How can networks support a school's capacity to change and grow? Intentional networks became an important venue for fostering a supportive system of sharing knowledge, information, and expertise.
To change school culture we must question the traditional philosophy of “my kids, my classroom.” For far too long, educators have operated within the confines of their four classroom walls in what one site coordinator called “pure isolation.” In order to make the transformational shift towards student driven learning, the i3 New England Network made intentional design choices to harness the power of networking, and employed skilled facilitative leadership to support each site in accomplishing grant goals.
“I very rarely if ever in my 30 plus years in public schools thought anybody changed by their formal evaluation. Where I saw change, especially in this project, is when teachers learned from each other; when students challenged the way they were learning in the classroom. So the power of collaboration, the power of a network, is finding ways to constantly learn from each other.”
Arnie Clayton, CSSR School Change Coach
Through a collaborative process and multiple learning opportunities for teachers, students and school administrators, schools were able to move out of isolation and become a regional community of learners. Through this experience, they could explore new horizons in teaching and learning, including inquiry-based instruction that supports student agency and student designed learning experiences. The CSSR team created opportunities for site teams to develop strategies and support structures to examine their own professional development through reflection, refinement and skill building. Over time, site teams became the drivers of change where stakeholders felt comfortable taking risks and trying new strategies.
“It is really nice to see what other schools are doing and to learn from our school change coaches who always came in with an eye towards development and change. I highly encourage more schools to engage in the networking process because it is comforting to know I can pick up the phone and call a colleague in another state and say we are struggling with something how did you guys do it? That outside lens would help us when we felt like we were getting caught up not being able to see the forest through the trees. The conversation would just help us see things differently.”
Peggy Reynolds, Site Coordinator, Nashua High School North and South
CSSR created the Power of a Network through the following components:
- The Performance Assessment Working Group (PAWG)– a group of teacher leaders from each school met monthly to look collaboratively at student work across the i3 NETWORK. This involved sharing and improving lessons and assessments, scoring student work, and reviewing teacher-developed units against a clear external standard. Students became increasingly involved in this work over time—they not only attended PAWG meetings to lend their voice to instructional practices, but they also presented work created in collaboration with teachers. (Watch a video about the PAWG1.)
- The Performance Assessment Review Board (PAR Board) – this group, led and facilitated by outside experts and practitioners from New England and beyond, made multiday school visits to each i3 New England Network school on 2 occasions over the duration of the project. They provided constructive and focused feedback to the schools, shining a light on both the bright spots and areas of challenge for each school. The PAR Board also included representatives from each of the 13 schools, which enlarged everyone’s appreciation of how school redesign looks in different contexts. A focus area of each visit was how performance assessments were taking root in each school, as a reflection of the depth of personalization in learning. (Listen to school change coach Margaret McLean’s description of the PAR Board2.)
- The Summer Institute – this annual multi-day event brought together students, teachers, administrators, and community members from each of the 13 sites for an opportunity to network with one another; share new ideas; and learn and master new strategies. Each of the sites also had the opportunity to spend quality team-time together—to consolidate the learning and adapt the strategies and concepts to their unique learning environments. Over time, the Summer Institutes shifted from being expert-led to being fully student and teacher driven. (Watch a video about the Summer Institute3.)
- School Coaching - a cadre of highly experienced school change coaches worked collaboratively in each school setting. They continuously monitored school needs and assessed how best to meet those needs, whether by offering just-in-time technical assistance or by reaching out to the larger school coaching team to tap the expertise of a particular colleague. By and large, the school change coaches served as facilitators to the schools, helping them deepen their work by asking probing questions and offering a perspective from the balcony, as it were. The coaches modeled the benefits of collaboration by regularly convening to share cross-site conversations to support each coach in better serving the specific schools to which they were assigned.
The networking components outlined above, and described later in more detail, would not have been possible without two critical components: planning and facilitation. The embedded structures within each school building, and across the entire 13-school NETWORK, allowed for collaboration and risk taking to be the norm. With courage and a commitment to individual and team skill-building, powerful networks flourished and dramatically impacted the overall success of the i3 New England Network.