Monday, August 26, 2013

Teachers/Students: Navigating Multiple Leaders, Colleagues, and Initiatives

As I dropped my son off at college yesterday, I was wondering how he'll navigate the multiple classes, initiatives, clubs, and sports he'll be involved in.

Then this morning, as I queried our ELL department about expectations and schedules, I was reminded of my own need to navigate multiple initiatives, teachers, and leaders during the school year.

As I've mentioned numerous times, most classroom and subject-area teachers are spending most of the minutes in the day with time-on-task direct responsibility for students. The minimal planning time during the school day and many hours before and after school are spent crafting differentiated learning experiences to meet students' needs.  Plus, now with the growing need for teachers to meet multiple score points, the pressure is on to help every child learn many, many standards while also creating positive, happy, vibrant, 21st century learning communities. It's a mighty task.

This mighty task is complicated when a classroom teacher has to respond to multiple colleagues, leaders and initiatives. For example I work with the following leaders and colleagues with regard to teaching the children in my class: ELL, special needs, occupational and physical therapists, speech therapist, math coach, reading intervention teacher, math/science curriculum director, ela/social studies curriculum director, guidance, school nurse, art teacher, music teacher, gym teacher, librarian, technology integration specialist, teaching assistants, grade-level colleagues, instrumental teachers, and possibly the adaptive physical education teacher. That's a lot of professionals to coordinate with--all professionals who bring expertise and care to children.

What will help to streamline these efforts so that most of the time from most of the professionals is spent on dedicated, targeted time-on-task with students--what I believe to be the most critical factor with regard to teaching children well.

First, lead time for planning and scheduling is imperative.  It's my belief that on students' day one all systems should be ready for student service.  That means all schedules set, priorities met, and collaboration/communication protocols ready.  In most school systems that doesn't happen because there simply isn't enough lead time for this work.  Classroom teachers deal with this by spending multiple days in the classroom during summer vacation to set up their rooms, plan their lessons, and coordinate via email because it's not possible for us to start the year without this planning, but with regards to the coordination with multiple leaders and teachers, this typically requires in-school, person-to-person collaborative time.  Hence, this is an issue schools may want to take a closer look at.

Next, it's advantageous for leaders and teachers if expectations are clearly stated.  For example, a director could state the following in person or via email: "This is what you can expect from me this year.  I am available to help out with grade-level planning, individual student problem solving, materials acquisition, field trip plans, and trouble shooting new standards.  You can expect an update from me once a month, and if you have questions in the meantime the best way to reach me is via email at this address: ___. I've attached a list of the year's main objectives and a calendar of the main events.  If you would like help related to specific classroom lessons, you should contact my associate, _____." That kind of clarity helps teachers understand who does what and how to contact people when needed.

After that, it's important that all collaborating teachers and leaders realize the schedule restrictions, and the fact that teachers who spend most of the day with students have little daily time for collaboration during the school year.

How do you navigate the multiple, valuable leaders and teachers you work with on a daily basis? How are the expectations, roles, and responsibilities clearly defined for your help?  What protocols, systems, and communication promote successful collaboration, and what systems and actions serve to hinder this effort?

There's much to think about as schools move from factory models to learning communities, and effective collaboration is an important consideration in this regard.