Thursday, December 28, 2017

COLLECTIVE WORK & RESPONSIBILITY: Show Me a DISCONNECTED Staff and I’ll Show You a MISERABLE School!

Note - As today is the 3rd day of Kwanzaa, I decided to look at each of the "7 Principles of Kwanzaa" and examine how each correlate with CLASSROOM TEACHER SUCCESS. Today's principle is Collective Work & Responsibility (UJIMA in the East African language, Kiswahili). Take a read and feel free to comment.

Somewhere in America, there’s a school where once the morning bell rings, students are in their assigned little worlds called classrooms along with their teachers ready to learn the day’s lessons. At the elementary level, they will spend the bulk of their entire day and year in that same little space preparing for a later time in their lives that is probably quite inconceivable in the present moment. At the secondary level, the students will travel from classroom to classroom but like the elementary classroom, they will be preparing for a later time in their lives that is quite inconceivable in the present moment.

At this same school, the teachers are working diligently every day to help the students turn their dreams into their reality. There’s one big problem in this school however….and when I say big, I mean major! In a previous blog post entitled, Unity in the School Community, I stated,

There's nothing like walking into a school where staff not only know one another, but they like one another, they appreciate one another, they care about one another, they respect one another, they collaborate with one another, they support one another, they learn with, from and for one another, and they're excited about what they do and who they do it for...the students. I call this a "BAM" learning environment. There is UNITY amongst the staff and the learning environment is therefore healthy, vibrant and optimistic. There's energy, excitement and enthusiasm for the work, the students and one another. It's an environment where the entire staff wants to be there daily...because they have a common purpose, mission and vision for their work...they are ONE...they are unified. UNITY abounds through the staff and the overall school community.”

In other words, I was talking about unity amongst staff…harmony amongst staff…a sense of family and community throughout the building. In this essay on Collective Work & Responsibility, I want to take it a step further. It is one thing to be in harmony with one another – that is a good thing. But it is an entirely different thing when that harmony has a purpose. What an advantage for children when the purpose of harmony amongst staff is effective collaboration between staff.

Going back to the school I referenced above, there was unity in the building. They got along well, but it stopped there. They spoke to one another, they had small-talk with one another, they ate lunch with one another, but they did not collaborate with one another professionally. The entire school suffers as a result because the staff is disconnected on a professional level.

Through my work, I have come to know that there are schools out there where collaboration amongst staff either doesn’t exist or it’s minimal at best. This is particularly troublesome because those same schools are comprised of so many brilliant, extraordinary educators, both veteran and new. When they hold all of their pedagogical knowledge within themselves, no one else on staff benefits from their presence. Each have their own unique experiences in the classroom and in their preparation. Each have something special and unique to share. For example, in any given school, there are staff members who are trying to resolve an issue, whether it be instructional-related, content-related, data-analysis-related, lesson planning-related, climate / culture-related, relationships-related, parental engagement-related, etc., but within that same school, there are staff members who resolved these issues years ago. The problem is that they are not talking to one another professionally. Since this sort of collaboration is not occurring, the staff cannot benefit from the presence of one another and in the end, children suffer…the school suffers due to a “disconnected staff” and the consequence is a “miserable school.”

As today is Day 3 of Kwanzaa, today’s principle of Collective Work & Responsibility is absolutely crucial. Teachers cannot confine themselves to their classrooms. They must work collectively and collaboratively with one another to reach common goals. The challenges that so many of our children face in their lives is quite overwhelming for them, which requires constant collaboration by staff. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) must be standard practice in all schools. Optimal student performance across the building cannot occur when staff is not functioning as a team….as a cohesive unit. I happen to be an avid football fan for example. Not only do I watch the games through the lens of a fan, I also watch the games through the lens of an educator. I am watching the unity, harmony, interaction and collaboration between players on the field. That unity, harmony, interaction and collaboration on the field are crucial to being victorious. Well it works the same way in the school amongst staff. When the unity I discussed in a previous blog post along with harmony, interaction and collaboration between teachers is present, the effects of Collective Work & Responsibility are more than apparent in the school.

An Afterthought on Why I Didn't Reference the Role of School Administrators
After reading this blog post some have inquired on social media why I didn't reference the role of school administrators toward initiating the process of collaboration. The answer is simple....I deliberately left any mention of school administrators out because I am speaking directly to teachers and their roles. The unfortunate reality is that schools do in fact exist where staff collaboration does not exist BECAUSE it has not been initiated and led by the administration for whatever the reason. When this is the reality of a given school, it doesn't resultantly dismiss the need for collaboration between staff members....the need is still there. Teachers must therefore take the initiative despite the absence of leadership in this effort and begin the process nevertheless.

12 comments:

  1. The need to foster collaboration amongst staff is so important that without it makes improvements in teacher performance and overall student achievement even more difficult. Currently, I have two major issues that impact collaboration which I have to adjust to maximize teachers collectively working together. One I can control which is revamping the master schedule but the other is extremely problematic and that is how many times support staff, coaches and administrators are called out to meetings for hours on end. I know its an age old issue. But these indidivuals play and integral part in fostering collaboration. I recognize the latter is a difficult subject to approach but it negatively impacts collectively working together with any form of consistency over a sustain period. In any school endeavor having your team collectively working together is powerful but it comes with a lot of thought and commitment to see it through however, the benefits are well worth the struggle.

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    1. Yes, those constant meetings that pull key people out the building can be quite a challenge indeed.

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  2. This family community begins at the top with administrators. I am so blessed to work with a staff who feels valued and is treated with respect. We enjoy spending time together,and our students see that in the halls, at school functions,and in the community.

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  3. Great post, sir! Collaboration and communication are vital to the success of students. As educators, we should be sharing information not only about our students, but about practices that are working and how those practices may be able to work not within one small four corner classroom, but within the large four walls of the school. Nothing should be secret when it comes to what’s best for students. I tell teachers often, we can’t control what happens to our students when they leave us each day, but while they are here, they should have the best daily learning experience possible. That experience goes far beyond the lesson to making connections. We should all be working collectively every day to connect with all students in the school and help them see the greatness in them. It is indeed our collective responsibility.

    Thanks again for another great post.

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  4. We are building that now, our administration is new this year so we are jumping small hurdles right now, but the track is straight and we all feel we are headed in the right direction. Like anything new you have to break it in so to speak in order to get that comfortable feel. Although we miss our pass administration we are learning to embrace the new. No I in TEAM here. I learned earlier in life to treat someone the way you want to be treated regardless of, I am constantly asking how, if I know better then my students will do better. Once again thank you for challenging us to be mindful and do better.

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    1. I appreciate your words Walter! Thank you!

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  5. Collaboration leads to an increase trust,creativity, communication, quality of Instruction,leadership, student achievement, and sustainability.

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  6. My mind is racing with thoughts and questions as to how to move a school culture away from one of isolation, dysfunction, and misery towards one of unity where all stakeholders collectively work together in order to achieve common goals! Dr. John Hattie’s research indicates that Collective Teacher Efficacy has an effect size of 1.57! This equates to student growth of over 3 years in one! All we have to do is, “learn with, from, and for one another!” Why is this so hard? I am determined to work towards this goal!

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    1. I feel your energy through the computer! Make it happen because yes, it is in fact doable!

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