I recently had a conversation with a teacher from another school who was telling me about the biggest obstacle to their school’s success – lack of collaboration among teachers.
According to her, there are many teachers at her school who just don’t want to work together.
Instead of sharing ideas on how to improve student learning, they are satisfied just staying in their classroom doing their own thing, regardless of how their students do.
It’s unfortunate, because their school is currently under a program quality review for poor test results.
I’ve learned that the best way to improve student learning is to improve teacher learning.
To do this, teachers have to make the decision to swallow their pride and learn from each other.
I know this isn’t easy. Having taught for 23 years, I believed I was a great teacher. My students were learning and their test results showed it.
What I had to admit to myself, however, was that to become that great teacher, it took me 23 years!
For all those years, teacher collaboration was not a focus of the schools I worked in. It wasn’t my focus either.
We had our monthly meetings where we shared best practices, but it wasn’t a systematic process initiated by the administration to allow teachers to increase their learning.
Had such a process been in place or had I taken the time to learn from other teachers, I could have been a great teacher a lot sooner, and more of my students would have benefitted from that greatness.
Unfortunately, so many of my students suffered through my trial and error learning process.
I know I’m preaching to the choir.
The fact that you are reading this blog post demonstrates that you are actively looking for new ways to improve your teaching abilities.
The choir, however, serves a very important role.
At my church, I’m the music director, so I know what I’m talking about.
The choir prepares the atmosphere in the church service. A good choir has a positive effect on the rest of the service.
That’s why you, as the choir of your school, have to take the lead in creating a positive atmosphere where teachers can feel comfortable asking for help and learning from each other for the benefit of the students. You have to start singing.
How can I do that, Sam? You don’t know my teachers. They don’t want to learn. They’re selfish and mean, and they think they’re perfect.
You’re right. I don’t know your teachers, but I know what they think. I thought I was perfect. I had a hard time considering the idea that I needed help in certain areas. I wish I knew then what I know now.
What I do know is that collaboration starts with you. Waiting for negative teachers to change or waiting until the administration creates a collaborative system is the wrong way to go.
Take the initative and get the collaboration started. Ask other teachers how they teach a particular standard or lesson. Send an email to all the teachers in your subject area, asking for ideas on how to teach a lesson. You’ll be surprised how many teachers want to share their expertise. Teachers like to teach. It’s what we do. We enjoy sharing our knowledge with others.
Get the collaboration ball rolling at your school by being the first to learn.
Be the choir and create that atmosphere of collaboration.
In my new role as administrator, one of my goals is to help create this atmosphere at my school. I want my teachers to feel comfortable sharing new ideas and best practices. It’s up to me to provide them with time and specific guidelines as to how to get this done.
I’m convinced that the only way students will learn more is by making sure teachers are learning more. With the budget crunch, it is no longer possible to send teachers to conferences and inservices to help them learn new techniques and strategies. What most school administrators haven’t realized, however, is that there are experts in the very same building who, if given the opportunity, can spread their expertise with other teachers at the school to improve the abilities of all.
Not only does the school gain better teachers, but more students learn. Isn’t this the focus of every school - student learning?
No one teacher is an expert in every area, but there are teachers who are experts in some areas. Let’s share our expertise, so the students get the best education possible.
I’m a big proponent of Professional Learning Communities (PLC) in schools. The biggest component of PLC’s is collaboration. I believe it’s the future of education, but it takes the active participation of teachers and administrators to make it work. You can read more about PLC’s at my administrator blog www.SchoolAdministrationMastery.com.
What do you think?
Can we collaborate better? Is it possible at your school? Should we wait until the administration catches on to the idea?
I’d like to know what your thoughts are.
Thanks for reading,
Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cseeman/