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Highlights from our First Professional Learning Series

October 1, 2020 | Robert Curtis

On September 28, 2020, the Linked Learning Alliance hosted the first workshop of our Professional Learning Series: Linked Learning 101. This foundational workshop, spread across two half-day sessions, is designed for educators who are considering or adapting new approaches to integrated college and career preparation.

We were thrilled to see some familiar names and faces in the mix—along with several new ones! The leadership, creativity, and sense of camaraderie and idea sharing we’re seeing in Linked Learning communities everywhere is exemplary, and we are so grateful that many of you got to experience it firsthand. For those unable to join us, following are some key highlights from the session.

Why we do this work.

In the first breakout, we were privileged to hear directly from Linked Learning students in Porterville Unified School District and Antelope Valley Union High School District. Students presented on their pathway experiences with enthusiasm and aplomb, then expertly fielded audience questions.

Hearing students voice their passions and dreams for the future was powerful. “[It was] such an uplifting experience… hearing the students speak was like having my cup filled,” shared one workshop participant. Porterville Unified School District students shared about their student leadership program called Linked Learning Pathway Ambassadors. This district-wide program is for students that are inspired to share their pathway knowledge and experiences with industry partners, the community, school board members, and incoming high school students while building leadership and professional skills. Students organize and sit on student panels and develop, plan, and implement district-wide Linked Learning Pathway events.

Antelope Valley Union High School District students from the Gold certified Biomedical Science Academy at Eastside High School shared their pathway experiences and what it’s been like transitioning to online learning. The diversity of backgrounds, interests, and individual academic profiles of the six student presenters demonstrated that Linked Learning truly works for all students. Students proudly shared their goals and accomplishments as a result of their participation in integrated projects, early college credit opportunities, and work-based learning experiences. They also shared their appreciation for the strong and effective supports they received from their teachers and peers.

The student presenters had a similar experience. “I used to be kind of shy,” admitted one Linked Learning student. “I never dreamed I would be speaking at a national conference, but the leadership skills I developed through Linked Learning changed my life. I am so in love with my pathway!”

Her pathway coach agreed: “When you give students the space to do so, they will step up—and they’ll do it with grace and enthusiasm.”

What the work entails.

Workshop participants then had the opportunity to hear their peers speak about Linked Learning in action. Presenters joined us from Antelope Valley Union High School District, Los Angeles Unified School District, Porterville Unified School District and San Bernardino City Unified School District. Pathway teams from these districts shared their experiences with the three strands of Linked Learning—integrated program of study, work-based learning, and student supports—while touching on practical concerns such as keeping students engaged and motivated in a virtual environment and navigating internships and other work-based learning opportunities remotely. One of the themes was exploring how teachers integrate their school’s industry pathway into their core content classes. A teacher and administrator at the Critical Design and Gaming School in Los Angeles Unified shared how they developed the integrated culminating experience of the Hawkins Game Fair and provided practical tips and tools for making pathways come alive for students through industry-specific interdisciplinary projects.

Pathway teachers from STEM Academy of Hollywood in Los Angeles Unified discussed how their rubrics for mastery grading and learning are providing valuable and meaningful feedback on student progress during distance learning and shared their team consultation protocol for counselors and teachers to jointly identify issues and develop strategies for supporting target students in the pathway.

The work-based learning coordinator from San Bernardino City Unified shared strategies the district employs to develop strong and effective industry partnerships and meaningful work-based learning experiences for students. She also shared the challenges and successes they are experiences as they continue to provide student opportunities online.

After hearing from student presenters earlier in the day, participants had another opportunity to hear from the Eastside Biomedical Science Academy from Antelope Valley Union High School District, this time from pathway educators. These educators shared thoughtful insight into how their pathway provides students with interdisciplinary projects that span science, career technical education (CTE), and English courses. They also shared their pathway’s history and the positive educational outcomes for their students.

Participants walked away newly energized and inspired, with actionable ideas and advice in hand. “The level of teaming is so powerful to hear about,” said one workshop participant. “My mind is spinning about ways we can tie these things together with a common thread.”

How to do the work effectively.

The final segment of the day centered on Linked Learning quality standards, tools, and resources available to help drive pathway effectiveness. Participants were invited to delve deeply into one Gold certified pathway’s experience—first by exploring the artifacts submitted for certification, and then through a comprehensive Q&A session with the pathway’s instructional coach.

“My favorite, favorite thing is the portfolio defense,” he shared. “It’s a really powerful moment for the students and the teachers… and really great to see them think about what they’re going to do with all that knowledge and skills. It’s a nice moment of reflection and celebration.”

Looking ahead.

In truth, “reflection and celebration” is a good summary of our first professional learning workshop. The Alliance team is so inspired and energized by our amazing Linked Learning educators! We know that with the right tools and insights, and with each other, we can provide the high-quality learning experiences all students need to thrive, no matter their life circumstances.

The conversations described here are just the beginning—literally! The second half of our Linked Learning 101 workshop is scheduled for October 8, and the two-part session will be offered again this spring. In the meantime, please stay tuned for other practice development opportunities and insights from the Alliance.