Guest Post: Cultural Adaptation is Key for Successful Transition to Deeper Learning Instruction

November 14, 2017
ECMC Foundation

Meet the Author: Jerolyn Murray is an instructional coach and teacher at Health Careers Academy in Colleton County School District, South Carolina. After years in the corporate sector, Murray left and returned home to Hampton County, South Carolina — which neighbors Colleton County— to begin her career in education.

In 2013, with a U.S. Department of Education Investing in Innovation (i3) grant, the school district where Murray teaches partnered with New Tech Network (NTN) to open Cougar New Tech at Colleton County High School. A leading deeper learning design partner for school transformation, NTN supports district leaders, principals and classroom educators through training and coaching to implement deeper learning instructional practices. Murray, who taught at Cougar New Tech at the time, shares her experiences, takeaways and advice for others undergoing a transition from traditional to deeper learning instruction in their classrooms.

This year, NTN received a $2.5 million grant from ECMC Foundation to create the South Carolina Learning Network, a joint initiative with the Colleton County, Charleston County and Florence County school districts to implement the NTN model.

I grew up in Hampton County in a small, rural community with one traffic light and few commercial businesses. While not far from more urban Charleston, Hampton can feel isolated and lacking in opportunity. After living outside Hampton for nine years, I returned to work as a teacher, only to find that not much had changed since I sat in a student desk. Expectations of students and teachers, delivery of instruction and opportunities for postsecondary exploration remained the same, despite the world around us changing rapidly.

I wanted to change this, and the district’s partnership with New Tech Network (NTN) was the perfect opportunity. Having the support and resources that NTN provides for deeper learning instruction through their professional development opportunities strengthened my impact as an educator.

Currently, I serve as the Lead Instructor for the Health Careers Academy (HCA), the second NTN school to launch at Colleton County High School. Like its neighboring county of Hampton, Colleton County also serves students from low-income families and communities of color and its schools face similar challenges.

HCA strives to create a culture in which students are encouraged to take risks, develop a growth mindset and become college and career ready according to the essential 21st Century Skills and the Profile of a South Carolina Graduate. In my role as Lead Instructor, I am responsible for supporting other facilitators in HCA through professional development, resources and direct support from the coaches and trainers provided by the NTN.

Having now launched and taught in two NTN schools, I have the following advice for educators adopting and implementing deeper learning instructional models:

Tip 1: Through my professional growth as a NTN instructor, I realized that strong relationships with students are the very foundation of the hierarchy of change. Culture is the element that contributes most to the success of schools implementing deeper learning instruction. I’ll admit that it is a bit challenging to build, especially when students (and some educators) are being exposed to deeper learning models for the first time. But it is absolutely essential to success.

Tip 2: As a previous facilitator in Cougar New Tech, I had the opportunity to serve as a trainer for teachers with an interest in implementing project based learning in traditional classrooms. Many of those with an interest have since been added to the team of educators who are exclusively using deeper learning in the classroom at HCA.

Educators using the model for the first time should be encouraged to trust the process; it absolutely works. Staff willingness to learn and to establish a shared culture first and foremost ensures instructional consistency for students, which makes their transition to a new model of learning much smoother. The buy-in and understanding of staff is key to addressing the natural resistance people often feel when confronted with change and the supports NTN provides ease the transition.

Tip 3: Transparency is key to successful school and community transformation. I take every opportunity to share the purpose and outcomes of my work. By shedding light on this unchartered territory, I can dispel myths and address concerns. We invite the naysayers to visit our school and experience this meaningful work firsthand. They always walk away amazed, knowing that these students are being prepared to contribute greatly to our community.

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