Collaborative practices and systems of support are highly complementary (Deming, Senge, Fullan, and DuFour). We acknowledge and embrace the reality that collaborative practices are most impactful when coordination occurs within an organized system. While the term “system” and its related practices may seem mechanistic to many educators, and despite the fact that systemic thinking has not necessarily been common in schools, the importance and challenges associated with our mission of ensuring high levels of learning for each and every student require that we design and sustain systems that allow us to work interdependently.
The key to ensuring that every child has a quality teacher is finding a way for school systems to organize the work of qualified teachers so they can collaborate with their colleagues in developing strong learning communities that will sustain them as they become more accomplished teachers.
National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 2003, p. 7
These systems will involve time for collaboration; proactive preparation based on anticipated student rends; protocols for communication and coordination; allocation of time, staff, and resources; and the constant monitoring of student successes and challenges followed by targeted responses. A systematic approach to organizing our work on behalf of students is a universal concept for which we stand. The goal of collaborative systems of support is to design never-ending feedback loops that continuously inform teaching and learning.
One of the pioneers and earliest practitioners of collaborative systems of support was Benjamin Bloom (1968; 1984). Bloom’s preliminary studies showed that excellent but isolated (non-systematic) classroom teaching resulted in student learning with an effect size of 0.4 standard deviations, a result validated by Hattie (2009). When teams of teachers worked collaboratively within an organized system to also provide timely and targeted supports for greater levels of student mastery of academic and behavioral priorities…so that students don’t fall behind (or further behind) and so students reach greater depths of understanding, student learning was measured at an effect size of 1.0 standard deviation. When teams of administrators, specialists, and teachers worked collaboratively within an organized system to also provide highly individualized and intensive supports to meet significant deficits in foundational skills, student learning was measured at an effect size of 1.6 standard deviations.
Bloom’s research demonstrated, our experiences as school and district administrators have repeatedly shown, and Hattie’s research (2009; 2012) has recently validated that collaborative systems of support work…and they are needed by staff and students like never before.
The key to improved student achievement was moving beyond an individual teacher looking at his or her classroom data. Instead, it took getting same-grade teacher teams to meet, analyze the results of each interim assessment to understand what concepts in the curriculum were posing difficulty for students, share ideas, figure out the best interventions, and actually follow up in their classrooms.
Christman, et al., 2009
One last note regarding systems: There is no one-size-fits-all system for a school. Collaborative systems of support must be customized based on specific and unique attributes, such as the characteristics of the school and the needs of the students. Rigid, protocol-driven approaches to systems of support are guaranteed to frustrate staff and fail students.