How I became an active learner at ASCD “Empower18”

Did you miss the ASCD conference? No worries; here's what happened

As ASCD “Empower18” kicked off in Boston on Friday, March 23 I knew the four days were going to be “wicked awesome”—I mean, come on!—it’s Boston. But somehow, the event toped even my highest expectations.

I was motivated to be both a learner and a leader at this year’s ASCD conference. In his keynote, Manny Scott said, “Be a student for your students,” so I prided myself on learning outside of my comfort zone as well as chances to learn within it. I became an active learner and I wanted to maximize every opportunity during this event.

There were so many sessions that matched various interests. My two must-haves: #CultureEd Panel and Unleashing Teacher-Led Innovation in Schools: Practical Tools That Have Real Impact. The common themes were taking risks in teaching and learning and letting your students’ creativity and discovery learning take center stage.

Learning from others

A few other impactful learning sessions included:

• Upgrading Your PBL Practice: New Support for Project-Based Teaching
• Inspiring Disadvantaged and At-Risk Students’ Character and Best Work Through Purpose and SEL
• Implementing Differentiating Instruction: Tips for Mentoring Teachers
• MASCD Ignite: Igniting the Learning of the Whole Child in Massachusetts, in which 10 amazing educators shared Ignite presentations on a range of topics including being a superhero educator to school-based programs.

Personal highlights

Some of the other highlights for me were listening to Carol Ann Tomlinson talking about differentiation, Todd Whitaker on school culture, and Steven Anderson digging deep about technology. The “whole child” theme was the foundation of all the learning at “Empower18.” ASCD is dedicated to excellence in learning, teaching, and leading so that every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. We heard the following two statements and observed them in practice many times in sessions, learning labs, poster presentations, and the keynote:

• Every child is entitled to the promise of a teacher’s optimism, enthusiasm, time, and energy.
• A great educator never achieves greatness for himself or his class by working to make all his students alike. Educators should be champions of every student who enters the schoolhouse doors.

But how? This is where we as learners take the knowledge, skills, strategies, and experiences from ASCD and put it into our own work. As a district and edtech leader, here are some of the themes from ASCD “Empower18” that resonated most for me. I will use them to motivate my work and inspire others to be the best we can be for our students.

(Next page: An inside look at ASCD “Empower18”)


The New Librarian: Using advocacy to promote leadership

Here are a few steps you can take to empower your librarians

[Editor’s note: Welcome to our new series, The New Librarian. In this series, we will be profiling innovative and award-winning library media specialists who will share their favorite tools, lessons, and advice. If you are or know a librarian we should write about, send a note to]  


As innovation coordinator for instructional technology, information & library media at Parkway School District in St. Louis, Missouri, Bill Bass has long demonstrated his commitment to 21st-century learning. He believes that the only way to deliver a dynamic student learning experience is by empowering his librarians to be leaders in everything they do.

Bass has earned numerous awards, including being named an NSBA “20 to Watch” and an ISTE Making IT Happen award. He was recently elected ISTE president for 2019.

Bass says one of the biggest things he offers his librarians is that of a constant voice advocating for them as leaders when it comes to literacy, instruction, and technology. He urges administrators to think differently about the way libraries are used and the role of the librarian in the digital age.

Here are some ways he advocates for his librarians.

Listen to empower.
“As a district administrator, my role is to set priorities and vision for our program while helping to navigate new challenges,” he says. “Since this means different things in different buildings, I must constantly listen to and intentionally garner feedback from each piece of the greater community to be effective.”

To him, listening means creating multiple opportunities for professional learning for librarians so they can stay in front of trends and be able to provide answers when students, teachers, and parents come to them for help and support.

From the moment Bass stepped into his current role, he started asking his librarians, “What does it mean to be a librarian in the digital age?” While it may not be a question with a single answer, Bass believes every librarian should readily have his or her own answer.

(Next page: More ways to empower your librarians)


The 3 superpowers of collaborative nonfiction writing

Writing with their peers motivates students and gives teachers multiple opportunities to provide feedback and assess authentic learning

Kids love to tell and share stories, but writing nonfiction is different, because they have to take concepts or events and not only understand them, but convey that information in writing. For many kids, it’s hard enough to show what they know verbally, but having to develop and then convey their thoughts and levels of understanding in writing can be very difficult.

When I taught middle-school English language arts and science, I remember taking over a classroom that had an old cabinet filled with science class materials, including bags of mini-marshmallows and boxes of toothpicks. (Apparently, students had used these items to create models of water molecules.) I’m a fan of a creating multiple paths, including a tactile approach, to teaching and assessing students’ levels of understanding. However, with all the standardized tests they take nowadays, kids can’t just make molecules out of marshmallows. They need to convey their understanding of concepts in writing, and teachers must help students build writing skills.

Here are three ways that collaborative nonfiction writing can be a powerful literacy tool, as well as some tips for teachers who are just getting started.

1. Instant and ongoing feedback
With a shared online platform like Google Docs, kids work independently and teachers have multiple opportunities to offer personalized feedback and additional instruction. Students get feedback when they submit their work, and teachers can revisit the final version of an assignment after the feedback. As a former special education teacher, I love the scaffolding and support that comes with this process of multiple revisions.

(Next page: How and why to bring collaborative nonfiction writing into your classroom)


How to take a student-centered approach to classroom AV

Creating an atmosphere that’s an extension of a real-world digital environment can help boost engagement and achievement

Schools are increasingly moving toward personalized and adaptive learning programs. The idea of tailoring teaching styles, materials, and approaches to individual students promises deeper engagement and better academic outcomes.

Technology plays a leading role in making personalized learning possible. In previous generations, the ratio of one teacher to a few dozen students made an adaptive approach almost impossible, but today’s students can engage with curriculum in new ways. For example, many schools have adopted one-to-one initiatives in which each student receives a tablet or laptop for educational use.

In addition to school-issued devices, many students also carry at least one personal electronic device with them to class each day. Today’s typical student is adept at a wide variety of devices, from smartphones to wearable technology. To keep pace with the students’ technology-rich world outside the classroom, it’s important for schools to use audiovisual (AV) technology that meets—and exceeds—those expectations.

Essential AV elements

Because the majority of students carry a high-definition screen in their pockets, bright, vivid high-definition displays in the classroom have become a necessity. Rather than following the traditional model of a single display at the front of a classroom, consider specifics such as room size, teacher preferences, and student needs to make sure the AV technology fits into wider plans for the classroom.

(Next page: How to choose the right AV products for your schools)


7 grants for STEM and technology

Got funding troubles? These grants can help your school or district sustain important initiatives

School leaders consistently identify high costs and shrinking budgets as a top barrier to implementing new technology tools and programs.

And while budget woes won’t improve overnight, schools and districts can boost their available funds with grants that are targeted to different areas of need.

Want to support science teachers or encourage engineering? Do you need to promote STEM learning opportunities? Or maybe you want to extend opportunities for partnerships between K-12 and the science community.

Look no further. We’ve got 7 grant opportunities to meet various levels of funding needs.

(Next page: 7 STEM and ed-tech grants)


8 benefits of cloud-printing solutions

In the last two years, cloud printing has become quick, efficient, and affordable. Here's why you might want to look into it

It has been nearly 600 years since the printing press was invented. With this much history behinds us, why is printing across all the schools in a district so challenging?

There needs to be a better and easier way, as printing is an essential element for any education ecosystem.

A quick history of printing

Behind the click of the “print” button to the actual printer output is a complicated infrastructure that can wreak havoc if not set up properly. Printers need to be functional and loaded with supplies, staff and students must have proper access to the right printer, we must support an ever-growing pool of school and personal devices, and it must all be done affordably.

Recent private-sector innovation, driven by a more mobile workforce and the rapid growth of co-working spaces, has brought about print-management solutions with tools we can leverage to make districts future ready.

(Next page: The benefits of cloud printing)


Are K-12 data systems ready for AI?

Here are some steps districts need to take before taking on AI

As educators who love technology, we can barely contain our enthusiasm for the potential applications of artificial intelligence (AI). But AI requires massive amounts of data, so before jumping on the AI bandwagon we need to:

  • reflect on the kinds of data that would make teaching more effective and improve learning outcomes;
  • consider the systems that will allow us to collect and manage the data; and
  • create processes to share and analyze the data.

Most districts do not yet have the foundation to make the leap to AI (other than what is already embedded in the apps and programs they’re currently using). Schools still exhibit a lack of maturity around data collection that should make us cautious about AI. There are also algorithmic bias and equity issues that need to be resolved before we move to wide-scale AI adoption. For most districts, spending money on AI over the next three to five years would be money down the drain. The ecosystems to support AI implementation are simply not yet in place in most schools and districts.

5 essential questions to test your district’s AI readiness

Before moving to AI, districts need to systematically build their digital landscape to get the full benefit of the technology they’re already using. Let’s begin with some basic questions:

  1. What kinds of data can help us make decisions to improve learning outcomes?
  2. Which programs can help us collect valid data and manage it safely?
  3. Is “adaptive” content always beneficial or is it sometimes more important to let teachers or students decide what comes next?
  4. What kind of feedback is the most valuable for student growth?
  5. When is an intervention a positive action and when does it eliminate constructive struggle, which is at the heart of deeper learning?

(Next page: How to evaluate your district’s data readiness for AI)


Three steps to developing an engaging summer school curriculum

To reach these children, we must think outside the box while planning lessons

Summer school can be a daunting time for educators. Many struggle to create a concise curriculum that effectively teaches material while meeting the shortened timeline of summer school. Some find it challenging to override the distraction of summer fun for students—especially students who struggled to concentrate during the school year. One of the main challenges that educators face is adjusting their approaches on teaching to meet the needs of summer school students whose performance during the year necessitated summer school in the first place.

Since these students didn’t learn up to standards during the school year, why approach summer school lesson planning the same way you’d approach the main curriculum? To reach these children, we must think outside the box while planning lessons. During my 30 years as an educator, principal, executive director, and superintendent, I’ve developed three key steps to consider while developing a unique, engaging summer school curriculum for the students who need it.

Step 1: Plan a curriculum that creates a self-contained classroom.
During the academic year, many students find themselves in an inclusive classroom. This is a great environment for many learners, but some students find themselves in summer school because the inclusive approach was not best suited to their needs: There may have been distractions, or the inherent “teach to the middle” strategy didn’t work for kids on the ends of the learning spectrum. Summer school brings together students with varying cognitive abilities, learning styles, and academic strengths and weaknesses. A lesson plan that creates a self-contained classroom allows for greater academic support for the students who don’t in the average inclusive classroom.

(Next page: How to plan a targeted summer school curriculum and more)


3 tips for jumpstarting your district’s connectivity discussion

Now is the time to start the connectivity conversation with your school district

This year’s E-rate cycle may be over, but in order to be well prepared for the next one, now is the time to start the connectivity conversation with your school district. In today’s classrooms, high-speed internet is no longer an option; it has become a necessity.

Digital learning helps students grasp concepts more fully, and not having access to the wealth of information found in online videos, apps, and curriculum puts these students at an immediate disadvantage to their connected peers. As schools increasingly turn to digital learning, all classrooms must have reliable, fast internet connections in order to prepare students sufficiently for future challenges like college and the job market.

While dramatic progress has been made in closing the connectivity gap in our public schools, there are still 6.5 million K-12 students who lack access to high-speed classroom internet, leaving them unprepared or underprepared for the world’s digital expectations.

School districts play a key role in continuing to bridge that gap, which is why planning for greater connectivity is so crucial.

So how can school districts begin these connectivity conversations? Here are three questions to help start the discussions:

1. What deals have internet providers offered other school districts in your area?
Understanding your district’s broadband costs is important, whether you’re inquiring for your own reference or to convince colleagues of the importance of a network upgrade. You can find that comparative district pricing on Compare & Connect K-12, a first-of-its kind free online tool that offers unprecedented transparency into nationwide school district broadband and bandwidth-pricing data. You may find that your pricing is comparable to similarly sized districts in your area. If it is higher, however, it may be time to search for a new provider or negotiate with your current one.

(Next page: More tips for jumpstarting the connectivity discussion)


Everything you ever need to know about interoperability standards

Want to greatly reduce the time spent manually uploading rosters? Here's how

Digital systems need to work together to meet your district’s needs, but today’s digital learning environment is disjointed. The ever-growing number of tools do not seamlessly integrate into the learning environment, thus making it time consuming for teachers to innovate and personalize instruction. Luckily, there is a way to greatly reduce the time spent manually uploading rosters so that teachers can access digital learning tools and content, search multiple platforms to find the right resources, link them in the learning platform, and automate the pass back of grades from various digital tools into their gradebook system.

How does a school district make these things possible? One way is by using IMS Global interoperability standards to achieve a successfully integrated digital ecosystem.

A quick guide to interoperability

1. What is interoperability?
Interoperability refers to the notion of different digital software systems, like a student information system, a learning management system, and digital content from a publisher, all working together automatically without any need for custom coding or complicated manual processes to get data from one system into another system.

IMS Global Learning Consortium is a non-profit member collaborative that includes more than 60 K-12 districts and state departments of education, 115 higher education institutions, and 300 edtech companies who work together to develop agreed-upon ways (aka interoperability standards) of transmitting information from one system to the next. IMS members are leading the effort to rapidly advance an edtech ecosystem in which students and teachers have better options for digital tools that work together and result in more effective teaching and learning.

(Next page: More insight and how to get started on the interoperability path)