10 Ways Smart Cities Develop & Support Teachers

In addition to personalized learning for students the most exciting thing about the shift to digital learning is the potential to improve teachers’ conditions and careers. A recent DLN SmartSeries paper illustrated how “blended learning environments can create more and better opportunities for teacher collaboration, enable differentiated staffing and boost meaningful professional development opportunities.”
The paper also outlines three ways that digital learning is improving career options for teachers:

  • Extending the reach of excellent teachers to more students and teaching peers;
  • Expanding the ability to teach remotely allowing great teachers to reach students anywhere and to have more flexible careers; and
  • Creating more opportunities to build tools, content and services for schools.

In the course of writing three dozen Smart Cities posts, I’ve identified 10 strategies that cities are using to make teaching more attractive and to better support teachers and expand their opportunity set.
1. Preparing teacher leaders.The CityBridge-NewSchools Education Innovation Fellowship is a great developmental opportunity for teachers in Washington DC. I visited with them last week and discussed Big Blended Learning Questions.
The Blended Learning Institute is a two-year certificate program created by the NYC iZone in collaboration with Pace University.
Digital Learning Now! and iNACOL have been advocating for professional development opportunities for teachers associated with online and blended learning models.
2. Exposing new tools. Mesa, Arizona recently hosted a Tech Expo, a two day opportunity for its’ teachers to visit with edtech vendors and entrepreneurs to help teacher Innovation Teams develop strong grant proposals. It’s a great example of a district cultivating and leveraging teacher leadership.
3. Creating an Opportunity Culture. Three metro areas have joined Public Impact in an effort to implement strategies to leverage great teaching using technology:

4. Incubating innovation.  4.0 Schools in New Orleans may be the best example of incubating teacher innovation.
Smart Cities: Boston announced the unveiling of LearnLaunch, an edtech accelerator.  A month ago ImagineK12 Launched 10 More EdTech Startups in the Bay Area.
5. Building capacity.  As noted last week, PREP-KC is a great example of a metrowide college-prep capacity initiative that help teachers create work-experiences for kids and creates new career academy opportunities.
Online professional learning communities (PLC) like Share My Lesson, BetterLesson, and Edmodo are building teacher capacity. Bloomboard works with more than 100 cities to connect individual development plans with online professional development opportunities.
Teacher blogger Susan Lucille Davis mentions the importance of time, trust, and connections in What Teachers Really Want.
6. Create a livable city. Tony Hsieh and his Downtown Project in Las Vegas seek to create a vibrant dense urban core and “the most community-focused large city in the world.”
Philly and New Orleans are creating affordable housing for new teachers.
7. Safe, sane, innovative schools. The dozen EAA schools in Detroit are a great example of combining innovation and improvement strategies–and it is attracting teachers from around the country.
8.  Recruit top partners.  MindTrust in Indianapolis may be the best example of an impact organization reshaping a city and its national reputation. Core to the MindTrust strategy is working with top partners like Teach For America and The New Teacher Project. They also created The Education Entrepreneur Fellowship which (like 4.0 Schools in NOLA) is incubating innovation.
9. Support teacherpreneurs.  Baltimore’s Digital Harbor Foundation (@DHFBaltimore) is a great example of teachers taking an alternative pathway to impact.  Andrew Coy (@AndrewCoy) a teacher at Digital Harbor High School and Shelly Blake-Plock (@BlakePlock) from Johns Hopkins took over a rec center and created a Tech Center in the middle of Baltimore’s burgeoning tech scene.
New Schools for Chicago and Get Smart Schools in Denver are great examples of local capacities supporting new school development. Every city should run a new school grant program modeled on the The Next Generation Learning Challenge. See the NGLC Profiles of 20 next-gen high schools and this three part series on attributes common to NGLC grantees:

10. Opening alternative routes. Forward leaning cities (and states) open and support alternative routes to the classroom and leadership. DLN Element 6, Quality Instruction,  suggests “Educators should be prepared for specific roles – traditional, blended or online – and are then certified based on demonstrated performance.”
Pipeline partnerships, particularly in STEM, are a key talent development strategy. UTeach, part of the National Math and Science Initiative, is a rapid pathway to the STEM classroom.
Cities like Houston work hard at teacher evaluation using all available sources. That’s the right approach, but it is important, while new tools and schools are being developed, to avoid using old measures poorly applied in teacher performance evaluations. We are fond of the competency-based Summit Public Schools teacher development system. We’ve had a couple smart people address this on Getting Smart:

Digital Learning Now! is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner. Tom is a director of iNACOL. Bloomboard and Edmodo are portfolio companies of Learn Capital where Tom is a partner.  

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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