True Collaboration in Action—“Shoulder to Shoulder”

EDU 6600: Communication and Collaboration: BLOG for WEEK 4

While listening to this week’s screencast, reading the assigned articles, and interacting with classmates via the Blackboard discussion site, I have made every effort to carefully examine my district’s approach to supporting professional learning communities, as well as to objectively evaluate the functioning of my specific department’s PLC within my high school. Even with this scrutiny, I still find myself honestly believing that in my teaching position, I am fortunate to have opportunities for true collaboration.

As special educators, the very nature of our work with students—along with the legal requirement of maintaining compliant individual education programs (IEPs)– involves analyzing data, establishing appropriate goals, assessing progress, making adjustments to address individual needs, and collaborating with the various members of each student’s IEP team. We are currently focusing on particular student self-advocacy skills in effort to accomplish the following: “teachers identify a specific and narrow inquiry focus…make changes in classroom practices, and collect and analyze classroom-based data to examine impacts on student learning…” (Nelson et al, pp. 175-176).

A few of the characteristics of sustaining a collaborative culture evident both in my school and specifically, my special education PLC, I see noted by Zepeda in chapter 4.  These characteristics include (but are not limited to): 1) “a clear focus to sustain learning and to keep everything moving in the same direction” (p. 81), 2) “an inclusive environment (that) focuses ongoing dialogue among its participants” (p. 84), 3) “Connectedness….accepting people in a non-judgmental manner; promoting a willingness in others to listen and share ideas; and ‘lighting fires’ by valuing growth and finding relevance in the work (we) do” (p. 85), and above all, “relational trust (which) rests on a foundation of respect, competence, personal regard, and integrity” (p. 88).

Even with the presence of the above noted characteristics, one of the critical elements needed to foster the type of collaboration is TIME. Although lack of time is generally the greatest barrier to moving forward with collaboration, even a relatively small, yet consistent amount can go a long way toward the development of collaborative efforts. Of the “Three dimensions of coherence (that) are critical to the successful implementation of PLCs” as referred to by author, David Jacobson, I believe my district most prominently provides backing to, “Supporting each team’s use of common planning time so that meetings build on previous meetings rather than unfold in a haphazard, scattershot manner…” (p. 40).

This year, through the joint efforts of our superintendent, school board, and education association president, our district has approved a school calendar that includes an early release schedule in order to create consistent, dedicated time for teacher collaboration on a weekly basis. This time is to be used exclusively for the work of PLC teams, however, buildings have the flexibility to decide whether the time will be used for grade level teams, content/task specific teams, or as an entire building. The early release provides 50 minutes every Wednesday afternoon—for all teachers.

Even though this allocation of time is “brief”–as a teacher leader, I continue to make every effort to provide guidance and encouragement to my team—offering ways to “dovetail”, align, and focus our departmental goals, with legal IEP requirements, and district PLC requirements—and keep the reminder in the forefront that our concerted efforts DO benefit our students. As a teacher leader, I endeavor to promote what seems at times to be our team’s “incremental” progress toward the following:

• Analyze state assessments, national and state standards,

• Identify priority learning goals….set priority team goals aligned with school goals.

• Develop common assessments of priority ….

• Collaborate on designing lessons that prepare students for the common assessments, (p. 4)

• Teach…lessons, formatively assessing student progress along the way.

• Analyze student work from the common assessments and brainstorm the instructional adjustments that are necessary, including interventions for struggling students… (Jacobson, p. 41)

Admittedly, a great deal of “behind the scenes” work is still required, however, my belief is that these efforts will not be wasted. A number of years ago, I found the following passage from The Message (Bible) to be applicable to my work with others:

“The best thing you can do right now is to finish what you started last year and not let those good intentions grow stale. Your heart’s been in the right place all along. You’ve got what it takes to finish up, so go to it. Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you can’t. The heart regulates the hands. This isn’t so others can take it easy while you sweat it out. No, you’re shoulder to shoulder with them all the way, your surplus matching their deficit, their surplus matching your deficit. In the end you come out even”.   II Corinthians 8:14

References:

Deuel, A. Holmlund Nelson, T., Slavit, D., and Kennedy, A.  (2009). Looking at Student Work: How can teacher groups assess student work productively? By focusing on improving teaching, not on proving students “got it.” ACSD, Educational Leadership, NOVEMBER 2009, Retrieved:  October 16, 2011, from: https://learn.spu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-698889-dt-content-rid 73771_1/courses/EDU6600_9479201121/Duel%20et%20al_Looking%20at%20student%20work.pdf

Henrikson, R. (2011). Collaborative Work, Module 4 Lecture @ SPU Blackboard.

Jacobson, D. (2010). Coherent Instructional Improvement and PLCs: Is It Possible to Do Both? A synthesis that draws on two common approaches to PLCs produces a more coherent way to tap the power of teacher teams to improve curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, March 2010. Retrieved October 16, 2011, from: https://learn.spu.edu/bbcswebdav/courses/EDU6600_9479201121/Jacobson_Coherent%20Instruction%20and%20PLCs%20is%20it%20possible%20to%20do%20both.pdf

Nelson, T. Deuel, A. Slavit, D, Kennedy, A., (2010).  Leading Deep Conversations in Collaborative Inquiry Groups. The Clearing House, 83: 175–179, 2010 Retreived October 16, 2011, from: https://learn.spu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-698889-dt-content-rid 73773_1/courses/EDU6600_9479201121/Neson%2C%20Deuel%2C%20Slavit%20and%20Kennedy_Leading%20Deep%20Conversations.pdf

Zepeda, S. (2008). Professional Development: What Works. New York: Eye on Education.Readings.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: