It is an unprecedented time in education for collaboration. Teachers’ desire to leverage knowledge, resources and tools across larger groups can be seen every time a regional conference is held. Teachers swarm together to learn from each other and share their experiences. I often hear the cry, “How can we sustain this learning? How can we stay connected and keep collaborating?”
I often see regional or area education agencies stepping in to sponsor conferences, sessions, learning opportunities and even providing some connectivity to the group through their services. How can regional organizations help connect educators within their specific regions and facilitate collaboration around learning resources and opportunities? Mississippi Bend AEA 9 in Iowa, one of our netTrekker clients, even states within their mission statement that they recognize that their “ultimate purpose is to improve the educational opportunities of the school children of Mississippi Bend. We attempt to accomplish this by making connections between and among educators, school districts, schools… ” From hosting curriculum director collaboration meetings and conference events to housing resource centers for the benefit of all their member districts, these agencies seek to return value to their members by enabling collaboration and connections.
In terms of resources, ideas, lessons and tools, regional organizations are uniquely positioned to provide a place and purpose for these types of collaborations. What are some pieces to think about as you determine how best to support educators in your regions?
1. Find a set of common goals to provide structure to the system.
Because districts in regions are often similar in nature and focus, these regional systems have the ability to structure their support efforts according to common district goals. Mississippi Bend AEA 9 used the My Portfolio area in netTrekker to provide a structure for sharing learning resources across their region.
They organized the resource structure around initiatives that each district they serve is working on, such as literacy, numeracy or student engagement. This way, their schools and districts can immediately find resources for their current initiatives. Additionally, it becomes both a nice structure for educators across the region to easily save/add resources to AND a way to see where more resources might be needed to fill the gaps.
2. Develop a way to communicate with each school in each district.
Keeping an open line of communication about the availability of regionally purchased resources is critical to ensuring that teachers and students realize the benefits of those resources. Using or creating templates for communicating the details about access and the information about how the region has structured and organized shared resources is a great place to start. Utilizing the shared area inside netTrekker’s My Portfolio, regional organizations could also provide users with centralized access to help videos, support resources, detailed guides for access and collaboration tips.
3. Leverage district and school level rock stars.
There is one in every school, and many at each district….those folks who always seem to find the coolest resources and the best new ways to teach concepts. The trick is to leverage those rock stars and make their “picks” part of the regional work so they can be shared with other educators, too.
One teacher at my professional learning session in Mississippi Bend AEA 9 found a resource while browsing netTrekker’s Middle School Science content area. The excitement and buzz that happened after he started sharing it informally around the room was palpable – other teachers couldn’t wait to see it and think about how they could use it in their classrooms. When Robert shared the resource The Scale of the Universe, it was not 30 seconds before he was showing other people the cool features of this resource. Immediately the other educators wanted to know how he found it….
He showed them the path that he navigated to get there, but then we made the resource even more easily available by putting in the regional shared area under the folder for Student Engagement. Some teachers even copied the resource down to their school level shared area under other folders. All those educators are going to be checking back to those regional folders to see what new things Robert has found that they can leverage in their classrooms, and they are telling others how and where they found those resources.
4. Don’t assume that if you build it, they will come.
Of course, collaboration is a two way street. But just because the regional specialists design this great structure and are filling the areas with amazing resources and ideas they have curated doesn’t mean that the rest of the region is benefitting from the shared knowledge or contributing to the whole collective. It sounds a bit like the Borg from Star Trek, but I know that many times we come up with amazing ideas and build systems and are very impatient to get the people to come to the party. While you have to give it time to build capacity and get buy in from those stakeholders as they experience the benefits, you don’t have to sit around and expect them to stumble on it and immediately get it. Have the conversations about the benefits of collaboration, show the great stuff to anyone who will watch, make flyers, add links to pages, get the word out! The best day will be when a new teacher comes into your group, can easily see what is available and says, “Wow, we have that? I want to use that!”
Educators all know the importance of staying connected and collaborating with their colleagues, it happens every day in schools. The benefits of regional level connectedness and collaboration have yet to be tapped though, especially when it comes to learning resources and sharing transformative learning opportunities. Start big: establish a regional curation network to create a shared learning community that connects educators across your organizations.