What’s the secret to becoming compliant with state guidelines and making college and career readiness fun for students? One counselor has figured it out.

In a rural area tucked away in the northeast corner of Kansas, just south of the Nebraska border, lies Prairie Hills USD 113.

The small school district, whose motto is “Preparing Kids, Shaping the Future,” is intent on doing just that for students in the three K-12 schools it serves.

One of the ways USD 113 prepares students for a bright future is by embracing future-readiness technology to help them fulfil their state mandates, create and execute meaningful individual plans of study (IPS), and find efficient administrative gains so all students are consistently supported.

We spoke to Briana Evans, a USD 113 school counselor who has been instrumental in integrating Xello into the fabric of the district’s future readiness efforts.

She told us how the program aligns with their mandates and how they’re making the most of every feature.

Built-in Mandate Compliance

USD 113’s partnership with Xello means they have a solution that aligns perfectly with the Kansans CAN Competency Framework, which calls for embedding interpersonal skills into course content.

“Educators support students to become career-equipped, socially and emotionally engaged, lifelong learners,” reads the framework.

Xello Success Manager Matthew Krawczyk says he and his team were able to look at the IPS requirements for USD 113 and overlay the many ways Xello fulfilled their mandates.

“We created a document that demonstrates how our model aligns with USD 113’s requirements. For example, the IPS process—Know Yourself, Explore Options, Make Choices, Take Action—we created a pre-made curriculum that fulfils this mandate.”

Xello’s assessments, lessons, and tools allow students to identify careers of interest, explore clusters, and create post-secondary plans for success.

Students continue to develop their unique electronic portfolio from K-12 while using Xello’s course planner tool to select courses based on their interests and post-secondary goals.

A fundamental component of the Kansans CAN competencies is social-emotional learning.

Evans says that, each year, the district chooses an aspect from a wheel of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and cognitive skills. Last year, USD 113 chose self-regulation. In 2019/2020, they chose to focus on assertiveness.

 The Xello lessons support these explorations in students of all ages. We’ve got lessons on time management at the 6th grade level, but we see threads of that in a lot of different lessons. An 8th grade lesson focuses on creating a self-advocacy plan which aligns with our assertiveness focus very well.

“The lessons have done a really good job of tapping into those needs in a pleasant setting. The students are comfortable exploring,” she adds. 

A Creative and Comprehensive Approach to Using Future Readiness Tools

USD 113 had been using Career Cruising for more than two years before switching to Xello for the 2019/2020 school year.

“We transitioned to Xello just after school dismissed last year, which was perfect for me to be able to play around in the system and make plans for the upcoming school year,” says Evans.

In fact, before the school year even began, she plotted out the Xello tasks and corresponding future readiness lessons and activities for the year so she could plan visits and other details ahead. Bonus: teachers and students know exactly what to expect each month.

Using Advisory Periods and Ambassadors

One of the ways USD 113 ensures that future-readiness is prioritized is to make use of advisory periods.

One of the high schools has a 30-minute advisory period every day and designates a few of those a month to focus on IPS duties.

This usually means they’re using Xello to complete a lesson, use a tool, or complete a required task.

 Another high school has a designated class period every month and some of that time is allocated to future readiness activities.

“I also have all students hop into Xello outside of those times as they work through their IPS experiences,” she says.

In order to make the most of time and the tool, Evans appointed IPS student ambassadors within both high schools at each grade level.

She meets with them monthly and previews the Xello tasks with them before they’ve been released to the rest of the classes. This means there are experts in each grade who can support their peers with the lessons and assessments they’ll be working on.

“Usually the IPS ambassador will talk the students through the tasks and help anyone who isn’t sure of something or is having trouble,” says Evans.

She points to a job shadowing program that’s slated for juniors, as an example. Students will follow a mentor and learn about their career and then use Xello to further process the experience.

In Xello, students will have to make a life experience entry for their job shadow and then reflect on that experience. They’re also going to add a photo from the day with their mentor. Ambassadors will be there to support them as they go through it.

The Student Experience

Evans says that Xello has sparked invaluable conversations among students and teachers throughout the high schools and middle schools that use it. The real breakthroughs come after students have completed some lessons.

“They tend to be very thought-provoking. I was with some 6th graders when they did a time management lesson and the part that prompted the most conversation was the task of laying out their day. It was a challenge for them. They realized that they have all these things they want to do but had to make some choices and give up some things in order to have time for others,” she says. 

“Another one that stood out was a lesson on ‘Defining Success for Seniors.’ Some of the seniors were struggling to define what success meant to them. It was a good conversation. In both situations, I liked that the kids had to think their way through that and solve the issue at hand.”

Evans believes the digital nature of the solution also plays into its impact.

“The [online] lessons have been conversation starters. When a teacher is standing up there talking about assertiveness or self-regulation, the kids are rolling their eyes like, ‘Yes, we know this.’ But an interactive lesson that they’re drawn into is different,” she says. 

Kids are put on the spot with a situation and asked to think about how they would respond. The conversations afterward are just so valuable because they tie right back into our college and career competency conversations.

Another element that she says has been a game changer is the course planner feature. Although there were some blips as they rolled it out across the district, the value of each student having a four-year plan for high school is “immeasurable”.

“Course planner is supporting our efforts to help students make a plan with the understanding that it can change. It prompts some good conversations and deep thinking about things like, ‘Do I want to take trig and calculus? How will that prepare me for what I want to do as a career?’”

“We want students to understand that we do not have a pre-defined plan for them post-secondary. They need to be prepared for whatever it is they want to do. It’s also opened up other options beyond college. Students can see what else is available,” says Evans.

Advice for Other Districts Considering Future-Readiness Technology

While learning new technology is not typically high on the list of fun tasks for administrators and educators, Evans says the transition from Career Cruising to Xello was simple—and illuminating.

 “When I heard that Career Cruising was no longer going to be supported it was like, ‘Oh man.’

“But when I saw the features of Xello and how visually appealing it is, as well as the content that reinforces, supports, and encourages our efforts in course and career planning and social-emotional growth, there was no turning back for me. The move was a leap forward for us.”

Her recommendation to other districts looking to implement future readiness software is to use the opportunity to ensure other lessons, activities, and processes work with technology to create a comprehensive program for students.

Our goal is to prepare students for what’s to come and, to do that, we need to meet them in the now, which is what Xello does.

 “It has helped push us in a new direction we may not have gone otherwise. Not only is it supporting day-to-day efforts, but it’s allowing us to set goals for how we’re going to do this differently next year and how it connects to the focal point for state and district mandates. Xello continues to challenge us to move forward.”

Heather Hudson

Heather Hudson is a Toronto-based freelance writer and journalist. She specializes in content marketing, corporate storytelling and good old-fashioned journalism. You can read some of her work in The Toronto Star and learn more about her at heatherhudson.ca.