Collaboration works. How do we do more of it, and do it more effectively?
Children thrive when they interact with multiple caring adults, who model for them an array of skills, perspectives and character traits. In schools, learning blossoms when multiple teachers and administrators share their expertise, build on one another’s strengths, and align lesson plans so that students can approach subject matter through a variety of doors.
Study after study confirms the value of collaboration in energizing learning, particularly for children who face the most challenges in a traditional classroom.
“Teachers draw on their shared trust, expertise and experiences to improve instruction,” write Vicki Phillips and Robert L. Hughes in an Education Week opinion article: “Teacher Collaboration: The Essential Common-Core Ingredient.”
“And when this collaboration focuses on student work, it builds educators’ capacity to address students’ academic needs immediately.” The authors cite a 2012 Scholastic Inc survey of teachers, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
But it’s not only the students who benefit; in a collaborative environment, teachers thrive, too. Perhaps you’ve experienced the joy of seeing colleagues let down their guard and begin to pool ideas with fellow educators, discovering the wisdom and dedication in the people around them — people who might have been seen as adversaries in the past.
Collaboration works because it promotes peer-to-peer mentoring: Teachers who are further developed and experienced can nurture newer colleagues.
Collaboration also allows educators to calibrate their practices. As teachers share their ideas and discuss the merits of each, they fine-tune those ideas — generating a coherent set of practices that are more effective than anything one might develop when working alone.
And because collaboration makes our private practices public, it promotes sharing and professional accountability.
So, if we all agree that collaboration works, why don’t we do more of it?
Decades of work with teachers and administrators have shown us the necessity of nurturing these crucial elements:
1. Collegial trust. For collaboration to succeed, participants must feel safe in being professionally vulnerable in front of others. But too often, fear and distrust rule, even among the most skilled and dedicated. It’s challenging to bare our souls — to put our best ideas on the table to be scrutinized by others. What if my ideas are shot down? What if my colleagues think less of me? What if I offer a great idea, and others take credit for it? But doing the work to build self-trust in leaders and to model trust for others underpins all efforts to achieve success in schools and systems. To learn more, read Trust: From A-Frame to a Bridge.
2. Sacred time. Thirty minutes per day for planning is a good place to start. But we’ve seen far more dramatic gains when groups dedicate at least 90 minutes in one sitting every four to six weeks. A 90-minute block is vital for moving the group beyond fighting fires to going deep to develop practices. And, to ensure exceptional levels of collaboration and skills development, we further recommend carving out an additional half-day every nine to 12 weeks. For more ideas about using time consciously, check out our Roadmap for Disciplined Implementation.
3. Smart structure. So, if we carve out the time, how can we use it as optimally as possible? At Performance Fact, we encourage a structured conversation for looking at student data and reflecting on professional practices—where the focus is not on proving, but on improving. To learn more, read about our Data Summit™ process.
And now, valued colleague, we’d like to learn from you. What has surprised you on your journey to build trust and collaboration? Do you have a success story to share? Please let us know (firstname.lastname@example.org or 510.568.7944), and we’ll continue the discussion in a future issue of Think. Believe. Move Mountains.
– Mutiu O. Fagbayi
Please use the link above to share your story or ideas.
Meet our expanded team of professionals!
The people of Performance Fact are our most vital asset. Our growing team of talented and diverse professionals is accelerating progress daily — collaborating with more schools to develop capable leaders, strengthen professional practices, and achieve extraordinary student results.
Many of you interact frequently with Mutiu O. Fagbayi, president and CEO, and Amreet Waters, our director of client relations and project management.
But did you know that our team includes 13 additional dedicated and experienced practitioners? Allow us to introduce:
- Maria Carrasquillo, a bicultural, bilingual organizational development practitioner;
- Dr. Jackie Comeaux, author, CEO and managing executive of L.E.A.D. Institute Learning Center;
- Dr. Brenda Edgerton Conley, author and clinical assistant professor at Towson University;
- Dr. William Conrad, former director of assessment and accountability for the Santa Clara Unified School District;
- Dr. La Jerne Terry Cornish, chair and associate professor of the education department of Goucher College;
- Karen Hessel, former bureau director for teaching and learning at the Pennsylvania Department of Education;
- Jane Martin, college professor, publisher of reading training manuals for adult education, central office administrator, and elementary teacher and reading specialist;
- Dr. Elfreda W. Massie, former interim superintendent and chief of staff for District of Columbia Public Schools;
- Erik Olson, assistant superintendent of the Sun Prairie Area School District in Wisconsin, and former professor in New Zealand and Taiwan;
- Anna Mae Paladina, teacher, community college administrator, public school principal and program specialist well-known for school absenteeism prevention work;
- Dr. Deborah Sailsbery, independent educational consultant and mentor, formerly with the University of Pittsburgh Educational Leadership Initiative and Quaker Valley School District; and
- Pamela Watson, teacher and administrator with a track record in curriculum and instruction, teacher training, and project coordination and management.
Please drop us a line to say hello!