#INsig SEA

By The Indiana Department of Education Office of Early Learning and Intervention / December 16, 2015

On December 9th, we brought together all current Indiana SIG schools and several Turnaround Academies (i.e., schools that are identified as takeover schools per Indiana state law) for professional development and networking. In addition to 11 Turnaround Academies, there are 17 active SIG schools, including 8 pre-implementation schools (referred to as Cohort 6). The intent of the day was to establish a larger, state-level conversation around the important school improvement topics of technology integrations, implementation sustainability, roles of district personnel and school boards, data dashboards, teacher evaluation, and family and community engagement. Goals for the day included the following: promote a network community, share promising practices, and leverage IDOE staff by linking their areas of expertise to SIG implementation.

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Our first and foremost goal was to promote a community of practice around school improvement. For Cohort 6, this meant allowing them time to get to know each other, get to know other SIG schools, and practice being reflective on implementation. Considering Cohort 6 is brand new and just halfway through the pre-implementation year, we wondered how we might ensure the day would be successful and useful. After the meeting we found ourselves reflecting as a team on the effectiveness of the day for Cohort 6. We considered the following questions: Was the meeting too large to foster authentic networking? Had we provided enough time for schools to network and talk to each other and truly go beyond surface level discussions? Were the right conversations encouraged by the facilitators? Was there enough emphasis on reflection and action?

In order to foster a culture of collaboration, we intentionally designed where the schools would sit and how they would engage with one another throughout the day. Because this was the first time the new cohort schools were included in a group meeting, they were strategically paired at tables with experienced SIG schools that shared similarities in demographics, student populations, SIG interventions, leadership teams, etc.  As schools came in and were seated, they made introductions and were encouraged to share stories about their schools. At lunch, schools were given an assignment to partner with a SIG school and reflect on the keynote presentations. Participants tweeted responses to questions about what resonated with them and what connections were made to SIG through Twitter using the #INsig.

Throughout the afternoon, participants attended small breakout sessions with IDOE staff that included family and community engagement, school board and district roles, digital learning resources, utilizing SIG’s data tool, and teacher leadership. The size of these smaller groups allowed for deep discussion, sharing of promising practices, questioning, and making connections to one another.

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After the breakout sessions, consultancies were held that focused on a problem of practice presented by one of the participating schools. Participants followed the consultancy protocol and this process allowed for stronger networking, additional sharing of promising-practices, and community building. For Cohort 6, the process was new and provided a glimpse into the type of culture that the IDOE strives to create with a particular cohort.

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Feedback from the survey about the intentional networking included the following positive comments:

  • “It was my favorite [professional development] so far of all the PDs I’ve had the opportunity to attend.”
  • “It was great to sit with another school and go have lunch with them.”
  • “It was nice that we were strategically placed with [a similar school] so we could network together. It is so easy to just sit with your team and keep to yourself.”

We disaggregated the Cohort 6 feedback to specifically see what impact the day had on them. Across Cohort 6, survey results indicated the following:

  • Participants requested more time for schools to share their experiences. For example, they would have liked more information and examples on what the progression of roles and responsibilities at a SIG school looks like, e.g., what does a teacher look like year one compared to year five, what does a coach look like year one to year five?
  • Participants expressed a need to get to know their own cohort better. In fact, four of eight schools are new to SIG this year and neither the school nor the district has had any prior experience with SIG.
  • Consultancy protocol participation was high and participants reported that it was a valuable activity
  • Participants reported that the partner lunch and use of social media was helpful in getting to know different schools and share connections to SIG.

In reviewing and thinking about the feedback from our new schools, we spent time the next day examining how we could encourage more effective networking next semester. Our brainstorming session directed us to add the following activities:

  • Redesign a spring professional development and networking days to include smaller, regional groups to promote geographic collaboration and opportunities to easily work in convergence
  • Convene at a current SIG school where schools can observe classrooms and interview staff, and conduct consultancy-like protocols in an authentic way
  • Facilitate more dialogue during down times, like during lunch, on the drive home, and promote reflection through use of social media or other online communities
  • Provide additional time during breakout sessions for connections
  • Further develop facilitators with a deeper understanding of SIG, strategies for leading discussions tied to SIG and how SIG impacts current work

After reflecting on the day, it is very evident that one of the most powerful, emerging practices is networking and working in community. It is very easy to conduct a professional development in which information is simply presented; however, when time and space is dedicated to networking and building community, participants are able to engage in a deeper and more meaningful way. When the SIG experience is done in community that has a culture of collaboration, convergence, and genuine care for the success of each other, an environment is created that fosters true transformation.  It is critical to foster those connections and support the relationships our schools can build with each other. Not only does it support the implementation of SIG, it unites our current schools and has created partnerships that can extend beyond the SIG grant.

See #INsig tweets below:

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