Equipping Teachers With New Tools and Research To Support Their Students
Priscilla Chan reflects on CZI’s progress in education, from additional ways to understand and measure a student's growth to providing teachers with new tools and learning environments that set students up for success.
Like most people who decide to go into education, I think a lot about the teachers, coaches and mentors who changed my life.
I think about Mr. Long, who didn’t just teach me how to build robots, but made me feel like I could. I think about my tennis coach, Mr. Swanson, who showed me what it means to be a leader. When the courts are covered in snow, you don’t go home. You grab a shovel.
For decades, researchers have been telling us that this whole child approach to education really matters — that in addition to academic skills, kids need opportunities to build confidence in their own potential. Students who can envision a world of possibility for themselves are more motivated and engaged to learn.
This is why CZI is committed to helping all students reach their full potential. You can read about our work in education here — but in brief, we’re building up the body of research to learn what helps students succeed, and we’re using those findings to build new tools for and with teachers.
One of our goals for this work is to give teachers new ways to understand and measure their students’ growth and the learning environments that set students up for success — in academics, and across all the dimensions that lead to long-term success. Below, I’m excited to share some early results, and to shine a spotlight on schools that are leading the way.
Expanding Measures of Student and School Success
As we expand the definition of student success, we need to evolve our tools to measure it. CZI is supporting educators who are taking a whole child approach to education, along with new ways to measure how well students — and schools — are doing.
Take, for example, New Mexico — where Tribal and community leaders, nonprofit organizations, foundations, and policymakers are developing an approach to education where students succeed “because of, not in spite of, who they are and where they come from.” Innovation Zone schools develop customized graduate profiles that incorporate each community’s input on the knowledge and skills young adults need today in addition to academic proficiency — from teamwork and critical thinking, to strengths that reflect their cultural and linguistic identities.
Students can demonstrate mastery of these skills through capstone projects they design with their teachers. The projects give students a chance to explore topics that really matter to them, and share their findings with their communities. The initiative also expands access to career and technical education programs, including internships, career counseling services, and other opportunities to combine workplace-related training with core academics.
In California, our partners are helping students build a deeper understanding of their career and vocational options. For example, Anaheim Union High School District (AUHSD) uses a framework that emphasizes civic engagement. Students have the chance to hone their sense of purpose and leadership by job shadowing and interning in their communities.
AUHSD schools have already seen a lot of success. Over five years, the district’s graduation rates climbed seven percent. And it’s achieved the highest rates of both civic engagement and proficiency in reading and writing in two languages in the state of California.
When the time comes for their assessments, AUHSD schools are evaluating not only students’ technical skills, but skills like their ability to communicate, collaborate, and think critically.
Fostering Student-Teacher Connections
Congratulations to the six schools that received this year’s Rise Award, which is a national honor given out by Gradient Learning that recognizes schools’ commitment to constantly improve the quality of teaching and learning. These outstanding schools have built the systems, structures, and culture that prepare students with the skills and knowledge to succeed in life beyond the classroom.
“We prioritize creating a school culture that promotes school connectedness and encourages positive relationships between teachers and students,” said Jennifer Morrow, Principal at Rise Award winner Classical Academy Middle School in Escondido, California. “Teachers should be passionate about doing great things for kids. Academic success is just one part of a student’s overall well-being. Students’ emotional, physical, social, and cognitive development are all interconnected.”
Howard University Middle School in Washington, D.C. is also providing coaching to teachers to develop strong connections with their students and drive student learning. Their new mentorship model — part of the Summit Learning program — is inviting students to dream boldly.
Summit Learning is also making a big difference at Prairie Heights Middle School in Evans, Colorado. Through the program, teachers are building one-on-one check-ins into students’ weekly schedules to provide mentorship. And administrators are providing coaching and professional support for teachers. By building on that foundation of strong relationships and supporting professional learning opportunities for teachers, Prairie Heights achieved the highest rating on the Colorado Department of Education’s school performance framework.
Building Tools in Partnership With Teachers
Along is an ed-tech tool that CZI and Gradient Learning developed that helps teachers build strong, meaningful connections with their students. Teachers use Along to ask research-informed questions that encourage students to open up about themselves and their interests, and students can respond in a way that feels most natural to them.
We heard from teachers that they also wanted to use Along to receive student input and incorporate it into classroom instruction — and soon, that will be possible. The tool will provide a way for teachers to not only connect and build trust with their students, but also use insights from those interactions to drive engagement in the classroom.
We’re incredibly proud that Along has been honored by several national organizations. Most recently, Along was named a finalist for the 2023 ‘World Changing Idea’ by Fast Company and for the CODiE Award for Best Student Experience — reaffirming that tools made in partnership with teachers are key to the bright future we’re building for our kids.
This is an exciting moment to be in education. For the first time in a long time, there’s space for a more expansive conversation about everything student success can mean — and what it could look like in the future.
We’re grateful to contribute new research, tools, and measures to that conversation. And we can’t wait to see where students, teachers, and their communities take it in the years ahead.