Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Power of Collaboration

While your child has one official teacher of record in grades K-6, and one math or science teacher in grades 7-12, their circle of educational influence is much broader than that! Indeed a student in the first grade has access to the collective wisdom and experience of all the first grade teachers, while the English teachers in the high school have the ability to share ideas, strategies, and student achievement data with one another. 

We know that moving the needle on student achievement is a complex task and that there is not any one teacher who has all the answers to the questions that come up during the course of instruction in a classroom. When we are able to leverage the collective expertise of our teachers to solve problems of practice in the classroom, it has a compounding effect that is much more powerful than an individual teacher working alone. In theory this may sound like a rather elementary concept, but in practice it takes deliberate effort on the part of all stakeholders to ensure success. You see, the normal paradigm in which educators operate is one of isolation. Think about your own experience in school for a moment. As a student, you had a different teacher that worked with you year after year. Rarely did those teachers work together either in collaboration or team teaching a unit.

In Hudson, we have been working very hard to break down those walls of isolation and tap into the vast reserves of knowledge that our faculty has. By doing so, we raise the level of instruction for all students while improving the practice of our educators. We have made great strides in this work with the implementation of the PLC over the past several years and more recently with the introduction of a teacher leadership system to our district.

You have heard me say this many times in this blog: Our teachers are outstanding--but they still need access to quality professional development in order to continually sharpen and refine their skills as practitioners. Once again I will use the analogy of the doctor who graduates from medical school who doesn't stay up to date on the latest treatment options or research in the field. This is a doctor that you or I wouldn't visit! Teaching is really no different. The strategies that are most effective to teach literacy and math aren't the same as they were when you and I went to school. The tools that teachers use are vastly different from when you and I went to school!

So as we continue to debate calendar options for the 2015-2016 academic year I think it is important that we keep the power of collaboration and necessity of professional development at the forefront of our deliberations. These two items are why I think the calendar model that includes early dismissals is so vitally important. 

Teachers need consistent time built into the schedule that permits them time to collaborate. As you are aware, our collaboration time follows a strict protocol that centers on four very important questions: 1.) What is it we want our students to know and be able to do; 2.) How will we know if they are able to do it; 3.) What will we do for those students who have not yet mastered the content; 4.) What will we do to enrich those students who have mastered the content. By having this dedicated time to meet every week it ensures teachers have the opportunity to adjust instruction as it is occurring. Furthermore, it provides an opportunity to compare data sets with colleagues and make collaborative decisions on instructional strategies that are proven to work! 

Scholarly research is also very clear that professional development that is embedded into instruction has a much higher likelihood of becoming part of routine practice. The Iowa Professional Development Model embodies this base of study: a theory of practice is presented, that strategy is demonstrated to practitioners who then put it into practice. Through peer coaching, the strategy is refined and improved upon thus improving student outcomes.

Eliminating early dismissals from our calendar would force professional development to be scheduled at the beginning or end of the school year, making it impossible to complete the cycle of the Iowa Professional Development Model and would relegate collaborative efforts to happenstance meetings that may or may not occur at the bookends of the school day. 

While something we could certainly do, there is no mistaking the fact this would at the very least violate the spirit of the Iowa Professional Development Model, derail our PLC efforts, and create unnecessary barriers for our teacher leadership system.

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