Education Opinion

Facing the Challenges of Change... Collaboratively

By Learning Forward — October 29, 2012 3 min read
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Recently Learning Forward launched a new network to support the school systems partnering with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to advance effective teaching. Our goals are to support the development of a cross-site learning community that will work collaboratively, learn deeply, solve problems together, share resources, and support each other through the challenges of deep and systemic change. Our members and others will benefit from this learning community as well, as others will be able to learn from these select districts, access their resources, and identify potential issues for joint exploration.

In addition to facilitating this new learning community, we are also acting as archaeologists, seeking the great discoveries from our network members who have been deeply engaged in systemic reform for several years, but have had little time to inventory their own great discoveries. It is our responsibility to identify their resources, document them, and make them available for others to use.

Our network participants work in medium to large urban school systems, as well as charter organizations. They include Alliance, Atlanta, Aspire, Denver, Green Dot, Hillsborough, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Prince George’s County, PUC, Shelby County, and Tulsa. They are charged with implementing state and district visions for new college-ready standards, assessments, teacher evaluation systems, and other priorities. They have much in common in terms of the challenges they face, and appreciate the opportunity to network and learn collaboratively.

Our network participants are central office administrators. They work in departments of human resources, professional learning, and curriculum and instruction. They feel tremendous responsibility for ensuring that all teachers are successful in addressing the increasing challenges they face. Ultimately, to be successful, they must be great facilitators, listeners, and implementers. From all accounts, this group meets the criteria.

Each site has made significant progress in its journey to create a system of strong supports that promote teacher growth within new evaluation systems. They have lessons learned to be shared, strategies that can be replicated and scaled up in other districts, and challenges that their colleagues can help them to overcome. Key assets that will be collected or developed include protocols and tools for feedback and coaching, leadership supports, evaluating the impact of professional learning, collaborative problem-solving protocols, and more.

One of my preliminary observations about this group of deeply committed educators after our initial meeting is that these educators recognize that effective evaluation systems require strong systems of professional support and growth for all teachers. Ensuring effective teaching in every classroom is about investing time, energy, and dollars in the development of robust systems of professional learning. While their work has focused for the last few years on building new evaluation systems, they are eager to turn their attention to building stronger professional development systems.

Each site has expertise in different areas that will strengthen the network and ultimately educators beyond the network. Some of the sites have designed new peer support systems, others have dashboards to support decision making, and others have carefully designed evaluation systems. Over the next year, they are eager to identify the components of these resources that are transportable and helpful to educators in other communities.

These educators are not afraid to be critical of themselves and their colleagues. They recognize they have been given tremendous resources through their partnerships with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and yet the resources have not produced all the answers. They are willing to ask the tough questions, to identify their lessons learned, and to look for expertise within and beyond the group to help them address their most pressing issues.

Over the next year I will report on the progress of the network; resources as they are surfaced; findings from their collaboration; and questions they seek to answer. We invite you join the conversation.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward

The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.