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The Power and Potential of District Peer-to-Peer Learning

Monica Ng, Pivot Learning January 21, 2020
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Monica Ng, Vice President of Education Programs at Pivot LearningThe Power and Potential of District Peer-to-Peer Learning

In many cases, school districts look to outside providers to offer support for the implementation of new initiatives. Through a generous grant from the Stuart Foundation, Pivot Learning was able to work with two California districts, Monterey Peninsula Unified School District (Monterey) and Lancaster School District (Lancaster), to pilot an innovative peer-to-peer learning model.

Monterey and Lancaster are high-poverty, high-need school districts with large numbers of foster and homeless youth. These students often “fell through the cracks” academically and behaviorally. Nationally, many school districts have sought to address the needs of at-risk student populations with multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) models that provide timely academic and behavior supports.

Sanger Unified School District (Sanger), in California’s Central Valley, has garnered statewide and national acclaim for their MTSS system. Sanger was an early adopter of Response to Intervention (RtI), which it successfully used to reduce its inappropriate identification for special education and provide early interventions that showed in the district’s student level outcomes. Like every district, Sanger experiences the introduction of new initiatives and priorities. The district’s mindset has shifted to the idea of building an MTSS initiative and moving onto the next project, to using MTSS as a framework for all of their work.

Pivot Learning partnered with Sanger to provide peer support to Monterey and Lancaster. We developed an MOU with Sanger and purchased the time of two key leaders of its MTSS initiative. Monterey and Lancaster sent leadership teams to Sanger to learn more about Sanger’s work, and the three districts met as a community of practice. Additionally, Sanger provided virtual coaching and professional learning to the Monterey and Lancaster teams.

At Pivot Learning, we use the user-centered design model for developing solutions to districts’ greatest challenges in achieving educational justice. This starts with the process of discovery and learning how the current system treats end-users — in this case, homeless and foster youth. It also starts with learning about best practices and the work of high-functioning systems like Sanger. Through closely examining data, conducting empathy interviews and focus groups, and considering research, each district built and tested MTSS prototypes focused on the needs of their most vulnerable students. They then received ongoing feedback from Sanger, and from each other, that they then used to refine prototypes before scaling them.

We see the potential of these types of practitioner partnerships in many other areas of the work we do at Pivot Learning. There is tremendous expertise both inside and outside school districts that can and should be leveraged to accelerate efforts to improve student outcomes and close achievement gaps. We are excited to incorporate this peer-to-peer learning model into future projects and to continue looking for other district partners to work alongside us in building systemic solutions to our school system’s biggest challenges in achieving educational justice.

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