The Network’s the Thing

Last week we held one of my favorite types of convenings at the foundation: a gathering of strange bedfellows. For the past two years we have been investing in what we call “teacher practice networks”—organizations that provide support directly to teachers. We brought together the first 20 groups in this network to talk about what they had learned this year about Common Core implementation and what teachers have found most helpful.

In her address to the attendees, Vicki Phillips highlighted how the Common Core has unlocked unprecedented opportunities for collaboration because teachers across the country are teaching to the same standards. We saw that collaboration at the convening in which very different organizations—who might have indeed been strange bedfellows in the past—now have a common focus. For example, one panel had representatives from New Visions for Public Schools, the Center for Applied Linguistics, the New Teacher Center (NTC), and the Puget Sound Educational Service District. That’s a charter network, a content network, a new teacher network, and a state regional network all finding common ground on what good instruction looks like and how best to support teachers in the classroom.

And here’s another example of strange bedfellows feeling less strange: As teachers from the Perkins School for the Blind shared Common Core strategies they use with students, educators from places like Facing History and Ourselves and the National Math and Science Initiative were nodding their heads. And throughout the gathering, teachers and organizational representatives were asking for each other’s tools and resources. This exchange, they say, is the biggest benefit of being a part of this network of networks.

We just gave out another round of these types of grants to a diverse mix of organizations that includes groups with a regional focus, such as the St. Bernard Parish Collaborative in Louisiana and the Regional Educational Service Agency network in Georgia, and others with a more national focus, such as the National Writing Project and the National Council for the Social Studies.

The thing about networks that I find so interesting is that you never really know how far they will take the work. With our Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC), for example, I’m always surprised to meet teachers who have taken the work even further than I could have imagined. For example, Ryan Jones, a history teacher at Watsonville High School near Santa Cruz, Calif., was introduced to LDC by the New Teacher Center. He just shared an email with me from one of his students. She wrote: “I just wanted to thank you for being my world history teacher and for giving us a bunch of essays! Writing all those essays improved my writing. At the beginning of the school year I had no clue how to write an essay, but now I know!” The student also went on to tell Ryan about her new understanding of world history content. Ryan was so successful in his classroom that the other teachers started to notice in the school and wanted to know more about it.  Now his entire high school is using the LDC template tasks, thanks to Ryan’s leadership.

I’m looking forward to seeing what this next batch of networks can do and how they mobilize teachers to become leaders in their profession.

 – C. 

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