has proven to be a powerful way to build cohesion among our district initiatives--and educators.

These three steps--migrating to an easy to use collaborative platform, building district capacity for using digital resources in classroom instruction, and sharing with all members of our the North Attleborough Public Schools team a simple, easy to understand representation of our educational goals--has, I believe, prepared the school system to embrace instructional shifts.  The future in the North Attleborough Public Schools is bright-and it is coming fast!

Dr. Lori McEwen is the Assistant Superintendent at North Attleborough Public Schools. Her rich background includes teaching and leadership roles in suburban, urban and charter school districts.  In addition, Dr. McEwen has provided educators’ professional learning on creating PLCs, distributing leadership, revising curriculum and assessments, and teacher leadership.  You can contact Dr. McEwen at lmcewen@naschools.net.