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Recommended Reading – Better Together: How to Leverage School Networks for Smarter Personalized and Project-Based Learning

• Karla Phillips

Two minds are better than one. A tried and true adage that reminds us challenges are easier faced when working together. In their new book, Better Together: How to Leverage School Networks for Smarter Personalized and Project-Based Learning, authors Tom VanderArk and Lydia Dobyns spotlight the growing expansion of networks as a support mechanism to expand and scale innovation in K12 education. The idea gained greater traction when the Gates Foundation announced a strategic shift to support school networks to drive improvement.

Networks are an excellent vehicle to leverage expertise, share resources, and provide a venue for collaboration. At ExcelinEd, we realized the potential that networks could have for state-level staff charged with implementing new policies and initiatives. In 2015, we formed a K-3 Reading Network to convene policy practitioners and key stakeholders from states with active early literacy programs or those that are pursuing the policy. The K-3 Reading Network, a cohort of more than a dozen states, is sharing lessons learned and best practices for effective policy implementation through in-person and virtual gatherings.

For similar purposes, we recently launched a Network for State Innovation Partners to support state-level staff charged with implementing innovation or pilot programs. Through these convenings we explore common challenges and brainstorm potential solutions.

Tom and Lydia’s book seeks to provide examples from across the country along with strategic recommendations based on lessons learned. The information is timely and sorely needed if networks are to accomplish their goals. As the authors note, the work facing educators is hard as they strive to prepare our students for a rapidly changing world. There is strength in numbers and we know that educators will be Better Together.

About the author

Karla Phillips

Karla is Policy Director for Next Generation Learning at ExcelinEd. Previously, she served as Special Assistant to the Deputy Superintendent of Policy and Programs at the Arizona Department of Education. Karla also served as the Education Policy Advisor for Governor Brewer and as the Vice-Chair of Arizona’s Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. Her experience includes serving as Director of State Government Relations for Arizona State University (ASU) and as a senior policy advisor for Arizona’s House of Representatives. Karla received her B.A. from Indiana University and an M.P.A from Arizona State University.