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March 2011 | Volume 68 | Number 6
What Students Need to Learn
Q: I'm interested in ways to encourage teachers to analyze their own instructional practices. What strategies does your school use to invite teachers to collaborate with one another through classroom observations and feedback outside of performance appraisal or review?
—Andre Potvin, PrincipalLester B. Pearson Catholic High SchoolGloucester, Ontario, Canada
A: At Price Lab School, we spent more than two years participating in training through the Center for Authentic Intellectual Work (http://centerforaiw.com). Each teacher in our school videotaped himself or herself teaching a lesson, and teachers shared these videos in small focus groups. The group watched the lesson and provided the instructor with feedback. Although it's not always easy watching yourself teaching or getting feedback from colleagues, it gave us time to have constructive conversations about the quality of instruction, teacher assignments, and student work. Ultimately, these discussions led to changes in instruction and student assessments (both formative and summative). I believe that feedback from other teachers, who know the complexities of teaching, is one of the best ways to improve instruction.
—Amy Lockhart, TeacherMalcolm Price Laboratory SchoolCedar Falls, Iowa
A good place to begin spontaneous interaction and sharing is the staff room. Teachers can connect in a comfortable way, and conversations often lead to colleagues getting interested in what is being done in other classes. That's what takes place at our school, where informal observations have become popular. Sometimes I step into a classroom and find three teachers observing because they are interested in the successful strategy they heard about in the staff room. The teacher being observed does not feel threatened because it is not part of any appraisal system; it's just one colleague sharing her know-how. Some of our teachers have become experts in different areas and share that knowledge. It's a give-and-take interaction that benefits not only teachers, but also students.
—Patsy Pouiller, Deputy Head, PrimarySt. Andrew's Scots SchoolBuenos Aires, Argentina
Teachers and administrators in our district consistently identify our professional learning communities (PLCs) as the best opportunity for collaboration that we offer. Our PLCs are voluntary; they are collegial groups of educators who come together regularly to learn about and focus on a topic. There are two nonnegotiables: PLCs must help teachers put what they learn into action, and they must provide an emotionally safe place where teachers are free to take professional risks. Some of this year's PLCs are Unleashing the Digital Artist in Each of Us (K–12 teachers); Comprehension and Collaboration (K–6 teachers); Integrating Technology Using Bloom's Technology Taxonomy (K–12 teachers); and Helping Students Become Better Editors of Their Own Writing (4–7 English/language arts teachers).
—Kimberly Kappler HewittDirector of Curriculum, Instruction, and AssessmentOakwood City School District, Dayton, Ohio
We use a range of strategies to invite teacher collaboration. First, we have designated model classrooms for both literacy and math, in which a coach works closely with the classroom teacher to help the teacher implement new curriculum and strategies and provide support and feedback. Second, we have weekly grade-level meetings during the school day in which teachers collaborate, set up observations, and provide feedback to one another. We also have early release every Monday so teachers can take part in professional development; they spend much of this time working together to analyze student data, discuss lessons, and plan instruction. Finally, we have monthly intervention meetings in which classroom teachers and support staff meet to collaborate on the intervention work they are providing for specific students.
—Doreen Knuth, PrincipalBloomer Elementary SchoolCouncil Bluffs, Iowa
I have found that a professional learning community (PLC) works best for moving toward a culture of collaboration. The first step in creating an effective learning community is to develop a shared vision, mission, and goal. If all teachers buy in, the collaboration will be meaningful, providing more effective learning experiences for students without any need to include performance incentives. Many resources exist to assist in developing such communities—including websites, books, blogs, and videos that provide sample materials and information. In addition, there are conferences dedicated to establishing an effective school PLC, such as the Arkansas ASCD Annual Conference that will be held in June 2011. Developing a learning community is an ongoing process, but every step in that process is a step toward meaningful teacher collaboration.
—Misty M. LaCour, Assistant Professor of EducationSouthern Arkansas UniversityMagnolia, Arkansas
What's Your Question?Each month in "Among Colleagues," practicing educators share their advice about professional challenges.To submit your own question to the "Among Colleagues" panel, send a 100-word description to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Teaching Dilemma."
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