District leaders set to apply “Human Centered Design” after participating in Expanding Innovation 2.0

A training session earlier this week found lots of converts to Human Centered Design (HCD). Brownsville Area School District Superintendent Bill King was quick to say why he was one of them.

“It’s friendly, it’s positive, it’s a unique approach to problem-solving,” he explained.

HCD is a discipline of making decisions in service of people. It has proven to be a powerful approach for business leaders attempting to make their companies more customer-focused. Now gaining traction in education, it’s also expected to help district and school leaders put students at the heart of their decisions.

King’s district was one of seven that participated in Expanding Innovation 2.0, an outgrowth the HCD training program for education leaders that the LUMA Institute piloted last year in cooperation with Remake Learning.

The Consortium and LUMA are working in partnership to extend the training to two more cohorts of education leaders in the 2018-2019 school year. Both the pilot and this year’s trainings were made possible with support from The Grable Foundation.

In addition to Brownsville Area, teams participating in this year’s first two-day training session came from Allegheny Valley, Bethlehem Center, New Castle Area, Northgate and Shaler Area and South Allegheny school districts

As part of the training, they learned HCD concepts by tackling simulated problems such a hypothetical situation with a  goal of increasing civic engagement. To address each problem, teams were given “recipes” that required them to use several of the of 36 HCD methods they were learning during the two-day session.  Among the methods are practices such as conducting interviews, undertaking formal idea-generation sessions, doing stakeholder-mapping and others.

Having completed the training, teams now will apply HCD methods on real projects in their districts and schools. LUMA and Consortium trainers will check in to provide support at the 30, 60, and 90-day marks, after which, the teams will reconvene to present their work. The Consortium already is fielding inquiries from districts interested in joining a second cohort of teams that will get HCD training and perform projects in the second half of the school year.

Projects that the teams from the first training session were planning ranged widely—from improving the school cafeteria experience in one district to boosting staff morale in another.

Brownsville’s King said his team plans to use the HCD methods to better align the use of high school library space with student needs. Noting that technology has reduced the space needed for books, he said the library could conceivably incorporate other resources such as technology or other functions, such as career services.

King said he thought HCD would be a good approach because it encourages participants in the process to express ideas without inhibition. “It’s a no-fear response system,” he said. “Everyone can be comfortable because no one idea is right or wrong.”



Consortium adds new Program Director

Christy Kuehn joined the Consortium as a Program Director this month, just as the school year began and just in time to pitch on a number of our initiatives including the Future Ready Alliance, Student Powered Solutions and Educator in the Workforce.

Christy Kuehn, Ph.D., Program Director

Experienced in both academic settings and the nonprofit sector, she brings more than 10 years of experience as a high school English teacher as well as seven years working at the college level as an instructor and academic advisor.

In the nonprofit sector, she has served as a program administrator and overseen numerous after-school and summer programs for K-12 students. Among her nonprofit roles, she served in several capacities with the Neighborhood Learning Alliance on projects in Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Kuehn’s personal and professional goals include advancing equitable access to higher education, empowering educators, and advocating for students. That combination drew her to the Consortium because of its work helping to level the playing field for under-resourced districts.

“The issue that most concerns me in education is equity,” Kuehn said. “I think it’s something we need to address because we see entire populations whose needs aren’t being served.”

“Christy’s background couldn’t be more suited to the work we do,” said the Consortium’s Executive Director Mary Kay Babyak. “She’s all about helping kids plan for their futures and equipping educators with the resources they need to help students prepare for post-secondary education and careers.”

Immediately prior to joining our staff, Kuehn was an academic advisor at Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) where she also served as an Adjunct Professor of English. In her capacity as an advisor, she helped students set educational goals, connected them with college resources and mentored them toward academic success.

Kuehn holds a doctorate in Instructional Management and Leadership from Robert Morris University. She earned her M.A. in Literature from Arizona State University and her B.A. in English Education from Geneva College.





Looking for mentors!

The Consortium is again recruiting adult volunteers for middle school mentoring opportunities in three districts. In partnership with United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, we’ll be offering opportunities to Be A Middle School Mentor (BAMSM) in Clairton City, McKeesport Area and Woodland Hills School Districts.

Additionally, we’ll be working with United Way and YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh to roll out STEM Stars in Woodland Hills. STEM Stars is an after-school mentoring program for intermediate-and- middle school-aged girls. 

The programs offer plenty of support for the mentors as well as the mentees, so there’s no reason to let a lack of experience or uncertainties about working with adolescents stand in the way.

“We always say that all you need to do is show up,” said Frank Kamara, a Public Allies intern on staff at the Consortium who helps organize our mentoring programs. “We have everything planned to make the mentors and the kids comfortable.”

Unlike mentoring programs where adults are on their own in creating ways to engage with students, the BAMSM and STEM programs “provide the environment and activities” for interaction, though mentors still get opportunities in those settings for one-to-one mentoring, Kamara explained.

Among other goals, the BAMSM program aims to improve school attendance by helping students understand the important role education plays in their futures and helping them think about post-secondary education and career opportunities. Mentors in the STEM Stars program help interest girls in STEM through activities planned by a teacher leader and discussions.

If you or someone you know might be interested, you can learn more about BAMSM here or about STEM Stars here.

Attend fall training sessions in Project-Based Learning…

The Consortium will again offer training in Project-Based Learning (PBL) during the 2018-2019 school year, both for teachers undertaking projects as part of our Student Powered Solutions program as well as others with a general interest. 

The first two-day training begins with a workshop September 27 and concludes with a second session on October 11. Costs are based on levels of participation described in our fee schedule. (Schools that want on-site PBL training for their own groups of educators also can arrange them through Jackie Foor, the Consortium’s Director of Institutional Advancement.)

SPS pairs classrooms with companies or community organizations willing to offer students authentic problems to solve. But the same training we offer for SPS partners can help any educator who wants to begin learning about and introducing PBL.

Educators new to PBL needn’t worry that the process is too involved or that they can’t modify it for their own purposes,

“If teachers just take what they are already doing that is like PBL and build on it they’ll have a good start,” said Sarah Brooks, a Consortium Program Director who helps facilitate SPS projects, among other responsibilities. “It’s a process, it’s not something that’s either going to happen or not.”

Brooks added that teachers need only embrace a few key elements to begin implementing PBL., such as ensuring that students have a “driving question” to guide their work.

Our upcoming training sessions also will help teachers who might be hesitant to try PBL out of concern that it may limit their ability to cover content and skills dictated by state standards.

“We’ll be helping teachers plan backwards, with an eye on embedding state standards into the projects they design,” said Aaron Altemus, a Consortium Program Director who also helps organize SPS projects.

Trainers also will discuss creating rubrics to assess student learning of content dictated by state standards, he said.

Beyond the training session, the Consortium also offers other kinds of support for educators participating in SPS or other PBL projects.

Altemus and Brooks have done significant research and undergone training in PBL methods. This summer, both attended a week-long program offered by the Buck Institute, whose methods many consider the gold-standard for PBL.





Consortium and LUMA Institute launch Expanding Innovation 2.0

 The Consortium for Public Education and the LUMA Institute are partnering to launch the 2018-2019 version of Expanding Innovation, a professional development program aimed at helping leaders in K-12 education use the principles and practices of Human-Centered Design (HCD) to advance improvements in their districts and schools.

HCD is the discipline of developing solutions in service of people. Just as it has proven to be a tremendous aid for helping business leaders become hyper-attentive to the needs of their customers, it’s now gaining traction in education as a means of helping leaders put student needs at the heart of every decision. 

The partnership is being supported with a grant from The Grable Foundation in cooperation with Remake Learning. It builds on a pilot that Remake Learning ran in collaboration with LUMA during the 2016-2017 school year. As part of the pilot, 17 educational leaders received HCD training through a combination of workshops and coaching. Many districts, including those in the Consortium’s networks, have since expressed interest in advancing innovation through HCD.

Under the Consortium’s partnership with LUMA, two new cohorts of educational leaders will embark on HCD training, putting it into practice in improvement projects they choose for their schools. Seven districts will be represented in each cohort. At least half of the participants will be under-resourced districts with 50% or more of their student populations receiving federally subsidized lunch. Participants in the Fall cohort include: Allegheny Valley, Bethlehem Center, Brownsville Area, New Castle Area, Northgate and Shaler Area and South Allegheny school districts. Districts or schools that would like to participate in the second half of the school year should contact the Consortium as soon as possible because space is limited.

Two Consortium staffers will be certified to co-instruct the upcoming training sessions with LUMA. The onboarding workshop for the first cohort takes place September 18-19. At the two-day workshop, teams of three educators from each participating district or school will learn and apply HCD concepts through projects designed to create new and innovative learning opportunities for students in their schools. Staff from LUMA and the Consortium will support the teams with check-ins at 30, 60 and 90 days following their training. Afterward, teams will convene to give presentations about their work.

Educator in the Workforce kicks off with focus on construction industry

The Consortium is kicking off its Educator in the Workforce initiative this year in partnership with Mascaro Construction.  Mascaro and several trade apprenticeship programs will collaborate with us to give educators an opportunity to learn about careers in the building trades and what skills students need to prepare for them. Together, we’ll be offering an immersion experience Monday, October 8 from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 pm at the Carpenters Training Center, 652 Ridge Ave., Pittsburgh, PA. 

The event is the first in a series building on the Educator in the Workforce initiative that we piloted last year in collaboration with three major employers including Mascaro, Duquesne Light Co. and U.S. Steel Corp. All of the immersion experiences are designed to help educators connect their own areas of expertise to employer needs and be able to help students connect their classroom learning to relevant, real world applications.

Attendance is free, but space is limited, so educators interested in the construction event should register soon on our Eventbrite page. Watch the Consortium’s website or sign up for our newsletter to learn about future dates and opportunities to learn about the region’s key industries and employers.

Mascaro is one of the region’s largest commercial construction contractors, with projects ranging from roads and bridges to office towers, power plants and oil and gas field facilities.

Companies in the construction industry and other key sectors already are facing workforce shortages as Baby Boomers retire and are seeking ways to connect with the next generation of prospective employees.

Partnership with PNC

PNC Financial Corp., Inc. awarded the Consortium a $12,000 grant in support of a partnership piloting pre-employment training for high school students. The pilot began this spring with in-school training for selected seniors in five high schools. In the upcoming school year, the pilot will expand to additional schools and to juniors as well as seniors. 

“We are grateful for this support and honored to be working with PNC,” said Executive Director Mary Kay Babyak. “They share our belief that investments in education pay dividends, they have a passion for developing the young talent in our region and we deeply appreciate the commitment they’re making to us and our schools. We couldn’t ask for a better partner.”



Consortium staffers host breakout discussion at Pittsburgh Personalized Learning Network (PLPgh) conference

Consortium Program Directors Aaron Altemus and Sarah Brooks led a breakout discussion about Project-Based Learning as part of a June conference that the Pittsburgh Personalized Learning Network (PLPgh) organized around aligning classroom learning with real-world expectations.

The Consortium’s breakout session stimulated discussion of Project-Based Learning

More than 180 educators attended the conference held at Montour High School. The event featured two keynote addresses as well as other speakers and the breakouts. All dealt in one way or another with personalizing the learning experience.

Chris Sweeney, who is leading PLPGH said the fledgling network and the conference are both intended to help “bring pockets of innovation” in classrooms across our region “to scale.”

Although Sweeney and other speakers at the Conference all talked about the need to change classroom learning to prepare kids for a fast-changing, technology-driven economy, all also emphasized that personalized learning shouldn’t be confused with technology—that’s not what it is.

Nor is it merely a program, said Bena Kallick, PhD, a nationally known school consultant, author and co-founder of the Institute for Habits of Mind. Although there are “six million different definitions” thought-leaders in education generally agree that personalized learning has certain fundamental characteristics, she said.  Among others, it enables students to “deeply engage in meaningful, authentic and rigorous challenges,” Kallick added, citing work done by Allison Zmuda and others who have written about the subject. Because of that, classrooms become “progressively more student driven” as educators redesign their practices, she said.

Both Kallick and Ann Chavez, PhD, who gave the morning keynote, said that personalized learning also emphasizes different goals than traditional classroom teaching, which many educators lament has been aimed at emphasizing only subject matter that’s covered on standardized tests. Chavez, an author and co-founder and Chief Academic Officer of Modern Teacher, said that schools should be preparing students for a world that’s been turned upside down by technology in less than a decade. She said employers increasingly are prioritizing transferrable, non-academic skills when they recruit. Chief among these is “problem solving,” she said.

Education Consultant Bena Kallick, PhD gives afternoon keynote on personalized learning

Agreed Kallick: “Kids need practice in this world that is so very volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. They need practice to gain comfort and confidence to navigate what’s ahead.” Citing educator and author Jay McTighe, she said the aim of classroom education should be “long-term transfer goals” needed across disciplines. McTighe has said, for example, that math competency isn’t merely finding solutions to equations, but being able to create the equations needed to solve real world problems.

In their breakout session, Altemus and Brooks said real-world learning and problem solving are the kinds of skills the Consortium’s Student Powered Solutions program aims to support through its Project-Based Learning experiences. The program pairs classrooms with businesses and other community partners willing to offer students real-world challenges to solve. As the students tackle them, teachers take on the role of coach.

Educators at the conference all expressed enthusiasm about finding ways to personalize learning. But they also discussed obstacles to innovation. Among others, there can be resistance to change and there also is the reality of needing to meet state standards associated with subject matter, some of which may not be addressed when students drive the learning.

Consultant Wayne A. Jones, who had been a Program Director as well as Director of Organizational Learning and Staff Development for The Heinz Endowments, gave a breakout session emphasizing that culture change can help make way for the innovations needed to personalize learning. He said schools need to “create safe space” for experimentation and the inevitable failures that come with it.




Alliance’s June Retreat showcased projects across network

Poster sessions at the Future Ready Alliance’s June Retreat showed that districts are taking a wide variety of approaches to improving opportunities for students to explore and prepare for post-secondary education and careers.

The Alliance is a network of educators that the Consortium brings together to design and implement improvements aimed at ensuring their graduates are well prepared for their futures, not just academically, but also developmentally. The emphasis is on helping all kids find the answers to three critical questions—Who am I? Who do I want to be? and How do I get there? 

The June Retreat showcased projects completed during the school year and provided resources for continuing work into 2018-2019, including a presentation on the state’s career education standards and an index the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) will begin using next year to assess whether students are receiving the preparation needed for “future readiness.”

Projects that district and school teams undertook in 2017-2018 ranged from designing a professional development opportunity for faculty at South Allegheny High School to organizing a “Career Camp” at Yough High School and creating a new credential for students to demonstrate “future readiness” at Steel Valley High School.

South Allegheny’s professional development opportunity took the form of a Classrooms to Careers Conference that featured presentations by representatives of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and workshops with 21 different business partners. The Conference was designed to give educators information they need to help students learn about anticipated job opportunities and workplace expectations.

At Yough, a Career Camp offered opportunities to learn about careers, practice soft skills and understand the job application process. Yough’s team planned activities around these elements and offered them during downtime students have in the days when standardized testing occurs. Some were modeled on activities that students participating in the Consortium’s career exploration program, The Future Is Mine (TFIM) use to create a breakout session at the annual Student Leadership Conference, the school’s TFIM advisor Gina Hipps noted. Hipps also sits on Yough’s Alliance team.

Steel Valley’s new credential is aimed at certifying competencies beyond those reflected in a high school diploma, said Superintendent Ed Wehrer. “It will have more value,” he said, noting that diplomas alone merely show that students completed their classes with passing grades and give no indication, for example, of whether they’ve developed other essential skills.

PDE’s Career Readiness Advisor Laura Fridirici told Alliance participants that the work they’re doing should contribute to moving students toward state goals.

A stakeholders’ report compiled when the PDE was formulating its response to ESSA (the Every Student Succeeds Act that Congress passed in 2015) “found kids graduating without a plan,” Fridirici said. Under the Future Ready Index assessment, PDE wants kids to show progress toward career awareness and preparation at every grade level. Among other things, it will look to see what percentage of a district’s 5th graders are engaged in exploration and preparation. By 8th grade, PDE will be looking at what percentage of a district’s “students have created plans” that identify possible career paths that connect to their interests and engage in activities that would help them explore or prepare for those paths.