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by Judy F. Carr, Nancy Herman and Douglas E. Harris
Table of Contents
Mentoring, coaching, and collaboration are shared processes, a shared journey of commitment to effective practice and improved learning for all students. In a learning community, adults and children alike are learners as they experiment, give and receive feedback, and use and offer support. When these interactions are embedded in the school culture, a new synergy evolves and a shift occurs—a shift to the forward momentum of collaborative school renewal.
In many states, recent legislation calls for mentoring new teachers to improve their teaching and to help keep them from dropping out of the profession. In response, mentoring programs have sprung up and many schools and districts are working earnestly to implement them. Too often, though, this work is seen as being about “them” (the mentees) rather than about “us” (educators as a group). At the simplest level, this narrow view means that participants see mentoring as a one-way street in which the mentor supplies the new teacher with support and information but receives nothing in return. In more complex terms, experienced teachers lose valuable opportunities to exercise mentoring skills and to support one another in a quest for continuing growth.
Imagine a scenario in which all professional educators in a school are themselves learners. Work is done in partnership with colleagues in pairs, in small groups, and in collaboration with the whole faculty. The focus of this work is ongoing engagement in a process of purposeful inquiry designed to improve student learning. This scenario is not yet typical, but it is entirely possible. Pockets of collaboration exist in almost all schools, and the value of expanding them in size and scope cannot be overstated.
Mentoring, coaching, and collaboration are types of colleague support that encompass a set of overlapping knowledge and skills relevant to all players in the educational enterprise. Figure 1.1 distinguishes among the various types of colleague support and lists purposes, typical participants, and content and skills pertinent to each type.
Experienced professionals working with colleagues new to the profession or new to the school
Observing and giving feedback
Planning for change
Enhancing management skills
Dealing with logistics
Planning curriculum, instruction, and assessment
Matches or pairs the following participants:
Experienced professionals with experienced professionals;
Experienced professionals with new professionals;
New professionals with new professionals
All the above skills and the following:
Improving instruction and assessment
Teaching demonstration lessons
Using description vs. judgment when giving feedback
Addressing individual issues
Administrator with new professionals
Experienced professionals with experienced professionals
Experienced professionals with new professionals
Using protocols to guide collaborative inquiry
Developing meeting process skills, confrontation skills, and skills for dealing with difficult people
Departments and Teams
Advisory Councils and Leadership Groups
The relationships described in Figure 1.1 are never entirely discrete, but clarifying the roles and purposes of the formal relationships helps to define the knowledge and skills necessary to support a fully collaborative environment. Although some people come by these concepts and processes quite naturally, being clear about roles and purposes and making a commitment to learn and to implement these practices together is the heart of a truly shared journey. Use the information in the figure to plan professional training that supports mentoring, coaching, and collaboration. Figure 1.1 is also a guide for the design of templates and materials that can be used as tools throughout the process of school renewal. It is the framework we used to develop the chapters in this book.
Mentoring, coaching, and collaboration are not ultimately about programs, tools, or schedules. Rather, the essence of each is the relationships built around shared purposes and mutual goals among the adults involved. Unlike personal relationships that center on the extent to which the parties
like one another, professional relationships in schools and districts require understanding of diverse styles, knowledge of effective approaches to communication and dialogue, awareness of critical aspects and stages of team relationships, and the ability to deal with issues in ways that will effectively sustain the relationship.
Many of the conflicts that arise between people in schools have to do with differences in individual styles of reflecting, interacting, and problem solving. Failure to recognize these very natural differences and failure to capitalize on the strengths these differences connote lead to missed opportunities for the educators involved, their students, and the school as a whole. It is useful for those who work in schools to share a common language about styles, to understand what varying profiles mean for interactions, and to know how to work with colleagues who have similar and different styles from their own. Understanding similarities and differences in styles helps to create ways of connecting and builds bridges to understanding. A difference in style does not mean that people cannot work together; often it is the lack of understanding about how a person with a different style sees the world that leads to conflict.
Many inventories are available for the purpose of understanding styles. The Martin Operating Styles Inventory (Martin & Martin, 1989) shows how individuals of particular styles typically operate, not only under normal conditions, but also how they operate under stress. See Figure 1.2 for more information.
Gathers data through the left brain channel
Gathers factual data
Follows logical, analytical process
Makes deliberate choices based on specific criteria
Resists being hurried
Values making the correct choice
Presents historical background
Relies on logical factual information
Uses a calm unemotional delivery
Written communication is structured, thorough, and contains supporting information in the form of lists, charts, and figures
Has a serious facial expression
Dresses neatly and conservatively
Briefcase contains business files, supporting documents, calculator, and calendar neatly arranged
Values beginning on time and remaining on schedule
Picks up feelings through emotional antenna
Focuses on feelings
Sensitive to others' needs
Assesses feelings of self and others
Determines how alternatives affect others
Asks opinion of key people
Decides based on most harmonious effect
Creates an informal friendly climate
Mixes social dialogue with business discussion
Introduces humor to release tension
Uses informal notes to personalize written communication
Facial expression accurately reflects emotional mood
Dresses informally according to mood, wearing favorite sentimental items
Briefcase contains essential business items as well as personal items such as photographs and food
Time schedule less important than meaningful interactions
Senses small stimuli in immediate environment
Does several things at once
Acknowledges the problem
Conducts brief, rapid investigation of facts
Assigns high priority to problem
Begins action immediately
Concerned with immediate results
Confronts issues directly, concisely, with candor
Speaks with confidence
Uses real, concrete examples
Writing characterized by brief memos
Physically assertive and dominant
Dresses appropriate to task, ranging from casual to formal
Briefcase stuffed with office files, magazines, and hobby information
Impatient with schedules that hamper “do it now” philosophy
Gains insight through the subconscious right brain
Asks “why” questions
Asks questions to obtain a complete picture of the problem
Brainstorms alternatives automatically
Weighs alternatives based on long-range effects
Arrives at solution through inner vision
Speaks in global conceptual terms
Explains concept using a wide variety of examples
Uses analogies to create mental pictures
Creates interest through the use of visual images in written correspondence
Sits on the fringe of group activity
Dresses in interesting or unusual attire
Briefcase contains unusual items representing diverse interests, files of unfinished work, and leading-edge literature
Time schedules are ignored when involved in a new interest
Removed from reality
Lack of completion
From Martin, H. H. and Martin, C. J. (1989). Martin Operating Styles Inventory. San Diego, CA: Organization Improvement Systems.
Http://www.ois-martin.com. Used with permission.
Colleagues should use a common styles inventory or a similar framework as a basis for understanding how they can best interact, discussing and acknowledging these preferences, and planning how to deal with issues that result from their differences. Inventories that identify styles can be found in books or online. The opportunity for team members, department members, and mentor-mentee pairs, for example, to look at their styles, acknowledge how they best interact, and plan how they will deal with differences that emerge in their relationships can forestall communication problems. In the groups we've worked with, these conversations often begin with nervous laughter but soon turn to earnest sharing, discussion, and commitments to future interactions.
The reality of conflict and difficult people surfaces in nearly every group. Conflict is not something most educators savor; therefore, most are enthusiastic about learning communication strategies for working through (not avoiding) conflict and dealing with difficult people. The most creative and effective solutions often emerge from conflicts that are brought into the open. Once group members understand this basic truth, they value the role of conflict in group interactions.
Some groups or teams find it difficult to gel because of underlying problems. If the problems are caught early enough, the relationship may be revived. Relationships within a group often become unsatisfactory when
Sometimes we ask educators to write a detailed description of the most difficult collegial interaction they have ever had. These real-world scenarios allow group members to identify common themes across the situations they describe and to practice problem-solving strategies around conflict. We tell them not to identify the person, but to write in enough detail so that the issue is clear. We ask them to include a description of the behaviors that were difficult to work with related to the interaction. In response, one teacher gave the following description:
We spent months coordinating an interdisciplinary unit among 5 teachers. As we began final preparations for our culminating event, which had been agreed upon months earlier, one team member began to insist that it would never work and we couldn't do it the way we planned. This person would not accept that we understood the concerns, but didn't agree with him. The person walked away and refused to participate.
The principal is no longer the lone leader in the school. Lead teachers, parents, and community members often play critical roles in making decisions that support improved student performance. Within schools, groups involved in decision making may include
Departments. In high schools, teachers who teach the same subject areas often work collectively to plan curriculum, share assessments, and develop schedules.
Teams. Middle school organization is usually team based. Teams are often made of two to five teachers who share a group of students, plan together, and communicate with parents and with colleagues on other teams in the school.
Committees. Many tasks in schools are done by committees, representative groups working together in either short-term or long-term commitments to revise curriculum, plan professional development, select exemplars of high-quality student work, and choose textbooks.
Governance Councils. Representatives of various subgroups (e.g., departments or teams) within the school meet regularly with the principal to make decisions that affect the life of the school community as a whole. In some schools, representative parents or community members are also part of the school's governance council.
See Figure 1.3 for an overview of shared decision making in schools—a process involving individuals and groups in the achievement of group goals related to improved student learning, enhanced programs and practices, and increased resources to support learning.
Shared decision making is a process of
involving people with individual
in the development of shared
for the achievement of group
related to improved student learning, enhanced programs and practices, and increased resources to support learning.
Discussions about team development naturally lead to conversations about decision-making groups that were not productive or were difficult to work in. Many groups work without implementing simple strategies that could help them to avoid conflict and achieve productivity. Decision-making groups can work together efficiently and effectively by setting ground rules, establishing clear agendas, and keeping action minutes.
Setting Ground Rules. Ground rules are agreed-upon norms by which the group operates. They are principles that guide the ways in which group members do their work together. Identifying and agreeing to ground rules at the outset establishes an efficient approach to getting the job done and creates a safe working environment in which differences of opinion can be resolved. A group, working independently, can brainstorm, refine, and adopt ground rules. Many groups start with a draft list of ground rules, such as those shown in Figure 1.4, and work to revise and adapt them to best suit the group.
From Carr & Harris (1993). Adapted with permission.
Once the ground rules are adopted, the facilitator and the group should use them consistently; the group should occasionally assess its use of them. The ground rules may be revised whenever the group as a whole decides to do so.
Creating Agendas. An agenda sets the focus of the meeting, helps to ensure that what needs to get done gets done, and establishes the pace that keeps participants engaged. The agenda identifies the topics to be discussed, the time allocated to each topic, and the person who will facilitate the discussion of each item. Sharing information should be handled through memos or a handout provided at the end of the meeting, leaving the space on the agenda for substantive items related to the group's overarching task—items that require the engagement and action of the group to move forward. Meeting topics can be solicited from group members, taken from suggestions in previous action minutes, or generated by the meeting facilitator based on information received or new requirements of the group since the previous meeting. Often it works well to generate tasks for the next meeting at the end of the previous meeting.
Many groups make the mistake of putting too many items on the agenda for the amount of time available for the meeting. Less is more when it comes to setting agendas, and it is best to have no more than two to three items on the agenda for a one-hour meeting, with a maximum of an additional item per hour for longer meetings.
Each item on the agenda should be allocated an amount of time. If the topic is not completed within that time frame, the group should stop and formally decide whether to devote more time (and, therefore, decide from which other agenda item to take the time away) or whether to add the item to a future agenda for continuation.
It is best to list items on an agenda using verbs and describing the task to be completed. Therefore, “Create language arts philosophy statement” is preferable to “Language arts philosophy.” A descriptive, active agenda provides a clearer direction and a greater sense of accomplishment at the end of the meeting.
Over time, in combination with meeting minutes, meeting agendas provide a record of the work of the group. Agendas include the name of the group, the date and time of the meeting, and a list of the people invited and included. If attendees are expected to read, do work prior to the meeting, or bring items with them, it is appropriate to add that information to the agenda. The heart of the agenda is the list of items to be completed, the time frame for each, and the name of the persons charged to facilitate the discussions, using the group's ground rules. Figure 1.5 provides an agenda template.
Department, Team, Committee Name
Read or Do Ahead of Time: ________________________________________
Bring to Meeting: ________________________________________________
Topic: ___________________ Facilitator: ______________ Time: _____
Of course, the most important part of having an agenda is following it during the meeting.
Keeping Action Minutes. Action minutes are a record of the decisions made at the meeting, not a running record of all issues raised or all comments made during the meeting. A template, such as that shown in Figure 1.6, can be used to record action minutes during the meeting. The minutes can then be duplicated at the end of the meeting for members. Action minutes preclude the need for formal typing and presentation of the minutes, which is often a reason that minutes don't get distributed.
Group Name: ___________________ Meeting Date and Time: _______________
Members Present: _____________________________________________________
Members Absent: ______________________________________________________
Decisions Made and Next Steps
Possible Topics for Future Agendas:
Date and Time of Next Meeting:
We recommend keeping one copy of the action minutes in a notebook that all members can access. That way, stakeholders who miss the meeting can be prepared for the next meeting.
Roles and Responsibilities. Shared decision making requires people to take on the same kinds of roles and responsibilities that we ask students to assume when we teach them to work in effective cooperative groups—a facilitator, a recorder of the action minutes, and a timekeeper.
For some groups, the facilitator is determined by job description, such as when the principal facilitates the governance council or the department chair leads meetings. Other groups assign a facilitator for a given period of time, such as a school year, or rotate the role of facilitator among the members. If you use rotation, we suggest shifting the responsibility only after several meetings, not with every meeting, to allow some continuity of approach.
The recorder uses the action minutes template to record decisions made during the meeting, including the names of persons responsible for work to be done prior to the next meeting and agenda items for future meetings. At the end of the meeting, the recorder makes copies of the form for the attendees, absent invitees, the notebook, and any others the group wishes to inform.
The timekeeper assists the facilitator by monitoring the group's use of time in relation to the time allocated on the agenda. Often the timekeeper will let the group know when just five minutes are left for a particular task and will guide the discussion if the group needs to decide whether to allow more time for the task to be completed.
Shared decision making often has been ineffective because the focus has not been on the aspects of schooling most likely to improve student learning—curriculum, assessment, instruction (Fullan, 2001; Mohr & Dichter, n.d.). Collaboration alone may improve the climate of the school, but it is not sufficient to improve student learning in significant ways. Teachers who are involved in making schoolwide decisions directly related to student learning are more likely to restructure their own classrooms in ways that will improve learning and teaching.
It is essential for decision-making groups in schools to be clear about their purpose and goals. Sometimes these are established outside the group, such as when a school board charges a committee with a task. But in teams that work together over time, the goals of working together often become murky. For example, middle school teams often devolve into groups that spend most of their planning time dealing with discipline issues that concern only a few students. In fact, by the third session focusing on the same students, it is unlikely that much will be accomplished without bringing in outside resources (e.g., the guidance counselor) or gathering new information (e.g., a full-scale evaluation). A new sense of purpose and accomplishment emerges when middle school teams commit to spending three of their five days on issues that pertain to curriculum, instruction, and assessment, leaving just two days for individual student issues or meetings with special educators.
High school departments frequently make the mistake of meeting to deal with administrative matters that could be more effectively dealt with in a memo. When these sessions are used instead to design end-of-course assessments, create learner-focused course descriptions, or share successful approaches to teaching, the culture of the department can change radically, in positive ways.
All decision-making groups—teams, departments, committees, and governance councils—go through predictable stages of development. Tuckman (1965) identified four stages of team development that are still applicable to professional educators in understanding the nature of their work in groups. These stages are forming, storming, norming, and performing. To these four stages, Johnson and Johnson (1994) later added a fifth stage—adjourning.
Often when we work with groups in schools, we ask all members to write down a description of a team or committee they have worked with and to state whether the team was productive. Most people easily remember and summarize an ineffective team experience.
When reflecting on personal experiences, teachers are able to see the naturally occurring cycles of group development. They are able to identify the elements that make a team successful or unsuccessful and to brainstorm possible strategies that might have redirected the team in positive ways.
These stages are common in new groups of any kind, and they also recur when mature groups with lots of experience working together encounter new problems, issues, or tasks. The stages are not purely linear; rather, aspects of one stage often continue to appear as the next stage emerges. Awareness of these stages and knowledge about what to do about them can help departments, teams, committees, and governance councils to accomplish the tasks most necessary for improvement of student learning. Leadership to support this work is the focus of Chapter 5.
The focus areas and professional relationship suggestions presented in this chapter are central to building the professional relationships that are essential to working toward the goal of improved student learning. This shared journey involves all professional members of the school community in ongoing, collaborative relationships for the purposes of continuous learning and mutual support. In Chapter 2, you will find a framework and interactive approaches for developing and implementing an effective mentoring program that helps to induct, retain, and support new teachers on their journeys to becoming exemplary teachers.
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