Sep 29, 2021

Catalyzing System Building and Collaboration to Foster Collective Impact, Part 2

Sarah Barzee
Region 2 Logo

By Forest Crigler, Marcella Cannatti, Lauren Amos, and Steven Malick

Visualizing the Region 2 Comprehensive Center’s Network of Support

In a series of posts, we explore how the U.S. Department of Education’s Region 2 Comprehensive Center (R2CC) aimed to create the five conditions of collective impact in partnership with state education agencies (SEAs) and their stakeholders in Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island. In our first post, we discussed the importance of developing a common agenda. Our second post focuses on how the R2CC facilitated two other conditions of collective impact: Shared Measurement, while working with the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) on creating developmentally appropriate Social, Emotional, and Intellectual Habits for Grades 4–12 guidance (SEIH) and Mutually Reinforcing Activities, while working with the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) on improving services for multilingual learners.

Implementing statewide education initiatives can be challenging, particularly when SEAs juggle multiple priorities while honoring the importance of local control in the education system. In both Connecticut and Rhode Island, SEA staff turned to the R2CC to help advance two statewide initiatives: (1) expanding the SEIH guidance for Connecticut districts and (2) creating Rhode Island’s Blueprint for Multilingual Learner Success. This post examines how the R2CC used the sustainable conditions of collective impact for this work and illustrates the importance of creating a Shared Measurement system and establishing Mutually Reinforcing Activities. 

“Developing a shared measurement system is essential to collective impact. Agreement on a common agenda is illusory without agreement on the ways success will be measured and reported.”

Shared Measurement in Connecticut

Setting up conditions for Shared Measurement requires that stakeholders adopt a consistent approach for collecting data and measuring results to foster shared responsibility and accountability for achieving desired outcomes. CSDE sought to establish a statewide approach to implementing, measuring, and evaluating students’ social-emotional learning (SEL), and it requested support from the R2CC to help cultivate research-based and developmentally appropriate SEIH guidance for students in grade four through twelve in Connecticut districts. The purpose of the document is to provide a model to districts and schools for integrating social and emotional habits into academic content areas. Specifically, the guidance aimed to (1) provide examples of the age-appropriate social, emotional, and intellectual habits, skills, and behaviors students should enact and demonstrate; (2) strengthen educators’ understanding of social-emotional habits that students need for academic success, college and career readiness, and civic engagement; and, (3) set a baseline and guide the selection and implementation of relevant professional development opportunities and SEL practices across the state. 

To understand how Connecticut districts implemented SEL, the R2CC and CSDE co-designed a landscape survey of SEL policies, programs, and practices. The purpose of the landscape survey was to assess SEL activities and trends for K–12 students across the state. The survey aimed to provide a snapshot of the work already underway, and emerging concerns and trends in the field. Over several months, CSDE staff met with the R2CC project team to ensure that the final version of the survey reflected common definitions and standardized measures of SEL program and policy implementation. The CSDE administered the survey to all Connecticut districts in 2020. The R2CC then leveraged the expertise and capacity of the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands (REL-NEI) to further support project goals by analyzing the survey results and co-facilitating a series of meetings with a stakeholder work group. Work group participants provided feedback on the SEIH drafts and helped CSDE and the R2CC ensure that the guidance is relevant and accessible to school, district leaders, and practitioners and supports existing SEL approaches and best practices. The SEIH guidance is currently being finalized and aims to facilitate consistent implementation of evidence-based SEL strategies across Connecticut districts. The graphic below illustrates the partnership between the CSDE, the R2CC, and the REL-NEI to support the SEA in developing the SEIH document. 


Mutually Reinforcing Activities in Rhode Island

Next, we explore the R2CC’s work with RIDE to foster the collective impact condition of Mutually Reinforcing Activities, which allows for differentiated but coordinated activities among stakeholders that mutually reinforce the plan of action. Before the 2019–2020 school year, RIDE set a priority goal to improve academic outcomes among its multilingual learners. RIDE sought assistance from the R2CC to (1) identify evidence-based strategies, practices and policies, action steps, and core recommendations for improving multilingual learner outcomes; and (2) foster a collaborative learning community that would share responsibility for implementing these strategies. Rhode Island’s Blueprint for Multilingual Learner Success was designed to outline the vision for multilingual learners and highlight the key principles for success among this group of students. 

RIDE engaged the R2CC to assist in building the capacity of RIDE staff to carry out coordinated tasks to jointly develop the Blueprint. The R2CC’s contributions included:

  • Creating a plan to engage a broadly representative group of stakeholders to develop a draft of the Blueprint
  • Using existing RIDE data to understand current outcomes of RI’s multilingual learners, as well as the current system of support being provided to state educators and multilingual learners
  • Identifying goals and high-leverage strategies to improve academic outcomes for multilingual learners in order to improve their outcomes
  • Analyzing input from schools, districts, nonprofit organizations, and postsecondary institutions using a virtual stakeholder engagement format due to COVID-19
  • Implementing ongoing engagement strategies to ensure ongoing involvement among stakeholders to improve academic outcomes for multilingual learners

RIDE staff reported the critical role the R2CC played in ensuring the Blueprint’s development, especially given the need to pivot from planned in-person stakeholder meetings to virtual meetings as well competing priorities prompted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the R2CC’s support, the Blueprint was developed on time and reflected the initial vision and plan of action for the project. The graphic below illustrates the partnership between RIDE and the R2CC to develop the Blueprint.

Graphic illustrating the partnership between RIDE and the R2CC

Key Outcomes from the R2CC’s Support

With the goal of deriving collective impact, the R2CC helped establish conditions to achieve two aims: (1) to develop SEIH guidance that should enable Connecticut districts to consistently apply SEL practices and (2) to coordinate with RIDE and other Rhode Island stakeholders to create the Blueprint for Multilingual Learner Success. With the R2CC facilitating these efforts, the SEA was able to drive efficient and effective change while building their capacity to:

  • Develop products aligned to previously identified measures. By identifying the SEL policies, programs, and practices in place across Connecticut, the CSDE drafted SEIH guidance that aligned with districts’ implementation of SEL. Aligning the SEIH guidance to the survey results may help facilitate consistent implementation of SEL practices after it is released.

  • Maintain focus on the strategic vision and goals despite challenges. The support the R2CC provided to RIDE to help build organizational capacity enabled RIDE to pivot from an in-person stakeholder engagement process to a virtual process, despite the RIDE team’s limited capacity. The technical assistance and other support provided by the R2CC helped RIDE develop the Blueprint while they simultaneously navigated the pressing challenges and priorities prompted by COVD-19.

Development of the SEIH guidance and Blueprint for Multilingual Learner Success included multiple stakeholders such as staff from local education agencies, representatives from nonprofit entities, and staff from a federally funded technical assistance center. By developing and facilitating an effective and efficient stakeholder engagement process, the R2CC helped establish trust among the stakeholders, enabled multiple perspectives to be heard, and drove timely development of the two products. In our next post, we’ll explore further the concept of building trust and coordinating participating organizations by examining the last two conditions of collective impact: Continuous Communication and Backbone Support.