The Next Phase of Fuse RI

At Highlander Institute, we strive to learn, grow, and expand our own understanding of what is necessary to create a better student experience for learners and families – in Rhode Island and beyond. Over the years, as we have expanded our expertise around blended learning strategies, personalized learning practices, and the role of culturally responsive teaching, only one thing has remained constant – the fact that systems level change is slow and complex.

We have found that our education systems, no matter how well-intentioned, are designed to get in the way of change. There are legacy barriers blocking new approaches from getting off the ground. There’s a very limited research base validating the exploration of new classroom practices, coupled with a lack of scaffolded professional learning supports. Too many educators are actually incentivized to keep things safe, secure, and business as usual.

While the overall arc of change is slow, we have seen individual teachers managing herculean change efforts in their own classrooms. We have witnessed these efforts firsthand and listened to students, families, and educators rave about the results these changes have brought to their schools. We have seen student outcomes soar and engagement thrive; however, without a systems-level approach we have seen these efforts stagnate in one-off classroom isolation.

In 2014, we launched the Fuse RI Fellowship as a means to recruit, train, and support educators as leaders beyond their own classrooms and school buildings. Across Rhode Island we identified a large number of teachers who could manage change efforts with their own students in their own classrooms, but we needed them to do this work with adults, moving their energy and ideas around the state in a way that would catalyze a bigger conversation.

We are proud to say that five years later, you cannot go anywhere in Rhode Island without bumping into a Fuse Fellow, a Fuse Classroom teacher or coach, a Fuse Leader, or a Fuse Professor. We have Fellows winning teacher of the year awards at the building, district, and state levels. Our Fellows have led beyond our fellowship as RIDE EdPrep Fellows, TeachPlus Policy Fellows, and RI Learning Champions. They have won awards that have brought dollars back to their schools, and have founded and led new organizations like EdCampRI, YES RI, and PBL RI. When RISTE needs professional development facilitators, they lean on our Fellows to deliver workshops. Fuse Fellows have moved into new positions driving change management and coaching work across their home districts, leveraging the leadership experiences they gained through this program. More than anything, our Fuse network has become its own infrastructure for moving ideas, research, and practices around the state. We are a system of roads and bridges allowing ideas to travel from school to school, classroom to classroom and most importantly, teacher to teacher. We could not be more proud of our Fellows and the work we have done together.

We have partnered with 39 of the 66 LEAs in the state through Fuse RI. Every district that has wanted this free service has signed up and gone through this program. We have seen districts like Central Falls, Chariho, and Cranston mount incredible blended and personalized learning change efforts after having the Fuse program in their district. We have seen Fuse spread to New York, California, and Massachusetts. We set out to run Fuse for five years and we never imagined the impact it would have.

Now, as we come out of our first spring in five years without a new cohort of fellows, there is a tinge of sadness that we all feel. We know there are more educators in our state who would make incredible Fuse Fellows. Teachers crave this community and leadership opportunity. We have been hearing them asking: “When does the application launch?” Well, like all things at Highlander Institute, we believe in continuous improvement and iteration toward a better and more powerful model. After hitting our initial goal of running five cohorts through this fellowship, we have elected to sunset the Fellowship in its current form.

We believe in this model, but we also recognize the importance of reflecting on program impact, and adapting to accommodate the evolving needs of school stakeholders. It is for this reason that we are shifting Fuse to become a building-level initiative wrapped around our Pathway to Personalization Framework as outlined in our recent book. Starting next month, we will once again be hitting the road to talk with educators about their most pressing challenges as we redesign the Fuse RI Fellowship around school-based design teams looking to enact change. We are eager to reconnect with our Fellows in their home schools and meet new teacher leaders in classrooms and schools that we have yet to reach.

We will be sharing a one pager with more detailed information next month. If you are interested in guiding us as we build this new model, reach out to Program Manager Maeve Murray who will continue to drive this work. In the meantime we will continue our Fuse Massachusetts program and the Fuse cohort at Rhode Island College, which engages professors eager to explore and research practices for classroom instruction. Fuse will never go away. The network we have built will outlast any funding opportunity or state-level leadership change. We are a community of learners committed to making schools work better for all students and families. Thank you!

Seeking: Educational Strategies Specialist

We are currently accepting applications for this position until July 30th, 2019

Highlander Institute partners with students, communities, educators and administrators to redesign the school and classroom experience to meet the needs of all stakeholders. We believe that we can restore natural confidence and competence to students who have been marginalized by systemic inequity by delivering the most powerful teaching that builds students’ cognitive development. To this end, the Highlander Institute cultivates and disseminates innovative education solutions that improve educator and system capacity to provide personalized experiences for every learner. A nonprofit organization based in Providence RI,  Highlander Institute identifies and implements best practices through collaborative partnership with schools and districts. A trusted translator and convener across stakeholder groups, Highlander Institute advocates for and activates educators as social change agents through personalized learning practices that are focused on creating equity through education.  

The Highlander Institute theory of change is outlined in the book, Pathways to Personalization: A Framework for School Change (Harvard Education Press, 2018). We offer a bottom-up and top-down research and development approach, beginning with assisting school or district change agents as they convene a design team, craft a clear vision for the work, and launch implementations of personalized learning that support innovative classroom practices. Supports are customized for the local context, and enhance classroom culture, student agency and ownership, differentiation, and rigor and mastery. You can learn more about the high-leverage practices we emphasize in our Priority Practices Tool

The Highlander Institute is seeking an Educational Strategies Specialist who truly believes that all children can learn, and that all children have the right to a high quality, culturally responsive, personalized learning environment. We are looking for educators with the skills necessary to support high school classrooms in Rhode Island and surrounding areas. Educational Strategies Specialists coach teachers to deliver student-centered instruction through successful integration of curriculum, assessment, student collaboration, authentic projects, and high quality small group instruction. The majority of our coaching is job-embedded, so we are looking for highly personable candidates who believe in the power of personalized professional learning.

REPRESENTATIVE JOB DUTIES (listed in order of importance, maximum of 10):

  • Provide high quality professional development, design team facilitation, classroom modeling, and individual coaching sessions for teachers, school administrators, and district personnel based on the Pathway to Personalization framework. 
  • Develop relationships and act as a liaison between The Institute and assigned partners/ schools.
  • Work with partners to develop implementation plans with clear, actionable, and attainable goals.
  • Connect to data-driven decision-making through calibration to the Highlander Institute’s Priority Practices Tool, process data collection across a set amount of classrooms, and documentation
  • Communicate effectively with district and school leaders, identify barriers to implementation, provide suggestions to resolve challenges, and respond promptly to all stakeholders’ needs.
  • Collaborate and problem solve in a team environment with Highlander Institute staff.
  • Document all aspects of assigned projects, including service records, TeamworkPM updates, and recording of  relevant communications in the Implementation Plan.
  • Participate in weekly team meetings to review assigned projects and implementation progress.
  • Other duties as assigned


  • Commitment to instructional equity & asset-based thinking about all students and communities 
  • Strong communication, documentation, presentation, and organizational skills 
  • Project management experience
  • Performs duties professionally, thoroughly, in a timely manner, and with a respectful, friendly demeanor in both external and internal relationships
  • Ability to be flexible and able to adapt to a high-energy, fluid environment 
  • Team player! Ability to support others through thought-partnering, coverage, and critical engagement
  • Growth mindset leads professional belief system
  • Able to problem-solving options that are responsive to a variety of stakeholders.


Minimum Education, Skills, and Experience:

  • Bachelor’s degree in Education or related field
  • High school teaching experience


Work Environment and Culture: 

  • Works actively to promote the organization’s focus on social change and equity 
  • Demonstrates excitement, energy, and enthusiasm for all aspects of organizational growth 
  • Participates in regular ‘all hands on deck’ collaboration required by specific programs and events

Physical Space and Demands:

  • Ability to travel between multiple school environments
  • Frequent sitting, standing, stair climbing, bending over, squatting, and walking 
  • Frequent talking and listening.
  • Frequent reading and writing
  • Occasional carrying of objects up to 20 pounds (file boxes, materials, etc.) without assistance.

Salary Range:  $50,000-$80,000 based on experience

To apply, send CV and cover letter to Kara O’Connell and Malika Ali (

Seeking: Executive Assistant

Highlander Institute is a non-profit organization located in Providence, RI. Our vision is an equitable, just education system that meets the needs of all students as it prepares them for success in our complex, rapidly changing world. Highlander Institute supports classrooms, schools, district leaders, and state education agencies in reimagining how students learn, how learning is measured, and what skills and competencies are essential for success both in college and beyond.

Committed to equity and inclusiveness in education, Highlander Institute strives to support all schools in personalized learning programs that are student-centered and culturally responsive. As we continue to grow, we are committed to hiring a staff that reflects the diverse population we serve. We are looking for talented people to join us as we work to remodel our education system. If you are passionate about empowering students and leveling the playing field for all learners, we want you on our team!

The Executive Assistant is a quasi new role for the Institute.  We have revised the job duties of this position to create a dynamic new role that will deeply support the work of the Highlander Institute and it’s executive staff.  This position must have an understanding of the Highlander Institute’s current scope of work, a general understanding of the RI educational system structure, and project management.  Being able to prioritize, be flexible and have strong communication skills is a must. This position reports directly to the Highlander Institute’s Chief of Staff.

Major components of the position include:

  • Being the front line for the Institute, providing general office support and management that includes fielding phone calls and receiving and directing visitors
  • Supporting the Executive Director and Chief Education Officer (including but not limited to: travel arrangements including booking of flights, hotels, car reservations, documents required for staff to travel,  maintaining calendar and occasional email proxy)
  • Providing excellent bookkeeping support to the Finance Director (including but not limited to: collection calls and notices, American Express reconciliation, receipts, accounts payable, expense reports, maintaining ADP timekeeping system) for 25% of the total role
  • Plan, organize and execute the details for convening all Institute events, including coordinating all internal technology needs (Chromebooks, iPads, Zoom conference calls, etc), and coordinating all conference spaces for meetings
  • Maintaining a clean and orderly office, including the relationships and communications with landlords and security
  • Manage the purchasing of supplies, utilizing internal processing systems
  • Maintain strong interpersonal relationships with employees at all levels of the organization
  • Participate in the annual conference planning committee, managing all special events and catering coordination associated with the conference

Highly qualified candidates will demonstrate an understanding of:

  • Office management and operations, including technical and nontechnical skills
  • The RI educational system structure (including school and district relationships and contacts,  funders, and community partners)
  • Project management
  • Highlander Institute priorities areas and how they relate to day to day workflow and operations
  • Strong communication skills are required, as are software skills, internet research abilities and a willingness to support website maintenance and social media (Google Suite, Excel, Powerpoint, Gmail, Zoom, Quickbooks, Mailchimp, Eventbrite, and others)

Non-Technical Skills and Behavior:

  • Detail-oriented- must be able to proofread, check, and and double-check the work of the Institute’s leadership
  • Performs duties professionally, thoroughly, in a timely manner, and with a respectful, friendly demeanor in both external and internal relationships.
  • Handles routine challenges with calm and good humor.

Preferred Education, Skills and Experience

  • Bachelor’s degree preferred
  • Bookkeeping experience a must
  • Strong communication, documentation, and organizational skills.
  • Strong writing skills
  • Interest in learning and growing software skills, internet research abilities and a willingness to support website maintenance and social media.
  • Ability to make decisions with minimal guidance as needed.
  • Ability to determine and execute multiple problem-solving options that are responsive to a variety of stakeholders

Salary Range:  $45,000-$55,000 based on experience

To apply, please send resume and cover letter to Erin Brouillette, Director of Finance at

Seeking: Chief of Staff

Highlander Institute is a non-profit organization located in Providence, RI. Our vision is an equitable, just education system that meets the needs of all students as it prepares them for success in our complex, rapidly changing world. Highlander Institute supports classrooms, schools, district leaders, and state education agencies in reimagining how students learn, how learning is measured, and what skills and competencies are essential for success both in college and beyond.

Committed to equity and inclusiveness in education, Highlander Institute strives to support all schools in personalized learning programs that are student-centered and culturally responsive. As we continue to grow, we are committed to hiring a staff that reflects the diverse population we serve. We are looking for talented people to join us as we work to remodel our education system. If you are passionate about empowering students and leveling the playing field for all learners, we want you on our team!

The Chief of Staff is a new role for the Institute, focused on the internal workings and culture of the growing organization while providing needed deputized leadership in the absence of the Executive Director and Chief Education Officer.  The Chief of Staff acts as a an advisor to the leadership team and as a sounding board for ideas, while focusing on operations, logistics, and community-building. The Chief of Staff will be tasked with leading and managing team strength, capacity and culture, acting as a first line of defense for all staff, mitigating disputes, shining a light on performance, and connecting staff to the supports they need.

Other major components of the position include:

  • the ability to liaise with partners, schools and districts, forge new relationships and maintain long term partnerships, identify current needs,
  • develop customized supports, resolve barriers to implementation, and grow educator, school and district pipeline for future engagements;
  • onboarding  all new staff;
  • managing the Executive Assistant and all office management/operations;
  • supervising the performance review process and support plan for all staff, including coordination of internal training needs and supports in conjunction with others;
  • de-facto substitute for many projects- ability to ‘lean in’ everywhere.

Highly qualified candidates will demonstrate an understanding of:

  • Project management
  • Internal operations
  • Talent management
  • Diverse needs, perspectives, and experiences within K-12 education

Non-Technical Skills and Behavior:

  • Empathic listener, ability to connect with all staff members
  • Performs duties professionally, thoroughly, in a timely manner, and with a respectful, friendly demeanor in both external and internal relationships.
  • Handles routine challenges with diverse team with calm and good humor.
  • Ability to be flexible and able to adapt to a high-energy, fluid environment
  • Growth mindset-oriented professional belief system
  • Exercises sound judgment and requests assistance when needed
  • Manages time effectively and follows through on assigned tasks accurately
  • Maintains professional demeanor regardless of internal or external concerns
  • Commitment to equity and social justice through education

Preferred Education, Skills, and Experience:

  • Strong oral and written communication skills
  • Clear and confident presentation and facilitation skills
  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Project management experience

$77,000- $90,000 based on experience

To apply, please send resume and cover letter to Dana Borrelli-Murray, Executive Director at

Seeking: Director of Pedagogy

Highlander Institute is a non-profit organization located in Providence, RI. Our vision is an equitable, just education system that meets the needs of all students as it prepares them for success in our complex, rapidly changing world. Highlander Institute supports classrooms, schools, district leaders, and state education agencies in reimagining how students learn, how learning is measured, and what skills and competencies are essential for success both in college and beyond.

Committed to equity and inclusiveness in education, Highlander Institute strives to support all schools in personalized learning programs that are student-centered and culturally responsive. As we continue to grow, we are committed to hiring a staff that reflects the diverse population we serve. We are looking for talented people to join us as we work to remodel our education system. If you are passionate about empowering students and leveling the playing field for all learners, we want you on our team!

In order to systematize instructional equity across our organizational work, we are seeking a Director of Pedagogy to advance and improve upon our school change process through a strategic rethinking of the instructional core. We are seeking a leader who has a vision for what liberatory classroom practices, assessment, and curriculum can and should look like in any classroom.

The Director of Pedagogy is responsible for research, quality, internal training and capacity building with regard to teaching and learning across Highlander Institute’s programming. The Director of Pedagogy will report directly to the Chief Education Officer, designing professional learning experiences for delivery within the Pathway to Personalization Framework coaching model, workshops and courses.

In partnership with the Institute’s Director of Implementation, the Director of Pedagogy will design processes, content, and experiences to support Highlander Institute coaches in their work with teachers and schools. The Director of Pedagogy will be responsible for moving the organization forward with regard to the practices included in Highlander Institute’s Priority Practices tool, pushing the tool to further integrate culturally responsive teaching as the foundation of personalization. The Director of Pedagogy will be responsible for ensuring that all Highlander Institute coaches and facilitators understand the theory and why behind these chosen practices.

The Director of Pedagogy must be highly skilled in research-based education practices, learning science, culturally responsive teaching and possess the ability to explain these practices to any stakeholder group. Ultimately, the Director of Pedagogy will be responsible for defining Highlander Institute’s new vision for pedagogy coming out of our strategic planning process allowing the entire organization to feel confident communicating this new pedagogy both internally and externally.

Highly qualified candidates will demonstrate an understanding of:

  • All aspects of Highlander Institute, including history, guiding principles, current programmatic scope and future plans
  • School, district, and LEA structure and culture
  • Project management
  • Adult learning theory
  • Blended and personalized learning theory and pedagogy
  • Culturally responsive teaching practices
  • Culturally relevant pedagogy design and implementation
  • Strategies related to SEL, UDL, PBL, ELL, interdisciplinary practices and special education
  • Content areas most commonly taught in high school (Math, ELA, Science & Social Studies)

Non-Technical Skills and Behavior:

  • Performs duties professionally, thoroughly, in a timely manner, and with a respectful, friendly demeanor in both external and internal relationships.
  • Handles routine challenges with diverse consulting team with calm and good humor.
  • Strong ability to build rapport and connect with educators at any level of the system.

Preferred Education, Additional Qualifications and Experience (not mandatory):

  • Master’s Degree in Education
  • Experience with Highlander Institute, knowledge of Highlander Institute philosophy and practice, and familiarity with communities served by Highlander Institute.
  • Classroom experience
  • Nonprofit experience

$85,000-$90,000 based on experience

To apply, please send resume and cover letter to Shawn Rubin, Chief Education Officer at

A case for Real Cupcakes and Real Connections at BPLC19

A Case for Real Cupcakes and Real Connections at BPLC19

First published on the Blended Learning Universe 2/26/19

My three-year-old loves his iPad. He implores me to take it down from the high shelf where it’s stored with the desperate thirst of a man who’s been wandering the desert. It’s one of the few carrots I can use to compel him to do the things three-year-olds are loathe to do: put on shoes; put on a coat; put on pants that don’t have an elastic waist (I get that one).

I don’t feel too guilty about this because there are some excellent educational apps out there: he is thrilled by Elmo’s tireless repetition of letter sounds and getting instant feedback on the accuracy of his counting. But there are also apps he begs for that are heavy on the engagement and light on the learning. For example, did you know there is an app that lets you make virtual cupcakes? This is where I draw the line. The iPad has its role in our house, but enabling fake cupcake baking ain’t it. I want him to measure ingredients, mix and pour, press his nose up to the warm oven window. There is no virtual substitute for this.

A tangible experience for blended learning advocates

When it comes to blended learning you don’t need me to extol the merits; I am preaching to the proverbial choir here. But, like baking cupcakes, there are some things that just can’t be sufficiently experienced online. That’s one reason why Highlander Institute and The Learning Accelerator host the annual Blended & Personalized Learning Conference each year in Providence, Rhode Island. There is something visceral about being in the same room with 1,000 educators who are all trying to accomplish the same thing: to create a more personalized, engaging, and meaningful education for our students.

When you gather in the same space with others, you can have experiences that can’t be replicated online:

  • Listen in on group problem solving among students in a blended classroom simulation.
  • See the flicker of excitement in a colleague’s eyes as she tinkers with robots in our EdUnderground.
  • Laugh and brainstorm with coworkers who you never have enough time to talk to during the school day.
  • Sit down and get one-on-one support with your specific problem of practice with one of Highlander’s experienced Fuse Fellows in our Practice Playground.
  • Feel the electric giddiness of talking shop and catching up with friends new and old at the Welcome Party (hosted this year at Free Play, where you can relive your teenage arcade dreams).

We have squeezed high-quality programming into every nook and cranny of the three-day conference. It begins at noon on Thursday, April 4th with open houses at partner organizations all over the city of Providence. Conference attendees are invited downtown to visit and learn about many of the non-profits, schools, and community organizations that contribute to the personalized-learning ecosystem in Rhode Island, including the RI Museum of Science and Art, New Urban Arts, the Providence Public Library, EduLeaders of Color RI, and more. That afternoon, we’ll host the EdtechRI Pitchfest at the beautiful Pavilion at Grace, where edtech startups will pitch their products and seek feedback from educators in the hopes of qualifying for Saturday’s Shark Tank grand prize.  

On Friday, participants can choose one of five full-day workshops. Options include site visits to seven different Rhode Island schools, the Acceleration through Networks track for advanced practitioners, a Culturally Responsive Curriculum design day, an introduction to the Pathways to Personalization framework for school change, and a spotlight on the Providence Public School District, where district representatives will tell their story of becoming a learning organization and pivoting toward personalized learning.

The Saturday Symposium is the main event, with over 50 sessions facilitated by thoughtful practitioners from all over the country, three live classroom simulations, a vendor expo with dozens of curated edtech products, and more.

While the content is innovative, the format is decidedly old school: let’s all get together in the same place at the same time to share what we know and what we’re still trying to figure out. After all, it’s really cool to meet one of your Twitter heroes in real life, but it’s even cooler to grab a cup of coffeeor a cupcakewith that person and dive into a discussion of the issues that keep you both up at night. We think you’ll agree that there is no substitute for these kinds of authentic connections and we hope you’ll join us in April.


Laura Jackson is the Program Director  at the Highlander Institute in Providence, RI. Share your thoughts and insights with Laura by tweeting @l_jack2.

Reflections on Redesign: Lessons Learned from the Fuse Architect Project

A central aim of Highlander Institute is to support equity, access, and opportunity for all students through the use of blended and personalized learning models. We believe these are powerful levers for engaging students in their education and better preparing them for future success. However, these approaches are challenging to implement and, in many cases, have fallen short of their promise for underserved students, especially at the high school level.

In January 2017, Highlander Institute partnered with seven Rhode Island high schools for an 18-month redesign effort supported by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. This project was an opportunity to learn about what it takes to redesign the high school experience and what is possible when students are empowered as partners in the design process. A summary of the project and our learning about designing an Integrated Learning System and pivoting toward student-centered learning can be found in the full report, which is available by request. However, we have distilled the larger report into five key takeaways that apply to any redesign team leading a high school change effort.

#1 Redesign is a team sport.

The Fuse Architect design teams showed us the power of a heterogenous stakeholder group coming together to craft a shared vision for teaching and learning and working in an ongoing manner to bring that vision to life. The feedback on the design team approach reinforced our belief that bringing multiple voices to the table and collaborating around design problems should serve as standard practice for districts seeking to move toward student-centered learning.

The Fuse Architect project was our first experience with formally involving students in the planning of classroom and school redesign. We found their perspectives to be invaluable and are now encouraging all of our partners to include students on their design teams, when possible (based on scheduling) and appropriate (based on age of students). To facilitate this process, we recommend completing our Student Voice Calibration Exercise, which outlines a series of steps Design Team members should take to ensure that student voice is an integral part of their design process. In addition, we recommend that Design Teams complete a full or half-day student shadow to build understanding of and empathy for the student experience. We found this Student Shadow Protocol, developed by IDEO, to be a helpful resource for organizing, conducting, and debriefing the shadow.  

#2 You say tomato, I say tomahto.

Any education reform or redesign effort, particularly one that utilizes educational technology, is bound to be awash in jargon. Therefore, it is important for the design team to define terms and make sure that stakeholders are aligned in their understanding and use of these terms.

In one of the Fuse Architect redesign projects, we observed a lack of common language around ILS functions, which made it difficult for different stakeholder groups to communicate clearly about their expectations and experiences. To address this, we developed a list of common terminology related to integrated learning systems, which can be accessed here.

While this list is specific to the redesign focus of Fuse Architect, we recommend that design teams use this as a jumping off point and build upon it to develop a custom list of educational terminology relevant to their redesign efforts. For example, it may be necessary to invest time parsing out the variations between blended learning, personalized learning, student-centered learning, deeper learning, and project-based learning. It is likely that redesign team stakeholders have different understandings of what these terms mean and how they relate to their vision for the school, so it’s worth investing time up front to gain clarity and use the terms with precision.

#3 Boil the sap down to syrup.

It takes about forty parts maple sap to make one part maple syrup. That’s a lot of boiling; but the results are sweet. We believe all redesign teams need a clear and concise vision statement to define and guide their work. Without it, the Design Team’s work will likely lead to confusion about everything from how to get started to how to measure success. Conversely, a clear vision provides a north star for team members to refer back to throughout the redesign process.

We recommend that teams begin with a loose brainstorming discussion about what they hope to see in classrooms at the end of the redesign effort. In addition, it is equally important and informative to discuss what team members do not want to see. This can be a wide-ranging discussion in which Design Team members are encouraged to speak freely and share unpolished thoughts. The idea is to get all of their ideas, aspirations, and fears on the table.

From there, it is more efficient to have a few members of the larger team take the raw “sap” from the brainstorm and boil it down to the proverbial syrup. This typically takes the form of a statement that ranges from a few sentences to a few paragraphs. The more descriptive and less jargony the draft vision statement is, the better. The draft can then be shared back with the larger team for input. This drafting process typically requires a few rounds of revision until a statement emerges that satisfies all design team members.

Not surprisingly, in the Fuse Architect project, we observed that the design teams that crafted clear design statements at the outset were better able to leverage technical coaching supports because they used the statements as a touchstone for teachers and coaches. In addition, teams that were unable to commit sufficient time to the visioning process or that did not fully invest in the process struggled when it came time to operationalize their vision.

#4 How do you eat an elephant? Slowly, and one bite at a time.

When a new initiative comes along, excitement and momentum can drive the impulse to dive in and get started. However, a slower and more deliberate approach is more likely to result in lasting and worthwhile change. We recommend the following to teams taking on redesign projects:

  1. Use the planning year to be extremely intentional about the shifts in practice you want to see in classrooms and identify how they are aligned to the current student experience and other building or district level initiatives. When structural or systemic issues arise, invite those in power to come to the meetings to work through them.
  2. Schedule specific benchmark dates to review progress and reflect on the pilot implementation. The following benchmark tool was created by one design team, with our support, to guide their first six months of the pilot.
  3. Set your team up for success by anticipating and budgeting for the teacher planning time, personalized learning time (in and out of school) for students, data review days, and student-teacher meetings that will be necessary for successful pilots.

Additionally, teams can sometimes be overzealous in their aspirations. While we applaud and encourage “moonshot thinking”, we caution teams against taking on too much too quickly, which can lead to burnout and disappointment. When we began the Fuse Architect project, we believed that the best way to support design teams with the adoption of a new model for student-centered learning was to begin with a heavy dose of design, followed by a heavy dose of technology vetting. We were approaching the challenge with a subtractive method: school teams would start with a full-stack solution and then customize it over time, much as a sculptor begins with a block of stone and slowly chips away to refine it into a shape.

What we found is that an additive process is more appropriate, where one piece is added, studied, and tweaked, and then another is added, studied, and tweaked and so on until the whole emerges. We now believe that the most successful approach involves a small amount of upfront design work, followed by a heavy dose of change management support to clarify and refine the vision. Implementation must be supported with a series of small hacks and multiple iterations. Only then can a design team arrive at a new vision for teaching and learning that is sticky enough to scale to all teachers and classrooms.

#5 You need multiple measures to tell a multidimensional story.

As an organization, Highlander Institute has always believed that measuring impact in a classroom requires the use of multiple measures. However,  prior to Fuse Architect we did not have an internal framework for organizing the variety of instruments that we and our partner districts were using to measure the efficacy of student-centered learning pilots. While we were familiar with the concept of using a family of measures for continuous improvement (as outlined in the table below), we had not used it to structure our data collection.

Process Explanation: Process measures are used to capture the extent to which behavior is changing or not changing.
Example: Classroom observation data based on a walkthrough rubric
Outcome Explanation: Outcome measures are used to quantify how outcomes are changing (if at all), presumably as a result of the intervention.
Examples: Student attendance rates, behavior referrals, achievement data
Balance Explanation: Balance measures are meant to capture how people (typically teachers and students) feel about an intervention, including any unintentional consequences.
Examples: Surveys, stakeholder focus groups

Based on our experience with this project, we recommend all redesign project teams proactively outline the process, outcome, and balance measures that they’ll use to gauge the impact of pilot implementations. Coupled with a schedule for data collection, this becomes a measurement plan that teams can reasonably enact and sustain. After all, a data collection plan that is too burdensome will be neglected or abandoned altogether.

Furthermore, educators know in their bones that their work is too complex and multifaceted to be captured by a single measure. Therefore, both to capture the impact of redesign efforts and to maintain the trust of participating teachers, measurement plans must incorporate diverse and complementary instruments that, when used in tandem, tell a sufficiently rich story of change.

To request a copy of the full Fuse Architect report “Fuse Architect: Designing High Schools for Integrated Learning Systems and Student-Centered Learning”, please contact

EdCampRI 2018: Register for Free Today

The 6th annual EdCampRI is swiftly approaching! Join a dynamic group of educators at Alger Hall on Rhode Island College’s campus on Saturday, May 5 from 8:00AM-1:30PM for a great day of learning and sharing. All are welcome to be a part of the conversation, whether you’re an EdCamp veteran or newbie.

Register today for a free ticket! 

EdCampRI is brought to you by a planning committee made up of representatives from Rhode Island College, school districts across our state, Highlander Institute, and the Tortolani family.

This year’s EdCampRI event is bittersweet, to say the least. Last year, Alan Tortolani, the founder of ABCYa and co-founder of EdCampRI passed away unexpectedly. He was passionate about the power of teachers in the Ocean State and truly loved EdCampRI and its ability to bring educators together. In honor of Alan, we are announcing the Alan Tortolani Scholarship for Teachers to recognize an incredible Rhode Island educator, with plans to make this an annual tradition.

The winner of this award will receive a scholarship to attend the ISTE Conference in Chicago in June 2018. The scholarship includes conference registration, hotel, and flight.

Please apply for this tremendous opportunity and share this link with other educators who might be interested. We will announce the winner at EdCampRI 2018 on Saturday, May 5. We think continuing to support and champion teacher leaders is one of the best ways to honor Alan.

Curious about the EdCamp format? Check out the Edcamp Foundation website here.

Agenda at a Glance

  • Registration & Breakfast 8AM to 8:45AM
  • Welcome & Format of the Day 8:30AM to 9:00AM
  • Session 1 9:00AM to 9:45AM
  • Improv Challenge 9:45AM to 10:00AM
  • Session 2 10:00AM to 10:45AM
  • Kahoot District Challenge 10:45AM to 11:30AM
  • Lunch 11:30AM to 12:30PM
  • Session 3 12:30PM to 1:15PM
  • Farewell and Giveaways 1:15PM to 1:30PM

Breakfast and lunch will be provided by Rhode Island College. Please bring a smartphone, laptop, or other electronic device if possible.

For more details about the event, visit and review the Rhode Island Campus map.

Just Released: “Be Education” Podcast

Are you looking to try something new in your classroom?  Have you heard about Blended and Personalized Learning but don’t know where to start?  Take a listen to The Be Education Podcast: 15-minute quick-bite episodes you can listen to during a prep or short commute with ideas to try in your classroom tomorrow.

Hosted by Nick DiNardo and Highlander Institute‘s Christina Corser, the Be Education Podcast is your one-stop-shop for all things related to K-12 classroom teaching. Practical tips to learn how to implement blended learning techniques, driving classroom culture, differentiation, how to approach rigor and mastery, and much more. Whether you are a new teacher or a veteran educator, the Be Education Podcast will have actionable tips to help you drive student learning.

This first episode gives you an overview of what to expect from this podcast in terms of content, the frequency of episodes, and why we do what we do.

Check out the podcast HERE!

Q&A with Nicole Lanni

  1. Describe the work you’ll be doing with Highlander Institute:
  • I will be joining the Highlander team as an Educational Strategies Specialist where I will have the privilege to work with administrators, teachers, and students in supporting their individual vision of personalized & blended learning.


  1. What’s your background?
  • I have been a member of the Cumberland School Department since 2012. From 2012-2015 the focus of my career was in 10th grade English where I adapted lessons to promote personalized learning for my students. In 2015, I excitedly accepted a new position as an Instructional Technology Coach, coaching and encouraging teachers to utilize purposeful technology in their teaching to enhance student learning in the classroom. I continued my teaching & learning around personalized instruction with an emphasis on purposeful technology integration as was welcomed back into the classroom at the beginning of this year.


  1. What are you most looking forward to with this new position?
  • Working with the unique, intelligent, and talented educators who make up the ESS team and continuing my learning with their partnership.


  1. What’s your self professed super-power?
  • The super power of bridging the gap between technology, leadership, and curriculum.  


  1. Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
  • My vision for blended and personalized learning is to encourage students to take an active role in their educational experience. 21st century teaching and learning is a culminating way of learning that fosters collaboration between teachers and students, students and students, and students and the world. It encourages self-directed learners in an enriching and interactive learning experience that personalizes instruction for all students.
  • Bachelors Degree from Rhode Island College: Secondary Education / Middle Level Endorsement