Toward Collaboration and Teacher Trust
Although we often think of teacher learning as either centered on learning content or honing instructional practice, Sonia Nieto ("From Surviving to Thriving," p. 8) explores a deeper aspect of teacher development—how teachers can learn to maintain enthusiasm, optimism, and determination over a long teaching career full of the usual frustrations. She looks at what teachers need to thrive in their practice rather than just survive to retirement—or quit.
One of the conditions Nieto points to is "a climate of openness, shared decision making, and collaboration in the school" (p. 11). When a faculty's day-to-day practice includes much interaction and collaboration, those faculty members will thrive.
- What specific policies would you change in your school to spur more collaboration among teachers and more latitude for teachers' decision making—from a minor change like more work tables and computers in your teacher lounge to a major shift like bringing teachers into hiring decisions?
- What is one thing you, personally, could do among your colleagues to, as Nieto recommends, promote dialogue, interaction, and collaboration? Commit to one realistic action you can do in the next month and report to the group on how it goes.
Nieto quotes one teacher's complaint about the lack of latitude teachers have regarding instructional issues.
My fellow teachers work in a system that trusts and expects them to know how to respond to a suicidal student, a bomb threat, or a hate crime. Yet this same system does not trust them to design the final exam for their own course. (p. 11)
Discuss this quote. Does it resonate with you? Have you experienced a lack of trust in your professional judgment in schools other than your current one?
Teacher Collaboration Time
In their article "How Nations Invest In Teachers" (p. 28), Ruth Chung Wei, Alethea Andree, and Linda Darling-Hammond reveal that teachers in other developed countries routinely have fewer hours of direct classroom instruction—and thus more hours for teacher collaboration—scheduled into their instructional weeks, compared with U.S. teachers. Singapore and many European nations provide teachers many hours to develop curriculum and jointly research topics related to both student and teacher learning. Catherine M. Brighton ("Embarking on Action Research," p. 40) describes an action research project focused on engaging resistant math learners that boosted student achievement. But such projects are hard to pull off when teachers are with students most of their day.
- Do teachers at your school have scheduled time to plan together, exchange ideas, or collaborate on job-embedded professional learning or action research? Do they take advantage of available time, or is their "free time" too scattered or filled with administrative duties?
- Brainstorm ways teachers could free up time for collaborative study or research in your situation.
Learning to Lead
Learning to influence fellow teachers' practice and show leadership is part of growing as an educator. Gordon A. Donaldson Jr. ("The Lessons Are in the Leading," p. 14) argues that, like bike riding, leadership can only be learned by fearlessly trying it—with supportive colleagues advising and cheerleading.
Strengthening One Another's Skills
- Together read the steps in Donaldson's "performance learning process" (on p. 16) that teacher groups use to help members assess when they are showing strong leadership and when they need to improve leadership. Ask one group member to think of an ongoing situation in which he or she sees a need to develop stronger leadership, and describe that situation to the group.
- Go through the first four steps of the performance learning process together to help that teacher reflect on this situation and to develop a clear plan for how to respond to an upcoming challenging event.
Affirming Individual Leadership
Like "Tanya," the teacher mentioned in Donaldson's article, many teachers don't realize they are showing leadership until an appreciative colleague points it out to them. Then they start to develop leadership more deliberately.
If your group has worked together for some time, try this uplifting exercise to help one another recognize strengths you don't know you possess. Have each member name one talent he or she sees in another group member (or several members) or describe a time when that member inspired colleagues to try something new or motivated colleagues in some way. Use specific adjectives ("You always show persistence in trying situations …"). Then have each group member "own" their own strengths out loud ("I am persistent …").