When we initially visited and selected schools for the first cohort of the Higher-Powered Learning Program, our three-year, blended-learning implementation program, we were shocked by the differences among schools. The largest schools have nearly 400 students each, while the smallest has just over 100. A few of the schools have more contemporary architecture with clean, white walls and big windows; others have the look of a classic Catholic school, with rock-solid walls and exposed brick (maybe they're just being trendy?).
Far more important than the differences, however, are the similarities. In addition to the selection criteria we outlined in this post, the five schools we ultimately chose share five key characteristics:
- Diverse student population
- Audacious school leaders
- Dynamic teachers
- Potential for growth
- Feeling of home
Diverse Student Population
One of our team's core beliefs is that every child is uniquely made in God's image and likeness. Every student deserves an outstanding educational experience that empowers him or her to grow as a learner and an individual. Having said that, working with schools that serve a diverse range of students is at the heart of our mission. We are proud to say that the populations of the five schools we chose for this cohort are nearly 70 percent minority students, and more than half qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Two schools have enrollments that are more than 80 percent minority and FRL students. Many of the schools also have a significant number of students who were raised speaking a language other than English. We are excited to see how the personalized nature of blended learning allows these diverse schools to flourish.
Audacious School Leaders
If a school leader was content with the status quo of education or had no desire to improve to improve his or her school, he or she never would have even applied to participate in this innovative program. Every application we received for the Higher-Powered Learning Program came from the desk of a school leader with a burning desire to improve education for his or her students. The leaders we ultimately selected share our belief that technology has the power to transform teaching and learning, and they are willing to take risks and and reimagine the future in order to grow.
The classroom is where all the magic happens, and teachers are the magicians who bring learning to life. The dynamic group of teachers we selected share our belief that Catholic education is an endeavor of the mind and heart. Our team was just as impressed with their concern for their students' well being as we were with their innovative teaching practices. It takes courage to adopt new teaching practices, and our teachers have already demonstrated a tremendous growth mindset as they constantly try new things and seek to improve.
Potential For Growth
Part of our selection process included choosing schools that have potential for significant growth with the addition of technology and resources. The majority of the schools we chose are housed in charming, historic buildings filled with rich traditions, but they were previously lacking some of the technology needed to keep up with 21st-century learning demands. Why should a school have to choose one or the other? We are challenging our school teams to keep traditions alive while driving quality teaching and instructional practices forward using transformational technology tools.
Feeling of Home
Last but certainly not least, the five schools we chose to join this cohort of the Higher-Powered Learning Program captured our hearts. Although they all have unique cultures and serve different populations, the combination of teachers, students and building leaders made each school feel like home. There are strong support systems in place at each school, impressive teaching practices already occurring, and warmth radiating throughout the buildings. They say that "home is where the heart is," and our team is happy to have found our home in our Minneapolis and St. Paul schools for the next three years.