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Innovate 2017: Educators from Around the World Gather at Graded for Professional Development

By: Shauna Hobbs-Beckley, Director of Teaching and Learning Graded, The American School, Sao Paulo

Every two years, Graded develops and hosts the Innovate Conference. This year, from October 19-21, educators from around the world visited Graded to learn about innovation in education from experts, faculty, CEOs, and students.

The Innovate Conference was unique not only for the topics it covered, but also for it’s ability to engage students and parents alongside faculty members. By including parents and students, the conference brought greater depth to teaching and learning and provided opportunities to develop common understanding and vocabulary. Further, Graded opened it’s doors to the broader community enabling greater support for ongoing professional development of Graded faculty.

This year, Innovate focused on personalizing the conference experience. Participants were asked to create their own program, based upon their goals and how they learn best. Innovate invited all stakeholders in education to take part—administrators, coaches, teachers, counselors, specialists, and assistants—while featuring students at the heart of this endeavor.

The selection of Keynote and Deep Dive speakers for the 2017 Innovate Conference intentionally focused on the areas of the Strategic Plan that support Graded’s mission and vision. The goal of the conference was professional development that is job-embedded and continues beyond the three days of Innovate. Innovate featured several prominent speakers from around the world.

One focus of Graded’s Strategic Plan is to “deliver inspirational instruction that addresses the academic needs of every student.” Dr. Virginia Rojas, who conducts professional training on effective programs and strategies for English learners from preschool through grade 12 for English as a Second Language (ESL) and classroom teachers, specializing in developing academic English as an Additional Language (EAL) and in providing access for English-proficient bilinguals through differentiated instruction and progressive scaffolding. Dr. Rojas offered an opportunity to obtain a micro-credential that focused on collaborative planning implementing effective instruction and using strategic co-teaching models.

In his presentation titled “Tomorrow-Ready Education: Preparing Students for the Challenges of Today and the Promise of Tomorrow,” Dr. Mark Milliron focused on one of Graded’s Strategic Plan goals, to support and initiate best practices in teaching through research, innovation, and evaluation. Dr. Milliron is an award-winning leader, author, speaker, and consultant who works with universities, community colleges, K-12 schools, foundations, corporations, associations, and government agencies across the country and around the world. He is co-founder and chief learning officer of Civitas Learning, a social-purpose corporation. Dr. Milliron also serves as executive director of the Next-Gen Leadership Academy, a program dedicated to grounding rising educational leaders in the issues and innovations of the day, and developing the leadership skills necessary to help institutions thrive in dynamic times.

The future is coming fast—faster than ever—and the world of education is working hard to keep up. Dr. Milliron’s presentation dove into conversations on five vital focus areas that will help Graded get ready to help students prepare for the challenges of today and the promise of tomorrow.

The five focus areas that Dr. Milliron explored were:

  1. building out an integrated infrastructure that brings together the best of facilities, online and mobile tools, and augmented and virtual reality

  2. optimizing a learning mix that includes more fluid and increasingly digital curricular resources and strategies, including open education, accelerated learning, competency-based education, game-based learning, and more.

  3. doubling down on the importance of psychosocial factors, including belonging, purpose, mindsets, tenacity, grit, and social and emotional learning (SEL)

  4. making the most of analytics platforms and apps powered by data science and design thinking to help us and our students learn well and finish strong

  5. embracing the imperative to champion “tomorrow-ready learning” grounded in rich tradition, but tuned for the fast-moving dynamics of the road ahead.

Alan November is an international leader in education technology. He began his career as an oceanography teacher and dorm counselor at an island reform school for boys in Boston Harbor. He has been director of an alternative high school, computer coordinator, technology consultant, and university lecturer. He has helped schools, governments, and industry leaders improve the quality of education through technology.

Mr. November’s presentation, “The Emerging Culture of Teaching and Learning,” focused on supporting and initiating best practices in teaching through research, innovation, and evaluation and effectively preparing students to handle the academic and cognitive demands and skills necessary for success beyond high school. He discussed how access to timely information and communication tools to empower educators to address the individual learning needs of their students.

Dr. David Conley is a national thought leader in several areas including college and career readiness, student ownership of learning, systems of assessment, and new models of educational accountability. He has conducted numerous research studies on what it takes for students to be ready to succeed in college and careers, and he writes extensively on this topic. He has published multiple articles and policy briefs, as well as three books in this area, including his most recent book, Getting Ready for College, Careers, and the Common Core: What Every Educator Needs to Know.

Dr. Conley’s presentation, “Complexities and Multi-dimensions of College and Career Readiness,” addressed the issue of effectively preparing students to handle the academic and cognitive demands and skills necessary for success beyond high school. Most schools focus on content knowledge acquisition as the holy grail of schooling. However, college and career readiness are far more complex and multidimensional than merely knowing the skills to get into college or get a job.

Dr. Conley’s presentation asked the questions, “What happens when students can learn much of what they need for college and careers outside of school, on the internet, and elsewhere? What is the value of school? And what will colleges want to know about students in an era when the emphasis is on a host of thinking skills that require content knowledge but go well beyond simply repeating facts?”

Finally, collaborating with students during this conference made Innovate innovative. The three days included keynote addresses from education experts, and students engaged in presentations including facilitating transparent conversations with teachers.

Throughout the entire conference, Start Up Stay Up, an exciting 48-hour social entrepreneurship boot camp for students in grades 9-12 was running. The event culminated with a Shark Tank-esque venture capitalist panel.

Education is constantly changing. Graded honors the work of our faculty and their need to grow through its focus on professional development. The Graded Strategic Plan highlights elevating professional growth and practices by investing in effective, innovative teachers, staff, and leaders. Innovate is the Graded approach to meeting the needs of our faculty and students by valuing their professional growth and professional learning.


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