Working beyond the walls: How much are teachers collaborating?

Another school year is underway. And yes, the year might be filled with professional development opportunities, but how much of those are geared towards professionals working together?

Are we still allowing walls to separate and isolate us? I’ve had the opportunity to visit other schools and school districts outside of Shelby County. I am often intrigued by how collaborative other learning environments seem. In spending time with the High Tech High Network in San Diego where collaboration is one of the words you’ll both see and hear a lot, it made me wonder if this could be possible for my home district and how could we take the necessary steps to ensure we are maximizing the learning not just students, but also for adults.

Which led me to this question, “How do we create a culture of collaborative adults?”

In taking this journey of school design and development, it’s been refreshing sharing with the High Tech High network and watching practitioners have dialogical interviews, thinking time and moments, constant reflections and moments with team members to plan, share hopes, fears and goals for the school year and also talk through what the shared space of learning look like for kids. As many may or may not know, I am in the process of taking the journey of opening an all-girl, project-based infused charter school. The model that I am currently researching and learning more about is that of the High Tech High Organization.

Here are a few of my observations at  High Tech High:

-Grade level teams had time to think through their schedules for classroom/student coverage, possible project ideas and goals, and what each member of the team hopes to learn from another.

-Each person had the opportunity to talk through their personal and professional hopes, fears, and goals for the school year.

-Each person was transparent with their comfort level in teaching in their area of expertise and/or content.

-Teachers were able to develop a style and preference based on what’s best for students

-Teams were able to teach collaboratively and ensure equity was embedded throughout the teaching and learning.

Of course, this is a totally autonomous environment. However, I wonder how empowering it could be for our schools to adopt a more collaborative feel amongst its teachers beyond the standard grade-level team meetings, but instead have a more open canvas to think through and create what the learning environment could potentially look like for both students and adults.

I can’t say that I have an accurate insight of each school in Tennessee and the workings of each, but from what I know, I don’t see collaboration at this level and I wonder what this could potentially look like if our walls (classroom walls and professional walls) could slowly begin to come down. In an ideal world, I would do some facilitation beyond this blog.

I would personally take the time and visit as many schools as possible to see what collaboration looks like and how effective is it? How do school leaders define collaboration and if it is evident, to what extent? And if It is not, why?

I honestly think all the adults in the building should be talking. As interesting as that sounds and as uncomfortable and complex that may seem, I think there’s value in collegial relationships being formed to the highest degree to ensure the success of both adults and students.