I just completed presenting at the winter conference of the Utah Association of Secondary School Principals in St. George, Utah. My session was titled “Leading Learning Communities” and focused on the middle school and high school principals.
My approach was to establish the link between student achievement and teacher relationships defined broadly as collegial relationships and then the role that principals hold in building that collegiality. My message was that “teaching is a team sport”. Teams need leadership and coaching. Productive teams are unlikely to form without conscious leadership.
Collegiality is one of the most important factors in determining the quality of a school. (Roland S. Barth)
Prior to my introduction, the conference opened with the awarding of three awards, High School Principal of the Year, Middle School Principal of the Year, and Assistant Principal of the Year. It was a great lead in for my presentation as each recipient made a comment as to how the collegiality of other administrators, many of whom were in the audience, was critical to their success.
I had the participants discuss the current status of teacher relationships at their schools using Barth’s descriptions. (ASCD Educational Leadership, March 2006: Improving Relationships within the Schoolhouse) [read the article]
I suggested to administrators that what most schools call teacher teams are really teacher franchises. As I’ve explained in earlier postings, it is not until teachers take shared responsibility for student success, learning, and achievement that teaming really takes place.
On the website for the New Jersey State Department of Education, you can find a great document for starting or refining your staff’s understanding of Professional Learning Communities. It is called A Common Language for Professional Learning Communities, which was developed by a NJ Professional Development Partnership.
Collaborative teacher teams engage in collective inquiry into their practice by:
*examining data on student progress
*analyzing student work
*determining effective strategies to facilitate learning
*designing and critiquing powerful lessons
*developing classroom-based common assessments to measure progress
Principals have very full agendas so building collegiality, creating real teams and professional learning communities takes conscious behaviors. In the Barth article linked above, he shares the following:
Researcher Judith Warren Little found that school leaders foster collegiality when they
–State expectations explicitly. For instance, “I expect all of us to work together this year, share our craft knowledge, and help one another in whatever ways we can.”
–Model collegiality. For instance, visibly join in cheering on others or have another principal observe a faculty meeting.
–Reward those who behave as colleagues. For instance, grant release time, recognition, space, materials, and funds to those who collaborate.
–Protect those who engage in these collegial behaviors. A principal should not say, for instance, “Janet has a great idea that she wants to share with us today.” This sets Janet up for a possible harsh response. Rather, the principal might say, “I observed something in Janet’s classroom last week that blew my socks off, and I’ve asked her to share it with us.” In this way, leaders can run interference for other educators.
When I finished my presentation in Utah, the next speaker had the difficult task of sharing the budget challenges that the principals were likely to face in the coming school year. As I packed my materials and headed to the car, I was hoping that the principals were connecting that the creativity of collaborative teacher teams would be critical to their school’s ability to best serve students in challenging times.