The opportunity to design schools to promote whole child development is expressed in a framework from Turnaround for Children. The five design principles include “positive relationships, environments filled with safety and belonging, integrated supports, the intentional development of critical skills, mindsets and habits that all successful learners have, and rich meaningful instructional experiences so that students discover what they are capable of.”
With Altitude Learning and for the Texas Learning Exchange, we are building on Turnaround’s complication of learning science and cataloging innovative school models. We spotted and tagged features of innovative schools in eight dimensions. New school models innovate in one or more of these dimensions. They may not have a long track record of success but their early practices and results are promising.
1. Outcomes: how student learning goals are expressed. Outcomes may be innovative in the way they are described, the group they target, or the level strived for:
- Success skills: Summit Public Schools has a broader definition of success and a comprehensive outcome framework based on Turnaround’s Building Blocks for Learning. Hundreds of districts have adopted a Portrait of a Graduate based on 21st Century Skills.
- Theme: outcomes may be expressed in reference to a specific career pathways (like health, computer science, or energy) or community outcomes such as bilingual and bicultural.
- Purpose: schools focused on making a difference like Ignite Middle School in Dallas where they “tap into each student’s unlimited potential to grow into unstoppable forces for positive change in the world.”
- Population: targeting a specific group of learners in the way DaVinci Rise supports youth navigating foster care, housing instability, or the juvenile justice system or the way Young Women’s Preparatory Network supports leadership development.
- Level: including college credit/degrees (Early College High Schools) and adding high tech work experience (P-TECH).
2. Learning model: how learning experiences are authored, organized and sequenced. Examples of learning models that feature engaging and innovative learning experiences include:
- Team-taught integrated projects (New Tech Network)
- Projects and personalized learning (Purdue Polytechnic High in Indianapolis, IDEA in Dallas, Harmony Public Schools)
- Community-connected design projects (One Stone, Place Network)
- Design projects (School of Innovation, Design39, Design Tech High, High Tech High, Vista Innovation and Design Academy)
- Four years of internships (Big Picture Learning)
- Career curriculum and paid internships (NAF)
- AMP – Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose from El Segundo Unified School District
3. Social and emotional learning: whole child development, as Turnaround notes, combines positive relationships, safe learning environments, integrated supports, and skill building. Examples include:
- Valor Collegiate Academies places human development at the core with environments filled with safety and belonging. The Valor day begins with Compass Circles where facilitators promote mindfulness and social and emotional skills.
- Social and emotional skills are developed in a team-based advisory system called Crew in EL Education schools. Learning expeditions (projects) involve students in original research, critical thinking, and problem-solving, and character development with a focus on contributing to a better world.
- SEL is at the heart of equity-centered systems and structures in Austin ISD, where they are “working hard to create brave, respectful, collaborative spaces to support all students, staff, families, and communities.”
4. Competency: how learning is measured, communicated, how learners progress through the system, and how they share their progress and capabilities.
- Mastery learning through integrated project-based learning (Highland Academy)
- Individual goal setting and learning progressions (Lindsay Unified School District and PL Prep in Dallas ISD)
- Schools that value authentic performance assessment and industry-recognized credentials (Leadership Schools Network)
- Schools that help youth build digital transcripts that reflect unique histories, strengths, abilities, and interests (Mastery Transcript Consortium)
5. Diversity, equity, and inclusion: how diverse learners are welcomed and supported in their learning journey. Examples include:
- Crosstown High in Memphis and High Tech High in San Diego are intentionally diverse in location, outreach, enrollment, culture, and learning.
- Brooklyn LAB serves a high poverty community where a third of the learners have special/complex needs. They developed The Educating All Learners Alliance to share inclusive tools and strategies.
- The Learner Variability Navigator from Digital Promise helps teacher teams recognize symptoms and build strategies. Common Sense Media provides DEI resources.
6. Organization of time and staffing: innovative ways of organizing learning experiences, schedules, supports, and staff. Examples include:
- To support high dose tutoring, Brooklyn LAB pioneered the LAB Corps Fellowship, a residential talent development model.
- Schools in the Opportunity Culture network share a system of multi-classroom leadership that provides both a talent development ladder and better support for junior teachers.
- There are more than 150 teacher-powered public schools where teacher teams have the autonomy to lead their site.
- Boston Day and Evening Academy have proficiency-based pathways that allow students to progress based on demonstrated mastery rather than seat time. Students benefit from wraparound services, digital tools that help create a personalized approach, and a school open 12 hours a day.
- Bedford County Public Schools has eliminated master schedules at secondary schools, instead of assigning 12-15 students to a “learning coach” who meets with students routinely to promote connectedness and to develop flexible schedules that meet the needs of each learner.
7. Tools: learning platforms and applications that support innovative practices. Examples include:
- One Stone in Boise uses a mobile social learning app ThriveCast to promote priority skills in support of a mastery transcript.
- New Tech Network schools share Echo, a project-based learning platform.
- Lindsay USD and Highland Academy support competency-based progressions with Empower Learning.
- Energy Institute High uses corporate level mathematical and scientific problem-solving simulations. Thousands of schools use Concord Consortium modeling, analysis, and simulation tools.
- Design 39 Campus and Odyssey STEM Academy uses the Altitude Learning platform to design experiences and capture competency-based evidence aligned to their unique outcome framework.
8. Theory of Change: unique entry points or partnerships, productive scaling strategies, and networks. Examples include:
- Tiny start: 4.0 Schools helps edupreneurs pilot their learning model in an afterschool or summer school program.
- Start small: Kettle Moraine School District launched three microschools to initiate high school transformation. Each started with a couple of teachers and a few dozen students and together they grew into almost half of the high school enrollment.
- Dallas ISD supports new schools with Innovation Engine grants and personalized learning support. Denver’s Imaginarium supports new and transformed schools.
- Community as classroom: Tacoma School of the Arts was the first of a network of three schools to leverage community resources.
- New format: Prenda is a new way to think about remote learning. small groups (pods) of 5-10 students meeting in homes, churches, community centers, or workspaces.
Most innovative schools combine two or more of these dimensions. Examples include:
- Building 21 in Philadelphia is building a network (#8) around an innovative outcome framework (#1) and learning model (#2), competency assessments (#4) with strong relationships where every student is known and understood (#3).
- San Diego Met offers students four years of Internships while earning an AA degree with a high school diploma. Gateway to College helps disconnected youth earn an AA with a high school diploma.
- Solar Prep is a Dallas ISD PK-6 (soon to be PK-8) girls school with a 50/50 socioeconomic diversity blend featuring blended and hands-on STEAM learning including robotics and coding.
The sudden shift to remote learning in March exhibited the limitations and inequities of current learning models while promoting newfound agility. The nine-month struggle to deliver learning experiences under duress made clear to many the potential for new school models. Efforts to launch new schools and transform existing schools around these eight dimensions may be a benefit of the crisis.
For more, see:
- Your School Has Left the Building
- Turning Dead Malls into Community Assets
- Human Work: Learn Stuff Computers Can’t Do
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To help inform and deliver new agreements, new practices and new tools Getting Smart and eduInnovation are exploring the Invention Opportunity thanks to support from the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The findings and conclusions contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the foundations.
Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures, please see our Partner page.