Innovation – Just as Easily a Home in the Classroom as in the Research Lab

Every day across the 26 school communities of Albemarle County Public Schools, educators are creating, designing, and making learning experiential, active, and powerful.  They have one primary goal–to engage young people in their own learning–and at a higher level than the day before.  Students are becoming increasingly adept designers, creators, and makers of learning. Their voice has value. They develop a sense of agency and empowerment and as a result, our students are influencing schools and communities and ultimately, they will influence our state and nation.

When I share our work with people beyond our boundaries, there’s great interest in the individual stories of young people and in how our educators are building upon the assets of each student. At the recent Charlottesville TEDx, I shared some of these stories, underscoring the cultural change they have brought to our division.  It’s a culture now defined by continual interest and enthusiasm for learning that reaches into our fitness facilities, libraries, elective and maker spaces, hallways, cafeterias, and even onto our school buses.

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Dr. Pam Moran’s TEDx Charlottesville talk on “The Power of One” – November 2016

While we sometimes take for granted, our work to innovate teaching, curricula, resources, assessments, and learning spaces, our learning environments are among the most innovative in the nation. We routinely host visitors from pre-K to 12, from higher education, from local, state and the federal governments and from the nonprofit sector, public and private. They come to Albemarle because of the many compelling examples of contemporary learning that are shared by our team on social and mainstream media, at conferences, in education journals and books and in face-to-face conversations within the broader educational community.

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Virginia State Governor Terry McAullife visits Monticello High School to dedicate solar panels and renewable energy via Secure Futures Solar.

These examples showcase how our most cutting edge work prepares students to learn for life, not just school. Including preschool, children spend up to 14 years with us. Whether they are with us a few months or many years, they benefit from a dynamic learning environment that integrates content standards, lifelong learning competencies, and learners’ interests.  The catalyst for this model was our Design 2015 program, which asked our principals and staff for their creative ideas on how best to educate children in a world where change consistently outpaces curricula.  Hearing from the grassroots in our division led to our adoption of seven pathways to contemporary learning–each one an element that defines what we mean when we describe a learning environment as being dynamic.  These elements include, for example, such resources as universal design for learning, a maker-infused curriculum, passion-based learning, interactive technologies and connectivity.

This is the approach that offers the best strategies for leveraging the radical technological advances that are impacting our homes, communities, businesses and world.  Educators once were obligated to respond to our nation’s massive shift from an agricultural to an industrial economy. Schools were reconfigured to mimic the industries in which students were going to work. Today our instructional model again must mimic the demands of our society, a society in which technologies give access to knowledge and expertise beyond traditional schooling.  It is a society dominated by a global communication network that allows people to engage with each other 24/7.

In this context, we educators will decide how our young people adapt, flex, and evolve their own knowledge and skill sets over their lifetime to successfully thrive in their century.   That success almost assuredly will not be because of the technology a student carries in their pocket or hands, but because of educators who evolve and implement best contemporary practices.

While the instruments of technology will continue to change, from pencil to keyboard to audio input, it always will be teachers who remain the most powerful agents of change.  Every teacher has the potential to experience and lead the work of transformation; to contribute to the preparation of young people to excel in their life and reach their highest goals for careers, their families, and their communities.  When educators innovate, students become innovators too, of their own learning, and they discover the paths that allow them to pursue their passions and interests beyond the walls of our schools and the boundaries of our country.

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Monticello High School drama students pursuing their passions and interests via the performing arts.

Dr. Pam Moran

Superintendent

Albemarle County Public Schools