October 30, 2015

Beyond the Idea Accelerator with Diane Mora: “Helping Kids Succeed”

As the grand finale to NTEN’s Leading Change Summit, a covey of 15LCS attendees pitched and developed changemaking projects during the Idea Accelerator.

The Summit may have ended, but many of these projects are just getting started. Today, we want to introduce you to “Helping Kids Succeed,” an idea pitched by Diane Mora.

What is your big idea?
To increase parent engagement by connecting K-12 schools and adult literacy programs with resources to develop the digital literacy and English literacy of English Learning (EL) parents so that parents can participate in digital communications related to their child’s education.

How did the idea get started?
Several factors came together that enabled me to identify the problem and connect an idea for creating a solution:

  • While teaching adult ESOL classes (English to Speakers of Other Languages) in the evening, I realized that one-third of my adult students (many of whom are also parents of school-aged children) don’t have an email address and don’t know how to obtain one.
  • By day, I teach educators best practices in teaching ESOL in K-12 in school districts in 19 counties in Missouri. As a part of that work, I also advise and approve Title III AMAO Improvement Plans for schools whose English Learning (EL) students are not meeting federal and state accountability measures concerning academic performance of EL students.
  • A significant aspect of these plans and a factor in determining student success, is successful parent engagement planning and implementation. Federal and state dollars are specifically allocated for improving parent engagement of EL families.

I connected all the components of my work to realize that schools receive funding to ensure parent engagement, yet schools need to improve their parent engagement practices. Many parents are not only lacking English skills to communicate with teachers and schools, but they also lack digital literacy skills.

So, my “burning question” became: How could schools improve their efforts to improve parent engagement of EL students by teaching English literacy and digital literacy skills specific to the digital communication platform used by the school?

How did the idea evolve during the Idea Accelerator?
When I applied for the scholarship to attend 15LCS, I imagined the solution to be a curriculum that schools could simply use in their districts to hold classes to teach parents. But as I kept researching and preparing materials to bring to the Summit, I realized the impossibility of creating a curriculum that could actually meet the needs of every district and every parent. The difficulties include the facts that schools use different school-to-home platforms; the purpose and content of elementary and secondary school-to-home communications are vastly different; parents use different devices or may not even have a device; families may have limited or no broadband in homes; and there can be more than 100 first languages in an extremely diverse school district.

During 15LCS, I realized that a toolkit and clearinghouse was really more appropriate. The toolkit would be designed to include a five-point intake questionnaire about digital accessibility as well as a parent language survey:

  1. What state/county/school district boundaries does the parent(s) / guardian live in?
  2. What platform does the school use to communicate with the parent / guardian?
  3. Does the parent / guardian have access to a device 24/7?
  4. Does the parent / guardian have access to broadband 24/7?
  5. What is the first language of the parent?

Answers to the questionnaire could be entered into a digital clearinghouse (without identifying the parent) and return information and resources specific to the parent needs and the district’s communication platform.

The toolkit could also contain a “best practices” component for teaching digital literacy skills to EL parents (not all ELs have the same learning needs if they are newcomer, refugee, migrant, U.S. citizen, etc.); a variety of picture-based bilingual dictionaries of essential language related to the digital communication platform; a rubric for districts to use as a self-assessment in determining if their district is providing sufficient training to EL parents regarding school-home platforms; and/or suggestions for language that could be included in RFPs with platform sales agents to encourage digital inclusion clauses.

Who could use this?
Educators, counselors, and building administrators in K-12 schools and adult education centers across the U.S.

What does this project need?
1. Funding for personnel, specifically a project manager for Missouri prototype (me) to create a timeline, refine the project description, develop materials, and source partner agencies/stakeholders. This project also needs a developer for the digital toolkit and digital clearinghouse, as well as a developer for the awareness campaign.

2. Partners

  • State/Federal funding via grants
  • Platform creators
  • Digital supplier

3. An awareness campaign and an initial call to action for districts to complete the self-assessment.

4. A compilation of responses to the self-assessment, because this will provide data about what platforms are being used throughout the state and by percentage of how many districts use the same platforms;
the number of languages other than English used as the primary language by Missouri EL parents; and the state of digital preparedness of EL families. All of these confirm the need for including digital literacy in parent engagement programming at the school level.

5. What I really need is an “accountability team.” In other words, I need someone that expects me to check in with them at scheduled times to report progress. And I need to find funding that will enable me to devote full-time effort to the project.

What’s next for this project?
I have been reaching out to members of NCLR (National Council of La Raza) to discuss partnering opportunities with their existing parent engagement toolkit, but I have not yet reached the right person in the organization.

On October 5, I presented the idea to 12 area K-12 school leaders with significant EL student populations. They completed the survey of district self-assessment. I will evaluate their survey responses in the coming weeks. I also created a powerpoint as a very basic prototype for the toolkit. I gave the 12 school leaders complete access to the toolkit at the October 5 meeting as a rudimentary focus group activity. I have a meeting scheduled with the state of Missouri Director of ESOL and Migrant programs to discuss the details of my project and to see if I can secure some initial funding.

Once I can develop a full-scale model of the toolkit and clearinghouse for Missouri, then it can be replicated in other states.

Diane Mora
SUPERPOWERS: Challenger of assumptions - mine and others. FACTS, FIGURES, AND STATS: To date I've facilitated the learning of 1,000+ students from 30+ countries; taught 3,500+ classes; written 4,000+ lesson plans; and proctored 12,000+ assessments and exams. As an educator I make far less than CEOs of major companies (most of whom wouldn’t be where they are without having once been in school), and my work may impact the future of their organization’s labor force more than any other single factor. MOST IMPORTANT ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 1. Being a mom. 2. See above. 3. Being an internationally distinguished professional chef in a previous career. WHAT MAKES ME DIFFERENT FROM OTHER EDUCATORS: I think like an entrepreneur, listen with the heart of a poet, and teach like a yoga-warrior. I possess a healthy distrust of systems, methods, strategies, and assessments. I rarely accept the first answer I'm given, and I certainly don't take 'no' for an answer. VALUES: Everything is possible and a possibility exists within everyone. PASSIONS: Fondling 'real' books (i.e. paper) while reading them. Heck, sometimes I fondle books simply for the sake of fondling them. And visiting libraries – it’s like entering a vortex of great minds. EXTERNAL VALIDATIONS: ...are fleeting, pretend you don’t hear them.