DA op-ed: Share best practices through cross-district collaboration
Today’s districts often confront similar challenges, yet find themselves toiling in isolation to solve them.
In my part of Pennsylvania, districts are joining together in cross-district—and sometimes cross-state—networks, connected by a learning management system that enables teachers and administrators to share ideas and best practices in real time.
The result is an expanded pool of expertise for each district, more collaboration, and greater operational and cost efficiencies.
At Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13, one of Pennsylvania’s 29 educational services agencies, we support 22 districts and 44 nonpublic schools in a two-county area. IU13 has been deeply invested in building strategic relationships with all our districts, knowing we’re better together than we are alone.
When administrators learn the power of collaboration, they begin to manage their own LMS groups for all kinds of things in their districts.
About six years ago, IU13 acquired the Schoology LMS during a statewide adoption process and introduced it to our districts as they considered their own LMS options. Since then, we’ve carved out virtual collaboration spaces for a wide variety of affinity groups that function alongside regular face-to-face meetings among superintendents, curriculum coordinators, principals, teachers, tech integrators, librarians, coaches and others.
One of the things we’ve discovered is that when administrators learn the power of collaboration, they begin to manage their own LMS groups for all kinds of things in their districts. For example, a high school principals group may use it to house key documentation such as handbooks, policies, duty schedules; as a way to answer questions quickly; and as a space to interact with staff and each other.
Some schools have used the LMS to flip their faculty meetings, and we’ve seen curriculum coordinators create coordinator groups to collaborate on curriculum development while making the information available to teachers and other departments.
Besides the sharing of information real-time, the LMS has allowed us to extend our capabilities according to changing needs. For example, this year, IU13 launched the Personalized Learning Academy in response to our districts’ desire to understand new tools and strategies and to reach a common vision for personalized learning.
We offered the course in a blended setting and provided continuing education credit for administrators. The LMS allowed us to partner with national presenters such as Jim Rickabaugh of the Institute for Personalized Learning, and mass-customized learning-guru Bea McGarvey. And because anyone can connect with us using the free version of our LMS, virtually any school district can participate.
In the second phase of our Personalized Learning Academy, this spring we launched 36 separate teacher trainer sessions for key teacher leaders with the goal of creating cross-curriculum learning paths. Next year’s focus will be on enabling educators to customize learning paths developed together through academy collaboration.
While much of our LMS-leveraged collaboration occurs within our intermediate unit, we are beginning to expand our reach statewide. Last year we sponsored the first Connect PA event, which is a Schoology users conference to teach educators how to use the Schoology more effectively. From that conference, we created a new group that allows all districts across the state to collaborate in one space. This idea is now spreading to other states with events such as Connect Midwest.
Creating regional and statewide consortia connected with easily-accessible collaborative spaces levels the playing field between districts with lots of resources and those with few. It also can lead to deep cost savings and operational efficiencies that come with the sharing of resources and software prices negotiated by a central entity.
There’s no doubt that quality learning management systems have revolutionized classroom instruction, administrative tools, and personalized learning within schools and districts. Now, a new breed of such systems is enabling innovation and best practices across regions and states.
What a great time to be an educator.
Ken Zimmerman is an instructional technology specialist in the Lancaster-Lebanon IU13
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