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Innovative Leadership and Design Thinking Provides Opportunities for Students and Teachers
Author: Karen Ward, AALF Coaching | October 2nd, 2013

...we are actually doing something previously not thought possible.- Dr. James Kaput.

AALF’s goal is to ensure that all children have access to unlimited opportunities to learn anytime and anywhere and that they have the tools that make that possible. As AALF coaches we build upon that goal by supporting educators to develop their 1:1 visionary leadership and strategic innovative practices as they develop their capacity to design systems that ensure learning opportunities for everyone.

As an AALF coach and professional developer I have fantastic opportunities to meet and work with focused and purposeful administrators, teachers, and instructional coaches (also known as technology coaches or mentors). I am always on the lookout for districts and schools that are designing and implementing 1:1 key factors of effectiveness—factors that can be looked upon as models by others. I believe that educators and students in Corcoran Unified School District and at Corcoran High School have developed some of these key factors because the 1:1 they have designed provides both students and teachers with opportunities to do things that were previously not possible (maybe not even conceivable).


Located in Corcoran, California the district schools are focused on making their district vision a reality. Focused, informed, and persistent leadership at all levels have fostered professional learning environments that have led to deeper pedagogical understandings and innovation in classroom practices.

Teachers tend to appreciate the opportunities they have been given for strategic risk-taking which has led to innovative instructional practices. However, these opportunities were not available before 2009 which was the first year 1-to-1 was implemented at Corcoran High School. Fast-forward four years and today you will find that all year 6-8 students are issued an iPad 2 as their learning thinking tool for the year, while all year 9-12 students are issued a MacBook Air laptop for the same purpose. The district will be issuing all year 5 students an iPad Mini while students in grades K-4 will have available one device for two students. Mr. Rich Merlo, the superintendent of the Corcoran Unified School District believes that the 1-to-1 work is becoming more seamlessly integrated with learning each year. “Technology is not a distractor now, instead it is just part of what we are doing; it’s how our students are learning.” Creating professional development opportunities for teachers and educators in the district has been one major contributing factor in this evolution because it has encouraged deeper understanding and classroom changes by teachers. Mr. Merlo cited leading indicator evidence that points to the success of this work, including: yearly increased CELDT (California English Language Development Test) scores by district English Language Learner students, increased high school class Advanced Placement enrollment and passing rates in end of course assessments, increased attendance rates, and reduced suspension rates. The district is also focused on creating writers who excel at their craft…”We know students have developed deeper levels of understanding if they can write about the subject they are studying. Our students are more involved in writing and the writing process now because of our 1-to-1 and technology.”

This innovative and visionary work is particularly apparent within CHS’s Corcoran Academy of Art and Technology (CAAT). Exciting, challenging, and innovative are three of the words educators and students who are participating in this years initial launching of CAAT would use to describe their experiences. Designed as an academy within the larger context of Corcoran High School, CAAT focuses on providing year 9 and 10 students with opportunities for increased rigor and relevance across curricular settings. While still focusing on the Common Core State Standards, teachers and students work within a project-based structure of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. This provides the merging of significant content within 21st century learning environments-environments that build student skills for collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. Each 8-12 week unit of study also addresses the following three questions:

*Who am I?

*Where am I from?

*What is my place in the world?

As a part of each unit teams of students are required to complete three things: (1) the creation of a research paper documenting what they have learned, (2) a project or artifact that engulfs what they have learned, and (3) to present what they have learned to other students and faculty.

While currently available to year 9-10 students, Mr. Charles Gent, principal of the school, envisions the opportunities this academy provides as being available for year 9 – 12 students over the next several years. “We want our students to continue to have this powerful learning opportunity beyond their 10th grade year, and so that is our goal.”

Both teachers and administrators at CHS believe that their previous 1-to-1 and PLC work has been instrumental in leading to their current CAAT offering. In preparing for CAAT, teachers and leaders met with university staff, worked with the AALF coach (myself), visited other high schools that had previously implemented project-based learning in a 1-to-1 environment, and participated in many planning meetings to create the foundations for CAAT. Mr. Gent encouraged the teaching staff to see this work as their own and to develop the foundations that would be unique and most effective for their school.

The groundwork of success for CAAT started with both the district 1-to-1 as well as the ongoing Professional Learning Community (PLC) work initiated previously at the high school. Mr. Gent states, “We see the laptops as a huge learning tool with all students and in all subjects. We are a high school situated in a small rural town and so our students are at least 30 minutes from anywhere. I wanted them to have opportunities to develop a bigger view of the world and 1-to-1 definitely helps provide that opportunity. At the same time we want to continue to improve and push to the next level and CAAT is a part of that ongoing work.”

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