Finding Your Tribe: The Power of a Connected Network

Collaboration among educators from three Beaver County school districts establishes a network of learners focused on STEAM and Maker Education. Shared professional development, site visits, and hands-on learning pushes teachers to focus on creativity and innovation in the classroom.

Two years ago, I accepted a new job as an Assistant Superintendent and moved from an Allegheny County school district to Beaver County. I had become accustomed to the collaborative network of Remake Learning colleagues and was excited to join a new community of learners.

Despite a strong and supportive intermediate unit, I searched for a group of innovative educators trying new technologies, embracing creativity, and collaborating on projects. I needed to find my “tribe”—a group of future-ready educators who were interested in connecting and collaborating to improve student learning. I reached out to colleagues in several county districts and began to have conversations around possible partnerships and opportunities to share ideas around innovative practices.

As the conversations developed, I recognized a need for both a structured organization and some funding to make our ideas come to fruition. A project proposal was drafted, shared with the potential network partners, and later submitted to the Grable Foundation for consideration.

With a $50,000 grant and a handful of dedicated school leaders, the Beaver County Innovation and Learning Consortium (BCILC) was born. The BCILC is a partnership between the Beaver Area, Hopewell, and Rochester Area School Districts, in cooperation with the Beaver Valley Intermediate Unit. Our group has a mission to facilitate creativity with a focus on STEAM learning and Maker Education while increasing collaboration throughout the county.

Similar to the goal of the Remake Learning Network, we strive to connect educators with one another as well as provide connections with out-of-school educators like those at the Franklin Center of Beaver County and at non-traditional school organizations like the Beaver County Career and Technical Center.

In our first year, the BCILC focused on 3 major strands:

  1. Engage- Provide shared professional learning for teachers across school districts
  2. Connect- Visit schools and organizations that promote creativity and innovation
  3. Innovate- Create learning spaces within our own schools where students and teachers can learn in new ways

Our consortium planned several events in 2017 to gather our tribe. Each district selected 6-8 teachers, 1-2 building principals, and 1-2 central office administrators to participate in the core learning team. These teachers included grades K-12, special education, art, and physical education. Whether participating in a hands-on design challenge or learning about new technologies, the teachers were able to actively engage in learning and talk about ways that could translate into their classroom.

Professional learning sessions included an exploration of the connections between STEAM and Maker Education, developing the Habits of Mind, and the engineering design process. Teachers from different districts, subject areas, and grade levels collaborated on the meaning of innovation and ways that school cultures can support that learning.

An important component of professional growth is learning about new teaching strategies, observing innovative programs, and exploring new learning spaces. The teachers in our consortium visited area makerspaces and planned for the spaces in their own schools. We visited our Career and Technology Center so teachers and leaders could observe the learning that extends beyond our districts. None of us had visited before and we quickly found connections to the work we do.

One professional learning day included was hosted at the BVIU’s T.I.C.K.E.T. (Technology, Innovation, Creativity, Knowledge, Engagement, Tinkering) space. BCILC educators connected with community partners and learned about new ways to enhance their instruction using technology. The day included a session on coding and Finch Robots with BirdBrain Technologies. Our Beaver County non-profit partner the Franklin Center facilitated a session on the use of E-Textiles. One of our district partners also worked with teachers on virtual reality and using Google Cardboard and Google Expeditions to bring learning to life.

In between our professional learning days and school visits, we needed to stay connected. The tribe engaged in a book study around the Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. We used Voxer to continue our communication to build on ideas presented in the book. Each week questions were posted to facilitate discussion with our members.

The learning gained from these experiences allowed our district teams to reimagine the learning spaces in our schools. Each district is in the process of developing a makerspace or other area that will promote creativity in both students and teachers. Hopewell Elementary unveiled its new makerspace during Remake Learning Days. The event included a tour of the space by 3rd grade ambassadors with students demonstrating STEAM Maker learning tools like Makey Makey, Little Bits, Bloxels, and Osmo. This summer, the space will host more professional learning opportunities including workshops connecting Making and Literacy.

What’s next for the Beaver County Innovation and Learning Consortium? We will continue to bring educators together, realizing the positive energy created in our collaboration. The BCILC plans to strengthen our network and involve more organizations within our county so that we may broaden the learning opportunities for our students and teachers. Our work is one step towards building a tribe of forward-thinking innovators and creating a culture that will support and sustain positive change in Beaver County.

Published July 20, 2017

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