If You Build It, They Will Come
It is believed that if you build something, people will come to use it. This is exactly what has transpired with the creation of cross district collaboration for professional development and learning, a venture developed by the Dundee Central School District.
Dundee Central School District, with great support from Education Elements, has been on a journey of implementing personalized learning over the past two years. The District spent this time learning and growing in our understanding of personalized pathways and discovering the intricate components of the core four, integrated digital content, targeted small group instruction, data driven decisions, and student reflection. Hours of professional development time and other resources have been continually devoted to this work. All staff deepened their understanding of the elements associated with personalized learning. However, it was clear there was a significant component missing from our repertoire: collaboration with other teachers doing similar work.
True collaboration is about the action of working with someone to produce or create something, and, up until this point, we were only strongly collaborating with one another and across our own district. We needed more. The need for teachers to share their trials, tribulations, and successes surrounding this work, as well as to discuss resources and best practices, was evident. In order to accomplish this and to make it a more inclusive process where more ideas could flow, we developed the idea of cross district collaboration.
During the summer months we created a calendar that outlined one half day each month that teachers from a common grade level, department, or content area would meet to learn from and share with one another. Dundee Central School District reached out to three other districts: Marion CSD, Geneva CSD, and Penn Yan CSD, all within Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES. These other districts were at similar points on their implementation journeys. We explained our idea for a cross district collaboration and all three districts committed immediately.
With the support of Education Elements we created a common template to use as an organizational tool for each session. We determined that the meeting locations would rotate through the four districts involved and the hosting district would act as the lead facilitator using the common template. September was the first convening and it was evident within the first few minutes of the session that we had created something innovative and essential to our continued growth in personalized learning. Teachers began sharing best practices, resources, and reflections. Additionally, they were able to discuss challenges and share thoughts and ideas on how to mitigate or minimize these. There were several “aha” moments that involved sudden realizations that teachers, administrators or district level misunderstandings and obstacles were not unique. Aa sense of commonality was evident, a new resource had evolved.
Participating teachers are asked to complete a feedback survey where their thoughts and ideas are collected surrounding the benefits of participating in the cross district collaboration, as well as suggestions for strengthening future collaborations. The response has been nothing short of positive and insightful. Specifically:
84% of all respondents have indicated that the initial session will lead to future collaboration
On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most beneficial, 72% rated the experience between 4 and 5
Specific “aha” moments articulated included:
I learned a ton from several teachers who were further along than I regarding playlists, blended space, and providing individual learning paths
Others are in the same boat as me, It was nice to have other teachers interested in what I was doing around PL
It felt reassuring to know that other teachers are having the same struggles I am having with implementing PL. Hopefully, I can stay in contact with some of the other teachers so we can share ideas and resources
How much I feel we are on the right path
In retrospect, cross district collaboration seems like such an easy consideration, a low hanging fruit. It is an example of identifying a need and creatively thinking of solutions to address the need while building capacity and empowering your staff. If you build it, they will come.
About Kelly Houck
Kelly Houck is the current Superintendent of Schools at the Dundee Central School. Prior to her tenure at Dundee Central School, Kelly served many roles in education. She was a school bus driver, an elementary classroom teacher as well as an elementary and high school special education teacher. Her work in educational administration has included, Director of Special Education, Director of Transportation and prekindergarten through twelfth grade Building Principal. Kelly was the Superintendent of Schools in the Canaseraga Central School District prior to transitioning to Dundee Central School. Kelly’s strong belief is that we should have high expectations for all students.