At my school, teachers are expected to collaborate by participating in a data team. My team is comprised of four reading specialists and two EL teachers. We are a “group of individuals who share a similar vision of educational values and beliefs” and we “work toward common goals that enhance professional and personal development” (Zepeda, 2012, p. 83). As a learning community, we have a clear focus of supporting our school’s students who are below standard in reading by providing “just right” instruction, continually gathering data, analyzing student work and performance together, and tracking the impact of instructional strategies. My administrator supports data teamwork by providing scheduled time dedicated to collaboration. She also reviews data cycle notes and results and provides feedback on a regular basis.
One model of collaboration I would like to see more in my building is coaching. My principal has called on my team, Safety Net teachers and EL teachers, to become peer coaches in co-teaching with general education teachers. We have been told to collaborate with classroom teachers and help them find ways to expand their instructional strategies repertoires to meet the needs of all students in literacy. However, the challenge in creating this type of collaboration is that we have not received any professional development on coaching. According to Zepeda (2012), “adult learners are more motivated to take risks if they feel support from their administrators and colleagues” (p. 62). My team has expressed that we do not feel supported in this complex endeavor and have been put in awkward situations because of it.
Zepeda (2012) says that “effective coaches know when and how to stretch, when and how to challenge, and when and how to guide those whom they are coaching. The prerequisite coaching skills are collaboration and trust” (p. 144). A next step for my team and the general education teachers we are working with is to take a step back and build trust. Also, those of us peer coaching need to do a mini book study on what effective coaching looks like, together. We need to have time to observe the teacher, see what is working well in her classroom, and communicate what our role will be. Having scheduled times to meet with teachers we are coaching will allow us to learn about each other’s personal philosophy, values, and intent as a teacher. Once we have established understanding and trust, we can begin to offer suggestions and feedback to help their literacy instruction become accessible to all learners.
My thinking about my school’s collaborative practices has shifted since taking this course. At first, I thought my colleagues and I were exemplar “collaborators.” While we do have some areas of strength, I see now that we have room to grow. We do not employ a wide variety of collaborative practices at my school. We do not engage in book studies, critical friends groups, or coaching. It has also become clear to me that the comfort level around collaboration greatly varies from teacher to teacher among our staff. I feel this is due to the fact that we have received varying amounts of professional learning on collaboration. In many ways, collaboration is simply expected from day one, but isn’t always properly supported. I see a need for differentiated professional learning opportunities around collaborative practices. Teachers need to be aware of the myriad of models collaboration can look like and have the opportunity to choose models that best fit their needs. I believe there is not a “one size fits all” model. Each problem may call for a different type of collaboration. Our current system does not allow for flexibility in the way we collaborate, but rather has a “mass produced” feel.
Zepeda, S. (2012). Professional development: What works. New York, NY: Routledge.