Maximizing the Impact of Teacher Collaboration
One hallmark of many high-performing schools is the success its teachers have had in creating what is known as a professional learning community. Richard DuFour (2004) characterizes professional learning communities as groups of educators who “work together to analyze and improve their classroom practice…engaging in an ongoing cycle of questions that promote deep team learning” (p. 9).
How are professional learning communities created? The answer is complex since these communities take many forms and evolve over time. One characteristic that all thriving professional learning communities have in common, however, is collaboration. Research shows that collaboration between teachers can be a powerful tool for professional development and a driver for school improvement by providing “opportunities for adults across a school system to learn and think together about how to improve their practice in ways that lead to improved student achievement” (Annenberg Institute for School Reform, 2004, p. 2).
Recognizing the value of this activity, many schools have adapted their schedules to ensure that teachers and other professionals have time to collaborate through team meetings; critical friends groups; lesson study, in which teachers collaboratively plan, observe, and analyze classroom lessons; or other professional development. A nationwide survey of more than 5,000 teachers found that 69 percent of these teachers participated in “regularly scheduled collaboration with other teachers” and 53 percent participated in a common planning period with other members of their team (Parsad, Lewis, & Farris, 2001, p. iv).
Unfortunately, school staff members sometimes find that although accommodating schedules are in place, true collaboration is more difficult than they had anticipated. Some find that the time set aside is not used productively or is not having the hoped-for impact on teaching and learning. As a result, they can become frustrated and begin seeing team meetings or common planning time as one more obligation that keeps them from doing their “real” work. This month’s newsletter addresses that issue by posing five questions that teachers can use to keep their collaboration on track so that it contributes to the growth of a professional learning community in their school.
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. © 2008 Learning Point Associates. All rights reserved.
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