Quest for Success: The Power of Educator Voice to Create Real Change

 

Sheri Rodman, Director of Data and Operations at America Achieves Educator Networks, reflects on her experience working with Louisiana educators and thought-leaders to develop a curriculum for a new statewide career development course. 

Twelve months ago, I was sitting in a boardroom in New Orleans with a dozen really smart people who wanted to help advise our team as we launched a new Fellowship program in Louisiana. A few weeks earlier we had entered into a partnership with the Louisiana Department of Education and promised the department a pretty hefty deliverable: we planned to spend 8 months engaging some of the state’s top educators, deepening their knowledge and understanding of the 21st century economy and then leveraging that knowledge with their existing expertise to write the curriculum for a new career development course that would be offered to students across the state. I wasn’t sure if we could do it.

Our Strategic Advisory Team, the really smart people, were enthusiastic from the start. At that first meeting, they were already onboard; they knew that the state’s current career development course wasn’t helping prepare students for the next grade, let alone their future career. And they acknowledged there was no existing model of the type we were imagining. The Advisors pushed us to take the time upfront to map out the entire K-12 spectrum of career exploration and career readiness - so we could intelligently build these over time and identify important topics through which to do so, and better define levels of mastery that would be appropriate for the high school credit course we were creating. They, like the many business and industry leaders we engaged throughout the process, encouraged us to prioritize cross-sector competencies - like communication skills and conflict resolution. Finally, our expert advisors felt strongly that we stay true to our commitment to equity and that the eventual course and meaningful career readiness should be accessible to all students and that regardless of students’ individual postsecondary plans, every student needed a set of core, career ready competencies to be successful in life.

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We took this charge throughout the fall and early winter and rolled up our sleeves in our work with the Louisiana Educator Voice Fellows. Together with the teacher, principal and district administrator Fellows, we drafted a Pre-K thru 16 career development continuum and landed on a set of nationally-recognized competencies to build a shared vision of a career-ready graduate in Louisiana. After outlining key unit topics, in which we would embed the competency development in a real-world, authentic context, Fellows determined that the units should include performance tasks that draw on project-based learning best practices and provide students the opportunity to practice key skills and problem-solve. We leveraged a performance task development rubric, adapted from the Buck Institute Gold Standard, to help guide our work and reinforce our priorities.

In the dark, cold days of winter - although it was never really that cold in Louisiana - Fellows went through many cycles of writing, providing and receiving peer feedback, revising, and repeating steps one through three.

By February we were ready to share our work with our Advisors and together with them, we developed plans to solicit early feedback from teachers, students, and industry partners.

Following a small field test of select units in a handful of schools and a review by industry, we brought in outside expertise to help get us across the finish line by reformatting the curriculum and ensuring continuity and cohesion from the first unit in the course to the last. In June and July, Fellows introduced other Louisiana teachers to our work and prepared them to teach the course, newly named Quest for Success.

With the start of the new school year, Quest for Success is currently being piloted in over 50 Louisiana classrooms.

With the start of the new school year, Quest for Success is currently being piloted in over 50 Louisiana classrooms, helping middle and high school students of all backgrounds, abilities, and interests to:

  • develop essential 21st century workforce skills - the ability to communicate, collaborate, and lead;
  • explore new and exciting careers and industry sectors; and
  • learn about themselves and their interests to successfully navigate high school, postsecondary education, and career pathways.

Last week, almost exactly one year after our first meeting, we met with our Advisors again, this time in Baton Rouge. We were eager to gather their feedback on how to best monitor our progress this year, evaluate the Quest for Success pilot, and continue to improve on or work. Our Advisors agreed that our exceptional Fellows, with the support of industry representatives, and other partners, accomplished a great deal in the past year, but that we still have a lot of work to do. They reminded us of our early commitment to equity - not only verifying that the course is accessible to all students across the state - but also helping teachers, principals, parents, and other stakeholders understand that career readiness is important for all students. It’s never too early to begin exploring careers and developing essential skills, no matter if a student plans to join the workforce immediately after high school, or after 2, 4, or 8+ years of postsecondary education, and while no single course can alone guarantee future success, all kids deserve the opportunity to better prepare for career and life success.   

A sincere thank you to each of our Advisors for supporting this project:

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  • Cassie Barker-Carr, Mary Lefebvre and Lisa Wolf, ACT
  • Karen Cole, D.C. Public Schools
  • Tony Davis, Louisiana Board of Education
  • Kelly DiMarco, Louisiana Department of Education
  • Erin Kuster, Ochsner Health Systems & the New Orleans Career Center
  • Elaine Menardi, Colorado AeroLab, Inc.
  • London Moore, THRIVE Academy
  • Anne Swanson, CGI
  • Mary Wilson-Arrasmith, West Baton Rouge Parish Schools

And most especially, to our colleagues and career readiness champions in the Louisiana Department of Education, and to our great group of Louisiana Fellows. They came from all over the state, from very different roles and points of view, but came together to challenge each other and all of us, and Louisiana students will be better for it. The fellows have truly proven the power of educator voice to create real change for children and I am grateful to be on this Quest for Success with them.

To learn more about the Louisiana Educator Voice Fellowship, click here

 

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