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Maximizing the Impact of Teacher Collaboration (page 2)

— The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

2. Are Our Efforts Aligned With School and District Priorities?

 

Researchers Leo and Cowan (2000) and Hord (1997) identify shared vision and values focused on student learning as one of five dimensions characterizing professional learning communities. In other words, the most effectively used collaborative meeting time focuses on issues that are directly connected to the improvement priorities of the school or district. For example, if a school goal is to improve student problem-solving skills, collaboration time may be spent examining lessons and identifying problem-solving activities across various subject areas and grade levels.

School and district goals for student achievement should drive the work of professional learning communities. School leaders should focus the work of collaborative groups by helping them align their priorities with achievement goals as well as provide the resources needed to support their work. These priorities also should act as a filter for identifying additional professional development (Annenberg Institute for School Reform, 2004). Research indicates that teachers participating in professional development linked to school activities are more likely to report that their participation improved their teaching (Parsad et al., 2001).

3. Are We Focused on Improving Student Learning?

 

Effective professional collaboration in schools focuses on improving practice in order to improve student learning. Teachers report that use of “one of several group processes available for the study of student work” promotes “ensuing discussions of the assignment, the link between the work and content standards, their expectations for student learning, and the use of scoring rubrics,” leading to improved teaching and student learning (National Staff Development Council, 2001b).

In contrast, researcher Kim Yap (2005) finds that teachers in low-performing schools are less likely to focus on instruction during their collaborative meetings:

While teachers at the low-performing schools are likely to take part in collaborative activities (e.g., joint planning and team building), there has been some hesitancy to identify instruction as a key area of school improvement. They are more comfortable talking about organizational structures, schedules, and other factors outside of what they do in the classroom. (p. 12)

Author Daniel Duke (2006) cites one example of a school that used roundtable discussions as a collaborative process that participants felt was highly productive. He notes that student information was shared before the roundtables met so that the entire 45-minute meeting could be devoted to discussing how to make immediate instructional adjustments and provide more monitoring and support for individual students. Before these meetings concluded, individuals were assigned responsibility for implementing the agreed-upon interventions and reporting back at the next roundtable on how well those interventions had worked.

4. Do We Use Data to Inform Our Work?

The use of data provides an additional structure for keeping the focus of collaborative groups on improved teaching and learning. Accurate and relevant data can help identify areas of concern, inform discussion, provide evidence of student learning, and aid the development of strategies and solutions. Data use circumvents the common pitfalls of school improvement efforts, such as focusing on activities instead of results (DuFour & Burnette, 2002) or making and working from assumptions instead of evidence. Again, established norms and the use of structured protocols can help teachers overcome their fear that data will be used to criticize or evaluate their instruction.

Many excellent products, guidelines, and tools for identifying, interpreting, and analyzing data are available for collaborative groups to use. (See the references and the additional resource.) If more help is needed, members might also request professional development on how to ask good questions of data or how to access available data systems.

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