Friday, February 14, 2014

Inter-District Collaboration {and other related adventures}

We are a privileged bunch; teachers and educators, that is. We work in a job where receiving support to improve upon our weaknesses is an expectation, and continual growth in our areas of strength is afforded time.

I'm not saying it's done perfectly, but it's done.

I have plenty of friends and acquaintances in industries where this is not the case. Where an area of weakness is looked at as fixed, or a liability that cannot be afforded time, and in many cases, a downfall worthy of getting "the ax."

Schools are a supportive environment, however. We're in the business of growth, support, continuous learning, and an unwavering belief that human beings are capable of amazing things, including (but not limited to) the ability to make tremendous gains and improvements if given the right conditions.

That said, traditionally, a great deal of this support has been provided within the school or the district: Coaches helping teachers, PLC's supporting one another, Principals guiding growth, Leadership teams implementing relevant professional development, etc.

Something I've noticed explode over the last couple of years is this support reaching beyond the building or district to outside inter-district collaboration opportunities. I'm not referencing the digital PLN (of which I'm a huge advocate and participant). We'll save that discussion for another time. I'm referencing neighboring districts making concerted efforts to learn from one another and grow together. I'll give a few examples:

1) The district I work for is a 1:1 iDevice district. We moved in that direction at the same time that an area district was doing the same. Knowing that, our superintendents made a conscientious effort to create levels of support between our respective staffs.

2) I work in the area of instructional coaching. Many other area districts also have existing or newly developed coaching models. In an effort to share and expand our collective expertise, we hold a combination of face to face and online community meetings to learn from one another.

3) Just yesterday, I attended a free and internally-developed event to support quality learning and teaching with iPads. Many area districts have some arrangement of iPads available to them. The event brought many of these districts together for a day of learning, with sessions led by educators who are on the front line of using learning technologies in their classrooms.

Each of these three examples are all positive, productive, and growth minded events that I am privileged to have experienced.

These are just three of the MANY examples I could share of examples where districts are coming together. Seriously -- an incredible amount of these support groups, EdCamps, online communities, informal gatherings, and inter-district checkins and collaborations are popping up all the time. I can't over emphasize their pervasiveness in current education (at least in the area in which I live).

So here's my take:

YES! YES! YES!

I'm ecstatic to see districts moving beyond their sheltered vision of education to learn from outside districts that have taken a different approach or work with students unlike their own. I question whether you should work in education if you don't see the value in constructing meaning together, collective intelligence, and meaningful collaboration.

However...

There's something wrong. It comes in the form of unhealthy competition. It comes in the form of public relations, and shiny things, and neglecting to admit our faults. There's an undercurrent of "hey, look how great we're doing" that sometimes overshadows the honest conversations and productive work that happens during inter-district convening. It's not any one district or any one person. I'm guilty of having done it before myself. There seems to be a dissecting and knit-picky microscope imposed upon outside district practices, and a somewhat guarded 'dog and pony show' presented by those within. It's not even close to all the time, and it's certainly not every time. Overall, the good far outweighs the bad, but there have been isolated incidences where I've felt it, and I've seen it, and there's no place for it in this incredibly difficult and demanding work.

It's not that I don't want us to celebrate our strengths and achievements. I understand the propensity for doing so, and we can all learn from these successes. Instead, I challenge us to be humble and honest in this most difficult of professions. These are not cars, or houses, or pieces of jewelry we're selling out. It's kids.

When we open ourselves up to collaboration, and fail to be honest about areas of need, we don't suffer.

We don't suffer, but the kids certainly do.

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