Tech & Learning.com - Supporting Student Accessibility Nov 2021

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NOVEMBER 2021

TECHLEARNING.COM

SUPPORTING STUDENT ACCESSIBILITY: Digital Equity

Special Needs

and More



CONTENTS 18 How to Develop a Diverse School IT Staff By Ray Bendici

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Former U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera: Using Poetry to Support SEL By Erik Ofgang & Ray Bendici

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5 ways to make Edtech more inclusive By Erik Ofgang

10 Three Starting Points to Address Dimensions of Digital Equity By Stephanie Smith Budhai

12 Chatbots in K-12: What You Need to Know

12 Production Manager Heather Tatrow heather.tatrow@futurenet.com

CONTENT

Managing Design Director Nicole Cobban

Senior Staff Writer Erik Ofgang erik.ofgang@futurenet.com Event Development Director Marquita Amoah marquita.amoah@futurenet.com VISIT US www.techlearning.com

By Erik Ofgang

24 Accessible Websites: Best Practices for Educators By Ray Bendici

26 Student Ebook Reading Surges During the Pandemic By Erik Ofgang

32 Best English Language Learners Lessons and Activities By Diana Restifo

38 Education Grants: Win or Lose, What to Do Next By Diana Restifo

By Erik Ofgang

Group Publisher Christine Weiser christine.weiser@futurenet.com

Managing Editor Ray Bendici ray.bendici@futurenet.com

22 ESOL Students: 6 Tips For Empowering Their Education

Senior Design Director Cliff Newman

MANAGEMENT Senior Vice President, B2B Rick Stamberger Head of Production US & UK Mark Constance Head of Design Rodney Dive

ADVERTISING SALES Sales Manager Allison Knapp, allison.knapp@futurenet.com Sales Associate Anne Gregoire, anne.gregoire@futurenet.com FOLLOW US

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FORMER U.S. POET LAUREATE JUAN FELIPE HERRERA: USING POETRY TO SUPPORT SEL Juan Felipe Herrera, recent keynote speaker at NYC DOE’s Beyond Access Forum: Moving Forward Together, shares tips for educators on pushing the boundaries of what poetry can be.”

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By Erik Ofgang & Ray Bendici

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JUAN FELIPE HERRERA

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oetry can support social-emotional learning as it connects with students in a profound way, says former U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera. “Poetry is a free space,” he says. “It’s your internal free space in your mind, your feelings, the words you use, and you imagine it with images and landscapes. Your heart is boiling or heating up or flaring or volcanically wanting to explode. The poem is there for you; it’ll contain that fire.” Within that free space, students have a chance to delve into trauma and other serious issues on their minds. “They talk about rape, they talk about suicide,” Herrera says. “Poetry then is the place, you can just open that mountain of fire, and write it and speak it and present it. And then we hear and we feel it. And it’s a great way to find healing.” Herrara, who was U.S. Poet Laureate from 2015 to 2017, was the recent keynote speaker at NYC DOE’s Beyond Access Forum: Moving Forward Together. The child of migrant workers, Herrera is an alum of UCLA and Stanford University, and obtained his MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. During his keynote, he will share a poem aimed at inspiring educators and their students. “I want to uplift people’s lives in whatever way I can,” he says. “I’m not Mighty Mouse -- I’m Minnie Mouse, I’m Micro Mouse. But I do want to help in whatever way I can, or inspire in whatever way I can.” His poetry collections include 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border: Undocuments. He has also created work for children, including Imagine and Jabberwalking, and much of his outreach work focuses on connecting poetry with young people.

MORE THAN WORDS ON PAPER As Poet Laureate, Herrera helped to launch “Wordstreet Champions and Brave Builders of the Dream,” a program in partnership with Chicago Public Schools. The effort saw Herrera connecting with nearly 40 English teachers to help expand their perception of what a poem was and how it could be created. In one exercise, teachers faced each other in two rows and talked, while other teachers walked between the rows writing down snippets of conversation they heard and then using that as the basis of a poem. “We cut up paper, we used colors, we stood in lines, we shouted at

each other, we walked through these little tunnels of people talking like little gauntlets. We painted things and made symbols,” Herrara says. The educators then brought these ideas and energies back to their district. Herrara also coordinates the Laureate Lab Visual Wordist Studio at Fresno State, which is also geared toward pushing the boundaries of what constitutes a poem. “It comes from the whole idea of not being so squashed into a small space talking about poetry. As I have taught through the years, students come into the creative writing program, wherever I’ve been, and they want to do art also. They’re painters also, and they’re writers, but there’s no way for them to paint in their creative writing courses,” he says. “They want to merge writing and painting, and writing and sculpture, writing and dance, writing and performance. And all that is kind of pushed aside usually in a traditional creative writing workshop.” This philosophy also applies to mediums increasingly popular with students today such as social media. “Poetry, like every expressive form, is multi-dimensional, but we just seem to have things in little boxes,” he says. “We can dance a poem, we can collage a poem, we can YouTube a poem. And we can do simultaneous expressive formats; playing jazz on the corner, doing YouTube at the same time, drawing and dancing at the same time.”

A WAY OF LEARNING ABOUT THE WORLD No matter what form a poem takes, it remains a form of personal expression, which is why it’s such a powerful medium for students, Herrera says. “It’s a perfect place to express all that because it’s so personal. What you get with poetry, it’s just one hundred percent, one thousand percent, personal. It’s the real you talking, it’s not the school you,” he says. “So it’s total expression, personal yes, but it also provides a possibility of new thinking and a new way of seeing things.” This can help students learn more about the world and themselves as well as help educators understand their students. Herrera says a good poem might cause a teacher to say, “Oh, I have to look at this issue differently now. I have to look at young people differently now because we hear a new thinking.” Herrera’s work is also steeped in respect for the teachers we find in all walks of life, from parents to guardians as well as the professional educators in our lives. “It’s good to support our teachers because without teaching we have nowhere to go,” he says. “We are lost.”

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5 WAYS TO MAKE EDTECH MORE INCLUSIVE Better communication with students and more representation within edtech are just some ways we can better serve all students with technology, says University of California, Irvine’s Gillian Hayes. By Erik Ofgang

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aking edtech accessible to all students has always been important but as it is now an essential part of the classroom, it has never been more vital. Gillian Hayes, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate Division at University of California, Irvine, has studied edtech accessibility extensively, Making technology more accessible in the classroom is one of her goals at The Connecting the EdTech Research EcoSystem (CERES), which she coleads with UCI colleague Candice Odgers. She shares strategies for how educators, programmers, and researchers can help foster more accessibility in edtech.



INTERVIEW: GILLIAN HAYES CREDIT: WILLIE B. THOMAS/GETTY IMAGES

DON’T ADOPT RIGID STANDARDS THAT STIFLE CLASSROOM CREATIVITY

LISTEN TO YOUR STUDENTS ABOUT EDTECH NEEDS IN SPECIAL ED For educators, simply listening to students and letting them explain the edtech tools and other support they need to succeed can go a long way. “Lots of children and young adults, they may know themselves well enough to understand, ‘I need a little break from time to time,’ or, ‘I could sit on a bouncy ball during class, that would really work for me.’ Or they may have a more severe physical disability and say, ‘I need all keyboard, no mouse,’ or ‘I need a screen reader,’” Hayes says. “We need to teach educators to do a better job of hearing from their students, and trusting them to know their own bodies and their own selves.” Of course, proper IEPs and disability services are essential, but in many cases, something contextual may be going on and being able to adapt to what’s happening at that moment is important. “We all need to learn to hear each other and trust a little bit more,” she says.

ADVOCATE FOR INDIVIDUALIZATION OF EDTECH FOR SPECIAL ED STUDENTS When it comes to improving edtech tools for special ed, the key is multimodality. To address that, Hayes would like to see software systems with more flexibility. “For example, it’s built such that for one person, it’s keyboard only, and for another person, we’re going to have sound and visual and keyboard and tactile,” she says. “And for someone else, we’re going to be largely tactile or whatever the case may be. Then everyone wins, because even people without a diagnosed disability may have individual preferences, ways that they learn better, ways that they can engage better.” Making software customizable for each student isn’t easy but it is important. “I’ve built a lot of software in my career. And customization is like the worst thing that you can ask of a piece of software. It’s the thing that always makes everything break, it makes everything harder, so I don’t say that lightly,” Hayes says. “But we’re all so different, and this idea that everyone’s going to use one of two operating systems on computers that basically all have the same form factor, and that’s just going to be how it is, doesn’t actually make sense in the grand scheme of humanity.”

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School leaders sometimes have an understandable impulse to require all tools used to support accessibility, but this isn’t always the best solution. “I want teachers to be creative and think about new kinds of software that are out there and these new tools, and I don’t want to slow that down,” Hayes says. “We’ve seen cases in which schools have said, ‘Well, if you want to use any piece of software in your classroom, it must go through a comprehensive accessibility check, and it must go through a security check, it must go through these other things.’ And I understand the inclination for organizations to try to standardize, but I don’t ever want to be standardizing at the risk of stifling creativity.” Instead, Hayes advocates for more professional development and training for educators at all levels so they know how to take the time on their own to assess tools for accessibility, and also discover and learn from networks of other educators and experts.

FOSTER MORE DIVERSITY WITHIN EDTECH SPACES Hayes regularly gets asked about her wish list for edtech accessibility. As important as making the technology itself accessible is, it’s not the most crucial aspect. “Yes, our products need to be more accessible, but what really needs to happen is our organizations need to be more accessible,” she says. “I mean that in all fronts, so those of us who design technologies, big-tech firms, and researchers. Those spaces have to become more inclusive, so that people with disabilities themselves, people with different kinds of lived experiences, are a part of those design teams.” Having more diversity of perspective will aid the development of accessible tech tools, Hayes says. “They’ll just notice things and comment on things in ways that someone who hasn’t lived those experiences might not.” The same is also true of schools. “If we have more teachers with disabilities, they’re going to just have a little bit more lived experience that matches some of our kids with disabilities,” she says.

KEEP THE RECENT SPIRIT OF INNOVATION ALIVE The pandemic has demonstrated that rapid and dramatic changes in education are possible, and that has potentially profound implications for the future of special education. “We just saw a moment in time where a whole bunch of accommodations were made for an entire population overnight,” Hayes says. “What I want more than anything is for when we think about accessible technology, we think as broadly as we did during COVID. If a kid has social anxiety and doesn’t want to come to school, or they get sick and hurt, and they shouldn’t come to school for maybe a week or two, or a teacher isn’t feeling right that particular day or a thousand other things, we’ve just shown we can do it. So now let’s have the institutional will, to decide that we are going to accommodate everyone, we are going to make all education inclusive,and all education accessible.”


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3 STARTING POINTS TO ADDRESS DIMENSIONS OF DIGITAL EQUITY Three dimensions of digital equity need to be addressed to successfully support learning. By Stephanie Smith Budhai, Ph.D.

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igital equity goes beyond having a working device and basic internet. Educators need to address three dimensions of digital equity to successfully support access and inclusion in teaching and learning. The 2021 National Leadership Technology Summit held at the National Press Club in DC, supported by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the National Education Association, and the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education, provided the opportunity for edtech association presidents, journal editors, and emerging leaders to discuss these aspects in shaping future edtech policy. During the event, these subjects were explored as part of the effort to ensure that all students, families, and teachers can be properly supported in order to get the most out of edtech and learning.

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PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO BIASED CODING ALGORITHMS

As edtech continues to emerge, we rely heavily on machine learning and artificial intelligence to support teaching and learning. For

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example, bots are used in different edtech applications to help students navigate online learning programs, to help grade assessments, and serve as virtual advisors. While bots have the potential to make teaching more efficient, these programs perform based on code that was created by humans, who are flawed and bring their real-world experiences to their work. Consequently, code may have unconscious biases in regard to race, ethnicity, and gender. The 2020 Coded Bias movie on Netflix documents this, and viewing it may be a starting point to understanding that even machines can contribute to the perpetuation of stereotypes and bias. Consequently, as we work toward digital equity, the potential of bias in coding algorithms needs to be kept in mind as more schools use programs that rely on bots.

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MAINTAIN A HIGH LEVEL OF TECHNOETHICS

As more and more students are required to use edtech devices and learn through online platforms, we must, as educators, be sure to protect their privacy, data, and personal information. Misuse of students’ and their families’ information for marketing and other purposes goes against the ethical standards and oaths that we take in doing no harm to students. Remember, families trust educators to not only teach their children, but to also keep them safe. Yes, this includes physical safety, but also includes their privacy and information. If it has been a while since you reviewed some of the laws that protect students when learning through online means, it may be time to review the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) and The


DIMENSIONS OF EQUITY Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Additionally, we must be responsible and ethical with our use of information from other sources, and give proper credit. If you are unsure when to use content found online from other sources, or how to cite these sources, review related laws on Fair Use and Copyright. A variety of open-source websites are available, and one in particular that may be useful is Creative Commons.

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LEVERAGE CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE TEACHING PRACTICES ONLINE

Providing students access to academic content though edtech tools and virtual spaces does not automatically equate to equitable learning experiences. In fact, the digital divide continues to grow as issues of access to strong and consistent bandwidth and internet in lowincome and rural areas remain, as does the lack of digital literacy skills needed to navigate virtual spaces. Family engagement also continues to be a challenge, including issues with work schedules, learning times, and antiquated school-sponsored devices. Coupling these issues with the challenges of making a safe classroom community in an online context -- that takes into account the cultures, beliefs, and perspectives of all students -- only exacerbate the digital divide and equity discrepancies when it comes to online learning and

use of edtech tools in education settings for certain marginalized school communities. The ways in which in-person learning environments must be free from bias and discrimination, the same must translate to online learning environments. Culturally Responsive Teaching Online & In-Person: An Action Planner for Dynamic Equitable Learning Environments, a forthcoming book through Corwin, has myriad pedagogical strategies and techniques to incorporate culturally responsive and equity-minded teaching practices in online and virtual learning environments. For example, leveraging virtual and augmented reality edtech tools such as Google Arts and Culture is a seamless way to digitally connect history, geography, and the arts curriculum to the diverse cultures of the students in the class. Another way to embed culturally responsive teaching into online learning environments is to make sure all edtech tools used incorporate features that are inclusive to all students. This includes having avatars, emojis, and bitmojis that come in different shades, hair styles, and facial features so they can represent all of the diverse learners in the classroom. These areas within digital equity must be addressed to ensure that all students, families, and teachers can experience equitable technologyinfused education, and are only the beginning of what could be done to ensure inclusive access to digital learning materials.

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AI ASSISTANTS

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CHATBOTS IN K-12: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW 12

Chatbots, or digital AI assistants, are increasingly being used in K-12 as an equitable intervention to promote student engagement and retention By Erik Ofgang

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AI ASSISTANTS

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ini is good at her job, says Dr. Liesel Carlson, the School Improvement Data Integration Specialist for the Lansing School District in Michigan. Over a three-month period last school year, Mini sent more than 9,000 texts to parents, personally answering their questions about attendance-related topics, including preschool enrollment levels, upcoming board of ed meetings, days off, and more. More than 96 percent of the time, Mini could answer the questions on her own but when the question was more complex, say if a student was having trouble with a device or a parent had concerns about how their child was adjusting to remote learning, Mini would refer that question to a team of educators within the school district. “What she did for us was it gave us the opportunity to focus our valuable, limited human resources on those requests and questions that needed that intensive support,” Carlson says. “It’s so funny how we refer to her in a very personified way.” Mini‘s full name is Mini the Minutes Matter Chatbot. “She” was named by the Lansing School District but created by AllHere, a company that uses a chatbot or virtual advisor to fight chronic absenteeism by connecting families with resources and answers to questions 24/7. The chatbot’s text-based interventions are based on Dr. Peter Bergman’s research into how text messaging can increase student retention. Over the past few years, chatbots have become common in higher ed, helping students apply to college and for financial aid, among other functions. Now, AI-powered chatbots are being utilized more often in K-12. Proponents say the digital assistants can help districts utilize their human resources more efficiently and promote equity in the process.

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WE’RE NOT TRYING TO REPLACE HUMANS, THERE ARE JUST NOWHERE NEAR ENOUGH HUMANS IN EDUCATION. WE ARE TRYING TO BE THE ASSISTANT TO THOSE STAFF MEMBERS AND FACULTY SO THAT THEY CAN FOCUS ON JUST THOSE HIGH-VALUE TASKS.

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CHATBOTS AND EQUITY AtlasRTX provides chatbots, or digital assistants, to colleges and K-12, and recently partnered with Instructure to provide chatbot support for users of the company’s popular Canvas LMS. Chatbots can increase access to school services in the nation’s more than 13,000 school districts, suggests AtlasRTX president Dr. Mike Bills. “Many of these districts, many of these schools, many of these neighborhoods, they simply don’t have the human capital to support students,” he says. “And so a digital assistant can be there 24/7 365, and it costs about the same as one staff member each year.” By answering the easy and common questions students and their parents have in more than 100 languages, chatbots free up educators and administrators to focus on deeper questions. “We’re not trying to replace humans,” Bills says. “There are just nowhere near enough humans in education. We are trying to be the assistant to those staff members and faculty so that they can focus on just those high-value tasks.” The Lansing School District’s use of Mini provides an example of how chatbots can help schools promote equity, says Joanna Smith, founder and CEO of AllHere and a former middle school math teacher and director of engagement at a charter school in Boston. “It freed up hundreds of hours



AI ASSISTANTS CHATBOT ADVICE FOR SCHOOL LEADERS

of teacher and school- and system-level leader time and resulted in Lansing reaching more families where they prefer to communicate, which is via text.” She adds, “We really envision this as serving as a personalized advisor for every single student in every single family that can respond to their questions in real-time and proactively nudge them throughout their journey in school.”

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CHATBOT LIMITATIONS

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It’s important to remember that all chatbots are not created equal and can’t do everything. “People use the term ‘chatbot’ and they mean, everything from a live chat widget on a web page where you’re literally just chatting with a human being to basic things that are just designed to deflect and then connect you to the right human, all the way to things that are science fiction, and that aren’t even possible,” Bills says. Real-world chatbots are good at answering specific questions. For instance, you can ask AtlasRTX’s higher ed digital assistants questions such as whether you need to submit SAT scores to apply, or what your minimum GPA needs to be. You can also ask about the town and about student life and clubs. However, ask it what the meaning of life is and the answer you receive will likely be less satisfactory. Answers to the questions the chatbot can answer can often be found on a school or university website but not with ease. “Those answers are probably on 50 different pages that you’d have to mine through,” Bills says.

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If you’re looking to bring a chatbot to your school district, you may encounter resistance from staff who say the ideal solution is to have students face-to-face with teachers. “Frankly, I’d say that they’re right,” Bills says. “But we can’t let perfect be the enemy of good. If you focus on just that ideal scenario, you’re going to have so many students who just can’t be there in person. But if we use technology, we can improve the present state.” You also want to make sure you are working with an evidence-based platform and that the chatbot is AIpowered and not just a system that can respond with simple answers to simple prompts, Smith says. A robust AI-powered chatbot is able to parse human language and learn from previous conversations to improve accuracy. “A chatbot’s ability to handle multiple languages, to understand run-on questions, handle misspellings, and deal with emojis are all key indicators of a chatbot that is powered by AI,” she says. Carlson, from the Lansing School District, was not overly familiar with AI technology before her district started working with AllHere, but she says chatbots are more common in our lives than we realize -- think Siri and Alexa. “We now ask our phone to get us directions to a friend’s house or the closest restaurant or whatever we’re looking for, so we’re more and more able to use technology to serve human need, and really preserve human capital for the things that matter most,” she says. “In education we tend to just add more and more things to our staffs’ plates, but chatbots are a takeoff strategy so that staff can focus on the things that are most important for humans to do.”


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HOW TO DEVELOP A DIVERSE SCHOOL IT STAFF To create a diverse school IT staff, education leaders have to be intentional about recruiting, supporting, and developing professionals from all backgrounds By Ray Bendici

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ompanies that create a diverse IT staff see greater profitability and creativity as well as stronger governance and better problem-solving abilities, thanks to the variety in perspectives, thought processes, and experiences. All these benefits transfer to education and edtech, says Diane Doersch, Director of Technology for the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools initiative at Digital Promise, and a former director of technology and chief technology and information officer at Green Bay Area Public Schools in Wisconsin. “Always the people first,” Doersch says. “You’ve got to take care of the people before the people can do the things you need them to do.” A school IT staff needs to have a variety of voices around the table to be successful, she says. People from diverse backgrounds offer diverse solutions, so building a structure to support that and in which everyone feels they have a voice -- and that their supervisor has their back -- is important.

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“You have to set the tone for your department, and potentially, your whole school system, on what’s acceptable and what’s not,” Doersch says. “And that is really going to make a difference on the retention of diverse employees, if you’re lucky enough to get them in the door.”

DIVERSE SCHOOL IT STAFF: INTENTIONAL RECRUITMENT Districts have to be intentional about diversity and inclusion in the recruiting processes. Leaders need to consider practices such as compiling lists of professional networks, sourcing from diverse institutions, and attending sponsored technology events to find qualified candidates, says Doersch. Competing with private sector salaries is a major concern for school edtech leaders, but the education environment offers other benefits. “Something that we always say about working in a school district versus other IT jobs where you’re on call all the time, where it’s high stress, where you could be released at any time, is that in education it’s pretty stable,” says Doersch. “Okay, maybe we don’t pay the best salary, but we have a good community to be part of.” If you’re looking to build diversity, the recruiting seeds need to be planted early as the technology field is open to everybody, says Doersch, who encourages districts to invite their own students to see what they do by offering IT tours. “We had a very diverse hardware team, and students actually say, ‘Hey wait, I look like him, I could do this.’ Or, ‘Look, she’s doing that, I could do this!’” she says. “For me, as the chief, I made sure to get in front of our young women to say, ‘Hey, this is a possibility for you.’ And being an Asian-American was another thing I talked about.” Fine-tuning your job description to include


DIVERSE IT STAFF more inclusive language is also key, as it’s the first thing that a potential employee sees when they’re considering working for you.

OTHER ITEMS TO CONSIDER REGARDING JOB DESCRIPTIONS: • Question if existing job competencies are barriers • Consider experience vs. degrees, as well as all lifestyles • Include an equity statement in a job description so potential employees know it’s a priority • Eliminate technical jargon • Talk about your organization’s culture

DIVERSE IT SCHOOL STAFF: HIRING, ONBOARDING, AND RETENTION Once the job is posted and candidates begin to apply, it’s helpful to have a diverse interview panel that includes various ages, levels of experience, and cultural backgrounds. Although the process should be standardized, it’s important to not just hire the cultural ‘fit,’ and to model a growth mindset. Sometimes it’s the people who don’t seem to fit that are the people you want

YOU HAVE TO SET THE TONE FOR YOUR DEPARTMENT, AND POTENTIALLY, YOUR WHOLE SCHOOL SYSTEM, ON WHAT’S ACCEPTABLE AND WHAT’S NOT. to hire because they bring new perspectives to the table. “Remember, they’re deciding if they want to work for you,” says Doersch. After a prospect is hired, the onboarding process is crucial to show that your organization has a growth plan, and one in which that employee can see themselves achieving career goals and advancing. Objective criteria and metrics should be clear, as are opportunities for job shadowing, professional learning, and especially, mentorship. “We found that we were the strongest when we matched mentors up, so that a person felt that they had somebody to go to to find out procedures or the right person to talk to,” says Doersch. “The people who did end up being

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DIVERSE IT STAFF

those mentors were really out to be helpful, and weren’t in it for themselves. They really truly were team players who wanted to make our team better.”

OTHER ACTIONS TO CONSIDER TO BOOST RETENTION: • • • • •

Put people in places to succeed Connect their work with the strategic direction of the district Have high expectations Provide frequent feedback Coach employees, focusing on fostering independence, developing critical thinking, improving communication, and stretching their abilities • Support their proposals As always, listening is key. “I constantly talked to our new employees and our technology integrators because that tends to be a lonely job when you’re out working at multiple schools,” says Doersch. “I would check in with them and see how they’re doing, see if there’s any way to lower barriers for them, etc.”

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IMPROVING YOUR LEADERSHIP

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Leaders have to be proactive in their approach to management to support diversity and inclusion. “In leadership, there are vulnerabilities and being able to sometimes show your underbelly and be vulnerable shows people that you’re human and you’re learning right along with them,” says Doersch. It’s also important to make sure your leadership team understands about the potential issues within diverse teams, such as cultural microaggressions. “Teaching your team leaders about microaggressions, and what they are and how to stop them, is going to be key,” says Doersch. “We had monthly staff meetings in which we would talk about these things as a whole group, setting up those guardrails for treating each other respectfully.” Also be sure to empower middle-level managers to have the skills to confidently report and address these issues when it happens.

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OTHER LEADERSHIP POINTS TO CONSIDER • Be supportive by showing authentic interest and building trust • Seek different perspectives by inviting ideas from everyone • Operate with strong results orientation by emphasizing efficiency and completion and focusing on the important issues and not getting distracted by unimportant ones • Solve problems effectively, making sure to gather data before making decisions and resolving disputes fairly



ESOL STUDENTS: 6 TIPS FOR EMPOWERING THEIR EDUCATION Holding ESOL students to high standards while providing them with a culturally responsive education is crucial. By Erik Ofgang

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he secret to teaching ESOL students (English Speakers of Other Languages) is providing differentiated instruction, honoring the knowledge and backgrounds of those students, and using the right technology, says Rhaiza Sarkan, ESOL resource Teacher at Henderson Hammock Charter School, a K-8 school in Tampa, Florida. At her school, there are students from multiple cultures who speak a variety of languages. Regardless of their backgrounds, there are ways for educators to make sure each student succeeds, Sarkan says. .

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DIFFERENTIATE INSTRUCTION

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VIEW WORKING WITH ESOL STUDENTS POSITIVELY

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USE THE RIGHT TECH

AEducators need to be aware that ESOL students may have different learning needs or struggle due to communication issues. “I think the best advice that I can give for a teacher is to differentiate instruction,” Sarkan says. “You don’t have to change your instruction, you just have to meet the needs of those students. It can be something little, maybe chunking out an assignment. Simple tweaks can do a lot for an ESOL student.”

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Some educators are so worried about the challenges of working with ESOL students it can be counterproductive or distracting. “They’re like, ‘Oh my God, I have an ESOL student?’” Sarkan says. Her advice is to reframe this and realize working with these students is a unique opportunity. “There are tons of strategies out there to help those students,” she says. “It’s not that you need to translate to another language. You need to immerse the student in the English language. Just give them the tools to make that process run smoothly.”

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Many tech tools are available to help ESOL students, so it’s important to find what works best for you. For example, Sarkan’s school uses Lexia English by Lexia Learning, an adaptive

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ESOL STUDENTS learning tool for teaching English proficiency. By using it, students can practice their reading and writing skills at home or at school. Another tool Sarkan’s school uses is i-Ready. Although not specifically designed for ESOL students, it adapts to each student’s reading levels and provides opportunities to practice proficiency.

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LEARN YOUR STUDENTS’ STORIES

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DON’T UNDERESTIMATE ESOL STUDENTS

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DON’T LET ESOL STUDENTS UNDERESTIMATE THEMSELVES

To teach ESOL students in a culturally responsive manner, Sarkan says students should take the time to really get to know their students. “I like to make sure that I know where my students came from, and I like to hear their stories,” she says. “I also make sure we support where they came from.” Recently, she bumped into a former student, now in college, who asked if she remembered him. Although it had been many years since she had the student in class, she did remember him because she had learned all about his family and their immigration from Cuba.

Sarkan says the biggest mistake some educators make is to think that just because they currently struggle with language, ESOL students may be incapable of succeeding in other subjects. For example, they may think, “Oh, he’s not going to be able to do that, so I’m just not going to expose them to that type of work or that type of assignment or that type of topic,” she says. “You need to expose them, they need to feel the urge of, ‘I need to learn the language. ‘I want to know this.’”

ESOL students also have a tendency to underrate themselves, so educators need to work to prevent this. Sarkan assesses English proficiency at her school and will have some ESOL students attend small-group sessions with other learners at their level so they have a safe space to practice new language skills. Regardless of the strategies that she implements, Sarkan constantly reminds ESOL students of their strengths. “I always tell them, ‘You guys are ahead of the game because you have your home language, and you’re also learning a new language,’” she says. “‘You aren’t late, you are ahead of everybody because y’all are getting two languages instead of one.’”

WWW.TECHLEARNING.COM

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CREDIT: DEAN MITCHELL /THINKSTOCK

ACCESSIBLE WEBSITES: BEST PRACTICES FOR EDUCATORS

Creating accessible websites allows educators to connect with students, parents, families, and the widest possible audience By Ray Bendici

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ACCESSIBLE WEBSITES

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or educators, one of the best things about creating a district, school, or classroom website is being able to easily and efficiently communicate critical information with students and families. By focusing on making it accessible, educators can be sure that all stakeholders are on the same (web) page. “If you have an accessible website, guess what? You’ve reached the widest possible audience,” said Laura Ogando, program manager digital literacy and inclusion for the New York City Department of Education, during the recent #NYCSchools Tech Summit. (Available free on demand here). “When we don’t, we leave people out.” Here are some best practices for educators looking to connect with everyone, from Ogando.

REMEMBER THE BASICS

To create an accessible website, Ogando said educators should:

USE PROPER FORMATTING This includes headings and subheadings, both of which should be correctly tagged by using the proper style format that can be read by the screen readers used by visually impaired. Ditto using numbered lists versus bulleted lists.

WRITE IN PLAIN LANGUAGE Content should be written between a 6th- and 9th-grade reading level so it can be easily perceived and understood the first time it is read. Teachers should be wary of using “edu-jargon” and be mindful of presenting information clearly for parents and students. Plain language is also more easily understood by AI-translation devices.

PROVIDE ALT TEXT FOR ALL IMAGES AND TABLES Again, this is critical for screen readers to help describe the image. “If you don’t have alt text, it’s like the image is not there,” said Ogando.

HAVE AT LEAST A 4.5:1 COLOR CONTRAST BETWEEN THE TEXT AND THE BACKGROUND People don’t perceive color the same way. For example, gray on white may be hard for some to see. This could be tricky with some schools’ colors, which should be used as accents not in the main body of pages

LINK CORRECTLY Links should be meaningful. Be mindful to avoid using “click here” every time as it can be confusing for screen readers, and to indicate if a link opens in a new window or not.

PUBLISH WEB PAGES, DON’T POST DOCUMENTS By taking the time to create a web page rather than just uploading a document, it can be more easily found by search engines, including your own site’s search tool. “When you embed a document, yes, it’s on the page, but it’s like on top of the page, not really in it,” said Ogando. This construction makes it harder to find keywords and be accessed by screen readers.

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IF YOU HAVE AN ACCESSIBLE WEBSITE, GUESS WHAT? YOU’VE REACHED THE WIDEST POSSIBLE AUDIENCE ...WHEN WE DON’T, WE LEAVE PEOPLE OUT.” An embedded document can also be trickier to read on smaller devices, such as a phone or tablet, and require swiping side to side to view, which is inconvenient. “If the content is loaded on that page, it’s going to be properly formatted for that screen size,” Ogando said. “So if you have longer content, you can keep scrolling to read it, not have to go back and forth to read a whole sentence.” Be mindful of using tables as sometimes content needs to be read vertically rather than horizontally (or vice versa), and a screen reader will not be able to make that distinction. Also avoid PDFs as much as possible unless you have the proper software (Adobe) to create one, and even then, screen readers can have trouble with these (see below). Note: Some very specific items should not be posted as web pages, such as forms that need to be signed, anything with personally identifiable information, or in-language translations.

LINK TO ORIGINALS Although you may get asked to post PDFs, it’s not always a best practice as you may be duplicating content from another site. In addition to concerns around rights and responsibility, you also cannot ensure accessibility, make updates, or create translated versions. “The moment you download and upload a PDF, it’s practically obsolete,” said Ogando. Instead, link to the PDF on its original site and make sure it opens in a new (marked) window. “And once you link to the proper page, you never have to think about it again,” Ogando said. Also remember that as the webmaster of a site, you’re the gatekeeper, and you have every right to question where something is coming from or why it’s being posted. “Part of being a webmaster is being an advocate,” said Ogando. “So when you see that people are not creating accessible content, remind them to make it accessible.”

NYC DOE INFOHUB RESOURCES Digital Accessibility Making Accessible Content Making Print Documents Accessible Accessible PDFs and Fillable Forms Plain Language

NYC DOE TRAINING INFO Person-lead remote learning Register for FREE on-demand sessions through OTIS.Teq See the full presentation slide deck here



CREDIT: TIM ROBBERTS/GETTY IMAGES

STUDENT EBOOK READING SURGES DURING THE PANDEMIC

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Convenient and accessible ebooks are likely to be a bigger part of school reading programs going forward as they help boost equity and promote literacy. By Erik Ofgang

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-12 students are reading more ebooks than ever before. Between March 2020 and February 2021, ebook usage at schools increased dramatically, according to a recent white paper from OverDrive Education, which works with more than 48,700 schools to distribute ebooks and other digital media through its Sora K-12 reading app.

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Gains include: • A 139 percent increase in digital books borrowed by or assigned to students from their school’s digital collection • A 228 percent increase in digital books opened • A 25 percent increase in average hours students spent reading • A 21 percent increase in average hours spent reading per book.


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DIGITAL BOOKS “It’s really quite stunning,” says Angela Arnold, general manager of OverDrive Education, who believes the shift toward ebook reading will continue even as more schools and libraries resume pre-pandemic operations. “We have seen a real paradigm shift in perceptions about digital books. Prior to the pandemic digital books were nice to have and seen as accessories, or digital resources with very specific utility. Where we are today in 2021, I think digital books are more perceived as a necessity.” Melissa Jacobs, director of the New York City Department of Education School Library System, has noticed a similar uptick in ebook reading in New York City since March 2020. “The use of ebooks and digital content has quadrupled, if not more, across the board, because students couldn’t get into physical buildings to use materials,” Jacobs says. It took some time to get all students equitable access to digital devices but once that happened students were off and reading, she adds. For much of 2020, many school and community libraries were closed or converted into temporary classrooms to accommodate social distancing, so checking out physical books was often difficult and sometimes impossible. This helped convert more readers and educators to the benefits of ebooks, and now that they are familiar with ebooks, they seem likely to continue reading those along with physical books.

EBOOKS GOING FORWARD

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The pre-pandemic thinking around ebooks may no longer apply, says Michael Dodes, Queens library coordinator for the New York City Department of Education School Library System. “We know that prepandemic, most kids preferred a physical book to an ebook. I would be very interested, now that they have become such a part of classrooms, whether that’s changing.” More research is needed to answer that question but many oncereluctant educators are now embracing ebooks. “A lot of our adults have not picked up an ebook or an audiobook until now,” Dodes says. “Working your way through an ebook is just a different qualitative experience than a physical one. When you’ve grown up with physical books, making that shift

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IT’S REALLY QUITE STUNNING ...WE HAVE SEEN A REAL PARADIGM SHIFT IN PERCEPTIONS ABOUT DIGITAL BOOKS....TODAY IN 2021, I THINK DIGITAL BOOKS ARE MORE PERCEIVED AS A NECESSITY.”

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is difficult. So having the audio books and also the professional, searchable books, where it’s using an ebook for a purpose, is a good step to getting adults to make the adaptation to using ebooks.” Jacobs does not believe students will return to pre-COVID reading habits any time soon. “There’s going to be a dramatic change in the way we’re going to be interacting with any type of reading material,” she says. “I think sustainability wise, e-content is here to stay, and will and has become a medium that should be offered to students.”

EBOOKS, EQUITY, AND ACCESSIBILITY Ebooks can be a more affordable option for classrooms that need multiple copies of the same book. Select ebooks can be rented, with education discounts for as little as 99 cents per student for 90 days. “That blows out of the water the economics of certain print titles,” Arnold says. “If you’re talking about thousands of students who need access to books, the economics change such that digital increases access.” Ebooks can also be paired with audiobooks. Settings such as background color and text size can be adjusted, which helps make them accessible to all readers. “If you have a book in print, that’s great, it might be accessible to some students; if you have a book in print that is in large print, you’re making it accessible to a different audience,” Jacobs says. “If you have that book available in print in large print, and now in an ebook format, you now have additional accessibility tools available at the fingertips of the students.” Having various book formats and other options available will only continue to drive literacy. “I see e-content, audiobooks, ebooks, print, large print -- all these forms and formats -- coming together and helping enrich and provide access to our kids,” Jacobs says. “And I think all formats should be provided. Librarians and teachers shouldn’t be put in a position of saying, ‘Okay, I can only choose this format.’ Because handing a kid a book in only one format is not differentiating.” The OverDrive Ebook Report is here (registration required)



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BEST ENGLISH

LANGUAGE LEARNERS LESSONS AND ACTIVITIES The best English Language Learners lessons, activities, and curriculum to support ELL students and educators. By Diana Restifo

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ccording to the National Education Association, a majority (55%) of U.S. teachers have at least one English language learner in their classroom. The NEA further predicts that by 2025, 25% of all children in U.S. classrooms will be ELLs. These statistics highlight the need for widespread availability of high-quality ELL teaching materials. The following top lessons, activities, and curriculum are designed to support English language learners and educators as they strive toward English proficiency.

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BEST ELL RESOURCES

AMERICAN ENGLISH WEBINARS From the U.S. Department of State comes this diverse collection of webinars and accompanying documents covering topics such as using audiobooks for teaching, the color vowel chart, games, STEM activities, teaching with jazz chants, and dozens more. Free.

DAVE’S ESL CAFE Free grammar lessons, idioms, lesson plans, phrasal verbs, slang, and quizzes comprise the ELL teaching resources from longtime international educator Dave Sperling.

DUOLINGO FOR SCHOOLS One of the best known and most popular language learning tools, Duolingo for Schools is completely free for teachers and students. Teachers sign up, create a classroom, and start teaching language. Kids love the personalized lessons, which turn language learning into a fast-paced game.

ESL GAMES PLUS LAB Extensive collection of ELL games, quizzes, videos, printable worksheets, and PowerPoint slides. Search by topics to find the specific teaching resource you need. In addition to ELL games, you’ll also find math and science games for K-5 students. Free accounts offer full access with (blockable) ads.

ESL VIDEO A well-organized resource offering ELL learning videos according to level,

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quizzes, and activities that can be copied into Google Slides. Super guidance for teachers in this top-notch site. Bonus: Teachers can create their own multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank quizzes.

ETS TOEFL: FREE TEST PREPARATION MATERIALS Perfect for advanced students aiming for English fluency, these free materials include an interactive six-week course, full TOEFL internetbased practice test, and practice sets in reading, listening, speaking, and writing.

EVA EASTON’S AMERICAN ENGLISH PRONUNCIATION A comprehensive, in-depth resource devoted to the understanding and practice of American English pronunciation. The interactive audio/video lessons and quizzes focus on specific aspects of American English speech, such as reduction, linking, and word endings. A remarkable and free website from expert English speech educator Eva Easton.

INTERESTING THINGS FOR ESL STUDENTS On this free website, students are invited to start with easy English vocabulary games and quizzes, then explore the variety of other offerings, such as anagrams, proverbs, and common American slang expressions. Be sure to check out the InterestingThingsESL YouTube channel for listen-andread-along videos of every type, from popular songs to sports and history lessons to a myriad of sentence types.



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BEST ELL RESOURCES LEXIA LEARNING A research-supported and WIDA-correlated full curriculum for English language learners, offering scaffolded support in Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Haitian-Creole, Vietnamese, and Arabic.

LISTENANDREADALONG A great way for older ELL students to learn English by watching news videos from Voice of America. The narrated videos feature highlighted text to help kids understand both vocabulary and pronunciation. Free.

MERRIAM-WEBSTER LEARNER’S DICTIONARY Students can easily discover word pronunciation and meanings, as well as test their vocabulary with multiple- choice quizzes, all for free.

RANDALL’S ESL CYBER LISTENING LAB ESL Cyber Listening Lab is well designed, easy to navigate, and chock-full of useful ELL activities, games, quizzes, videos, and classroom handouts. A free, standout effort from longtime educator Randall Davis.

REAL ENGLISH As its name suggests, Real English features videos of ordinary people, not actors, speaking everyday English naturally. The site was developed by English language educators who wanted to provide their students with a more realistic—and therefore, more effective—listening experience. In addition to the interactive lessons, the practical insights for teachers makes this a great free resource.

SOUNDS OF ENGLISH LESSONS AND ACTIVITIES Veteran ELL educators Sharon Widmayer and Holly Gray provide free creative and fun printable lessons to teach pronunciation, vowels and consonants, syllables and more.

USA LEARNS USA English is a free website offering English language courses and video lessons for speaking, listening, vocabulary, pronunciation, reading, writing, and grammar. Guidance for teachers includes instructions on using the site and an overview of the resources. Although aimed at teaching English and U.S. citizenship to adults, students under 18 are welcome to register and use the site’s resources.

VOICE OF AMERICA Learn English from the Voice of America, which offers free beginning, intermediate, and advanced video lessons, as well as lessons in U.S. history and government. Check out the Learning English Broadcast, a daily current events audio broadcast using slower narration and careful word choices for English language learners.

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Tools, Trends & Experiences in ESports Education December 14, 2021 Tech & Learning, AV Technology and Systems Contractor News are co-hosting this one-day virtual conference for K-12, higher education, and pro AV professionals offering sessions that explore the tools, trends, and experience in esports & education. Did you know that esports is one of the fastest growing industries worldwide? Making up 61% of the total audience, 13 - 24 year olds are behind the industry’s growth. From highly organized events, to tournaments watched by millions, this professional and competitive sport is now top of the curriculum at high schools, universities and now in K12 classrooms across America. This event aims to give an in-depth insight into the esports audience, its huge benefits to students, and how you can deliver an esports program in your curriculum.

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EDUCATION GRANTS: WIN OR LOSE, WHAT TO DO NEXT After applying for an education grant, here are the next steps to take whether you receive funding or not By Gwen Solomon

A CREDIT: THINKSTOCKPHOTOS

fter you’ve sent off your proposal for an education grant, there’s nothing more you can do to influence the decision. You just have to wait and hope for the best. Stay optimistic. After all, you’ve done a great job planning and writing the proposal, so there’s a good chance you’ll get the grant. If you win, you’ll have everything in place to get started right away. If not, then get to work planning the next proposal; there are more grant opportunities just waiting for you.

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CLOSING THE GAP BETWEEN EDUCATION AND STEM CAREERS. Available to watch on-demand now STEM education aims to prepare students to solve the big problems of the world. But we now realize that it’s not enough just to know how to code and calculate. Creating solutions -- especially for today’s issues -- means tapping into our humanity. It means developing skills of empathy, compassion, self-discipline and social awareness, among others. We explore this connection between STEM and SEL and topics include: • SEL driving STEM education • STEM and STEAM for early learners • Nurturing the STEM educator pipeline • Crashing the barriers of equity and diversity • Helping students see themselves in STEM career fields • Developing the next-generation of entrepreneurs • Creativity and design Brought to you by

VIRTUAL Who should attend? This event is designed for educators, policymakers and industry professionals working in STEM. Audience members include K-20 Career and Technical Education administrators and directors, K-20 directors of STEM education programs, K-12 superintendents, K-20 STEM specialists, K-20 STEM educators and professors, College and Career Readiness professionals.

REGISTER FOR FREE NOW TO VIEW THE SESSIONS ON-DEMAND #SBSTEM21 @SBEducation


EDUCATION GRANTS EDUCATION GRANTS: 7 THINGS TO DO WHEN YOU WIN ONE Be ready to hit the ground running should you win. Have your plans in place so you won’t lose valuable time. Encourage staff to continue planning so they’ll be ready, willing, and able to start immediately if and when the funding does come through. Follow the plan. Do what you’ve said you want to do. Spend on budget items exactly. Measure what you’ve said you’ll test. Send reports on time. Understand roles. Make sure that everyone involved understands the project thoroughly and knows exactly what his/her role is in it. Recognize personnel for their work; thank them publicly. Talk about how well the project is working. Keep the support strong. Maintain enthusiasm for the project throughout its life. When people hear that a project is going well, it motivates those involved and convinces everyone that they have a great thing. Sustain it. Make the program a regular part of the school’s or district’s program. Find ways to sustain it over time, even after the funding period ends. Evaluate the outcomes early and often. Make small changes when they’re needed-and before they adversely affect the success of your project.

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EDUCATION GRANTS: 6 THINGS TO DO IF YOU DON’T GET ONE Of course, it’s possible that you don’t get this grant. After all, you win some and you lose some. So start planning for the future. Contact the funder and ask to read the reviewers’ comments about your proposal (if the grant program provides this) so you’ll know how close you were to winning and what you might want to change for future tries. Read the summaries of projects that did win and analyze why these were selected. Submit it again. If you think the plan has merit, propose it again and/or find a different funder. Maybe the proposal just needs tweaking to succeed. Don’t lose heart or give up easily. Adapt the proposal to fit another grant or even hire a professional grant writer to help punch it up.

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Start the project anyway. If the idea is important and the staff is committed, begin whatever parts you can without the outside funding. Maybe the groups that said they might contribute funds will help you anyway. Find a new idea. It’s possible that no one is funding exactly the kind of initiative you want to do right now, but there’s probably an alternative course you could take. After you’ve sent off your proposal for an education grant, there’s nothing more you can do to influence the decision. You just have to wait and hope for the best. Stay optimistic. After all, you’ve done a great job planning and writing the proposal, so there’s a good chance you’ll get the grant. If you win, you’ll have everything in place to get started right away. If not, then get to work planning the next proposal; there are more grant opportunities just waiting for you.

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Summits Are Back – In Person! Join us in Orlando on January 24 (Day before FETC Conference) for our live event The Tech & Learning Regional Leadership Summit brings together district leaders in a relaxed face-to-face setting to talk candidly about how to build and sustain effective district strategic plans. The Tech & Learning Leadership Summit is complimentary to those who qualify and focuses on the unique needs of your region to give you the valuable insight you need to develop action plans and is designed for for top-level executives including Superintendents, CTOs, CAOs, Instructional and Tech District Leaders.

Visit the Orlando website See our website for updates about our other summits • February 7, 2022: Dallas • March 25, 2022: Georgia • April 1, 2022: California

Example agenda: 9:30AM - 10:00AM: Event registration at Citrus Club, Orlando 10:00AM - 10:30AM: Welcome and Introductions Attendees participate in an ice-breaker activity to meet new colleagues and get ready for a day of idea sharing 10:30AM - 11:00AM: Panel Discussion District leaders share their challenges and success about the effect of the pandemic on their districts, and will discuss their plans for navigating the future of education in their districts 11:00AM - 12:30PM: Topical Round Tables Attendees either participate in small group discussions focused on important topics related to strategic planning or meet with industry partners 12:30PM - 1:30PM: Lunch and Panel Discussion 1:30PM - 3:00PM: Topical Round Tables Attendees either participate in small group discussions focused on important topics related to strategic planning or meet with industry partners 4:00PM - 6:00PM: Networking Reception Attendees can unwind and network at this reception

To learn how your company can benefit from a sponsorship, contact: Allison Knapp | Sales Manager allison.knapp@futurenet.com (415) 806-5704

• May 6, 2022: New England • June 25, 2022: New Orleans • September 23, 2022: Texas

Please note, the safety of our sponsors, staff and delegates is important to us and we will be following all COVID health and safety guidelines during the events. For more information and guidance, please keep an eye on our website

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Ensuring Equity in Education: Three-part series

Cultivating Algebraic Reasoning from Kindergarten to High School. Learn how to create district-wide learning environments that foster algebraic thinking and a love of mathematics from the very beginning.

This three-part webinar series provides the tools and best practices that districts need to support equity in education while continuing to manage the challenging COVID landscape. Using authentic examples of instructional and technical practices, this webinar series presents specific research and recommendations for school and district leaders.

Moving Beyond AlgebraReady to Algebra-Excited:

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BEYOND ACCESS FORUM

VIRTUAL

Available to watch on-demand now! Join one of the largest crossdivisional NYC DOE professional learning opportunities. This interactive virtual event offers sessions to leverage culturally responsive and sustaining practices to support social emotional and academic learning, literacy, digital accessibility and fluency, inclusion, and equity for historically marginalized students, including students with disabilities and multilingual learners.

WHY ATTEND? Network • Speak virtually to staff at tech companies • Connect with peers on how they’re supporting students and families • Connect with educators, librarians, tech SPOCs and more!

Learn • Support for students with IEPs • Accessible website platforms • Equitable access to school libraries

Participate • Converse about accessibility and inclusion • Meet industry leaders

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• Discuss how to make school websites accessible