This blog is one of a series of updates from the Raising Blended Learners field. Tulia ISD Superintendent Steve Post (pictured below at a blended learning workshop) opens up about the importance of honest and transparent leadership, and how blended learning is creating a stronger culture of integrity and accountability in his district.
I saw the Raising Blended Learners grant application online and I thought, What we are doing now just isn’t working. And during the Raising Blended Learners Fall Workshop, the very moment Barry Summers from California’s Lindsay Unified School District stood up and spoke was the “aha” moment for me. That was the first time I heard a district leader speak with transparency about the stories of students who graduated without being able to read. That was the first time I had heard anyone say that their district looked like mine and that they were willing to break the whole cycle for kids. I thought, if Lindsay, California could do it, why couldn’t Tulia, Texas?
Year after year I see the same story. A kid gets a 50 on an assignment, we tell them to correct their paper and then they get a 70. We pass kids from one level to the next and they don’t know the material. The gaps in their learning only grow. We send kids off to college and they are not successful. What did the piece of paper we handed them on high school graduation day — the one that I signed — really mean anyway? I knew there had to be more to it than that.
We decided we weren’t going to let anyone say any longer, “but our kids can’t.” That night, after the RBL workshop, I said to our team, if you are okay with being okay we should keep doing what we are doing. If not, we need to rethink what we believe about learning. We need to rethink everything. And ever since that night, that has been my and my district’s mindset. I have been in education for 32 years, I wasn’t worried about getting run off for making a change. And I knew this change was worth it. I had nothing to lose.
Defining Our Problem and Designing Solutions
As a district, we sat down and asked ourselves what the problems in Tulia were. What were the root causes of those problems and how were we going to fix them? If we wanted to go to the next level, to create personalized learning classrooms, we knew that we would have to meet kids where they were and take them where they need to go. As a result of this planning process, we defined our problem as follows:
Students don’t want what the current school system has to offer. Students enter classrooms with a variety of needs and receive a generalized/standardized education that fails to meet them where they are and take them where they need to go. Students come with desires and passions and are met with content and practices that miss the opportunity to help students see themselves in the curriculum. Students want a more clear picture of their learning progress and are met with feedback that is not specific, actionable, or transparent. Students are seeking increased autonomy and control over their learning and a desire to be known and are met with standardized structures and practice that treat them more like cogs in a factory than humans to be known and understood. These factors have resulted in low literacy performance, high levels of student disengagement, and low indicators of college readiness.
Over the summer of 2016 we defined our Design PIllars, SMART Goals, and the Student Experience for our first pilot. On August 22 of that year, these concepts became a reality when we launched our first pilot in our four ELA High School Classrooms. We have worked with our team throughout the year to overcome early challenges and refine our strategies for implementing our Design Pillars. As we look to the 2017-2018 school year, our high school blended pilot will expand into a blended pilot at each campus in our district.
We are shifting teacher, student, and parent mindsets, something not without its hardships along the way. Rooted in the reality that kids didn’t want school, or at least the school student experience we were providing, we know we aren’t okay with being okay. And now we are starting to know what it looks like to set high expectations for ourselves and our learners and continue in the process of seemingly never-ending change and work and effort to get there. Our kids are worth it, our community is worth it, and so we will do what it takes to make a student experience that our kids want and need, one that is far better than just okay.