Learning Together: Leveraging the Network

November 28, 2017

As a network of almost 200 schools in the United States and Australia, our goal is to encourage and cultivate direct connections between our schools to allow for collaborative learning and improvement. That’s why we were delighted to hear of a joint staff professional development day between Compass Academy in Idaho Falls, Idaho and The Community School in Spokane, Washington. We talked to Matt Bertasso, Director of Compass Academy, and Cindy McMahon, Director of The Community School, to hear about their day and their thoughts on the benefits of a collaborative professional development session.

What sparked the idea of having a joint professional development day?

Matt Bertasso: We hadn’t visited another NTN school as a whole staff since our Teacher Residency at Da Vinci in 2012. That meant that we had new staff that had never worked with another NTN school. I felt we needed to have another opportunity to see a school within the network and share our learning.

Cindy McMahon: Matt reached out to me last May and we committed for an NTN PD together. We connected at NTAC to discuss general ideas about how the day should look, and then ironed out the details through phone calls and shared docs. Matt brought his whole facilitation staff to collaborate with us!

As a network, we always encourage collaboration across our schools both with staff and students. We have seen it done successfully both virtually and in-person. What did your day look like?

Cindy: We planned the day via a shared google doc and a conference call. It was a fun, full day that started out with intros, then ‘Knows/NTKs’ for our day. Then each school proposed two issues or dilemmas for teams from the other school to tackle. There were helpful takeaways for each school, including immediate suggestions for ‘next steps.’

Matt: It was nice to be able to start the work right away. The overall feeling from my staff was that it was so nice to go to a PD activity and not have to explain what they do and why they do it. It was great to walk in, get to work, and not have to catch each other up on what we do.

Cindy: We then shared examples of successful projects with an energizing protocol led by Matt. Starting in pairs, we grew to groups of six, sharing favorite projects that they heard along the way. Lots of great ideas by cross-pollinating!

Matt: Overall, we shared a ton of ideas and lots of things have been implemented already because of it. I loved that we could engage in “healthy comparison.” We looked at the things that TCS did and gleaned from their experience and success and I am sure they did the same. There was never a feeling of “we’re better” or anything. It was two groups doing the same thing, in two different environments, willing and wanting to share and grow together.

Cindy: Another highlight of the day was our own ‘mini-Chopped’ event, that was inspired by the 2017 NTAC Chopped Competition. The teams included people from both schools and they had to combine standards drawn from three bowls (Humanities/STEM/Electives). The facilitators each wrote a standard for their content area, then and Matt and I drew one card from each bowl. As judges, Matt and I had to choose a winner from some great project plans. A fun way to be creative and apply PBL design with people we don’t usually work with!

What was your takeaway from the day?

Matt: I HIGHLY recommend others schools engaging in a similar activity. it was a great opportunity to grow as a staff and to learn and adjust practices around what we do. Lots was shared, people interacted, there was a ton of growth.

Cindy: My big take-away is how rich and relevant it was to collaborate with a school that shares common practices. We jumped right in to find practical take-aways and philosophical approaches that will impact our schools, our facilitation, and our students. Our facilitators resoundingly want to keep the connection going with Compass Academy. I really appreciate Matt making this happen and look forward to learning more from Compass Academy!

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