How do you focus change efforts to create a more collaborative and mentoring culture for both educators and students? This was the topic of the 7/13 #edchat, and it sparked quality conversation among participants.
I have worked in both self-contained elementary and middle school team teaching environments, and I truly believe that I developed as a professional, took more risks with my teaching, and became a more skilled communicator when I was a member of a teaching team. It is far too easy for educators to fall into their own, safe routines without much considering how things could be done differently. The scary this is, this routine and sense of complacency can continue for years upon end.
We embarked on the PLC journey last year in our school, and it of course was not without its bumps along the road. We got creative and ran a whole new master schedule, where grade level teams now had “specials” at the same times throughout the cycle. This allowed for two days out of six that could be earmarked as “common” planning times. Within the confines of the contracted teacher day, there was not a lot of flexibility to provide teachers with additional collaboration time. We learned about the characteristics of PLCs, developed team norms, discussed what collaboration looks like, developed team feedback sheets, etc.
In the first year, I felt as though teachers did embrace the “idea” of collaboration, and many commented that they appreciated having common planning times so they could “touch base” with one another during the day, but very few teams experienced true collaboration during these times.
Our school’s leadership team noticed this, and the reasons became clear that from the teachers’ perspective, their planning time was “theirs” and they should not be held accountable for meeting with others during that time.
While, in my opinion, there are just so many things wrong with that line of thinking, I have already addressed that concern in a prior post, so instead I ponder ways of righting that situation in a hopes of helping my teachers create a new mentality and attitude about collaborative planning. The first thing our admin team did was to schedule PLC time for each grade level team, once per month, for 1 hour at the end of the day, where two support specialists and myself covered their classes for that time. This tactic proved successful, and many of the teams truly immersed themselves in student data and planning for instruction to help meet the needs of students. The downside to this plan is that I could not be a participant in these meetings, nor could my support team.
A realization made through an interaction with Michelle Sumner @edtechdhh during #edchat was that some teachers would rather just close their doors to collaboration due to all of the personal “planning” they feel needs to get accomplished, however if they engaged in the team approach to planning, the time spent on clerical/mundane “planning” tasks would decrease significantly. I have to help them see the benefit of collaboration!
The purpose of this post is to encourage those building leaders and teachers who thrive for collaborative opportunities to keep searching outside-the-box for solutions to the lack of time and opportunities that typically plague, in particular, an elementary teacher’s schedule and resources. I established a wiki for our school to encourage collaboration within the first few months on the job- I believe we had one post. My teachers aren’t ready to collaborate in that type of environment… yet. I think as their comfort with the tools grows, we can make it work. As teachers see the value in collaborating among themselves, my sincere hope is that they will infuse the power of team thinking and doing in their classrooms with students.
Thanks for reading! I leave you with a little collaboration inspiration and please comment as to how you have achieved success with all forms of collaboration in your schools!
The Benefits of Teacher Collaboration
What is Teacher Collaboration?
One Reply to “Collaboration Inspiration”
You raise some important points on collaboration in schools. It is very difficult to change the mindset of “close my door and do my thing.” There is such a fine line between “making” teachers collaborate and giving them the time and resources to make it happen. For some, they would not collaborate no matter what resources they were given, for others, collaboration is a priority and they make time for it. So the question is how can we build on those who already have the collaboration mindset? What do you do when some refuse to work together? When a few do not collaborate, it really hinders the growth of teachers and the school.
This sort of change will not happen overnight but it is important to recognize and build on those who are collaborating in a meaningful way. With baby steps the culture will change from teachers being uncomfortable when they talk about collaborating with their team to teachers being uncomfortable NOT collaborating. Collaboration needs to be the expectation.
I have Kotter’s steps for change posted by my desk:
1. Increase urgency
2. Build guiding team
3. Get the vision right
4. Communicate for buy-in
5. Empowering action
6. Create short term wins
7. Do not let up
8. Make change stick
These have really helped me as I try to encourage true collaboration and change. I feel number seven is the most important for me.
Teachers are so used to the status quo that any change no matter how small will cause anxiety for some. Teachers also have a very difficult time looking critically at what they are doing. In my opinion, to make schools a place for continual growth is to create an open, honest, critical dialogue where we stop looking at “what I am doing” and ask the question “Is what WE are doing working.”