Please summarize one or two of the models of collaboration you have learned about so far that you think best align with either- 1- what you would like to see in your school, 2- what you do see in your school AND 3- what are some challenges to creating this type of collaborative model in your school? What might be a good “next step?” How has your thinking changed regarding your school’s current practice for collaboration and it’s alignment to “best practice?” Due November 7th.
My school has slowly been working to establish a more collaborative work environment. The staff does share a common vision of teaching and learning. Our principal is clear that at the heart of everything we do, we need to keep what is good for kids in mind. I think that overall our school culture would be described as a positive, collegial one where staff genuinely enjoy each other and even spend time together outside of the school day.
However, the laissez faire attitude that exists within the school has created an environment that disregards collaboration as a critical component to both professional development and improving student achievement. Currently, collaboration efforts are often mandated from “above,” either at the district level or from admin. There is little teacher buy in with current attempts to enforce participation in PLCs, attempts to create interdisciplinary teams, and classroom learning walks. I believe this comes from a lack of leader vision and shared staff vision and goals. My principal mentioned during my interview with him that he and the admin team have set a goal to be more direct with staff and they have primarily been focused on building relationships in the past and have sometimes avoided hard conversations and in my opinion, strong leadership on the need and importance of collaboration.
According to Zapeda, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are “a group of individuals who share a similar vision of educational values and beliefs. As a result of this shared vision, a community of learners can work toward common goals that enhance professional and personal development.” (p.83) We are currently using some sad form of PLCs at my school, and most are formed according to department or content area. Different PLCs are functioning at various levels of efficiency. A few are actively collecting and analyzing data to reflect on practice and collaborate to improve together. However, for the most part, including my own PLC, teachers work together in loosely organized and ill-defined groups that may informally share strategies and activities, but rarely, if ever, analyze data in order to improve practice and deepen our practice. For the most part, PLCs are seen as a top-down initiative with little buy-in; another hoop to jump through.
A type of learning that could include PLCs but also encompasses other types of learning is Collaborative Teacher Development. This type of professional development is not truly being implemented at my school right now, but it is a style of PD that I believe in as it encompasses teacher voice, choice and thus teacher buy-in, which I consider to be fundamental aspects of successful professional development experiences. Collaborative Teacher Development is any learning that teachers do collaboratively with others and can be structured tightly, with protocols, or in an informal way, depending on the needs of the teachers and the model being used. It can include teacher study groups and book studies. The idea behind these types of professional development is that teachers are at the center of choosing the topics of study and growth, and teachers are recognized as valuable resources to contribute to the development and growth of the whole. Teachers identify, investigate, implement, and reflect upon areas of growth that are meaningful and applicable to their practice and students, and dialogue and collaborate with other staff who share similar values and visions in order to improve their practice and school.
As I’ve learned about various models of professional learning, including the few mentioned here, I can’t help but reflect on both the positive direction we’ve been moving in, but also the great areas for growth that still exist. I believe at my school there is a belief that we are “good enough” as we are now. Teachers are bogged down with other responsibilities and thus it will take decisive vision and leadership to prioritize teacher professional development and lead us down the path of collaboration and teacher empowerment. Next steps would be for our administrators to:
- Make teacher professional development a priority and communicate this vision and goal to teachers, or even better, develop it WITH teachers.
- Create time and space to discuss values and vision. Link this to professional development.
- Create opportunities for teachers to choose their area for development and method for growth, whether it be in a PLC, a book study group, a coaching opportunity, attending a training or workshop and then sharing learning with staff as an in-house expert, learning walks, etc.
- Get creative and create time for teachers to collaborate and work together (more than our one hour Wednesday LEAP, which is irregular and often taken up with other responsibilities/commitments).
- Follow through-administrators need to commit to emphasizing and dedicating time and resources to the same focus for a few years in order to truly change school culture. In the three years I’ve been at my school, passing attempts at PLCs/data teams, book studies, learning walks, and interdisciplinary teams have been attempted. None have had much development or follow through however.
- Intentionally work to empower teachers: Give teachers more voice. What development do they need? How can they share their learning, in a meaningful way, with all staff? How can more than just Team Leaders take a leadership role? Send out leadership surveys asking teachers in what areas they feel like they could lead or share expertise. What types of areas would they like to collaborate with others? Then admin needs to work to set up these opportunities for staff to both lead and participate. Respond to teachers concerns. Let them know you listen to and value their opinion. Keep shared vision and non-negotiable values at the center.