For students and educators around the world now heading back to school, it’s a time filled with emotions and opportunities to make new friends, connect with old ones, and embark on new learning opportunities.
For one school in Bellevue, Washington, it’s been a momentous week: Wilburton Elementary opened its doors to a new community of students, parents, and educators, for the very first time. Over the past year we’ve been sharing this school’s journey, from its earliest planning stages to partnering with Wilburton to bring the Microsoft Education Transformation Framework to life every step of the way.
More than 400 Wilburton Wolves are in for an amazing year ahead, and I couldn’t be prouder of what the teams have accomplished in creating a holistically impactful environment for these students to dream big, expect more, and give back.
A framework for leadership
For Bellevue School District Superintendent Dr. Ivan Duran, the new school represents a big step forward in the transformation of learning. “Wilburton Elementary is the first school we’ve built from the ground up in over 25 years, in order to serve a fast-growing and diverse area in our district,” Superintendent Duran tells us. “The state-of-the-art campus reflects the district’s commitment to creating innovative approaches for equitable and inclusive learning, enabled by Microsoft technology. Working in partnership with Microsoft Education, we’ve created a learning environment that will give students the skills and opportunities they need to be affirmed and inspired as creators of their future world.”
What I’ve learned over the years, through our Showcase School program, is that amazing schools are the output of an incredible leader. Beth Hamilton, Wilburton’s passionate and energetic principal, is a testament to turning a vision into a real-life, fully functioning school. Hamilton has been a leading light throughout the entire project, ensuring that every detail – from the building construction, the design of the learning environments, through to the learning approach – has placed students at the heart of every decision.
“We’re going to help each other, take risks, get things wrong,” Hamilton says. “We’re going to laugh and cry, but it’s all to make sure that we have a relevant, adaptive, and rigorous learning experience for all of our kids.”
It’s been a privilege to work alongside Beth and listen and learn along the way. And what we’ve learned throughout the journey will help inspire and educate the next generation of new schools.
The Microsoft Education Transformation Framework (ETF) has been instrumental in helping Hamilton to consider every aspect of learning and design. Across Leading and Policy, Modern Teaching and Learning, Intelligent Environments, and Technology Blueprint, we’ve trialed and tested various approaches and options to best craft this amazing new place to learn.
And the new teachers at Wilburton couldn’t be more excited.
From day one to the first day
“On day one, the teachers were excited, but tentative,” Hamilton says. “Today, they’re excited and full of energy – all because of the relationships and trust they’ve built with each other. They believe in each other; it’s the mindset we’ve created.”
Wilburton’s educators, some of them brand new, spent the summer getting their classrooms ready and investing in their own development. Leveraging the Teaching and Learning component in the ETF, along with resources like the Microsoft Educator Community, these educators participated in over 100 hours of professional development, with a focus on connecting as a team and going deep with the innovative technologies designed to take student learning and experience to the next level.
First-grade teacher Mandy Sin says, “Coming in as a first-year teacher, I’m nervous about this whole new chapter in my life, but after our PD there’s a sense of togetherness. We’re a wolf pack – a family – and it feels like whatever I do, say, or try – it’s ok.”
And all of Wilburton’s staff is looking forward to the new resources they can access – including their partnership with nearby Bellevue Botanical Garden and the school’s learning terrace, which is an indoor/outdoor environment connected to their Maker Space. It’s an area for raised gardens, creativity, community building, with all the resources of a classroom. The school is also designed with pods that create open spaces, for students in different classes to connect as a community.
Built for today, built for everyone
From the very beginning, the school was designed to consider opportunities for technology to play a key role in driving digital transformation in both the learning environments and the efficiency and effectiveness of the school and facility itself. Using the Microsoft Education Transformation Framework, they executed on a plan that identified the tools their students and educators need today, and the systems and solutions the school needs to be more productive, efficient, and secure.
Wilburton Elementary provides every student with access to a device while they are at school, where they will use Office 365 with digital inking and a stylus to support their ability to collaborate with each other and be more productive. Microsoft Teams, OneNote, Forms and more will be used throughout the school to enable learning, improve feedback and assessment, and provide more personalized learning to every student.
The school is also taking a holistic approach to accessibility and inclusion, using Microsoft Learning Tools to support every student, regardless of learning differences. STEM is considered fundamental in the curriculum, with the Maker Space leading to hands-on experiences, Minecraft and MakeCode introducing coding and creative thinking, and computer science serving as core.
Technology leads the way
Katherine Gorin, a 2nd grade teacher, is most excited about using technology to differentiate learning and make her classroom more inclusive and equitable. “When technology wasn’t as integrated in the classroom, it was a lot more difficult to make all the materials accessible,” she tells us, “but with technology that we’re extremely lucky to have, it’s so much easier to make sure all students have the opportunity to access what they need to be successful.”
Physical Education teacher Marnie Kazarian looks forward to bridging the connection from the classroom into the gym with technology. “I need to assess and check for understanding, and technology creates that environment where classroom teachers and I can connect to talk about health and skill concepts outside of the 40-minute class period,” she explains. “We’ll know what’s happening in both worlds and can make that connection visible to students so that they come into the gym with a focus.”
Building a new school – and a new community – from the ground up has presented its share of challenges. The lessons Hamilton and her team have learned in the process apply not only to new schools, but to any school seeking to transform learning:
- Relationships, relationships, relationships. According to Hamilton, leading any school is all about building relationships, both within the broader school community and between teachers. “You can have all the procedures and routines figured out, but if you don’t have the relationships, it’s never going to work,” she says. “It’s the culture, climate, and relationships that staff, families, and students are creating with each other that will make the school amazing.”
- Less is more. The work of leading a new school requires Hamilton to wear many hats. “My Type A personality wants me to have everything in order and done,” Hamilton shares. “I’ve learned this year to focus what’s the most important – what we need to do right now – because an overwhelmed teacher is never going to be at their best.”
- Model the technology. Hamilton stresses that school leaders can’t just tell teachers about technology tools, they have to use them. “If you want teachers to use technology in an innovative way that is intentional and purposeful, you have to show them and model how it can be done,” says Hamilton. “And if they use it as a student, they have a better understanding of it’s potential, and they can pass that on to their students.”
- Throughout the journey, Wilburton leaned on the advice and support of many partners and stakeholders in the process, including Microsoft, ISTE, NPDL, Sam Labs, ST Math, Steelcase and local community partners.
Wilburton’s journey has been a learning experience for Microsoft, too. Putting innovation into practice continues to inform our products and our relationships with schools, educators, and students. We’re also excited to share the Wilburton story with the many education officials, school leaders, and educators, who visit the Microsoft Redmond campus every year. As part of our collaboration, Wilburton has a dedicated space for Microsoft to welcome those who want to learn more about the school from both students and educators.
As this part of the journey ends, another one (this time, with students!) begins, and we’ll be there every step of the way to provide support. Congratulations and best of luck to the entire Wilburton Elementary community! Thank you for an amazing journey. I am humbled that you chose Microsoft be a part of it.
Learn more about becoming a Microsoft Showcase School.
Catch up on the full Wilburton Elementary story, start to finish:
- Building for innovative learning: A new elementary school takes shape
- A new community breaks ground on creativity
- Staffing from scratch
- Professional development and the art of vulnerability
- The women of Wilburton Elementary are reinventing STEM for K-5
- Building community, one parent and one student at a time
- Making it personal: New approaches for inclusive learning at Wilburton Elementary