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The Real Power of Collaboration

Galveston County Learning Leaders is a collaborative group of administrators in Galveston County, Texas, that includes Clear Creek ISD, Friendswood ISD, Galveston ISD, and Santa Fe ISD. The group's primary goal is to learn from each other and work with Learning Forward consultants to enhance their learning to build the capacity of all leaders. This initiative is supported by the Houston Endowment.

By Keri Launius

Keri Launius image
Keri Launius

A year ago, I was a new administrator in a new district: executive director of professional learning in Galveston ISD. I was excited and, at the same time, quite nervous. I knew I had a lot to learn.

Even before I began my new job, superintendent Kelli Moulton -- who was also new -- arranged a meeting with two coaches from the Galveston County Learning Leaders initiative. Neither of us was familiar with the group's work, but we were both interested and hoped that it would give us support as we moved forward with an intense focus on professional learning.

Galveston ISD had not participated the year before as an administrative team. Assistant superintendent Annette Scott had been alone in the work. Moulton immediately established a team of middle school principals who would begin attending and actively participating in the collaborative. I was eager to get to know the principals and learn with them.

What happened was impressive. We became a strong team. We used the approaches for change that we were learning. We found value in the work, and it made a significant difference in the way we approached professional learning. However, there were many other outcomes we hadn't anticipated.

We became a true community of practice. I formed relationships with leaders in other districts in Galveston County that shaped my leadership and supported the work of our district.

I formed a wonderful relationship with Stephanie McBride, director of professional learning for Clear Creek ISD, another member of the group. Since many of us attended the annual Learning Forward Conference in Vancouver last December, we found time to work together and exchange ideas. I was amazed at all that McBride sent me when we returned home that accelerated my work. After I thanked her, she said, "Hey, we are in the collaborative together, and we help each other out."

Not long after the conference, the district adopted a learning management system. We selected a system that Friendswood ISD and Santa Fe ISD had adopted a year earlier. I reached out to Lynn Hobratschk, director of elementary education in Friendswood, and Jacqueline Shuman, assistant superintendent in Santa Fe ISD. Both offered their support.  Shuman sent an expert to our district to assist us. She came to my office on a Saturday and helped me understand aspects of the program. Shuman said, "We are a team. We do these things for our collaborative partners."

One day, I was visiting McBride to learn about Clear Creek's focus on instructional coaches and how that district began the effort. "Why don't you come May 1? That is when we are doing a session with them," she said. "You can talk with our lead person about how she works with the coaches and how we got started." I brought other people from my team, and the visit accelerated our understanding. Since that visit, we have developed a plan to support our instructional coaches.

While there, I realized that a good friend, Amber Gareri, was an instructional coach at Brookside Intermediate, a school in the Clear Creek district.

When Hurricane Harvey hit so hard in the Clear Creek area just a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that Brookside had been devastated in the flood. I saw on Facebook that many Brookside teachers had bought their own furniture and materials for their classrooms, and, of course, insurance won't cover what they lost. It was all gone! There was no way to recoup the teachers' losses.

I contacted my friend Liz Bolton, who is in the school furniture business and very community-minded. She said, "Just tell me what you need, and I will start contacting my vendors." I explained to her that everything was gone and anything would help. I then contacted Brookside's principal, Lauren Ambreau, to let her know that help was on the way. That was a Sunday morning. By Tuesday, Bolton was delivering furniture to the school.  

I am so hopeful that we can continue our relationships. Yes, we learned much about the Standards for Professional Learning, change theory, learning designs, and assessing impact of professional learning. But, more important, we experienced the value of true collaboration in the relationships that are developing over time.  

True community is not just establishing capacity in ourselves but becoming a network of educators. We care about each other and each others' students, and we support each other in every way we can. I am stronger and smarter because of our work together. I am a member of powerful, caring community.  That is the real value of the Galveston County Learning Leaders.

Keri Launius ([email protected]) is executive director of professional learning and staff development at Galveston ISD in Texas.

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