I’m interested in ways to encourage teachers to analyze their own instructional practices. What strategies does your school use to invite teachers to collaborate with one another through classroom observations and feedback outside of performance appraisal or review?
–Andre Potvin, Principal,Lester B. Pearson Catholic High School, Glouchester, Ontario, Canada
Videotape and Discuss Lessons
At Price Lab School, we spent more than two years participating in training through the Center for Authentic Intellectual Work (http://centerforaiw.com). Each teacher in our school videotaped himself or herself teaching a lesson, and teachers shared these videos in small focus groups. The group watched the lesson and provided the instructor with feedback. Although it’s not always easy seeing yourself teaching or getting feedback from colleagues, it gave us time to have constructive conversations about the quality of instruction, teacher assignments, and student work. Ultimately, these discussions led to changes in instruction and student assessments (both formative and summative). I believe that feedback from other teachers, who know the complexities of teaching, is one of the best ways to improve instruction.
–Amy Lockhart, Teacher, Malcolm Price Laboratory School, Cedar Falls, Iowa
Start with the Staff Room
A good place to begin spontaneous interaction and sharing is the staff room. Teachers can connect in a comfortable way, and conversations often lead to colleagues getting interested in what is being done in other classes. That’s what takes place at our school, where such informal observations have become popular. Sometimes I step into a class and find three teachers observing because they are interested in the successful strategy they heard about in the staff room. The teacher who is being observed does not feel threatened at all because it is not part of any appraisal system; it’s just one colleague sharing her know-how. Some of our teachers have become experts in different areas, and share their knowledge and expertise with colleagues. It’s a give-and-take interaction that benefits not only teachers, but also students.
–Patsy Pouiller, Deputy Head, Primary, St. Andrew’s Scots School, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Offer a Choice of Professional Learning Communities
Teachers and administrators in our district consistently identify our professional learning communities (PLCs) as the best opportunity for collaboration that we offer. Our PLCs are voluntary; they are collegial groups of educators who come together regularly to learn about and focus on a topic. There are two nonnegotiables: PLCs must help teachers put what they learn into action; and they must provide an emotionally safe place where teachers feel collegial support and are free to take professional risks. Some of this year’s PLCs are Unleashing the Digital Artist in Each of Us (K-12 teachers), Comprehension and Collaboration (K-6 teachers), Integrating Technology using Bloom’s Technology Taxonomy (K-12 teachers), and Helping Students Become Better Editors of Their Own Writing (4-7 English/language arts teachers).
–Kimberly Kappler Hewitt, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, Oakwood City School District, Dayton. Ohio
Schedule Regular Collaboration Opportunities
We use a range of strategies to invite teacher collaboration. First, we have designated model classrooms for both literacy and math, in which a coach works closely with the classroom teacher to implement new curriculum and strategies and provide support and feedback. Second, we have weekly grade-level meetings during the school day in which teachers collaborate, set up observations, and provide feedback to one another. We also have early out every Monday so teachers can take part in weekly professional development; they spend much of this time working together to analyze student data, discuss lessons, and plan instruction. Finally, we have monthly intervention meetings in which classroom teachers and support staff meet to collaborate on the intervention work they are providing for specific students.
–Doreen Knuth, Principal, Bloomer Elementary School, Council Bluffs, Iowa
Establish Professional Learning Communities
I have found that a Professional Learning Community (PLC) works best for moving toward a culture of collaboration. The first step in creating an effective PLC is to develop a shared vision, mission, and goal. If all teachers on the PLC have buy-in, the collaboration will be meaningful, providing more effective learning experiences for students without any need to include performance incentives. Many resources exist to assist in developing PLCs–including websites, books, blogs, and videos that provide sample materials and information. In addition, there are conferences dedicated to establishing an effective school PLC, such as the Arkansas ASCD Annual Conference that will be held in June 2011. Developing a PLC is an ongoing process, but every step toward establishing an effective PLC is a step toward meaningful teacher collaboration.
–Misty M. LaCour, Assistant Professor of Education, Southern Arkansas University, Magnolia, Arkansas
Got a question? Each month in Educational Leadership‘s “Among Colleagues” column, practicing educators draw from their own experience to share advice about challenges their colleagues face. Send your question, along with a 100-word description to email@example.com, with the subject line “Teaching Dilemma.”