As Michael Fullan said, ‘words travel faster than concept.’ This is more true now than ever, what with the penetration of media and the onslaught of information and new jargon that keeps erupting all the time.
There is a lot more conversation around collaboration between teachers in schools and creating professional learning communities, PLCs. Which is a good thing. But more often what is seen typically is the usual way of conducting meetings. With or without agendas or with a broad yet sketchy agenda and then sharing the minutes post the meetings. Do we measure the effectiveness of these meetings? If yes, then how? The impact of these meetings on student learning? Any action research opportunities that emerge from these meetings?
Richard DuFour and his colleagues have articulated the purpose in four critical questions that PLCs should address:
- What is it we want our students to know?
Area of emphasis being curriculum
- How well we know if our students are learning?
Area of emphasis being assessment
- How will we respond when our students do not learn?
Area of emphasis being instruction
- How will we enrich and extend the learning for students who are proficient?
Area of emphasis being instruction
To which two more critical questions were added by Marzano and his colleagues as articulated in the book, ‘Collaborative teams that transform schools’.
- How will we increase our instructional competence?
Area of emphasis being teacher development
- How will we coordinate our efforts as a school?
Area of emphasis being Leadership
Keeping our focus on these 6 questions not only brings more meaning to our collaborative learning but also help us measure impact. Collaborative teams do not necessarily have to address all the questions by having one team but can create small teams within programmes or departments to address specific questions. This is a project that I have started in one of our schools and am curious to see how bringing focus to our collaborative teams will impact student learning. But more on that later.
In The Learning Principal, Rick DuFour says, “Collaboration by invitation never works.” Therefore, it is critical for school leaders to provide opportunities for meaningful engagement allowing teachers to participate more wholly in collaborative teams.
It is not only about putting teachers in collaborative teams or saying that department meetings must happen or asking for a record of department meetings that have happened and if not, then why not. Yes, I have seen multiple examples of this and multiple scenarios where collaboration at best is in name only. To streamline this and develop a culture around collaborative learning, it is for the school leadership to create an environment that is conducive for collaboration.
To get the the basics right…
School leaders should be
- Providing time for collaboration in the school day and through the year.
- Setting shared vision and values
- Focusing on improving student achievement goals by insisting teams identify and pursue them
- Identifying critical questions to guide the work of collaborative teams.
- Asking teams to create products as a result of their collaboration.
- Insisting that teams identify and pursue specific student achievement goals.
- Encouraging inquiry-based approach and use of evidence
- Intentional and systematic support of the collaborative model
- Setting norms
It is not the re-structuring but the re-culturing of the collaborative teams in the school that is needed.
An interesting book that will help you understand and plan your collaborative teams better.