Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Teacher Collaboration - the best way to learn

Over the past two years, I have reflected on the best way to deliver professional development to teachers.  It seemed to me that while the principal is expected to be the educational leader in the school, quite often they are out of touch with actual in-class practice.  Many of us have not actually had to teach a class for years.  It makes it very difficult for administrators to actually set the agenda for PD.

At the same time, I have noticed that when you provide teachers with time during the school day to collaborate great things can happen.  When teachers can actually set the agenda on what needs to be worked on real authentic learning can take place.

We are linked to two elementary schools of approximately the same size.  We meet on a regular basis in 'triads' which are groups of teachers working at the same grade level.  The principals of the three schools are still educational leaders, but we are much more interested in the process than the actual content of what teachers are learning.

We insist on a few things:

  • teacher work is based on the inquiry method - teachers need to be able to articulate an inquiry question that will be examined over time.
  • teachers need to record what they are learning.  Monitoring has become huge for us.  How do you know what you know, does the evidence support the inquiry question or does the investigation need to be reformulated.  
  • teachers are accountable - each triad group develops an 'evidence of learning' document where all new learning is recorded.  The principals use elements from this document to develop our school improvement plan.
What is most important in the process is that teachers are empowered.  When professional groups of educators are asked to develop their own learning plan and when they are given the time to carry out the learning great things can happen.

What I want to learn now is how much research has been done that shows that this form of teacher collaboration is effective.

A recent document from Ontario's Capacity Building Series - Collaborative Teacher Inquiry states that a new collaborative culture is becoming the norm in education. The article goes on to lay out very specific steps that should be followed for teacher collaborative inquiry to be effective.

Michael Fullan in an unpublished paper Learning is the Work, states that "...it is not sufficient for schools to work out collaboration on their own.  External facilitation is required.  And since we are interested in system change we also need schools to learn from each other.Thus we employ strategies where schools are in small clusters (3-8 schools for example). (Fullan May 2011)

We have seen exciting things in the past two years and we look forward to learning more the longer we work together.

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