Donna McDaniel on Real World Learning

Donna McDaniel

On this episode of the Getting Smart podcast, we sit down with Donna McDaniel to discuss professional learning and a new initiative in Kansas City called Real World Learning.

Donna McDaniel is a longtime educator that has bridged the worlds of business and education. Through experience in numerous school settings as well as Sprint, Donna has invaluable experience for knowing the ins-and-outs of what qualifies as real-world skills. She took this knowledge to create the CAPS program in the Blue Valley School District which has gone on to create a network of more than 70 professional learning-centric schools in the United States.

Donna is now supporting Kansas City’s Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation as they seek to implement a novel regional movement towards ensuring that all students graduate with valuable professional experiences. Let’s listen in as Tom talks with Donna about her journey, the importance of professional learning and market value assets.

Donna began her career studying elementary education with a minor in special education. Her own personal experience with amazing teachers enabled her to thrive despite her struggles with reading and dyslexia. These relationships and experiences empowered her to follow the path of inspiring learners and helping them recognize purpose and potential.

Donna grew up in an entrepreneurial household — an essential piece of her overall journey. This intimacy with entrepreneurship has helped Donna to bridge the worlds of education, career readiness and entrepreneurial mindset.

A few years ago Susan Walley from Prep KC suggested that all students should graduate with experiences valuable to them and the community, she called them Market Value Assets. They include internships, client connected projects, entrepreneurial experiences, industry-recognized credentials, and college credit. This aspiration created a regional effort for what is now called the Real World Learning Initiative, a unique partnership between districts, businesses and organizations.

Key Takeaways:

[:10] About today’s episode with Donna McDaniel.
[1:00] Tom welcomes Donna McDaniel to the podcast.
[2:35] Going in the “wayback machine,” Donna shares why she decided to study education in Kansas City.
[3:40] What attracted Donna to being a teacher (and later, a school leader) as someone who used to personally struggle in school.
[4:21] Where Donna started her career in education.
[4:59] Rashawn reflects on her early career in education and how her and Donna’s paths have aligned.
[5:19] About Donna’s pivot from the world of business to the world of education and why she believes this experience was crucial in her ability to lead in education.
[7:26] The origin story of Blue Valley’s program, CAPS.
[9:42] Rashawn shares her experience with CAPS.
[10:10] How CAPS helps students develop an entrepreneurial mindset.
[13:20] CAPS is a next-generation career center. Donna further describes what the program itself looks like.
[14:56] Tom shares his appreciation for CAPS and how it has become a national movement in real-world learning.
[15:46] How did the idea of “market value assets” from Susan Wally turn into a regional initiative sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation?
[20:02] Rashawn speaks of the key pieces in real-world learning and what she most loves about the initiative.
[21:00] Donna shares why she believes that this real-world learning initiative has had such strong, positive support across the region.
[23:11] Which kinds of high schools are involved in the initiative and how many are involved in the initiative?
[24:21] Donna shares a specific example of how the initiative has had an impact on a school that was greater than expected.
[26:19] Tom highlights some rural communities and schools that have successfully modeled real-world learning experiences.
[27:55] Challenges that high schools have faced trying to expand access to real-world learning.
[30:45] As a district leader in Kansas City, Rashawn shares her perspective on the challenges of trying to create real-world learning experiences in a classroom.
[33:00] Does Donna find the commissioners of Missouri and Kansas to be generally supportive of what the districts are trying to do?
[34:41] Donna elaborates on how she has been a strong advocate across the region for getting students core credits for real-world learning opportunities.
[36:03] Could this real-world initiative be replicated in other states?
[37:04] What does Donna hope to see in the next five years as it relates to real-world learning?
[39:07] Tom underscores one of his favorite parts about the real-world learning initiative.
[40:05] Donnas shares how she thinks the pandemic has created even more of an opportunity to create jobs.
[41:13] Tom thanks Donna for her leadership and for joining the podcast!
[41:51] Rashawn shares some parting thoughts about the real-world initiative.
[42:31] Donna shares some parting words and gives her thanks to Getting Smart.

Mentioned in This Episode:

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

Subscribe to Our Podcast

This podcast highlights developing trends in K-12 education, postsecondary and lifelong learning. Each week, Getting Smart team members interview students, leading authors, experts and practitioners in research, tech, entrepreneurship and leadership to bring listeners innovative and actionable strategies in education leadership.

Find us on:


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.