This article originally appeared on thejournal.com on May 1st, 2017.
By Nathan Grundahl, Anne Larson, Michael Mades
“Working with the mantra, “Every child, every day,” Sun Prairie Area School District (SPASD) in Wisconsin focuses on teaching every student in engaging and innovative ways and leading them toward full mastery of rigorous learning standards. But as the fastest-growing school district in the Badger State, SPASD was using a patchwork of organizational platforms to support its digital learning initiatives. Google Classroom, Edmodo, Haiku, and Schoology, for example, were just a few of the platforms being used in lieu of a cohesive pedagogy and curriculum vision.
Seeking a better way to achieve its curricular and instructional goals, SPASD implemented itslearning’s end-to-end enterprise teaching and learning platform in 2016. That platform now serves as the foundation for SPASD’s new 1-to-1 Chromebook program and also supports its “Future Ready Schools for Sun Prairie Students” plan.
Working together, Nathan Grundahl, technology integrator; Anne Larson, digital learning manager; and Michael Mades, director of technology, developed a six-step process that the district used to map out its successful LMS implementation. Here’s how they did it:
1) First, create a common vision across all school leaders. The district assembled a team of nearly 40 staff members to identify what it wanted from an LMS, and included curriculum leaders, teachers and IT staff in the process. “There wasn’t much recognition that we needed a district-wide LMS at that point and time,” Mades said, “and it took several months of conversations and demonstrations to explain how Houston ISD (where the district originally learned about the LMS platform) was using its LMS.” Once word began to spread, administrators on both the teaching and learning side of the equation began to push the initiative forward.
2) Assemble a planning and selection team. Early on, Grundahl says the team took the time to identify key leaders who would help select the district’s new learning management system. “We invited the teachers whom we thought would be the best advocates,” Grundahl said, “and worked with them to understand the purpose of the system and how it could be used district-wide.”
As part of this process, the district was sure to include representatives from all subject areas and across all grade levels, and included district level administrators, school principals and students. “We wanted to be positive that everyone was educated on the process and on how we ultimately selected itslearning,” Grundahl said.
3) Identify selection criteria and “must haves.” Before it even started shopping around for its new LMS, Sun Prairie Area Schools had already listed a few “must haves” on its criteria list. The end result was a district-specific rubric that included key requirements like easy integration with other resources; the ability to pace students according to standards- or competency-based grading rubrics; good support for personalized learning; and modifications for special education (i.e., voice recording, video recording, highlighting on the screen, etc.). After deciding on a final list of must-haves, members of the selection team reviewed various platforms and gave their feedback on each. “Ultimately, the selection team came up with a complete list of what we needed; it was the full gamut,” Larson said, “and it included input from all grade levels, all curricular areas and all administrators, each of which provided ideas on what our LMS should look and act like.”
4) Establish a strong professional development model. To ensure a smooth LMS implementation, the district worked with itlearning’s trainers to create a professional development model for its users. Both new to the system themselves, Grundahl and Larson completed an 8-hour training session with a group of teachers. And while the training wasn’t mandated, Larson said they “wanted to learn more about the LMS and invited teachers to come and explore with us.” From there, the district began offering teachers (and their teaching teams) training sessions that incorporated basic overviews of the system and the opportunity to get hands-on with the new platform. “Some teachers jumped in immediately and wanted to start using the LMS the following day in their classrooms,” Larson said, while others “were apprehensive and yet excited to learn more about it.” After the sessions, both Grundahl and Larson followed up with teachers and kept in touch with them, “so that they didn’t feel like once the training was done, all of the support was gone,” Larson said.
5) Develop teacher “superusers” to support the implementation. It’s no secret that teachers tend to lean on one another, support one another, and turn to one another for advice. Knowing this, Sun Prairie Area Schools worked with several of its LMS “superusers” to help train other instructors on how to use the new platform. “A lot of our coaching is job-embedded, with teachers asking us questions and bouncing ideas off us as they develop their teaching practices,” Larson said. Because of this, the grassroots superuser approach worked particular well, and involved teachers, principals and students. “We were able to build up a bit of envy around some of the LMS’ functionalities,” Grundahl said, “and envy tends to be a great motivator.”
6) Connect the curriculum with the LMS. Working on a 6-year curriculum renewal and design cycle, and still in the early stages of its LMS use, the district is working to add more standards-aligned curricula to the platform. “We’re also working on our LTI integrations,” Grundahl said, “and writing within the LMS templates.”
“Now teachers have a smorgasbord of resources that they can refer to in order to meet all their students’ needs,” Grundahl said, noting that this represents a major shift from the district’s previous, textbook-based approach. “With this new, personalized movement within our district — and by using more authentic engagement pieces — we can look to the standards as a guide, and utilize a plethora of instructional resources to meet those standards.”
Nathan Grundahl is technology integrator, Anne Larson is digital learning manager and Michael Mades is director of technology at Sun Prairie Area School District, Wisconsin.”