Learning Forward Features Alabama’s Best Practices

At last week’s Learning Forward conference held in Birmingham, some of the most innovative schools shared their efforts, challenges and successes to help educators with similar challenges, and to help scale what works in improving Alabama’s schools.

The Alabama Best Practices Center, a division of A+ Education Partnership, was invited to lead an interactive session during the conference for public school educators and leaders. The session was designed to connect conference attendees with four of Alabama’s most innovative schools, which are all involved in ABPC’s Key Leaders and Powerful Conversations Networks.
“There is no better way to find successful solutions than to learn from those who have faced the same challenges and succeeded in new, creative ways,” said Cathy Gassenheimer, executive vice president of ABPC, who facilitated the session.

Childersburg High School led one small group discussion on project-based learning focused on the new college and career-ready standards, which is being implemented statewide this year.

“Thanks to fostering our community partnerships, we now have a 1:1 student-to-computer ratio,” explained Jennifer Barnett, the Talladega County Technology Integration Specialist. “We have also developed a more professional learning culture for our students. Getting to this point and moving forward presents a variety of challenges, but we have cultivated a culture of collaboration at our school that is critical for success.”

Childersburg will host an open house January 10, 2013 to showcase its progress, featuring student and teacher panel discussions, classroom observations, and results of their efforts and those interested in learning more are invited to attend.

Khristie Goodwin, the curriculum coordinator for Oxford City Schools, shared how her district began work on implementing the new standards two years ago, started with involvement in Learning Forward’s national conference in Atlanta. “We were fortunate to have received very in-depth training prior to the implementation of new learning standards in our schools,” she explained, and shared with the group resources for common core implementation that have been helpful her teachers.

The Piedmont City system has been recognized nationally for “harnessing technology to engage students” through forward-thinking technological innovations. As one of the few members of national Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools, Piedmont’s superintendent Matt Akin shared with the Learning Forward group his journey to establish 21st-century classrooms. He explained that by pooling resources in his community through public and private partnerships, he was able to make technology and wireless access available to every Piedmont students.

“We really stepped out and took a risk in putting laptops into every student’s hands,” said Akin. “But we coordinated it in a very smart way, ensured that our teachers were equipped with the knowledge of how to best engage the students using technology, and creatively problem-solved as a community to help all students gain connectivity access. The risk was well worth the results as our students are excelling academically like never before.”

The fourth group discussion topic was lead by Alyson Carpenter, ABPC’s Instructional Partner (IP) in Residence, and Nelson Brown, principal of Liberty Middle School. Together they illustrated the impact and effectiveness of the IP pilot, which strengthens teaching and learning in participating schools through targeted coaching. In partnership with the Alabama Department of Education, ABPC has facilitated the ongoing professional learning for the Instructional Partner Pilot and attributes the collaborative practice for the positive changes in school culture and professional growth among participating teachers.

“Much like physicians use medical rounds to continuously learn and improve their practice, professional educators can also learn from each other by sharing success, problem-solving, and celebrating success,” explained Gassenheimer. “Getting teachers more connected with each other and collaborating across subjects and grade levels clearly results in increased student engagement and understanding.”

Click here for more information on Learning Forward Alabama.