Collaboration amongst staff is the foundation and the prerequisite for any and all continuous improvement amongst educators and on behalf of students. The expectations placed upon schools and students are too great and the challenges too complex to continue to act autonomously and reject collective responsibilities – All staff for all students. It will take time; it’s worth it, so let’s dedicate ourselves to embedding authentic, systematic collaboration into our professional days and our professional practice.
What does collaboration look like and sound like? Collaborative teams of teachers work within an organized system to address the following questions and complete the following tasks – all for the purpose of improving teaching practices and student learning:
- What is it we expect students to learn?
- How will we know when they have learned it?
- How will we respond when students don’t learn?
- How will we respond when students already know it? (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2012)
In other words,
- We know that we cannot teach all content within governmental sets of standards to mastery. We know that we cannot teach all content and skills within publisher’s textbooks to mastery. And, that is not our objective. We favor depth to breadth; mastery to coverage; quality to quantity; critical thinking and problem solving to shallow levels of understanding. We know that not all standards are created equally; some are simply more critical to students’ successes in school and life and we should prioritize them; they represent “must know” learning outcomes. We value of horizontal and vertical articulation of learning outcomes and consistency of content. Regarding horizontal articulation, we recognize that our abilities to collaborate are severely compromised if do not have a clear understanding, amongst our colleagues who teach the same grade level and/or content area, of which prioritized outcomes will be addressed within a given time frame, e.g., a four week unit. (We do not believe it is productive or practical to dictate what outcomes are taught on a daily basis). Regarding vertical articulation, we recognize that gaps or redundancies may occur if we do not clearly identify which prioritized outcomes teachers will ensure that students master from grade-to-grade, or from course-to-course.
- Similarly, our abilities to collaborate with colleagues within an organized system is severely compromised if we do not have a consistent understanding of what mastery of learning outcomes looks and sounds like. Moreover, we will have quite a difficult time teaching students if we do have a clear understanding of the target that we are preparing them to meet. The collaborative preparation of instruction designed to help students reach targets will be tricky at best if we do not have common expectations. Perhaps most importantly students will have a difficult time reaching targets (and may not see the relevance of instruction) when targets are not clearly defined for them.
Students can hit any target that they can see and that holds still for them.
Rick Stiggins & Jan Chappuis, 2012, p. 3
- We can predict that some students will learn in a different way or in response to different pedagogies, practices, or strategies. This may occur to due gaps in prerequisite knowledge, less-than-optimal proficiency with the language of instruction, or differences in preferred learning styles or modalities. If we can predict it, we can prepare for it and avoid surprises or frustrations, from teachers and students.
- We can predict that some students will already possess mastery of prioritized outcomes, or that they will attain mastery relatively quickly. Let’s be ready with tasks of greater depth and complexity.
These four questions represent essential practices of teacher teams; however, within a collaborative system of support, they are incomplete. We advocate for the inclusion of questions 2b and 2c:
- 2b – What pedagogies, strategies, and practices will constitute the first, best instruction with which teachers and students will engage and which directly relate to questions 1 and 2?
- 2c – Through what feedback cycles and opportunities for self-assessment will students participate in the teaching-learning cycle?