Collaboration in Action

best practice collaboration communication culture Jan 09, 2023


Have you ever heard the statement, “The more things change…the more they stay the same”?  It seems as though in efforts to reform education, many initiatives seek to support student learning (good intentions!) but forget how to bring together administrators and teachers in meaningful and relevant ways – the people leading initiatives in schools.  This is the hidden link that actually enacts school transformation.  Buy-in from team members cannot be bought.  This may sound contradictory.  But let’s hear out this scenario…

“John” is a Principal I recently met with.  His school is one of the top performing in one of the largest public school systems in the United States.  The team has recently adopted a new curriculum for students, but due to budget cuts, he can no longer pay his department leaders to meet after school and plan for next school year.  At the last meeting, approximately 20% of the leadership team’s members stayed.  He even provided dinner out of his own pocket. What happened?

This is actually very common in schools with all levels of performance.  And these are schools that are doing great things for kids.  But let’s think about all of the possible thoughts that people will conclude upon reading this scenario:

“The teachers don’t care.”

He should pay them – they work hard!” 

“He just doesn’t have buy-in.” 

“Who determined the curriculum?” 

His team must not like him.” 

“The teachers were probably just busy from all the competing priorities they have to balance.” 

“Shame on the district; they should invest in teachers and principals.” 

“He should make the meetings mandatory.” 

This article is not about choosing sides; it is actually about breaking down the hundreds of barriers that come from one simple scenario amidst the thousands that occur daily in any school USA.  It is a call for support of our educators – those who are integral to our nation’s future.  John made a decision, that he did not want to.  He values his team, but will now have to put in additional work in order to continue what he has put blood, sweat and tears into dreaming up, for the sake of his students.  Likewise, there are now a few teachers who will feel a heavier weight on their shoulders because they decided to continue meeting.  And finally, a handful of team members who had to decide if they are still willing to commit without being paid for their valuable time.  From one decision, there are now three “groups” who have, often, unspoken barriers between one another.

The Washington Post reports, “A great irony is emerging from the prolonged “education wars” between teachers unions and supporters of market-based reforms that rely heavily on motivating school personnel by threatening them: The low-income districts and schools that have demonstrated the greatest improvement in student outcomes are generally characterized by deep collaboration between administrators and teachers,” (Anrig, 2013).  “It is becoming increasingly evident that conflict over reform in itself has been impeding educational progress—quantifiable progress that has been achieved in settings where educators have managed to move beyond unproductive battles.”

It is arguable the core reason (or unproductive battle) for the teacher leaders not collaborating was the budget.  And maybe this was an indirect factor.  However, I would challenge this theory by digging deeper into any organization’s cultural beliefs, norms and values.  This is why we must deeply know those we lead and work alongside; those we serve.  If we do not know what drives them, we do not know how to lead them.

“The core of a professional learning community is the network of collaborative teams—the groups of teachers who work together to improve student learning. Collaborative teams have the potential to transform major aspects of teaching and learning,” (Marzano Research, 2016).

Bringing people together is an art.  And when deep, meaningful and relevant collaboration is fostered – magic happens. In the next post, I will dive deeper into how to promote this type of collaboration without a dime, examining solutions to John’s (and many other leaders’ issues).  John is not alone and neither is the education sector; organizations who are thriving are able to make magic happen every day.

How are you making magic happen with your teams?



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