A well-intended but misguided culture of compliance and accountability pervades professional development for teachers and school and district leaders. Districts currently expend extraordinary resources on professional development, school improvement and turnaround initiatives, leadership development, etc., with at best marginal effects on long term student outcomes. To create and sustain the schools our students need, the adult learning in and around schools needs to be much more creative, inspired, and effective.
The Consortium’s intentional approach to building sustained regional capacity is not to grow a large organization of non-school-embedded consultants or external providers. Our experience suggests that the most effective way for a school to sustain its own improvement is to cultivate staff and students engaged in understanding how to more deeply implement key design attributes both in their own school and in others. By connecting and embedding staff and students across schools to push and teach each other about their respective best practices, and by anchoring this work in exemplar schools through facilitated site visits, we hope to develop a regional network of technical assistance providers consisting of students, teachers, and school-based administrators.
Whenever and however we can, we’re connecting the kinds of student and adult learning happening in our close partner schools with teachers and leaders in public schools generally. The Consortium convenes educators in a variety of venues to stimulate the development of innovative programs and practices and increase teachers’ and leaders’ competence as design thinkers and implementers. Many of these sessions use students from Highline Big Picture School as consultants to adults on issues of personalized learning, relevance, school culture, and restorative justice. As the Consortium develops, this will expand to include students and staff of newly designed breakthrough schools as change agents disseminating new approaches from a growing regional learning lab. We are also helping educators innovate by mixing up their problem-solving and design sessions with people from other fields, through partnerships with organizations like Impact Hub Seattle.
“Critical friends group” (CFG) of innovating principals from area districts and charters. First meeting in February 2014, this group included leaders from Highline Big Picture School; Summit Public Schools (with new high schools in Seattle and Tacoma in 2015 and aspiring to two more in 2016); Rainier Prep, a recently-opened charter in the Highline district; Life Prep Academy in Federal Way (launching a blended learning redesign); Out of the Box Learning Studio; and Seattle Interagency Academy. The latest iteration of this group will also include Excel Charter School in Kent and the Green Dot school in Tacoma.
Innovating district leaders’ critical friends group (CFG). In a monthly virtual meeting, the Consortium convenes and facilitates selected cabinet-level leaders from the Tacoma, Everett, Spokane, Marysville, Bellingham, and Methow Valley school districts to push each other’s thinking about dilemmas and new ventures. This group also includes faculty from the doctoral programs in educational leadership at UW Bothell, Tacoma, and Seattle. The intent is to foster creative thinking and problem-solving among the district leaders while deepening collective understanding of the leadership skills and mindsets needed to innovate districts from within.