Partners by Design—School Directors Help Hone their Training

Test pilot Iesha Kidd of Fife School District

“I felt a little nervous at first, but after we got going, it felt natural,” said Vanessa Edwards, leadership consultant for the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA).

Last week, Edwards and OnBoard curriculum co-designer Scott Dolquist practiced delivering one of WSSDA’s newest learning experiences titled Foundations of Cultural Proficiency. 

“Culture is a difficult topic, and we bring our own bias and experience when we hear the word,” said Edwards. “But the presentation and the examples we used opened up my perspective, which is what I hope to provide others.”

The newest training is part of WSSDA’s ongoing development of a professional learning system (OnBoard) designed exclusively for school board members. But development does not occur in a vacuum.

“We like to have directors from small to large districts and as many different geographic areas as possible participate in piloting new trainings.” Said Dolquist. “Their feedback shapes the training development to meet the needs of school directors better.”

WSSDA’s curriculum designers, staff, and leadership consultants conduct full-scale pilots and shorter mini-pilots, equal to just one-third of a full training. The pilots serve to prepare leadership consultants to deliver the training and help the designers fine-tune development.

“The final version of a training will include what our volunteer ‘test pilots’ guide us toward,” said Dolquist. “They tell us what is meaningful and important to them within the new learning experiences. We love meeting all the directors and building rapport with them because it’s through the rapport that they feel comfortable giving us honest feedback, which drives some of the revisions we make.”

For last week’s pilot, school directors from Tenino, Tumwater, Pioneer, Fife, Olympia, and North Kitsap joined WSSDA staff and two leadership consultants for the highly interactive experience.

“Piloting the learning experiences helps us anticipate some of the questions that may come up,” said Edwards. “Also, I learn something each time I facilitate a training. For example, how I present may not be how it lands with someone. So the next time, I’ll change it up a little based on the reactions I’ve seen from people.”

But in most cases, explained Edwards, participants may start out pretty quiet and a bit hesitant, but by the end of a training, “everyone’s got a smile on their face, shaking hands, hugging; I mean, we’re friends.”

What’s the benefit for board members trying out the new curriculum? Whether it’s a pilot or the final version of a training, one benefit is always the same. “They’re hearing the perspectives of districts outside of their own,” said curriculum co-designer and former school director Lorrie Edwards. “And then they bring that expanded way of thinking about their work back to their district.”

Become a Test Pilot

If you’re a school board member interested in becoming a “test pilot” of new learning experiences, please email

Learn more about WSSDA’s professional learning system for school boards at

Photos of the “Test Flight” on August 2

View full-size images on Flickr.