The Daily Appalachian

ARCC TA Out of this World!

Martian students enjoy learning with the new Martian-approved Vandalia curriculum.

Not Your Dad's Technical Assistance!

Educators in Vandalia had quite the surprise this year with an influx of students not only new to the area, but to the planet, as well! Yes, Martian students brought their own unique challenges to Vandalia educators, who subsequently turned to the Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Center (ARCC) for help in meeting their needs.

Unlike conventional approaches to technical assistance that usually include an influx of new curriculum materials and limited training for teachers, staffers at the ARCC focused on developing structures and processes that will better help Vandalia staff adjust their instruction to meet the needs of a wide range of students. Through this process, Vandalia educators are becoming experts in Martian language and culture and instead of having new, unfamiliar resources imposed on them that might not support existing Vandalian children, they're learning how to modify proven practices to better support all students.

Through the use of a process called an Organizational Capacity Assessment, ARCC and Vandalia staff were able to identify existing strengths in the organization instead of working from a deficit perspective. Some challenges are also identified, but the needs assessment process helped Vandalia staff to determine concrete steps they can begin taking right away to reach their goals of supporting the needs of all students. More traditional approaches might have suggested or imposed a given process with little customization and just plain frustrated staff.

Want to do this on your own? Three criteria used to to select capacity building tools, processes, and materials suggested by ARCC staff include:

1. Involving all stakeholders in the process, including Vandalian and Martian families so that at least a baseline of common information undergirds all decisions.

2. Using culturally responsive strategies that respect the needs and backgrounds of all children, families, and staff in the school system while working towards common goals.

3. Weighing the potential return on investment of any new material or process by directly tying them to goals of the initiative and seeking evidence of success from similar initiatives

One Small Step for Vandalians...

The foundational step for an initiative that is so comprehensive is providing sufficient information to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that all participants feel comfortable about decisions that are made going forward. Martians place great trust in the local educational system and are loathe to read research briefs and white papers, so while ARCC staff looked for evidence to support their work the level of information shared with the Vandalians and Martians was presented on a more practical level and correlated to goals identified from the Organizational Capacity Assessment. To do this, ARCC staff tapped knowledgeable experts in relevant areas of need determined from the needs assessment, summarized and organized information provided including Martian-friendly examples and scenarios,  and established collaborative workgroups with Vandalia staff to review the information and to determine action steps for using the information to develop instruction best suited to all students.

Ambidexterity: It's Not All Thumbs

At this early juncture, technical assistance offered by ARCC staff might benefit by focusing on helping Vandalian staff "assimilate and accommodate change," and "maintain existing proficiencies," which are hallmarks of the higher-order capacity of ambidexterity. Instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water, because who knows if Martians even take baths, Vandalians need proven practices to accommodate or at least support the needs of the Martian students while maintaining effective practices with existing students. Change does not require changing everything, and the Vandalians need to realize they can continue effective practices, which might be identified through Organizational Capacity Assessment.

Ambidexterity pairs well with effectiveness, especially after foundational processes have been established along with metrics to determine how well those processes are working and moving the organization towards their goals. Other capacities, such as multi-faceted leadership, innovation, and meta-capacity may be too mature for the given situation; although, they should not be ruled out in the future as the initiative evolves.

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