Is Your School Asking Big Questions?

July 15, 2020 Jackie Christensen

A boy with his hand raised during a remote learning lesson.

A common thread at UC20—Blackbaud’s annual private school tech conference—featured speakers encouraging educators to use this moment in time and its unique challenges to shift how we guide students through their educational journey. Instead of the current system of accruing points and distilling performance to averages, speakers called for actionable, data-driven feedback by communicating competency on the skills necessary for students to attain their full intellectual potential.   

In “The Five Key Contexts for Designing Post-Pandemic Classrooms,” K–12 thought leaders and authors Will Richardson and Homa Tavangar challenged schools to seize the current opportunity for change. They encouraged educators to ask big questions and to interrogate every part of the school ethos, being intentional about what remains in a post-COVID-19 classroom and what no longer serves our students best.  

In the following clip from their presentation, Tavangar acknowledges the challenge of enduring the discomfort of change while also issuing the reassurance that it’s time to do the hard work. She explains that the “test of this moment is to see if we can maintain the momentum towards justice, realizing our next stage in the process, towards lifting our schools to the place we know our world needs.”

Richardson emphasized that proactive learners will have the most opportunity, and educators must ensure students can learn their way through the world. Therefore, schools must shift their purpose from seeing kids as passive recipients of a prescriptive curriculum to developing students who take advantage of learning opportunities and become problem solvers

We can’t expect kids to develop into self-driven learners without unlocking their intrinsic motivation to do the hard work of learning, providing relevant data so they have a clear understanding of their strengths and their opportunities to grow. A key to building the growth mindset is by developing the personal connections that come from understanding students’ personal goals, completely accepting who they are, and celebrating the educational process—not the outcome.  

In “The Journey to CBE: Aligning Teaching and Learning to the School's Mission,” Mike Peller, the assistant head of school for teaching and learning at The White Mountain School, further explained why it is now more than ever critically important to shift towards competency-based education. As he says in the following clip, if we want our next generation of students to make headway on challenges such as global pandemics, climate change, and systemic racial injustice, then we need to assess and measure what matters and provide meaningful guidance to develop relevant skills.  

In the following excerpt, Peller shared the story of Sam, a typical student taught to focus on the extrinsic motivation of making points to achieve a grade versus a more meaningful experience that provides space for her to reflect and have a deeper connection to her educational journey. 

Jessica Lahey, an experienced teacher, author, and education journalist, defined intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation in her talk, “The Gift of Failure: Fostering Intrinsic Motivation and Resilience in Kids,” where she explains that extrinsic motivators undermine student’s interest in learning.

Another key takeaway from Lahey’s talk is the importance of the student-teacher relationship. Regardless of how schooling is delivered this fall—whether face-to-face or remotely—educators must work to find that common ground with each student by understanding their learning goals and honoring them as individuals.   

For students, exposure to educational content isn’t enough. Lahey explains in the following clip that the personal connection made though the student-teacher relationship drives deep understanding and knowledge retention. Teachers then have the opportunity to guide students through desirable difficulties. By showing students they are capable of persevering through difficult challenges, their potential is unlocked. 

In “Relationships Matter: Using Data-Informed Decisions to Drive Student Success,” Talithia Williams, a mathematician, author, and college professor, echoes the importance of teachers creating a bond of trust with students. She also delves into the critical nature of providing teachers with access to aggregate learning data so they can help students overcome their academic weaknesses.

At Blackbaud, we strive to provide solutions that help schools evolve. Our new competency-based education functionality, piloted by forward-thinking educators such as Mike Peller at White Mountain School, enables schools to seize the opportunity to transform education, and the new Learning Progression report delivers the aggregate data for teachers to assess learning outcomes. 

As Richardson prompted: Is your school asking big questions? 

About the Author

Jackie Christensen

Currently serving as a product management manager, Jackie Christensen has been a member of Blackbaud K–12's product development team since the inception of the education management solutions. In fact, she was on site with the first school to launch our LMS and SIS. She loves the journey of working with schools and our UX and technical team to bring ideas to life. Jackie lives in New Hampshire with her husband Mark and three boys. Depending on the season, you’ll either find them at the lake or skiing.

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