It is easy to say you value the value of collaboration. It is easy for principals to tell their teachers about the power of collaboration. However, if you are a school leader, what are you doing to model collaboration and what structures have you put in place to encourage collaboration?
At a minimum your master schedule should include daily collaborative planing time for teachers. This is the prerequisite and has been done for quite some time now. It will be very difficult to encourage true collaboration if you do not have this structure in place. However, if your efforts stop at the master schedule the results you get will be hit or miss. Some teachers will naturally gravitate towards collaboration while some will avoid it like the plague. Once you have the proper structure in place it is integral that you give some structure to collaboration.
Professional Learning Communities
At our school we are becoming PLCs. We say “becoming” because we know you are not a true PLC by simply proclaiming you are a PLC. We like to work to make things real and not just edu-babble. Therefor, we say we are becoming PLCs. This takes a lot of work. School leaders must be well read on professional learning communities and have a firm understanding of what they are, how they work, etc… The school leadership then needs to work with teachers on this concept. There should be clear goals and focus for the PLCs but they can not be totally prescribed by leadership or they will always just be something to be checked off the list. At our school we provide our teachers with a PLC planning tool. Essentially this help them focus on the 4 key questions of a PLC and guides their work around them. This type of document is especially helpful when schools are taking the first dive into PLCs.
Collaborative teams within schools that function as PLCs focus their work on the following four critical questions:
- What is it we expect our students to learn?
- How will we know when they have learned it?
- How will we respond when some students do not learn?
- How will we respond when some students already know it?
If your PLCs are focusing on items other than the above we would suggest taking a step or two back and revisit the literature on effective PLCs. Unfortunately we have seen a lot of PLCs that are really anything but a PLC. The four questions above are the heart of the matter and must be the focus of the conversations. This will allow teachers to share, collaborate and develop best practices. We also suggest finding some video to show teachers an effective PLC in action. With a quick search of the internet you are sure to be able to find an example. We actually made one with our leadership team acting as teachers to show teachers what we are looking for in PLCs. We know it is important for whoever is learning something to be able to see it in action. Think about how critical it is for students to have exemplars – it is the same thing with adult learners.
We could write about PLCs for pages but let’s look at other examples of collaboration. As co-principals we feel it is especially important for us to model collaboration in everything we do. We feel it would be hypocritical for us to preach collaboration and not be collaborative ourselves. As mentioned in an earlier post we share responsibilities. We collaborate on just about every decision we make. This makes our decisions that much stronger. We also hope this shows teachers the power of collaboration. We know they do not have the opportunity to discuss every decision they make in the classroom but we hope it encourages them to be more collaborative in their overall approach to teaching. We are learning just how powerful the co-principal model is as we continue down this journey.
Are you active on social media and collaborating with other educators? We would assume yes since you are reading this on our blog. Technology afford us such a wonderful opportunity to share and grow with others around the world. Earlier this morning both of us were participating in two separate twitter chats. We didn’t call each other and say one of us will participate int his one and the other will cover the other one. Both of us try to stay very connected and we just happened to find two chats to participate in on a Saturday morning. We were sharing with others from around the country. As school leaders we must work to share the power of e-collaboration. There are so many opportunities out there for educators. What are you doing to encourage your teachers to build their PLNs online?
What about the silos?
What if you have tried all of the above with limited success? What if silos still exist in your school? One thing to know is this is still incredibly common. Sometimes it is difficult to change long-held practices. However, as the school leader it is up to you to address this. It is not acceptable to let it go because “they just do not collaborate”. Those days are long gone. It may be difficult but you must hold your staff accountable. There is a wealth of research that supports the power of PLCs. We know how powerful true collaboration is. It does take time to put effective PLCs in place. It requires education on the topic, proper structures in place and time.
However, make sure you hold people accountable. Do not allow teachers to “opt-out” of collaboration. Make sure you are a collaborative leader – collaborate inside and outside of your building. Our kids deserve the very best we have to offer. Collaboration is key.