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Teacher collaboration in practice
At Partners, we often describe our approach as working shoulder to shoulder with teachers and leaders. Fostering collaboration is at the heart of our work, and while individual teachers can and often do achieve tremendous student learning gains, we believe in the power of effective teams to help provide greater impact on student learning.
Effective teams are best able to learn from one another and have tremendous impact on student learning when they come together regularly to plan instruction strategically. At Partners, our work is guided by the following questions (Dufour, 2004 ):
Who are our students and how can we most effectively teach them?
In order to be most effective, teams must know their students and be able to select from a broad repertoire of effective practices in order to design lessons that will meet their students’ needs. In order to do this, teachers work together and use a variety of strategies to understand their students’ strengths and challenges. Once firmly grounded in a deep knowledge of their students, collaboration provides a space for teachers to be active learners. They are able to examine and refine their practice continually by reading professional articles, observing their peers, discussing important questions of equity, and using evidence of student learning to reflect on the effectiveness of their instruction.
What do our students need to know and be able to do?
Effective teams have a solid understanding of grade level standards and of literacy development an understanding that includes a broader recognition of why and how these skills are important for all students. Based on this knowledge, teacher teams set clear goals for student learning and break those goals down into monthly and weekly objectives in order to ensure that every lesson and activity is connected to a larger purpose while still holding specific student outcomes in mind.
How will we know if our students have learned what we taught?
Effective teams use a range of thoughtfully selected assessments to monitor student learning. In order to ensure that their high expectations are shared and concrete, teachers collectively define a standard of rigor and work together to select or design common ways of checking to see whether students have mastered the skills and standards that they have taught. They then carefully examine those results in order to inform their own learning and use these results to guide long-term planning.
How will we adjust based on evidence of student learning?
Based on the results of regular formative assessments, student work, or other assessment data, teachers adjust their lessons in order to ensure that all students master priority standards and skills. When students fall behind, effective teams use diagnostic assessments to identify skill gaps and guide instruction. They then plan together to address skill gaps, re-teach key skills and ensure that all students are able to access and master grade level standards.
Developing routines to enable collaboration
Partners has collaborated with Paul Revere K-8 College Preparatory School in the San Francisco Unified School District for the last three years. The Revere student body includes 59% Latino students, 16% African-American students, 47% English language learners and 71% of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
Over the past two years, Revere has experienced phenomenal growth in student achievement. Between 2010 and 2012, Revere has grown by 25 percentage points in the percentage of students scoring Proficient or Advanced on the California Standards Test-English Language Arts (26% to 51%). In the same time period, Revere’s API score has increased by 98 points, from 655 to 753. In 2012, this dramatic student achievement growth further led Revere to meet all of it s Adequate Yearly Progress criteria for the first time ever.
The initial focus of our work at Revere was on the instigation of a collaborative culture that would underline our success. Partners’ efforts also focused on important components such as analyzing formative and benchmark data and backwards mapping a standards-based curriculum in order to meet student achievement goals, but key to our success was enhancing effective collaboration at all levels.
When teams are functioning at their best, they develop routines and habits that enable them to more efficiently perform essential work. For example, Schmoker (2006) describes the power of a focused, efficient, weekly meeting where teams select a standard that students have not yet mastered, develop a mini-assessment for that standard, and build a rough lesson outline to guide teaching. At Revere, a regular team meeting format was used to do three basic things:
1. Look Back: Teachers examine student work and reflect on how their teaching helped or hindered students mastery of a particular skill or standard.
2. Look Forward. Informed by their students’ rate of progress toward goals, teachers look at what is coming up in their curriculum, adjust their long term plans, and select a focus for their work that week.
3. Plan: They work together to plan a lesson or series of lessons focused around a particular skill or standard, at times seeking to utilize key teaching strategies and practices that are the focus of the team’s professional learning.
This ongoing dialogue about practice is the platform that pushes teachers to develop their craft to a level of quality and effectiveness that they would be unlikely to attain on their own. In a trusting, collaborative setting, teachers can support one another to take on new practices, challenge one another’s assumptions and hold one another accountable to the highest level of expectations for their students.
Partners supports the development of strong, collaborative teams where teachers are empowered to learn, reflect and plan meaningful and effective instruction that will equip all students with the critical literacy and problem solving skills they need to succeed.
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Being a partner school felt overwhelming in the beginning because I misunderstood the purpose of the support. The support is not about what Partners wants. The support is all about what I want as an instructional leader.
Battle Creek Public Schools