Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Collaboration - a 21st Century skill we must value with more than lip service

Last week, I was humbled to be asked to present at the BC Principals and Vice Principals Association a presentation entitled "Restructuring not Refinancing - changing structures to improve student achievement".  Part of what I presented was a model that was based upon the work of Dufour, Dufour and Eaker that we have adapted to use at our school.  In this model, we have weekly collaborative time for teachers backed on to subject-specific tutorial time for students.  It has given teachers an opportunity to work on ropics in curriculum, instruction and formative and summative assessment:  in its fourth year of existence at our school, we have seen a steady increase in the results of our survey of staff in improvement of instructional practice, as well as a notable increase in success rates in all courses for our students.  While we are far from perfect, and there are many bumps in the road, I feel like we are definitely moving in the right direction. 

In the litany of research that is out there about the importance of schools becoming professional learning communities (just a few listed below), and what we are hearing in terms of collaboration being a 21st Century skill that we must teach (and model, I might add) to students, I still am puzzled as to why it has taken so long for this concept to catch on.

I was so pleased to hear that districts in New Brunswick have taken this very seriously (see http://umanitoba.ca/publications/cjeap/articles/williamsspraguesullivanbrien.html).  I think that they have hit it on the head by hitting this head on.  I think their courage in this area is something that I would love to see all districts follow--they have valued the collaborative process with more than just lip service.

I think we could all take a lesson from New Brunswick when it comes to creating a collaborative learning environment.

  • Making Time for Collaboration. Adapted from Learning by Doing: A Professional Learning Community at work
    DuFour Burnette, R, Eaker, R, Many, T (2006). Solution Tree. pp.95-97.

  • Professional Learning Communities:Exploring the power of teamwork
    Posnick-Goodwin, Sherry (2007). CTA (California Teachers Association). November. Volume 12, Issue 3 retrieved on 2/4/2008 from http://www.cta.org/media/publications/educator/archives/2007/1107_feat_01.htm.

  • Shared Vision, Team Learning, and Professional Learning Communities
    McKelvy, Earline, Thompson, Sue .Middle Ground. Volume 10. Number 3,pg12-14. Retrieved on 11/29/07 from http://www.nmsa.org/Publications/MiddleGround/Articles. 

  • Teacher Collaboration in Raising Student Achievement
    Olverson, Tyrone L., Ritchey, Sandra (2007). Staff Development Council of Ohio. SDCO Fall Professional Newsletter No. 5, December .

  • Teachers Working Together to Improve Instruction
    Mednick, Amy (2004). 'Conversations' Center for Collaborative Education. Volume 4 (2) Spring 2004.

  • Working Smarter by Working Together
    Honawar, Vaishali (2008). Education Weekly. April 2. Vol. 27, Issue 31, Pages 25-27. Retrieved on 4/3 at http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/04/02/31plc_ep.h27.html?print=1.

    1. I love the comment you left on my 'More thinking about Change' post: http://daily-ink.davidtruss.com/more-thinking-about-change

      "We can't say collaboration is important--we have to demonstrate that it is important by making time for it."

      Twitter has become an amazing learning community for me... I'd love to see that same model of sharing and learning happen in our schools, but we need to make time for it in our schedules!

      Thanks for sharing!

    2. Agreed Dave. What impresses me with what Cale has written about is that the collaborative time is very purposeful. In Richmond and Coquitlam, my experience with collaborative time is that it often lacked focus and over time it became time to get a head start on practices, time for meetings etc. What I have seen in West Vancouver is very different - much more in line with what Cale writes about. At each of our three secondary schools they have collaborative time and it looks very different but it is proving to be powerful in teachers getting together to plan and focus on student learning.

    3. Well said, I completely agree. You would think that collaboration would be something that would come naturally to us (even before the 21st century) but it seems like a struggle to get there.

    4. Thanks for your comments! I do want to make it clear that we certainly don't have it figured out--I would never want to come across that "we're there". We are in a constant ebb and flow between a highly functionning and wildly chaotic, but our results are improving! And certainly, it was a struggle to get there.

      I would be very interested to hear about the models that you have in WV, Chris. I love getting new ideas and we can always get better!

      Thanks for taking the time.

    5. I agree that collaboration is an absolute necessity at any school. The Professional Learning Community approach is very powerful once it becomes a true part of the culture of a school, but it should be implemented carefully and systematically. I know from personal experience lots of frontloading must take place.
      I must say that I was completely blown away when I asked a faculty of 50 elementary teachers to define true collaboration and got about 50 different responses. Teachers overwhelming felt that they did not have enough time for collaboration, but they could not agree as to what collaboration actually was. We did a book study of The Collaborative Teacher (Solution Tree) to help get everyone on the same page – groups defined collaboration, identified roles/responsibilities, established norms and set goals. Administration then made the commitment to provide collaborative time for teams to meet (with administrators) as Professional Learning Communities. We now have subs come in 2-3 times a month to cover classes so that PLCs can meet.

      We are now a year into PLCs and things are slowly coming into place, but always learning and improving. I appreciate Cale’s comment that they “are in a constant ebb and flow between a highly functioning and wildly chaotic” – that describes us perfectly!

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