School leadership has been dealing with an odd combination of challenges since the 2021-22 school year began. Recently, we had the fortune of hearing 20 superintendents from around the United States voice their pressing concerns during a leadership conference we attended. The leaders hailed from districts of various sizes and student demographics, and represented a cross section of U.S. districts. Although each leader’s outlook and situation was nuanced, all shared a deep concern for the best possible outcomes for their students. Several recurring objectives emerged during group discussions.
10 key objectives expressed by superintendents
1. Provide learners with a digital learning environment while reducing the cost of operations
Leaders seek to make better use of fiscal resources and move schools into the next generation of learning by digitizing curriculum and providing learners with 21st century transferable skills.
2. Simplify technology for students
With students currently using over 1,000 digital products and services on average per month and teachers almost as many, leaders want to reduce student and teacher confusion by simplifying the use of digital resources.
3. Ensure district oversight into resources shared with students
In light of increased scrutiny from community groups and parents, leaders need to show that districts have control over the materials that students are able to access through their schools.
4. Close the learning gap
Increased learning gaps have emerged due, in part, to the quick transition into remote instruction during COVID-19 school closures. Disproportionately affected have been the country’s most vulnerable students. Superintendents want a solution that allows them to find free Open Educational Resources (OER) to help differentiate instruction and facilitate meaningful learning outcomes for all students.
5. Provide curriculum materials that reflect diverse perspectives and students
Leaders seek to support the academic success that comes with all students seeing themselves within the curriculum and learning resources they use daily.
6. Cover classes despite teacher and staffing shortages
With federal data citing shortages of substitutes a major problem in more than 40 states for the 2020-21 school year, superintendents need a solution that allows them to provide high quality content when well-qualified teachers are unavailable to staff classrooms.
7. Demonstrate the high value of what schools can offer students
In light of an unprecedented decline in public school enrollment this past year, leaders need to clearly demonstrate that schools can meet the needs of all learners. Making the most of time spent in class is vital to prevent more students from leaving.
8. Provide students and families more ways to access curriculum materials
Superintendents are being asked to provide hybrid solutions and flexible learning options for families, especially for high school students. Families want access to district educational resources and materials funded by their tax dollars.
9. Deliver access to school resources via students’ phones
Students and their families increasingly expect school work to be accessible on their cell phones. Since 97% of all households in the US have at least one mobile phone, delivering via this means may potentially increase access.
10. Support students while they are working from home
An ongoing partnership between teachers and families fosters deep learning regardless of whether students are attending classes in-person, studying virtually or trying to complete a homework assignment. Yet, not all students receive enough support to sufficiently access and complete their assignments.
How Hāpara supports superintendents’ objectives
The Hāpara Suite can help leaders meet each of the above objectives by providing a digital solution to most K-12 teaching and learning workflow needs.
Cost savings and deep learning in one simplified tech bundle
Technology is already integral to the lives of most young people and as time goes on will only become more prominent. Immersing students in a digital learning environment in of itself is insufficient to prepare them for future education and the world of work. Response to remote learning during the pandemic made clear the need for easy-to-use solutions designed to support deep learning, student agency and independent thinking. To begin with, students need easy access to all their learning expectations and resources to work more independently. Additionally, students typically must navigate a chaotic digital landscape with alerts and notifications, and open multiple applications in order to complete their work. When managing technology becomes such a chore that it detracts from deeper learning, learners benefit little. While superintendents are interested in moving from print to digital because it can help reduce district spending, it can’t be at the cost of student achievement.
Hāpara offers a solution for leaders looking for a platform that supports students and teachers in doing their work more effectively without having to juggle various online tools. Our Student Dashboard Digital Backpack provides a single interface where students access their learning expectations, books and resources with one click. When apps and links need to be sourced, teachers can embed them in Hāpara teacher and student views of content. Hāpara eliminates the need for students to open multiple apps to complete their assignments.
Transparency made simple for educators and leaders
Hāpara makes transparency easy for all levels of the school organization–from classroom teachers to district leadership. During these highly politicized times, knowing as a superintendent of curriculum instruction what resources the district makes available for teachers to share with students saves a great deal of grief. Digital Backpack supports these administrators by giving them a clear understanding of what materials have been provided for teachers to use in their classrooms. This empowers leaders to communicate with assurance to constituencies, whether that is the board, parents or community members.
Through Hāpara Highlights, when teachers need to know which websites their students are accessing, they have visibility of student screens and open tabs. Teachers report setting their substitute teachers up with this tool to keep students on task while they are away.
Greater achievement and engagement through individualized support
Hāpara provides a platform and a means for schools to make available the content and curriculum that best meets the needs of their learners. Plus it simplifies the process of differentiating and individualizing instruction. This facilitates meaningful learning outcomes for students who are more likely to be deeply interested in what they’re learning while making it easier to address any learning gaps they may have.
Not only are global, private and personal repositories of learning content lessons, books and learning resources available through the Hāpara Suite, districts can securely store curriculum or related resources and assign personalized collections to students with the Student Dashboard Digital Backpack. Teaming open education resources with the Digital Backpack is also an excellent solution for providing opportunities where learners see themselves in the curriculum. Through enabling the curation of OER, educators can create a repository of curriculum and related resources not currently available in printed-based resources. To provide a wider breadth of resources to students without overburdening teachers, Hāpara encourages and supports collaboration and resource sharing with other teachers. Additional support and OER resources can be found through the U.S. Department of Education’s #GoOpen initiative.
Learning can continue despite shortages of qualified teaching staff
Covering classes has been challenging due to nationwide shortages in teaching staff. Districts have been forced to take emergency measures, pulling in teachers, aides or even parents–in some cases cancelling school all together. Some states aren’t requiring official credentialing and others not even a bachelor’s degree. As one superintendent stated, they no longer expect a substitute teacher to keep students on pace, they just want to make sure that everyone is safe that day.
Regardless of experience, a substitute teacher oftentimes is going to walk into a classroom and be under-resourced for the day. Hāpara gives school systems in this position a platform that is intuitive and easy for students and teachers alike, coupled with a reliable set of high-quality learning resources. Students can continue to make progress, stay on track and make the most of this time.
One-click access to learning workflows from anywhere
The same Hāpara tools that help prevent learning gaps by giving students one-click access to their learning workflows when teachers are absent also work in any situation where students and teachers are in different places. Being able to access their school work from their mobile phone or device helps students eliminate the common problem of forgotten books or worksheets. Additionally, parents can view what their children are assigned from their own mobile device and more easily provide support. Teachers can support students regardless of location, giving school districts greater capacity to address the needs of all of their students.
An easy-to-use platform that’s accessible on any device also gives district leaders an extra bargaining chip, especially in light of more parents pulling their children out of public schools. With Hāpara, schools can offer a high level of flexibility that allow teachers to support students with attractive options such as individualized curriculum and remote elective courses. Whatever student learning needs are, districts using Hāpara can provide curriculum access directly to students and parents via a centralized workspace, document sharing, personalized web access and Student Dashboard Digital Backpack.