EDU 6600 Communication and Collaboration: Models for Collaboration

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:

  1. Make teacher professional development a priority and communicate this vision and goal to teachers, or even better, develop it WITH teachers.
  2. Create time and space to discuss values and vision. Link this to professional development.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.




EDU 6600 Communication and Collaboration: Reflection on Theories of Adult Learning

Adults and children learn in similar ways, but with marketed differences that need to be noted when planning and facilitating adult professional development. Both children and adults learn best when presented with creative opportunities, choice, structure, are given ownership of their learning, are motivated to learn, and are given opportunities to self-reflect on learning.

However, children often need more structure than adults, and adults thrive with self-directed learning and when learning is directly and immediately applicable to their life. Also, adult learning often, if not usually, involves collaborating with colleagues. Adults are more intrinsically motivated and self-directed, having learned sufficient skills to allow them to problem solve, cope with frustration, manage their time and prioritize tasks, and search for additional resources when necessary,  while children are still learning essential educational skills needed to become independent. However it is essential that adult professional development be in context and directly applicable to the learner’s daily work. It is also very important to have follow up on professional development, either through PLCs, further trainings, learning coaches, etc., as much adult learning is informal and incidental, and practitioners benefit from the reflective process, either individually or collaboratively.

According to Zepeda’s Adult Learning Theory, “adult learning should be built on ownership, appropriateness, structure, collaboration, internalization, reflection, and motivation.” (p.47) I agree that all these factors play integral roles in adult learning, however I believe that ownership and motivation, two qualities that are closely intertwined, are some of the most powerful but also the most frequently overlooked and under appreciated by politicians passing educational policy, and even by many district and school administrators.

Teacher leaders and administrators should be a facilitator of information and learning, not necessarily the source. This means their ideal role is listening to teachers or staff regarding what kind of training or resources they need, then going out and finding those resources, coming back to staff or teachers and continuing the cycle.

According to Zepeda, collaborative evaluation processes give teachers a sense of ownership in the learning and evaluation process, produce learning through participation in the evaluation process, enforce skills in self-reflection and skills in program evaluation, and improve communication among staff at different levels throughout the school. The benefits of engaging staff and stakeholders in the evaluative process of a staff development program seem to be many, yet this requires cultivating trust amongst staff and administrators.

Some new strategies for involving teachers in professional learning discussion and program evaluations that have been suggested in our group discussions  are:

  • listening sessions
  • sticky note brainstorms and then a follow up discussion
  • giving credit to others who have helped or have been a part of projects, teams, or initiatives, instead of taking the credit for ourselves

I have learned from my own professional development journey, and from watching those journeys of colleagues, that as teachers are used to being autonomous educational experts, it is essential that they own their own professional evolution. This means teachers will change at their own pace, when they are ready, and when they have compelling enough evidence to motivate them to invest the substantial amount of energy that is required to change pedagogy or practice. The old saying “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t force him to drink” is appropriate here. If governments or districts or administrators try to force teachers to change without first getting teachers’ buy in, change will not take hold, and the culture of the school will be compromised in the process. We see this happen with regularity, whether talking about No Child Left Behind, state standardized testing, professional evaluation systems, data teams or PCCs/PLCs, or adoption of new curriculums. As Hilty states “given a reinforcing school culture and a self-confident principal willing to experiment and to share some power, the raw potential for teachers to become a serious force in local school policy would appear to be enormous.” (p.87) Unless teachers are entrusted with the power to lead within the school and have their voices heard in the decision making process, whether those voices are in agreement or dissension, unless you empower teachers, it is hard to get teacher buy in and thus motivation.

Hilty, E. B. (2011). Teacher leadership: The “new” foundations of teacher education: A reader. New York: P. Lang.
Zepeda, S. J. (2008). Professional development: What works. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.