Birds of a Feather – What’s the Big IDEA?

Virginia leaders network around three critical drivers aligned to scaled innovation and sustainable change.

On July 25, educators and community members representing 30 Virginia school districts traveled from all corners of the Commonwealth to continue their participation in the Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network.

Amid this fast-paced and highly collaborative daylong session, a diverse group of superintendents, parents, teachers, coaches, students and community leaders participated in a Birds of a Feather session focused on scaling innovation and community-wide change.

What made these leaders ‘birds of a feather’?

Five members of the ALP team and Scott McLeod hosted 90-minute afternoon sessions in separate spaces throughout the beautiful New College Institute. The topics for each Birds of a Feather session were determined via a quick poll shared with the cohort in the morning. Among many, engaging topics, the theme of Disrupting Education: Managing Innovation and Change was a popular selection!

Shortly after lunch, members from over twenty #VALIN teams joined this discovery and planning session with a unified focus: to learn more about the strategies structures that enable communities to define and grow more purposeful learning outcomes. It was powerful to watch parents sit next to superintendents, educators and community partners as they networked around this self-identified charge.

How did they learn from one another? 

As the cohort closes on its first trimester of work, team emphasis on careful and disciplined planning is now transitioning into a collective implementation mindset. For this reason, our Martinsville regional meeting was focused on promoting intensive networking opportunities as a means of exposing teams to innovative ideas and validating their careful preparation.

Over the course of this Birds of a Feather session, leaders mobilized around a speed networking protocol to more deeply understand one another’s reflections around the following query:

What is the goal of your innovative practice or initiative and what has worked best to help you prepare for implementation? What have been your greatest challenges? 

The responses that materialized through this protocol offered diverse and wide-ranging resources, strategies and structures. In order to maximize sharing, the groups self selected to participate in one of three key areas of focus:

  • INSPIRE: How might a community generate the urgency and motivation needed to lead purposeful change and innovation? What can be done to invite stakeholders to share their hopes, fears and dreams?
  • DESIGN: What common language frames, protocols and transparent plans can be devised to clearly communicate and organize the change? How might we organize ourselves to enhance our numbers while not losing sight of our collective purpose?
  • EMPOWER: How do we know we are making progress toward the change goals? In what ways might we align our resources to maximize individual and collective growth over time?

Within Advanced Learning Partnerships, we organize our community supports in these three areas as well, with one additional being AMPLIFY. This additional area encapsulates formative metrics, technological catalysts for crowdsourcing and scaled transparency as well as professional learning support that builds the leadership capacity of established teams. Because we are early in the work with #VALIN cohorts, it made sense to focus on the first three areas of the IDEA model.

What were the flock’s conclusions?

Well, at the risk of a terrible pun, the easiest way to answer this question is to review their Tweets. The people who attended this Birds of a Feather session remained intensely focused on gathering resources, strategies and structures that best aligned with their respective teams’ plans. They came away from this session with a dozen new email addresses, Twitter handles or cell phone numbers that more deeply connected them to communities well beyond their own.

This format of collaborating and learning seemed to have successfully met the needs of the #VALIN cohort. We are looking forward to facilitating this protocol again as a means of expanding communication lines and sparking more small steps that lead to large change.

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