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Centralizing Design Capabilities to Drive Decentralized School Strategies

“People think of district change as a three-year move, but it’s not. We have to think about long-term sustainability.” (Deagan Andrews)

Overview

Challenge: How to support school autonomy in a structured way.

Context: Central office leaders in Greeley-Evans Weld County School District 6, CO, developed a core capability to run design sessions to help schools create their own personalized visions and implementation strategies around personalization. These design sessions are individualized for each school and its individual needs, but all schools explore:

  • Their objectives for what skills they want their students to develop
  • A vision statement for the school
  • Areas that they need to improve, based on student data

Action Steps: Rather than prescribe a particular blended learning model, says Deagan Andrews, Director of Instructional Technology, the district instead uses four key goals to unify school redesign:

  1. Student ownership,
  2. Quality student-to-student interaction,
  3. Targeted small groups,
  4. Tight feedback loops.

These goals serve as the boundary constraints for school design sessions. Schools can then design their own pathway to achieve these goals. Design sessions contain the following components:

  1. Mandatory foundations training for targeted design teams of 6-12 members (including principals or assistant principals).
    1. Mandatory half-day training to deepen understanding of blended learning concepts
    2. Independent learning (for example, using the Relay Graduate School of Education blended learning modules)
  2. Half-day design thinking workshop where design teams learn the basic principles of design thinking and apply the process to their own school redesign. Andrews explains: “People don’t realize that the design thinking process leads people through change management. People build on each other’s thinking, become clearer where they’re going, and reflect on what systems and processes that will get them there.”
  3. In post-design session meetings, design teams reflect on their goals and develop an implementation plan with central staff. Together, the team explores their central problem of practice, their instructional goals, and what digital tools may enable them to succeed.
  4. A “Steps to Launch” training where design teams look at the practical steps necessary to launch their school-wide initiative.

As of Spring 2018, 25 out of 25 schools in the district had gone through the process. Says Andrews, “Going personalized has opened a door for creative, thoughtful people to be open and creative and thoughtful again. The work is mentally engaging. Those embers started to burn and spread to different grade levels. Giving schools freedom to design is part of that process.”