AASA 2023: How 3 districts are working to transform teaching and learning

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SAN ANTONIO — From technology to student voice to diversity, a litany of factors is forcing teaching and learning to evolve for the needs not just of a fast-changing work world, but for rapidly shifting student demographics.

In a Feb. 17 panel discussion at the National Conference on Education, hosted by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, three superintendents shared their best practices and lessons learned in navigating educational transformation.

Why does teaching and learning need to change?

“I believe that the world has always been changing, and that education needs to change with it,” said John Malloy, superintendent of San Ramon Valley Unified School District in Danville, California.

Despite that, education has stayed relatively the same, he said. But “there are really unique challenges and opportunities that are surrounding us right now that I think are going to demand the change we’re talking about.”

Malloy and his fellow panelists listed off some of those challenges: artificial intelligence, industry demand around specific skill sets, the aftermath of the pandemic, and the demands of parents, school board members and local communities.

While AI will “profoundly” shape instruction, Malloy said, he doesn’t see it happening in a way that is as fearful as the narrative often becomes.

“AI can never replace that which is us,” Malloy said, detailing how it cannot replicate things like empathy, compassion, contribution, service and voice, or the ability to analyze, synthesize, clarify, confirm and persuade in a way that incorporates those human qualities.

In a sense, AI presents an opportunity to apply more focus to soft skills, as it can simplify content delivery. “I’m looking forward to the opportunities it’s going to cause, because content is at our fingertips now even more than ever, and if we’re still focusing on content, I think we’re going to not be serving our kids as well as we should be,” Malloy said.

In Ohio’s Middletown City School District, former superintendent Marlon Styles — who recently left his position to become a consultant — said industry demand for skill sets is the No. 1 factor influencing his district.

“As far as the future lives our children want to live and what they want to be when they grow up in their authentic way, skill sets will be the currency that will give them opportunities in the future,” Styles said.

Educators, he said, must be willing to open the walls of the school building and start blending K-12 and the workforce in unique ways so schools can evolve their models and practices to best equip students for future success.

Building on that idea, Kristi Wilson, superintendent of Buckeye Elementary School District #33 in Arizona, said it’s critical to recognize opportunities that exist now to make changes and to collaborate on those with the community.

“If you’re in a district where you can build a new school or you can reimagine spaces or rebuild … you can think about what is it that you want your educational program to look like, because we don’t know what the future is going to hold” for what jobs will look like, Wilson said. By working with the community, district leaders can find ways to think about the future differently.

In her pre-K-8 district, such an opportunity presented itself with the construction of the John S. McCain III Elementary School. Over an 18-month planning period, she said, the district “really unwrapped those questions” and involved the community.

How can districts address DEI needs?

When it comes to initiatives targeting diversity, equity and inclusion, Styles said you only get one shot to have an authentic impact with adults, no matter the profession.

The first step in bringing DEI to schools, he said, is to build awareness around individual bias, beliefs and practices before moving into action. “During that awareness stage, we really take our time with our adults in our school system. We don’t ask them to do anything else [at that point] besides become self-aware,” Styles said.

This article originally appeared in www.k12dive.com

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