Last spring, I was introduced to the Adaptive Schools Seminar by one of Kane County’s Chief Academic Officers.  I was intrigued by the concept of adaptive schools and so I did a little research to see if this professional development opportunity would be a good fit for Kane County.

Through my research I found that The Thinking Collaborative is the company that offers the Adaptive Schools Seminar & Cognitive Coaching workshops.  The Thinking Collaborative teaches strategies, concepts, and skills to establish and sustain structures for collaborating that will result in increased performance.

I was intrigued by the concept of putting concrete practices in place to help support collaboration and result in increased performance.  I believe that new challenges require new and increased 

flexibility within our schools and districts. School-wide improvements in student learning accrue from schools whose work cultures are collaborative, but how do you truly transform the culture in a district?  I’ve taken countless leadership courses throughout my educational and professional career so needless to say I was skeptical as to how the Adaptive Schools Seminar would be any different than the numerous college courses I had previously taken but I decided to take a risk, at the suggestion of a colleague, and offer the 4-day Adaptive School Seminar through the Kane County Regional Office of Education.

In-state and out-of-state enrollments came in with over 70 participants encompassing Superintendents, Principals, Directors, Coaches, Teachers, Regional Superintendents, and Student Teachers.  I had rented out the Kane County Cougars Stadium as the venue, the menu was set, workbooks ordered, all the logistics were taken care of!! Now I just crossed my fingers that this would be a worthwhile experience for everyone.

Within ten minutes of Carol, the presenter, starting us off I could tell this was NOT going to be anything like the graduate courses I had previously taken or similar to any other workshop or Administrative Academy I had ever been apart of!  She immediately got us out of our seats and into small “campfires” for an inclusion activity! If I am being honest, I was a bit annoyed at this point as I don’t generally like getting up out of my seats during workshops, I mean how can I check my email and be productive when I am away from my phones and computers?!?!?!

About an hour in I realized I hadn’t checked my email once, I even put my laptop back in my bag…it wasn’t even out at the table!  Carol did an amazing job keeping the amount of sit time at a minimum, and when we were sitting we were usually with a complete stranger who was our partner for the time being.  Each activity was presented as a way for us to experience strategies we could implement to help establish and be a part of a collaborative, cooperative, productive, team.

There were so many “Ah Ha’ moments for me over the course of the 4 days but I thought I would outline my top three below:

  • The importance of going “outside your comfort zone” and having collaborative conversations with people who you don’t normally work with.  Carol had countless strategies for getting together in groups, partners, etc. From the number of speeding tickets, to clock partners, and of course the finger trick, she had us up and moving with someone new constantly.  I will definitely use these strategies in my meetings and and presentations. My only wish was that I would have had these strategies when I was a principal, I knew my staff well but they didn’t really know each other nor were they given opportunities or encouraged to socialize outside their comfort zone to help build sustaining collaborative relationships.
  • How to organize meetings so that they are learning opportunities for all stakeholders.  One of the most frustrating aspects of most meetings I have and do take place in still are that they are a place for information to be fed to me.  Rarely are we discussing, or having collaborative conversations, it seems we are simply reporting out. Well, that ends now for me, we will now be implementing strategies such as, A-B-Each-Teach and First-Last-Turn at every meeting!!
  • Develop an increased capacity to initiate, develop and sustain high functioning groups.  At the beginning of the seminar I thought to myself, I do that, or I did that when I was a principal.  But what I learned and started to ask above anything else in this seminar was that it isn’t about what I was doing as a leader or teacher in my building or classroom; but rather how am I adding to the collective one as a district?!?!  In my undergraduate program I learned how to be an excellent teacher, in my graduate program I learned how to be a leader….but where in my education did I learn how to be a collaborative, effective member of a larger group?….I hadn’t, until the Adaptive Schools Seminar!!

It was hard to narrow down my top three wins listed above, there were so many great strategies presented to me.  But what I valued more than anything was having the time to collaborate and learn from peers. We are rarely given the time to sit down and have discussions with colleagues about best practices with no decisions being made.  It was an invaluable experience that I hope to be able to provide Kane County more often both formally and informally. Thank you to all who participated in the 4 day series, and those that didn’t I hope you join us in the future!

Katie Algrim – Director of Innovative Professional Learning

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