The Impact of Regional Collaboration through VALIN

Jeff Lonnett

“Inter-division collaboration through regional work sessions sparked by VALIN has the potential to save our teams hundreds of hours of siloed design time and unseen implementation pitfalls.”

Our colleague, Ted Dintersmith, has said for years that “small steps lead to big change”. This wisdom is currently exemplified in Henrico and Fairfax Counties, with rapidly growing teams working together to accelerate and scale learner profiles and presentations of learning models.

Both divisions are active participants in Cohort 5.0 of the Virginia Leads Innovation Network (VALIN). Alongside 180 education leaders from 25 Virginia divisions, the Fairfax and Henrico teams worked with their ALP coaches to participate in multiple, full-day regional work sessions while enrolled in Cohort 4.0. The first sessions took place in late-April 2023, and the teams have maintained ongoing collaboration since.

Henrico is currently engaged in augmenting its Henrico Learner, Educator and Leader Profiles and aligning this critical common language to strategy, balanced assessment design and an updated instructional model. Fairfax benefits from Henrico’s advanced application in this area while sharing multiple years of progress around its Presentations of Learning model. These VALIN teams leverage these outcomes-driven, regional sessions to prepare for the cohort-wide regional convenings that take place in the fall, winter and spring.

Recently, ALP partnered with Commonwealth Learning Partnership, Virginia School Consortium for Learning, Virginia Learns and William & Mary to kick off Cohort 5.0 activity.

What do regional work sessions look like? And why are they a critical catalyst for the VALIN Cohort 5.0 that launched last week?

Eroding Silos through Regional Work Sessions

Traditionally and as a matter of practicality, school divisions are often islands unto themselves. Traditional accountability metrics, local policy and county-level strategic plans challenge educators and administrators with priorities that address local goals and needs.

In the words of Jeff Lonnett, Advanced Academics Specialist and the immensely talented sketchnote artist who crafted the graphic for this blog post, “regional work sessions are where our division teams make maximum, tangible progress”.

Because HCPS and FCPS are aligned around their commitments to operationalizing learner competencies and school-level presentations of learning, their decision to share resources and collectively iterate and streamline the implementation process. Nishi Langhorne, Manager of Learning Innovations, reflects that “inter-division collaboration through regional work sessions sparked by VALIN has the potential to save our teams hundreds of hours of siloed design time and unseen implementation pitfalls. It just makes sense that our division should prioritize working with other communities as a means of maximizing our community’s investment in our public education system.”

Further, VALIN division teams benefit from “positive peer pressure” and “collaborative accountability” that arise from externally facilitated work sessions. For better or worse, when external consultants and visiting division leaders are scheduled to participate in regional work sessions, all participants prioritize advancing their collective responsibilities. Educational Specialist Jon Gregori spoke to this exact outcome: “Without focused facilitation, Henrico and Fairfax attempted to work together virtually, but we postponed each meeting because things came up. Because we are transparent about realizing measurable progress through face-to-face, externally facilitated work sessions, our collective progress remains front-of-mind. Each time we meet, our team sees the time spent as a force multiplier in our day-to-day planning and execution.” And Henrico’s VALIN coach, Rachel Fruin observes a similar outcome: “Being onsite with the leaders who are responsible for scaled change deepens the coaching and consulting relationship. By knowing and working alongside these leaders, we are more responsive to virtual and asynchronous efforts.”

Six months into this inter-division collaboration, the Fairfax and Henrico teams have co-developed and tuned yearlong implementation plans, established regularly rescheduled face-to-face and virtual work sessions for the coming year, and challenged one another to strengthen impact metrics. This highly productive, strategic collaboration has also generated one additional bonus: both divisions applied individually as well as collectively for the VALIN Cohort 5.0, a first-time occurrence in the history of the Network.

Scaling the Regional Work Sessions at State Scale

What are the benefits of participation in VALIN Cohort 5.0? This program overview provides all the details.

What’s most exciting to me is that both teams of and individual education leaders from across the Commonwealth can submit an application. Up to 180 leaders can prioritize leadership growth in specific leadership competencies that align with their career aspirations. The multiple pathways available to districts affords them the capacity to personalize the support they need to realize local ambitions while also remaining aligned to a cohort of colleagues at state-scale.

I am proud and honored to share that our Advanced Learning Partnerships coaching team and VALIN steering committee will work with all divisions to host and participate in regional work sessions throughout the academic year. This shift to local and ongoing inter-division collaboration will have a transformative effect on sustainability and scale in a window where learner, family and educator engagement are as important as ever.

Interested in learning more about this Cohort? Please reach out to Gena Keller at Commonwealth Learning Partnership for additional details. Cohort 5.0 runs from September 2023 to June 2024.

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