Collaboration and a Collaborative Culture
Collaborative professional development is an effective strategy to improve student achievement (Lieberman, 2009). Through my initial research a common theme is prevalent: teachers must avoid isolation and embrace collaboration. All too often teachers complete their education and enter the classroom only to close the door. We must remember that our learning does not end when we are handed our degrees. We must continue to collaborate with others. As Nieto so concisely states, “teaching as intellectual engagement requires constant nurturing and guidance” (2003).
My experience with teacher collaborative teams has been both positive and negative. Our school district has spent the many years developing a collaborative model for our teachers. We have both district level and school level goals. Based on these goals and a teacher’s essential questions, “Study Teams” are formed. The first year this model was implemented was a year of learning and adapting. Over the years, we have changed, modified and improved our process. Effective study teams have been the ones where the teachers focused on authentic problems, worked together to improve instructional practice, applied their learning in their classrooms and reflected on student work (West, 2009).
My most successful experiences with study teams have been the ones where I was actively engaged in the learning, would take ideas or suggestions back to my classroom to implement, then return to the team to discuss what worked, what did not work, and what to improve on. One year I was on a team that was not effective at all. I believe this was due to the “complaining” and “excuse making” behaviours that were prevalent. In subsequent years, I worked diligently to help keep the focus positive and moving ahead rather than focusing on excuses or complaints. Shifting our focus changed the morale of the group.
In my administrative role as Principal, I have experienced our study teams from a different perspective. It is essential to allow teachers to be contributors to conversations about teaching practice. We must remember and respect teachers as professionals. I have witnessed the greatest success when we have analyzed and discussed student data as a community. We look for trends in student needs to help us set our goals for the year. Using school and district goals we form groups that will collaborate for the year. As Dr. Lieberman shared, time to collaborate must be ongoing and sustained (2009). Our study teams meet five times through out the year. This allows teachers time to try to implement strategies discussed. I feel that it is important in my role to provide support to the teachers of our school. This support may be in the form of time (I often go in to cover classes), resources, or observation time (time to observe an “expert” teacher). When I am able to, I provide support. I encourage teachers to continue learning as much as they can.
Collaboration is essential to be a successful teacher. As a general rule, I believe we are social beings, not meant to be in isolation, but to be in groups. Working with a group of “like-minded” teachers, looking at student work, engaging in relevant research, asking inquiry questions about instruction, reflecting on and changing practice are all critical components of successful collaborative teams. The ultimate goal of teachers must shift from “teaching” to “learning” (DuFour, 2004)
I wrote about a positive, collaborative experience here.
So, as I work through the process to answer my essential question, I hope to build on the already existing culture of St. Kateri School.
DuFour, R. (2004, May). What is a “professional learning community?”. Educational Leadership 61(8), 6–11. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may04/vol61/num08/What-Is-a-Professional-Learning-Community%C2%A2.aspx
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2009). Characteristics of effective professional development. [Video webcast].
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2009). Introduction to professional learning communities. [Video webcast].
Nieto, S. (2003). What keeps teachers going? New York: Teachers College Press.