Building Strong Partnerships to Support Digital Learning

May 28, 2019

This blog is reposted with permission from Ohio’s Department of Education’s Extra Credit Blog by Stephanie Donofoe Meeks on May 23, 2019.

How many of you remember the Carol Burnett show, either reruns or originals? I realize I am dating myself here! Growing up, watching these comedic partnerships was one of the highlights of my family’s week. What we really watched for was Tim Conway trying to break up Harvey Korman in every sketch, and Tim was always successful. In one of the most famous sketches, Conway plays a dentist and Korman the patient. It is one of the funniest TV sketches in history, making the Korman-Conway partnership one of the most successful.

Tim Conway’s passing last week made me think about why this partnership was so successful. Good and successful partnerships involve a common vision and values and a willingness to do more and stretch to make the partnership work. Think about Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. They had a common belief that personal computing was the future, and both brought a different set of skills. Jobs was a master marketer, and Wozniak was a software genius.

Successful partnerships have something called synergy — the collective is greater than the equal sum of parts alone. Even animals understand this — just look at pack behavior in wolves. In his poem, The Law for the Wolves, Rudyard Kipling wrote “For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”

We are only as strong as our partnerships. When we think about the advancement of civilization, we realize nothing happens in a vacuum. People have to work together because survival depends on it. We form partnerships, though, for many reasons. For example, partnerships can be romantic, for business or recreational. Some are permanent and some only last for a project or a short time. Some are on purpose and some accidental, like the famous chocolate/peanut butter combination!

In education in Ohio, we believe so strongly in the power of partnerships, it is one of three core principles for success in Each Child, Our Future, Ohio’s strategic plan for education:

PARTNERSHIPS: Everyone, not just those in schools, shares the responsibility of preparing children for successful futures. The most important partners are parents and caregivers, who have the greatest impact on a child’s development. Other critical partners include educators, institutions of higher education, business, philanthropy, employers, libraries, social service organizations, community members, health care providers, behavioral health experts and many more. Put simply, partnerships transform the education experience.

What does this look like in practical terms? I couldn’t do my work around transformation in schools to support environments for digital learning without my extensive educational partners. I often collaborate with educational service centers and educational technology agencies to plan events. In a recent discussion with educational service center partners to plan for the Future Ready in Action conference sponsored by the Ohio Educational Service Center Association, we discussed partnerships and their impacts.

Amy Harker, the career readiness coordinator for the Educational Service Center of Northeast Ohio said partnerships are “important to support work, provide more opportunities for students (business and school partnerships) and create broader idea generation.”

I also worked with the curriculum director of Butler County Educational Service Center, Georgine Bowman, who said, “The power of partnerships is to provoke thinking, give multiple perspectives, and enhance learning experiences.” This is the kind of thinking that builds strategic partnerships.

Another conference I recently planned, the Schools Reimagined Reboot, was a leadership conference in partnership with the Ohio Department of Education, the Mid-Ohio Educational Service Center and WOSU Classroom. This conference was a day to be inspired, reimagine teaching and learning and look creatively and openly at finding more opportunities for students beyond traditional instructional practices.

The Mid-Ohio Educational Service Center curriculum director, Amanda Mahon, was central to planning the School Reimagined Reboot. Regarding the power of partnerships, she said, “Our organizations each bring a unique perspective, skill set and priorities to a project. In working together, we are able to capitalize on each other’s strength and bring a high-quality, holistic approach to professional learning.”

Amy Palermo, executive director for content at WOSU Classroom shares a similar belief. She said, “Partnerships build on capacity and strengthen the work and content that is delivered. They are vital for continued quality work. Ours works because of the experience and expertise we each uniquely bring to the table to build on professional learning that is impactful and meaningful to others.”

If you want to find ways to work with your community more and build partnerships, look for inspiration in the Future Ready Ohio Framework. The framework helps align perspectives of district work around a goal for personalized learning. One of the gears is specifically about Community Partnerships:

Community partnerships include the formal and informal local and global community connections, collaborative projects and relationships that advance the school’s learning goals. Digital communications, online communities, social media and digital learning environments often serve as connectors for these partnerships.

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Future Ready offers targeted support for building partnerships if you are a district leader, principal, technology leader, instructional coach or librarian. However, everyone in the school can be part of making connections and developing partnerships. Here are some tips:

  • Establish and foster relationships to support school culture and vision;
  • Collaborate and engage all community members, including parents, local businesses, local organizations and taxpayers without children in schools;
  • Develop, model and amplify the district brand through existing and new communication channels;
  • Expand learning beyond the school day;
  • Engage the community in developing and implementing a vision for personalized learning;
  • Leverage student and community talents and resources to support desired learning outcomes;
  • Provide community and parent learning events to support partnerships and increase learning and engagement opportunities for students.

The overarching idea is to reach out however you can. Use the Future Ready Framework to help you plan. Use Each Child, Our Future as your guide. As an educator, as a leader, as a community member…for each adult, our common goal remains a steadfast and unwavering belief in success for all. This achievement does indeed take a village, a village of dedicated folks who want all students to have success, because our shared futures depend on it.

Stephanie Donofe Meeks is a Digital Learning Strategist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she supports technology integration innovations and blended learning initiatives for districts and schools across the state.  Connect with her on twitter at @stephaniedonof.

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