Supporting Rural Educators’ Professional Learning through Rural Education Collaboratives

This blog is the fourth in a series on strategies and resources to help rural educators implement critical improvement initiatives. This blog series will share and build on lessons and best practices that are working in rural districts. An introductory blog post outlining the series is available here.

Emerging rural collaboratives are increasingly focused on improving the quality and relevance of professional learning for teachers. Rural districts often struggle to provide regular and varied professional learning opportunities for teachers due to a variety of factors, including limited time and resources. For example, educators in rural districts often face geographic and professional isolation, meaning they may be the only person teaching a specific subject in their school or district and do not have immediate access to peer colleagues. Additionally, educators in rural districts may also have few role models who can demonstrate effective and innovative practices.

Fortunately, several rural collaboratives have begun to address these challenges by widening the pool of peers, resources, and available information for teachers in rural districts.

  • Several collaboratives have partnered with state universities to provide career development opportunities for teachers. The Western Maine Education Collaborative, for example, offers graduate-level courses in partnership with the University of Maine-Farmington. These courses are made available to member districts in areas such as literacy, differentiated instruction, and effective use of technology. This partnership takes advantage of the Shared Course Expense agreement between the two organizations and allows for sharing of tuition expenses at the rate of 60/40 percent.
  • The New England Secondary School Consortium‘s League of Innovative Schools is an example of how a rural education collaborative can build capacity. By serving as a professional learning community for teachers, the League of Innovative Schools allows teachers to share effective practices and ideas with each other. For example, the League of Innovative Schools produces a “Leadership in Action” briefing series, which teachers can use to build understanding about specific education priorities (e.g., proficiency-based credit) and spark conversations. This helps teachers better shift their instruction and support to a personalized learning approach without expensive training or outside experts. The League of Innovative Schools also hosts events to bring educators together and build connections across schools.
  • The Northwest RISE Network uses cross-district teacher peer groups to help educators practice and strengthen their skills around identifying and sharing best practices, helping them become more effective within their professional learning communities over time. The Network also helps to develop educators’ capacity to disseminate best practices and resources related to implementing new standards.
  • The Ohio Appalachian Collaborative (OAC), which includes 27 school districts, has successfully created ownership across members by developing a system of support that regularly brings together teachers, principals, superintendents, and district leaders to work toward shared goals. The collaborative members have pooled together resources to increase their previously more limited offerings, especially in terms of professional development opportunities. For the first time, many OAC districts have professional development opportunities available for all teachers, and professional development has become much more teacher-led.

Interested in learning more?

For more information on personalized professional learning for educators, check out the Future Ready Schools webpage and The Future Ready District: Professional Learning Through Online Communities of Practice and Social Networks to Drive Continuous Improvement resource from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Education Technology.

To access the full blog series on rural education issues, please see the entire archived series on the State Support Network resources page here and here.