Schools Learning From Schools Knows No Borders

March 24, 2016
Lydia Dobyns

Lydia Dobyns

“Whatever the challenges are, I know we won’t be alone. That’s what makes our network so great.” – Chris Stock, Principal, Emmanuel College in Melbourne, Australia

“Affecting whole school change does not come without hard work, perseverance and the support of dedicated teachers.” – Brother Patrick Howlett, Principal, Parramatta Marist High School

There’s a growing movement in education fueled by the power of schools learning from one another. For the past decade, New Tech Network has been building a network of predominantly public K-12 schools throughout the U.S. As the Network has grown (now nearly 200 schools in 29 states) member schools are now beginning to experience greater depth and frequency of learning together. Our role as the national organization is twofold: act as a design partner for comprehensive school change (we don’t operate schools) and develop structures and practices to facilitate continuous improvement across the Network through collective learning.

In February of this year, over 200 leaders from schools around our network gathered for our twice-annual Leadership Summit. Utilizing a comprehensive case study developed by School Coach Kris Williams, school teams were able to “walk a mile” in the shoes of Cleveland’s New Tech West school director and staff as their multi-year efforts to create and sustain a system of ongoing improvement. Gathering and analyzing data through cycles of inquiry has led this school staff to more deeply understand the relationship between specific instructional strategies and improved student learning, particularly in the area of literacy. Opportunities like the Leadership Summit are one of many professional learning initiatives held throughout the year. Schools in the Network can participate in specific Improvement Cohorts and attend school-hosted Site Institutes, specifically aimed at helping schools learn from each other.

We’re bullish on this practice of schools collaboratively learning together based on feedback from school leaders, teachers and district leaders. We see this as a powerful way to accelerate transformation, share best practices, address common challenges while building a vibrant community of engaged educators. As a small non-profit organization our focus has been on the U.S. Imagine our surprise and delight that through a unique partnership we now have a global component to our growing network.

Parramatta Marist High School (PMH), located in the West Sydney suburb of Parramatta, Australia, has been innovating to better meet student needs using the New Tech school model for nearly 10 years. Through the vision of their principal, Brother Patrick Howlett, PMH has achieved strong success, outperforming almost all schools on Australia’s national Year 12 test.
“With almost 50 years experience in teaching, the best educational decision I made was to introduce the New Tech student-centered learning method.” – Brother Patrick Howlett

From this success came interest from other schools to achieve similar outcomes for their own students. PMH offers training in New Tech practices through the “Centre for Deeper Learning” (CDL). The CDL at PMH now acts as the Australian hub to support nine schools that are implementing the New Tech principles and are affiliate members of the Network.
Coaching around four design pillars provide the schools with developmental paths to impact student outcomes while the group of Australian schools are also building a networked community of learning.

The key pillars of NTN and the Centre of Deeper Learning:

Culture that Empowers: By making learning relevant and creating a collaborative learning culture, students become connected to, engaged with, and challenged by their school, their teachers and their peers. This starts by establishing a strong collaborative culture amongst the adults within the school. In regional networks like the one developing in Australia, this pillar is reinforced by the development of an empowering culture of learning that the schools have with each other, fostered by PMH and their coaches.

Teaching that Engages: Through project-based learning, students become problem-solvers. Similarly, teachers and leaders engage in meaningful, collaborative problem solving with each other in Australia’s regional network. “The greatest strength the Australian network has is it’s ability to bring teachers together as learners and foster conversation around student learning outcomes.” – Brad Scanlon, School Development Coach, PMHS Centre for Deeper Learning.

Technology that Enables: Through a technology-rich environment, teachers and students create, communicate, access information, and experience self-directed learning. Utilizing Echo, a project based platform, allows schools to more easily exchange curriculum ideas, collaborate in real time, and develop cross-school projects for students.

Outcomes that Matter: New Tech Network learning outcomes measure knowledge and thinking, collaboration, written and oral communication and responsibility for their own learning, or student agency. Having a network of schools working toward common outcomes allows learning across schools.

Ultimately the real value of school networks is to increase access to powerful deeper learning for more students. It’s easy to celebrate higher test scores, however hearing the passion in student voices when they talk about their learning through PBL classes and the connections they see to opportunities after high school is the motivation to connect schools. While we live in separate global hemispheres, technological advancements and common language around teaching practice and purpose can connect educators in powerful ways that benefit all of our students.

Read this and other blogs from CEO and President Lydia Dobyns on the Huffington Post

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