What are the roadblocks to collaboration – in my experience – and what are some possible solutions to these roadblocks?
ROADBLOCK 1: Teachers feel intimidated by other teachers and their (perceived) better practice – by working with other teachers the intimidated teacher believes their weaknesses will be flaunted to all and sundry.
SOLUTION 1: Performance management focusing on personal goals and carried out by a ‘safe’ peer – this worked with GREAT success in my last school. Everyone got to choose an area of growth and ask a trusted colleague (who we admired for their best practice teaching and learning in that area) to give us positive and constructive feedback. The feedback form was very positive in structure and framed all feedback in terms of attainment of the stated goal, not an overall performance.
SOLUTION 2: Baby steps – every teacher to start collaborating with one peer at a time, in an area of strength. In one of my past schools, each teacher was encouraged to share something they had done well, either in a staff meeting or during a team meeting. If any of their peers tried the lesson/activity/task, that peer made the effort to tell the original teacher. This really boosted the morale of everyone involved.
SOLUTION 3: Often teachers who feel like this are ones who have not had principals or team leaders who encourage risk taking. As educators, we fail every day. A lesson misses it’s mark, an assessment task wasn’t clear, the kids were just ‘off’, we are behind on marking, the list of ways we can let ourselves and our students down is endless. But we also succeed and succeed in ways that are so monumental that we remember how amazing we are! Each and every day, we open students’ eyes, ears, brains and hearts to the joy of the world through learning. The power of this MUST NOT be forgotten! However, to be successful in this way, we can’t be staid. Students change us and they change the curriculum – we cannot simply teach the same lesson to a different group of kids just because it worked ‘before’. This is where risk taking comes in, and how essential it is that our superiors believe in our skills and passions and let us try new things. My last principal was a ‘yes’ woman, in the best possible way. As long as you could give a sound reason why you wanted to try something, and how it related to better acheivement for our students, she went out of her way to organise time, money, staff, whatever it took to get you what you needed. THAT is the kind of principal it takes to have a truly professional learning community.
SOLUTION 3: Educators need to see that they are on a journey of personal mastery (Senge, pg 7). Schools are not just a place where we teach others, we are also learners. If we simply turn up and do what we have always done, there is no personal mastery, no sense of self-accomplishment and enrichment as a learner. Willingly working together with peers who both our superior and lesser in skills, knowledge and understanding enables us to get onto that path of personal mastery without wondering how the hell we can do it – our peers give us all we need if we only open ourselves to it without feeling like we are a failure for not being able to do something!
ROADBLOCK 2: A sense of frustration and hopelessness that can come with too much collaboration that ends with no decisions. This is very common in many schools that love collaboration – sometimes just for collaborations sake. The end goal is student achievement and learning, not simply JUST the mechanics of working together as professionals. There can often be a LOT of talk and not enough action. It’s enough to make anyone throw their hands up and say “I’m just going to do what I need and want to do, stuff everyone else”.
SOLUTION 1: Essential agreements – clear documents that state the purpose of meetings – planning or housekeeping – and keep the end goal at the forefront of everyone’s thinking. Some people view essential agreements as micromanaging but I feel they are just like when we give criterion rubrics to students – it’s so crucial to know what is expected of you before you start something, it encourages and expects success.
TANGENT: Successful, effective leadership is not about top down, it is about utilising all employees strengths towards the greater good – it’s about harnessing everyone’s talents, encouraging each person to be the best they can be at the job they do – whether that is cleaning the coffee cups or making sure the budget balances.