At its core, RTI is about creating a collective response when students need additional support, rather than leaving this response up to each individual teacher. This process is predicated on the staff having the time necessary to work together. When collaborative time is not embedded within the contract day, teachers are too often forced to make a choice between meeting the needs of their students at school and their children at home, or between making teaching their career or making it their entire life.
We have seen hundreds of examples of how schools have embedded collaborative time within the staff’s contracted work time. The key criteria are: (1) it must be frequent, (2) it must be during a time that the faculty is paid to be on campus, and (3) it must be mandatory that every staff member participate. We have found that weekly team meetings are necessary for effective teacher collaborative teams. the meeting must also be of a duration that allows for meaningful work. Powerful, targeted collaborative meetings can take place within forty-five to sixty minutes. Finally, the meeting must be mandatory. Collaboration by invitation rarely works.
Considering that the professional learning communities process is endorsed by virtually every national teacher professional associations, it is difficult to understand why a teaching professional would desire or expect the right to work in isolation. More importantly, if a teacher is allowed to opt out of team collaboration, then that teacher’s students will not benefit from the collective skills and expertise of the entire team. If the purpose of collective responsibility is to ensure that all students learn at high levels, then allowing any teacher to work in isolation would be unacceptable.
Occasionally, we encounter schools that claim to be stumped in their efforts to find the time necessary for collaboration. We find this perplexing, as the average teacher is paid to be on campus six to seven hours a day, totaling thirty to forty hours a week. Is it really impossible to carve out thirty or forty minutes of meeting time out of a thirty-five-hour work week? More often than not, the problem is that the school is trying to find “extra” time, while keeping the current schedule unaltered. Very few schools have extra time in their schedule—that is, time that is currently unallocated to any particular purpose. For this reason, the task is not to find time for collaboration, but rather to make collaborative time a priority.
To illustrate this point, we offer this analogy. Imagine you visited your doctor and were told, “Your test results are in, and you are severely diabetic. You must begin taking daily insulin shots—without them, you could die.” What is the likelihood you would respond, “But doctor, you don’t understand. I’m so busy; I don’t have time to take insulin”? Not likely. Instead, you would probably take out your calendar, pencil in the insulin shots, and then build everything else around it. This is what schools must do to create collaborative time—make it the highest priority, pencil it into the schedule, then build everything else around it.
We cannot overemphasize the importance of setting team norms—or collective commitments—to guide professional behavior while collaborating. True collaboration often requires staff members to have difficult conversations, and educators are passionate about their beliefs. People can feel vulnerable discussing the best ways to meet the needs of students or the current reality of what is not working. For this reason, teams must set collective commitments regarding how they are going to act with each other, such as starting and ending meetings on time, coming prepared, and sharing the workload equally. #ese norms are so important that they are not merely recorded in a notebook and never looked at again. Instead, they are reviewed at the start of team meetings and revised as needed. Unfortunately, some schools struggle with building a collaborative culture because personal conflicts stop the team from functioning efficiently. It would be truly tragic if meeting the needs of students becomes impossible simply because the adults in the building cannot treat each other professionally.