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Better Together summary

Lydia Dobyns and Tom Vander Ark

How to Leverage School Networks for Smarter Personalized and Project Based Learning

4.5 (13 ratings)
24 mins
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    Better Together
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    Connecting educators through school networks creates better learning outcomes for students.

    Imagine you’re a teacher struggling to improve student engagement. You’re finding it difficult to strike a balance between getting students interested in lessons and preparing them for exams. And since everyone at your school is focused on test scores, no one has the headspace to workshop potential solutions. If only there were a community that could give you the support you needed...

    School networks are one of the most valuable resources for educators. They provide member schools with access to learning models, resource libraries, professional development opportunities, and technological tools. Also importantly, they give teachers a shared vision for learning, as well as access to peers in other schools.   

    The key message here is: Connecting educators through school networks creates better learning outcomes for students.

    There are around 7,000 charter schools in the US. A third of these belong to school networks like the New Tech Network, Big Picture Learning, and the National Academy Foundation. According to research conducted by Stanford University, these schools outperform those that aren’t part of a network. Let’s examine why.

    Firstly, since networks don’t rely on an individual leader, they provide ongoing stability. Each network has its own vision for education – like using the Montessori method, for example. It won’t matter who’s at the helm; the vision will outlast the inevitable comings and goings of leaders. Unlike schools at risk of having their agendas changed each time a new board is elected, member schools benefit from consistency. Less disruption means educators have the stability they need to fully implement changes to curricula and learning models.

    Secondly, networks are idea-exchanging hubs. Teachers facing similar challenges – like how to support students with special needs – can benefit from each other’s experiences. Or they can draw on a huge pool of classroom tools, adapting them for their own needs. This leads to continual improvement: if a teacher improves a classroom tool, he can add his new version to the network’s library, making it available to everyone.

    Teaching is a demanding, often frustrating profession. But a supportive and energizing community helps make it sustainable. Imagine how much you’d benefit from expanding your community from a few dozen to a few hundred, or maybe even a thousand! It may well revolutionize the way you teach.

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    What is Better Together about?

    Better Together (2018) is an examination of how school networks are transforming students’ education experiences across the United States to make them college and career ready. It illuminates how networks provide new learning models, foster ongoing professional development, and facilitate personalized education to help each child reach their full potential.

    Best quote from Better Together

    A spirit of openness can help build trust with staff, so they believe they have the freedom to change.

    —Lydia Dobyns and Tom Vander Ark
    example alt text

    Who should read Better Together?

    • Educators establishing new schools with nontraditional learning models
    • School leaders wanting to increase student engagement levels and performance
    • District superintendents looking to innovate learning

    About the Author

    Lydia Dobyns connects two important areas of knowledge for modern education: policy and technology. As president and CEO of the New Tech Network she works to design innovative and effective education environments across the US.

    Tom Vander Ark is CEO of Getting Smart – an organization that advises schools on how to establish and attain their education goals. He is the author of Smart Parents, Getting Smart, and Smart Cities. Vander Ark previously worked at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as Executive Director of Education.


    © Lydia Dobyns and Tom Vander Ark: Better Together copyright 2018, John Wiley & Sons Inc. Used by permission of John Wiley & Sons Inc. and shall not be made available to any unauthorized third parties.

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