In a school district with 5,200 educators and 85,000 students, training each teacher on multiple learning platforms and transitioning to a blended learning environment seemed like a lofty goal. Steele and his team were up for the challenge, however, and set out to leverage the benefits of blended learning and establish specific targets for each school in the district to design and deliver content in a blended learning environment. Elementary schools aimed for 30 percent, middle schools aimed for 50 percent and high schools aimed for 70 percent of learning to occur in a blended environment.
Ensuring that all 5,200 educators in the district received the same information from the district office was a bit difficult - Steele knew the district needed a strategic plan to overcome this communication challenge. “There is no way that one person can effectively integrate and conduct professional development with every teacher to the highest level. We knew we had to use our technology to transform teaching and learning and get to every teacher,” says Steele. In addition, Steele and his team wanted to address some concerns from the local business community. It became clear their students were not leaving high school with the skills necessary to obtain technology jobs - of which there are about 1,000 in the Nashville, Tenn., area that are often unfilled or outsourced due to a lack of qualified candidates. Steele and his team developed a strategic plan to support a revolutionary change in curriculum design and delivery and overcome some of these challenges.
With a successful implementation of a fully blended elementary, middle and high school - a large part of the strategic plan - it’s clear the district is paving the way to ensure student success. Steele didn’t just help revolutionize the classroom for Metro Nashville Public Schools, he also helped eliminate classroom walls by launching a virtual school. In order to do so, the district worked to change state law, which at the time did not allow for virtual schools in K-12 education. Now, Steele’s district has the most successful virtual school in the state, which both full-time and part-time students attend.
These changes - coupled with the implementation of new learning management systems, the use of social media for education and a professional development program - have led to an increased attendance rate, which is now at about 93 percent. “Qualitatively, I can say that I’ve gone into our fully integrated high school and I’ve held focus groups with kids and informally talked to them and they love the approach. They love learning in this environment and they expect their teachers to teach this way,” says Steele.
Steele’s accomplishments in education and technology are a result of his approach to the learning environment. He believes the classroom environment should reflect the way students want to learn. Taking the student-centered approach instead of the teacher-centered approach allows students to thrive, which is what is causing great success at Metro Nashville Public Schools.