Back/Coast-to-Coast Connections: How a National Network Fosters Better Education for All Students

Coast-to-Coast Connections: How a National Network Fosters Better Education for All Students

by Amy Dodson on March 12 2019

When I was a little girl in small-town Texas, I loved to travel. I also loved school. Learning and seeing other parts of our country were simply my favorite things. On an extended trip to New York City, I remember meeting a little girl from New Jersey in a laundromat when I was seven years old. We talked like little kids do – “how old are you? What’s your name? What is your favorite subject?” – things like that. I was fascinated to hear about her school; it was so big compared to what I knew! Those few minutes of a single vacation taught me so much. Why did my school do one thing while hers did another? She had extracurriculars like orchestra and art class while we had opportunities around things like agriculture. Her school was literally a thousand miles away from mine, but despite some differences, we had so many of the same things to learn – like reading and math! These foundations were common to us both.

Flash forward to the Innovation Directors Network. The Learning Accelerator has given me the ability to regularly connect with and learn from others doing the job I do but in vastly different settings. The IDN is not a one-time crossing of paths or a single presentation at a conference. We are an ongoing working group of professionals. In January, while discussing issues around school policies and systems, I worked one-on-one with my counterpart from Chicago Public Schools. This is just one example of two opposite ends of the spectrum working side-by-side around common problems. Chicago, with over 300,000 students, and Cisco, with less than 900 enrolled, have things to learn from each other. I came away from that experience more committed to our network’s mission and with a more purposeful plan for using all that I was learning from my peers.

So, how do I use all of this new, practical knowledge? How can I convert it into action where I am?

As an educator, I must strive to continue my personal journey of learning as well as to strike out to affect positive change in the system I am passionate about. We have so many challenges facing us today in education: funding, teacher pay, SEL issues, privacy, digital citizenry, evaluation, access and equity, high-stakes testing, and more. I must know that I have a voice to speak up for my students and my fellow educators. I have a story to tell and knowledge to share. The IDN has made me a more informed leader, and sharing the information I’ve learned is one way that I can take action.

I’ve had the chance to spend time in my state capitol speaking with and testifying before legislators about various education needs. For instance, within the last few months, I was able to address a public school financing committee speaking on the potential personalized and blended learning has in Texas. Supporting innovative instructional practices for schools which are being informed by proven techniques from elsewhere in the country was an emphasis in my testimony. The needs of students, the challenges facing teachers and schools, and the opportunities for innovations to reach all students more effectively are not unique topics to one state. Strategies to addressing the challenges and models to inform our possible pathways in Texas may be found somewhere else – and new dynamic work in Texas will aid others. Drawing from successful implementations around the U.S. is possible for me because I have been given the amazing chance to sit regularly among practicing leaders in the field. I can bring experience from great work taking place with thousands and thousands of students at this very moment to the front of the conversation.

It is easy today to decide that we have more that divides us than unites us. In education, we find commonality around our students and the hopes we have for each of them. It is vitally important that we build bridges and learn from one another. When we do, we move all of our students forward. When we do, we make education better for all – and isn’t that our job?

At heart, I’m still that little girl who loved learning, traveling, and making new friends. I still want to know what makes us special and different. I still want to look to what makes us the same. Now, I just have a platform to share all that I learn – and a vital reason to do so.

About the Author

Amy Dodson is the Director of Instruction at Cisco Independent School District in Cisco, Texas.