The Learning Accelerator Blog/Innovating While Leading Schools is Hard – Lessons from Using ChatGPT

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Innovating While Leading Schools is Hard – Lessons from Using ChatGPT

by Rashida Kimbrue Major on April 19 2023

Recently, districts from across the U.S. converged at Dell's Innovation Summit to tackle problems of practice around innovating in schools, including: designing innovative learning models, implementing new structures of high school through a conference-style approach, and creatively leveraging human capital. For one district, Newport News Public Schools, the challenge was clear — how could they build a flexible elementary school schedule that reflected their current context in a teacher shortage while also providing the best possible learning experience for students and support for teachers? Traditional approaches weren’t working, so the district team turned to ChatGPT as a support partner, and I facilitated problem-solving sessions to generate potential innovative solutions. Educators, service providers, and school leaders, many of whom had never designed an elementary school schedule, were struck by some core lessons Newport News learned when it used AI to establish “non-negotiables,” consider staff schedules through the lens of their stakeholders, and roll out a schedule that could increase teacher and staff wellbeing and retention.

Lesson: Before Using AI, Define Your Outcome & Articulate Boundaries

For many leaders, district policies and practices can get in the way of creative and innovative solutions. However, by using AI to power through a time-intensive laborious process, I learned that the most important first step when using generative AI is to assess the available resources and consider what is within your control. At the innovation summit, through extensive brainstorming before we engaged ChatGPT, we identified "non-negotiables" to guide us in determining what a possible elementary schedule could look like within Newport News’ context.

If you are an educator looking to incorporate generative AI tools into your planning process, first define the model and structure of your intended outcome. This requires careful consideration of factors such as departmentalization, core content blocks compared to support/enrichment time, and competency-based learning. Then, outline your school's criteria and constraints for the schedule, such as ensuring all students have at least 30 minutes for lunch and recess, attend 50 minutes of special classes per day (Monday - Friday), and engage with core content for 1,275 minutes per week. Also, consider constraints such as multi-grade classes and maximum capacities for lunch and recess. By identifying what’s feasible, generative AI can develop an effective schedule reflective of a real school day, but you can’t just “dive in” headfirst without articulating criteria and constraints.

Lesson: Use AI to Equity Check Your Ideas

ChatGPT and other generative AI tools can quickly create school schedules, but do they take into account the perspectives of all your diverse stakeholders (e.g., principals, special education teachers, students, parents)? I was inspired by how the Newport News team approached their schedule design process, using ChatGPT to revise and equity-test their ideas. As we input the lens of each stakeholder into the tool, it helped identify potential barriers and explained necessary schedule changes —promoting a more equitable approach to scheduling — to better meet the needs of everyone involved.

I saw another opportunity to use generative AI to center equity when Newport News was reminded that scheduling shorter, more frequent intervals of core content classes can allow for greater teacher support and that individualized instruction and special education teachers may need additional planning time to collaborate with other staff members to prepare appropriate resources and modifications. Collaboration among teachers and staff is necessary to ensure that students have equal access to instruction, resources, and activities, and generative AI can be told to build that time into schedules. This ChatGPT scheduling exercise reinforced that, ultimately, the human element is crucial in designing any innovative solution. AI can’t replace your knowledge of your context, but it can be prompted to adjust to and consider the context you offer it.

Another crucial stakeholder to consider when creating a school schedule is the students. The team used the AI assistant to create a remediation plan for students and identify social-emotional scheduling issues. Based on ChatGPT’s analysis, there was a lack of break time, movements, socialization opportunities, stress and anxiety, and inadequate time for self-care and relaxation. It suggested modifying the schedule to include more frequent breaks or opportunities for movement throughout the day. To address the lack of opportunities for student socialization, ChatGPT recommended modifying the schedule to include more cross-grade socialization and interaction. For example, the school could establish buddy programs, organize mentorship activities or schedule school-wide events that encourage students to mix and interact with peers from different grade levels. This session reinforced that, using the power of AI tools to equity-check schedules, schools can create effective schedules that prioritize the well-being of their students and staff. By addressing social-emotional issues and providing ample opportunities for self-care and relaxation, students can thrive both academically and personally.

Lesson: AI's "Solutions" Can Actually Be New Challenges

At the summit, the district team’s primary challenge was to build an elementary school schedule, but analyzing the ChatGPT-produced schedule illuminated another one: how do you structure the day so that teachers have enough planning time to collaborate? Even if ChatGPT spews out a promising solution, its solution should always be reviewed with the human experience in mind; after all, generative AI isn’t a panacea — it’s a tool.

Newport News faced a teacher shortage due to burnout and believed that increasing planning time could help prevent turnover. Newport News’ theory was if they created a more fluid and flexible elementary school schedule that provides teachers with additional collaboration and planning time, it would lead to greater job satisfaction and retention, which would, in turn, impact student achievement. After using ChatGPT to construct the schedule and going through multiple revisions that took into account the human experience, the teachers gained a minimum of 85 minutes of daily planning time, allowing for more time for cross-collaboration, personalized learning resources, and creativity. The 4th-grade AI-created schedule gave teachers 105 minutes of daily planning time by utilizing resource monitors and 570 minutes of weekly iSTEM time by turning to resource monitors. The planning and professional development period provides dedicated time for grading, planning, collaborating, and attending any sessions by the school.

Innovating while leading in a school is hard, but with new tech like ChatGPT, leaders have a new support partner to help them. Just remember to define your boundaries before you engage ChatGPT, use the tool to equity-check, and always think about the human element when using generative AI to design or create.

This blog was the fourth installment in a series on AI and K-12 education. Catch up on the blog series here:

Have a learning or idea about generative AI tools in education that you’d like to share? Tag us on Twitter, we’d love to hear from you: @LearningAccel

About the Author

Rashida Kimbrue Major is an Associate Partner, Programs at The Learning Accelerator and is dedicated to engaging school and systems leaders on reflective practices that allow for responsive and equitable education in schools.