Accelerating Collaboration During COVID-19

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-This blog was authored by Emerson Lopez Odango (Region 18 Director), Christina Tydeman (REL-Pacific Director), Melly Wilson (Region 19 Director), and Kellie Kim (REL-Pacific Deputy Director)

Despite the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic created for some Comprehensive Center (CC) projects, there arose opportunities for accelerating cross-organizational collaboration. This blog highlights four areas of collaboration across the Region 18 CC, Region 19 CC, and REL-Pacific (REL-PA) for the creation of a Community of Practice (CoP) focusing on Continuity of Learning in response to needs related to COVID-19 in the Pacific region.

Joint Needs Sensing. During the initial March shutdowns, the CCs and REL-PA conducted joint needs sensing with our Advisory (CC) and Governing (REL-PA) Boards, which include State Education Agency (SEA) leadership and stakeholders. An online needs sensing survey identified needs ranging from strategic planning to distance learning. We unpacked these needs through an April joint meeting with the Board members, during which we discussed the survey findings and the benefits of a CoP, narrowed topical areas, planned for logistics, and emphasized CC and REL supports. The meeting outcomes guided us to plan a virtual CoP of four webinars: (1) Designing & Implementing Distance Learning in the Pacific Context, (2) Student and Community Well-Being, (3) Planning Considerations for Reopening Schools, and (4) Aligning Students' Lived Language Experiences with Education.

Cross-Network Expertise and Resources. We rapidly identified subject matter experts (SMEs) to lead the webinars. Knowing that our audiences value region-specific examples, each webinar had two presenters: one discussing high-level/theoretical issues, and another discussing Pacific contexts. It was helpful to share the workload of identifying and reaching out to these experts; some were staff or subcontractors on our respective projects, and others were new linkages made through a combined CC-REL effort to invite the SME. Similarly, we co-created participant handouts of compiled evidence-based practice resources, including from the National Center, Institute of Education Sciences, and other sources from the U.S. Department of Education.

Coordinated Implementation and Dissemination. By alternating between the CCs (as a pair) and REL-PA as facilitators for the four webinars at two-week intervals, we created the time to convene and make course adjustments. Our collective organizational strengths and resources were used to address logistics such as creating Mailchimp announcements and Zoom meeting links, jointly tracking attendee information and feedback, organization-specific vetting of slides, and in-the-moment webinar troubleshooting. This experience has certainly honed our inter-and intra-organizational coordination skills in virtual spaces.

Complimentary Supports. Following the CoP, SEAs requested deeper capacity building sessions on specific topics within the context of Distance Education/Learning. The CCs were able to scale up and deepen capacity building for Palau (Region 18) and for American Samoa and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (Region 19). REL-PA is focusing on building entities’ capacity to design distance learning through region-wide training sessions, including resources supporting hybrid or blended models, and providing direct coaching supports specific to the entities. We jointly share out the products/resources that emerge from these projects to build upon our work and avoid duplication.

As we anticipate next year’s CC-REL Joint Needs Sensing Memo, we reflect on the benefits from our cross-institution collaboration. Rising up to meet the challenges and to address the needs of educational agencies means doing so together.