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Developing a Culture of Experimentation

“It’s not pilot, then scale everywhere. We are developing a culture where experimenting can happen.” (Deagan Andrews)

Overview

Challenge: How to provide individual or groups of teachers opportunities to drive their own investigation and acquisition of new digital tools or digital content.

Context: Greeley-Evans Weld County School District 6, a district of 27 public schools located near Fort Collins, Colorado, has focused on whole-school transformation models as a pathway for scaling blended instruction through its classrooms. Leaders championing this work, however, have also provided opportunities for motivated teachers to try new digital tools or blended learning practices in their classrooms on their own time and in their own way.

Action Steps: Greeley-Evans leaders believed that if teachers had support to experiment with new tools or practices, it would provide meaningful feedback for the system as a whole to learn about what works for Greeley-Evans students. It would also give teachers an opportunity to go at their own pace, even if their school as a whole had not yet adopted these practices.

With that in mind, teachers (either individually or in groups) were offered a process to propose the digital content they wanted to implement, and for what purpose, in their classrooms. These proposals were sometimes supported by district funds or, more commonly, by discretionary funds from their school principal. Teachers had to demonstrate that the content met at least one of the following criteria:

  • Tight feedback loops: students receive immediate feedback using a combination of digital tools and direct teacher feedback.
  • Targeted small group instruction: students receive small group and individual support tailored to their learning needs.
  • Quality student-to-student interaction: students engage in sustained academic conversations with their peers.
  • Student ownership: students are clear about where they are in their learning progression and become the drivers pushing to meet their learning goals. Students are provided some level of control over the pace, place, path, and time of their learning.

Teachers then reported back to the district the results of their trial based on the extent to which they could show evidence of student learning and improved achievement. Deagan Andrews, the director of instructional technology, explains that the district’s next step is to offer teachers a way to learn from their peers’ experiments so they can adopt the content that has been the most successful.