Educators gather to collaborate on transformation of American education during first-ever DCSD Innovation Summit
LONE TREE – Over a three-day period, educators from around the country gathered in Douglas County to learn about the innovative techniques implemented by the Douglas County School District (DCSD) and to collaborate on transforming the educational system.
The first-ever Innovation Summit was held at the Denver Marriott South Park Meadows on February 18-20. Forty educators, including teachers and administrators, came from around the nation to learn about the cutting-edge curriculum, assessment, pay-for-performance systems and more created by DCSD. Educators from California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Oregon participated in the Summit.
“I’m very grateful to Douglas County because not only are they doing great transformational work with their educational work in the county for their students, but they’ve been willing to share that with leaders from around the country,” said Ken Kay, the Chief Executive Officer of EdLeader21.
“We have heard that the Douglas County School District is doing outstanding work to change the whole nature of how teaching is done today,” added Martha, an associate director of elementary education in California.
The Summit was created, in part, to address the growing number of requests by educators, who want to see DCSD’s work in action and gain information about how to implement it at their schools and districts.
“We love facilitating visits because often we get just as much as the visitor does from the experience,” DCSD Superintendent Dr. Liz Fagen explained. “The challenge, however, is that it can be a little bit of a distraction to have a lot of visits in any given year, so we decided to invite everybody to come together at one time.”
Dr. Fagen explains the Summit was designed to not only share DCSD’s practices, but to also encourage collaboration between all of the participants.
“The goal was to bring together the most innovative educators we know and who know us, and to work together on the most important things for kids,” Fagen said. “We have just completed a day and a half of teaching, learning, listening and growing together on the most important topics that we are currently working on in our districts and many others.”
The participants say they appreciated an opportunity to connect with other educators who are working on similar efforts.
“I think it is so important. You can’t be the only one trying to change things, because it is like moving a brick wall,” said Carrie, a middle school teacher in Oregon.
Carrie came to the Summit to learn about DCSD’s pay-for-performance system, because her school district is adopting a new pay scale. After she arrived, however, she was intrigued by Douglas County’s approach to curriculum and decided to focus her attention there.
“It was really fascinating to hear what they’ve done. How they have gotten away from the idea of curriculum as your textbook or curriculum as your workbook. They have completely gotten away from that. That becomes your resources and materials and the World Class Outcomes become your curriculum,” Carrie said.
She says the opportunity to reflect about her own teaching practices and how these concepts might work for her sixth-grade language arts students was a highlight of the conference.
“Our superintendent said before we came here, as educators we don’t get enough time to think sometimes. I think that it has been really powerful to think about your practice and reflect about your practice in a very global way,” Carrie said.
“I’ve been able to ask lots of questions, which is always helpful,” Carrie added. “A lot of times you go to these trainings and you ask questions and they’re like, ‘oh yeah, yeah, yeah.’ I was able to ask questions about young teachers that they were really able to answer and say, ‘this is how we help those young teachers.’”
From session-to-session the experience was similar. Facilitators worked side-by-side with the participants.
In the curriculum session, DCSD Chief Academic Officer Dr. Dana Johnson-Strother and her team not only talked about the District’s Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum, but also modeled highly effective teaching techniques. In a session about the District’s InspirED Innovation tool, the attendees had the opportunity to build a lesson in the tool.
“In the session we hosted, we saw so much energy coming in from our participants that it was really fulfilling to be able to stand there and talk to them about their needs and explain what we do in this district so differently,” explained DCSD Chief Technology Officer Gautam Sethi. “Having been in education for the past 14 years, I have seen quite a few events. Most of the time you get people at conferences where they are there and engaged for a few things – but not engaged for the entire conference. This was exciting.”
Kay says that Douglas County is a great exemplar for the transformational work being done across the country.
“You have teachers who are courageous enough to make this happen in their classrooms, but you also have an administrative team at the school level and the District level, that is prepared to do the things they need to do to support that kind of education, systemically,” Kay said. “It is not one thing that has got to be fixed, or one classroom or one school. It is the entire system. Douglas County has become the role model for what holistically systemic change should look like in the 21st century.”
“I had several people walk up to me this morning and say to me, ‘gosh it is incredible. I can’t even see doing this in my district; I can’t believe what they’re doing in a district of 70,000 students,’” Kay said.
“This is hard work that requires a long term commitment. And so, this isn’t for the faint of heart and it isn’t for people looking for a silver bullet,” Kay added. “What Douglas County stands for is this transformation is doable, if you have a bold vision and you see it as a marathon, not a sprint. I do hope that people will leave here, knowing it is a marathon, but it is an accomplishable marathon.”
The Summit was offered at no cost to the participants or the taxpayers of Douglas County, thanks to a grant provided to the Douglas County Educational Foundation. Participants were responsible for their travel and/or lodging expenses.
WATCH: Educators gather for the 2015 Innovation Summit
WATCH: Educators gather for the 2015 Innovation Summit