Building a culture of collaborative learning

17 January 2016
Building a culture of collaborative learning

W. Ruth Harvin, Ed.D. :
I have been an educator for quite a few years and have enjoyed my time helping fellow educators and students grow by serving as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and Deputy Superintendent. These positions have all been evaluative. However in my current position as district literacy instructional coach, I serve as a support to both teachers and administrators.
In the book, Professional Capital, the only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction." (McKinsey & Co., 2007, p. 26). My district has implemented a coaching cycle that is designed to help teachers who need further assistance with their teaching practice. We help with many areas to include classroom management, planning, researching rigorous, hands -on  activities, content, questioning, modeling instruction, co-teaching, etc. These are the steps we follow assisting teachers to improve upon their instruction.
Step 1- Professional Development: This has been ongoing for teachers who teach students from PK3- 12th Grade in the area of literacy. This is held on individual campuses during teachers' conference periods and after school by district as well as campus based literacy coaches. We also provide professional development offerings at a central location after school and many of our teachers. If a teacher attends professional development, the expectation is for him/her to implement the learning in the classroom.
Step 2- Modeling: In many cases the teacher may not have a full understanding of "how" to deliver the lesson. In this case, campus based coaches or district level coaches model for the teacher. Prior to modeling there are some steps that should be taken before the model lesson begins. The coach should meet with the teacher he/she will be working with to explain how you will support vocabulary instruction in his/her classroom. A date should be agreed upon followed by the coach and teacher planning the lesson. This will include selecting a text, choosing Tier 2 vocabulary words together with a discussion about the words chosen, and determining the plan for the 6 Step Explicit Vocabulary Instruction routine together. During the model teach lesson, the teacher will have the Vocabulary Instruction Observation Form to use as you are modeling to give you feedback and become familiar with the form you will provide feedback to them with when you actually watch them teach. After the lesson has been completed, debrief with the teacher discussing what he/she recorded on the observation form and answer any questions. Before leaving arrange a time to return to plan with the teacher and plan another date when you will come to observe him/her delivering the vocabulary lesson with the 6 Step Explicit Vocabulary Instruction routine.
Step 3- Observation and Feedback: Observe the planned lesson and use the form to provide targeted feedback to the teacher, making sure to arrange a time to provide the feedback on the same day if at all possible. This is the best case scenario.
Step 4- "Right on Time" Professional Development: During the debriefing session, if there is a part of the routine that the teacher needs additional help with, this is the "right on time" PD. Show it, discuss it, and provide whatever the teacher needs to improve the instructional delivery of the vocabulary lesson. Plan any follow up support at this time if that is necessary.
Step 5- Regular Communication with Campus Leaders: Ensure and share your plan and progress made of this coaching cycle activity with campus base administration. Share how the cycle is going and what positive actions or changes have occurred based on the cycle of support with the teacher. Campus administrators should observe improvement when they come to walk through the classroom as well.
This coaching cycle was designed to set teachers up for success. The beauty of it is, there is a reflective piece built in. That sometimes is the key to bettering our practice as educators because let's face it, sometimes there just doesn't seem like there is enough time to get it all done. In organized learning using the coaching cycle, here are different types of reflective practice:
Reflection is an integral part of teaching, to be professional and to improve practice on a continual basis. It is important for reflection to become a part of an educator's daily routine.
Sometimes it is helpful to change the culture of the professional relationships of a school or district in order to improve the work. What I mean by that is sometimes in order for the change to take place, teachers learn to work collaboratively whether it's with their team, other colleagues at work, or with administrators or coaches to be able to make informed instructional decisions based on feedback results. There is a need for positive feedback among teachers between themselves and from administrators. Feedback should act as a guide to teachers as it allows teachers to exercise their discretionary judgment in their classrooms but also gives teachers valuable feedback that would help those judgments be wise, well-founded, and effective. We want to avoid classroom conservatism is an environment where teachers do not share ideas or thoughts because they are insecure about how they are perceived or do not wish to share credit or think someone will take credit for their work.
Individualism, isolation and classroom conservatism institutionalize a conservative perception that inhibits professional learning, sharing, and collaboration.
We seek to build a collaborative culture in my school district. Trust and relationships come first in working with teachers. We strive to build a culture  which allows developing 21st century skills of innovation and creativity among teachers while adhering to the state standards. Teachers inquire together to work together to understand how to improve areas important to them. We want teachers to inquire together, to work together, and to understand how to improve areas important to them. They are guided by experienced collective judgment and where they are pushed forward by challenging conversations about effective and ineffective practices guided by experienced collective judgment and where they are pushed forward by challenging conversations about effective and ineffective practices.
We encourage teachers having challenging conversations, asking hard questions and working through the answers to better their teaching practice.
We want them to make decisions based on conversations and the relationships they build within the community from the feedback they receive. Sharing their success and failure and learning from those experiences is paramount to their growth as an educator. We are striving for teachers to continue with peer coaching which leads to mentoring and developing a variety of professional learner communities.
(W. Ruth Harvin, Ed.D. has been a teacher, assistant principal, literacy instructional coach,principal,  Associate Superintendent of Personnel, and Deputy Superintendent for a total of over 30 years in the education field).

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