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The Internet is making communication faster and more efficient than ever, yet when it comes to digital learning many schools are often unaware of what’s happening around the country. That’s why we believe that building a national community of practice – one where members share stories, interact, and learn together – does more to spur innovation and improve outcomes for students than any piece of technology can.

Through the League of Innovative Schools, a national coalition of 46 school districts around the country, we are organizing what we believe is the tip of the spear in education. Through the aggregate of these districts’ experiences, there is a wealth of knowledge and lessons about which innovative practices are working, which are not, and why.

By collecting and disseminating these lessons, the League provides districts that typically lack company on the leading edge of education with a valuable professional learning community. But it also makes the forward-thinking strategies of leading superintendents available to the entire field, so they too can better understand how technology can improve the opportunity to learn. It’s these more nuanced strategies that often make or break digital learning initiatives. We know the same piece of technology can have widely different effects on student outcomes depending on how it is implemented.

In education people often consider “scale” to be the proliferation of a single solution across many schools. But what if “scale” is better defined as a variety of solutions that are easy to access and can spread to the schools best equipped to adopt them? In this more attainable environment, knowledge sharing can drive scale, rather than a single product or implementation strategy.

The League is adopting this approach through a variety of methods. Twice each year, League members meet at a host district to develop a shared set of priorities, interests, and innovative plans for action. In between meetings, members collaborate around specific topic areas, like procurement policy or competency-based education.

Rather than operate another of the many professional networks in education, we aspire for the League to be a true community of practice, where members interact and learn together. The continuing relationships among members and the sharing of experiences to a broad education audience is as big a part of that as our meetings. While it’s taken time, we are seeing districts enact major changes based on what they’ve learned from others:

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After visits to Mooresville Graded School District (NC), a pioneer in learning technology, Baldwin County Schools (AL), Piedmont City School District (AL), Houston Independent School District (TX), and Howard-Suamico School District (WI) have all instituted large components of Mooresville’s 1:1 personalized learning initiative.

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Utica Community Schools (MI) is using a blended learning model in grades K-1, modeled after a successful early education initiative in the Napa County Schools, which hosted our fall 2012 League of Innovative Schools meeting. The Elizabeth Forward School District (PA), after visiting Utica for the League’s fall 2013 meeting, is beginning to implement a similar model.

Mooresville, Vancouver Public Schools (WA), and Lincoln Public Schools (NE) are partnering with Follett on Project Connect, to share best practices around innovative library programs.

Sunnyside Unified School District (AZ) is mentoring the Highline Public Schools (WA) through its digital conversion after Highline visited Sunnyside for the League’s spring 2014 meeting and recognized that the two communities share similar demographics and socioeconomic factors.

Rather than look to test scores or the number of devices in a district, it’s the examples above that help us determine whether the League is meeting its goals. And to that end, we hope our new website will help inform the ongoing relationships in the League, spark new ones, and above all else, make what happens within the League available to a broader audience.


About Sara Schapiro

Sara is the Director of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools. You can follow her on Twitter at @sschappy.

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