Upper Arlington News

Guest column

Challenge: How to engage students in relevant learning

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The world seems to be changing faster than ever before, and the field of education is no different.

The Upper Arlington community has always placed an extremely high value on education, and so it is no surprise that so many educators and residents, like me, are excited to take part in our school district's new strategic planning process to ensure our students are receiving the education and emotional support they need to succeed in the 21st century.

Our schools recognize that successful practices from the past are not always the right fit for tomorrow. That's why the district is using a new hybrid approach to strategic planning that combines the best from both public-sector and private-sector models.

The process is extremely focused and results-oriented, as in the private sector, but we are committed to staying true to the public-sector model of gathering feedback and ideas from all of our stakeholders.

We have three work teams diving deep into the areas that matter most to our students and our community: efficiency, accountability and results.

I am honored to lead the work team that is focused on results, or what we call the learning experience. Our work centers around this essential question: "What must we do to ensure our curriculum, instruction, assessment, technology and facilities engage all of our students in relevant and rich learning experiences that result in post-secondary success?"

Providing an answer to such an important question is no easy feat, but our team is enjoying the challenge and has been extremely intrigued by the research and feedback gathered so far.

The Learning Experience Work Team is composed of Emilie Greenwald, Carrie Keener, Kathy Moore, Adam Oliver and Sean Martin from the schools and Denise Snowden from Battelle for Kids.

One of our main efforts to date has been reaching out to students, parents and educators to learn about each group's priorities for student learning in the modern world. We received feedback from more than 1,400 people, and the information has been fascinating.

Clearly, our community has a lot to say, and we are here to listen.

As we continue to sort and analyze the data received through the survey, we are planning to gather even more information through upcoming focus groups. This exercise will allow us to dig deeper into several of the themes that are emerging as priorities across all of our subgroups, such as providing students with real-world experiences, emphasizing problem-solving skills and providing regular non-graded feedback about student progress.

Once our research and data collection is complete, our work team will prepare a briefing paper to present to the Upper Arlington Board of Education during its July 16 meeting. The other two work teams will provide similar briefing papers on their areas of study, which relate to district efficiency and accountability.

These documents will prepare us to enter phase two of the strategic planning process, during which staff and community members will translate this valuable research into a focused plan with measurable goals that will directly benefit Upper Arlington students.

Phase two will include many more opportunities for feedback and involvement, and I encourage everyone to take advantage of those opportunities.

Our entire team has found the work extremely rewarding. Knowing that you are helping to make a lasting positive impact for students is a fantastic experience, and we thank everyone who has taken the time to contribute to this effort.

Lori Trent is a STEM Innovator for the PAST Foundation, a nonprofit group founded to transform education by promoting innovative practices and linking learning to life.

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