Educating for the Innovation Age

Article by Lisa Fry, Grant Wood AEA Programs & Services Administrator

The vision alive in our community is that eastern Iowa is recognized as the most progressive, cutting-edge place for learning and achievement in the nation and world. It is the place where the deepest learning, the most successful innovation and the highest achievement happens routinely.

To achieve that vision, a group of area superintendents interested in pushing educational transformation farther and faster met to craft a white paper outlining an aggressive and public approach to educational transformation, launching the Eastern Iowa Compact. The goal of the Eastern Iowa Compact is to create an educational system that engages learners and meets the needs of children, families, businesses and our community.

To do this, we must:

1. Build collaborative learning structures and opportunities.

2. Establish clear and rigorous learning targets.

3. Create personalized learning experiences that develop critical thinking, creativity and the ability to solve difficult problems.

4. Create highly flexible, customized and innovative approaches for student learning.

To realize the mission of the Eastern Iowa Compact, we need to build capacity in our communities to remove barriers to student learning. Research informs us that kindergarteners who are lower income often fall behind their higher income peers as a result of a variety of barriers that inhibit their likelihood of performing at grade level. A large number of these children will still have trouble in third grade. These gaps in achievement plague these children until high school graduation and beyond, contributing to a steady drop out rate, underemployment and unemployment.

Recognizing the importance to remove learning barriers for our children, United Way and Grant Wood AEA teamed up to offer the 21 Keys Training for High Performance Teaching and Learning. The 21 Keys training is built on the cognitive-based research of noted psychologists, providing educators the tools to understand and address thought patterns that impact professional performance and student success. An additional facilitator training was held, which allowed participants to become certified facilitators of the 21 Keys to High Performance Teaching and Learning program. Participants in this training gained strategies to effectively develop efficacy within the system while deepening their leadership skills to lead and sustain change. They also became certified facilitators who are able to train and support professionals in implementing the 21 Keys curriculum. Schools interested in bringing this training to their districts will have access to a cadre of certified facilitators from our community.

Removing barriers to learning and creating highly flexible, customized and innovative approaches for student learning requires widespread community support for change. In Jamie Vollmer’s book, Schools Cannot Do It Alone, Vollmer emphasizes that we cannot touch the educational system without touching the culture of the surrounding town as everything that goes on inside a school is tied to local attitudes, values, traditions and beliefs.

To make progress on change initiatives within our schools, we need community understanding, trust, permission and support. One initiative to assist schools in engaging stakeholder support for change is through the establishment of district Design Teams. Thirteen district teams assembled Design Teams and are currently engaged in trainings held at Grant Wood AEA designed to provide schools with tools and processes to engage internal and external stakeholders in conversation and action to create innovation age schools. These trainings are facilitated by Dr. Lisa Fry from Grant Wood AEA, Dr. Trace Pickering from Source Media, Chris Scaffidi from Inside Results, and former superintendent of the College Community Schools, Richard Whitehead.

Another initiative that provides support to the Eastern Iowa Compact is the Teacher

Leadership Academy, which was launched in June 2012. The Academy, offered through Grant Wood AEA, is designed to build collective self-efficacy of teacher leaders to meet the ever increasing demands that are placed on them, to develop an understanding of the impact school culture plays in both individual and collective performance, and to assist teachers in creating a constructive school culture that inspires all to perform their best. Participants are engaged in a year-long program, learning about current trends in education and ways to build shared leadership across a building for the purpose of implementing innovative practices focused on improving student learning. Many members of the educational and business communities have already begun to pledge their support to these efforts by signing the Eastern Iowa Compact. All members of the community are encouraged to do the same to help create the synergy and support schools need to implement change. You can pledge your support by signing the compact at www.commitandact4kids.org.

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