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2014 ASCD Conference on Teaching Excellence

2014 ASCD Conference on Teaching Excellence

June 2729, 2014
Dallas, Tex.

Explore ways to make excellent teaching the reality in every classroom.

 

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Creating Dynamic Schools Through Mentoring, Coaching, and Collaboration

by Judy F. Carr, Nancy Herman and Douglas E. Harris

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Building Professional Relationships

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.

Purposes and Skills

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.


Figure 1.1. Knowledge and Skills for Mentoring, Coaching, and Collaboration


Professional Relationship

Purpose

Participants

Skills

Mentoring

Retention

Induction

Support

Experienced professionals working with colleagues new to the profession or new to the school

Conferencing

Assessing needs

Observing and giving feedback

Receiving critique

Planning for change

Critiquing

Providing advocacy

Enhancing management skills

Dealing with logistics

Planning curriculum, instruction, and assessment

Coaching

Peer Coaching

Instructional improvement

Professionalism

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

Benchmarking

Using description vs. judgment when giving feedback

Addressing individual issues

Collaboration

Study Groups

Professional growth

Organizational change

Administrator with new professionals

Experienced professionals with experienced professionals

Experienced professionals with new professionals

All the above skills and the following:

Using protocols to guide collaborative inquiry

Committees

Policy decisions

Curriculum development

Action planning

Experienced professionals with experienced professionals

All the above skills and the following:

Developing meeting process skills, confrontation skills, and skills for dealing with difficult people

Departments and Teams

Planning instruction

Curriculum planning

Assessment

Experienced professionals with new professionals

Advisory Councils and Leadership Groups

Governance

Issues

Recommendations

Professional development

Experienced professionals


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.

Relationships

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.

Personal Styles

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.


Figure 1.2. Operating Styles Characteristics


Primary Style

Normal Conditions

Making Decisions

Communicating Information

Nonverbal Cues

Under Pressure

Thinker

Gathers data through the left brain channel

Logical

Analytical

Systematic

Organized

Fact oriented

Deliberate

Orderly

Rational

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

Overly serious

Emotions hidden

Indecisive

Inflexible

Broods

Over-controls

Withdraws

Judgmental

Perfectionist

Feeler

Picks up feelings through emotional antenna

Emotional

Focuses on feelings

People-oriented

Friendly

Warm

Charming

Loyal

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

Over-personalizes

Blames

Vindictive

Moody

Volatile

Impulsive

Manipulative

Sustains conflict

Gossips

Sensor

Senses small stimuli in immediate environment

Active

Results-oriented

Confident

Competitive

Here-and-now oriented

Does several things at once

Candid

Assertive

Realistic

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

Brusque

Short-sighted

Combative

Hyperactive

Distrustful

Inconsiderate

Compulsive

Impatient

Intuitor

Gains insight through the subconscious right brain

Creative

Imaginative

Inner vision

Conceptual

Asks “why” questions

Innovative

Idealistic

Intellectually tenacious

Independent

Psychic potential

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

Aloof

Removed from reality

Lack of completion

Ignores conflict

Impractical

Dogmatic

Overlooks detail

Overly optimistic

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.

Dealing with Issues

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

  • A clear purpose and reasonable goals for the whole group are not articulated.
  • Meeting times are not kept or are unrealistic.
  • Long-held resentments sabotage the relationship.
  • The personalities of colleagues do not complement each other.
  • Insufficient attention is given to the relationship—the rationale for partnering people is lacking.
  • The expectations of the individual group members are significantly different.

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.

Making Shared Decisions

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.


Figure 1.3. Overview of Shared Decision Making


Shared decision making is a process of

  • interaction;
  • assessment;
  • communication; and
  • problem solving;

involving people with individual

  • personalities;
  • group-work histories;
  • conflict styles;
  • strengths and weaknesses; and
  • interests and needs;

in the development of shared

  • purposes; and
  • processes;

for the achievement of group

  • cohesiveness; and
  • goals

related to improved student learning, enhanced programs and practices, and increased resources to support learning.


Tools and Strategies to Support the Group Decision-Making Process

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.


Figure 1.4. Draft of Ground Rules


  1. All meetings will begin and end on time.
  2. To promote efficiency, we will prepare for meetings.
  3. A 10-minute break will be taken every hour-and-a-half during lengthy committee meetings.
  4. Side conversations should not occur during meetings, except as appropriate for small-group discussion of agenda items.
  5. The level of trust will be such that statements and differences expressed within meetings will not be carried beyond the walls of our meeting room.
  6. When a difference of opinion exists about a particular issue, every effort will be made to reach a decision by consensus. (Consensus means all members are willing to live with the decision.) When consensus cannot be reached in what is deemed by the meeting facilitator to be a reasonable amount of time, the decision will be made by a two-thirds majority vote of those present at the meeting.
  7. All group members will support the final product.

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.


Figure 1.5. Agenda Template


Agenda

Day/Date/Time

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.


Figure 1.6. Action Minutes Template


Group Name: ___________________ Meeting Date and Time: _______________

Members Present: _____________________________________________________

Members Absent: ______________________________________________________

Decisions Made and Next Steps

Persons Responsible

Time Frame

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.

Group Goals and Cohesiveness

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.

Stages of Group Development

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.

  • Forming is coming together as a group, getting to know one another, settling into the group's identity, and having each member embrace his own role in, and importance to, the group.
  • Storming is the conflict stage, in which differences in styles and goals emerge.
  • Norming is the stage in which a group works out its own set of expectations about how the group will operate.
  • Performing is the state in which the group gets the job done; the group moves forward on its work together, whether the work is a shortterm process (e.g., a study group conducting an action research project) or a long-term process (e.g., a school governance council overseeing implementation of a school's strategic plan).
  • Adjourning occurs at the point when the task is completed, when members of the group leave, or when new groups are formed for new tasks focused on improving student learning.

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.

Shared Journey

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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