Networking and Learning Together: Celebrating a decade of Digital Promise

By Devin Vodicka

This week I had the privilege of attending the League of Innovative Schools meeting in Washington DC.  It was one of the first in-person events that I have attended since the pandemic began and it was a wonderful opportunity to connect with others, share insights, and to celebrate the ten-year-anniversary of Digital Promise.  The program this week included thoughtful sessions, numerous collaborative experiences, and a panel discussion with Roberto Rodriguez and Chris Rush from the US Department of Education. 

On the flight home, I had a chance to reflect on my own journey as well.  I remember clearly the day I received a call from the San Diego County Office of Education asking if we might be interested in piloting a new program where students would be given an iPad with built-in LTE internet connectivity.  The year was 2013 and at that time most schools were nowhere near the dream of “one-to-one” and even farther removed from thinking about 24-7 internet access.  The next year we launched the program at two of our Title I middle schools – Rancho Minerva Middle and VIDA – in the first cohort of the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program.  

The impact of the program was hard to overstate.  It was part of our ambitious effort to leverage digital resources to shift to what we were calling “personal learning” in the Vista Unified School District.  In addition to the direct benefits to students, engaging in this project also brought us into contact with Digital Promise, a national organization authorized by Congress to spur innovation in schools.  We became members of the League of Innovative Schools and participated in initiatives ranging from micro-credentials to competency-based education.  The network also led to collaborative innovations such as the COW Project and the XQ Superschool prize for Vista High School.  

The combination of these initiatives in the context of high-trust relationships where we had an aligned strategy led to rapid improvements tied to our goals.  Improvements in metrics ranging from attendance to discipline to graduation rates were indicators of progress that we were better serving our students.  

Unfortunately schools and districts across the country have had varied experiences with digital learning and while we have made incredible progress during the pandemic related to devices and access, there still remains much work ahead to leverage technology tools in pursuit of learner agency, collaboration, and problem solving.  In many cases, we have been in the “substitution” mode of the SAMR model instead of seeking true redefinition and reinvention.  


Communities such as those that have been organized by Digital Promise have been and will be essential to promote collective learning. Educators have a professional responsibility to lean into these collaborative networks not only as beneficiaries of the expertise of others, but as contributors who can help to inform improvements for others as well.  

I have often expressed my belief that learning requires relational trust.  Just as this is true for our students, we must model the way and embrace our own learning journeys.  I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to develop connections with leaders who have become mentors, collaborators, and friends.  After all of the stress and challenges of the pandemic, we need relationships to sustain, inform, and inspire us to persevere for the benefit of our students, families, staff, and communities.  As always, relationships and community are the way to build a brighter future.

Rising sun captured on early morning walk with colleagues

Check out the book Learner-Centered Leadership: A Blueprint for Transformational Change in learning Communities for more insights, reflections, and suggestions.

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