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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Improving Schools: Collaboration and Communication

In the past few days there have been a number of issues at school and at home related to collaboration and communication. Why?

It's probably because we just haven't taken the time to think over changing structures, requests, questions, needs, and other impacts on the home/school schedule. Changes have occurred, but we didn't take the time to thoughtfully think about the changes and what that means. When you don't meet change as an individual or a group with thoughtful discussion and efforts, confusion and conflict can be the result.

So what's a teacher and mom to do?

At home, we'll have a meeting to discuss expectations, schedules, needs, and ways that we can support one another in the face of changing schedules and more. And at school, I'll make some time to listen for a while since there doesn't seem to be time or interest in collaboration and communication in some areas (in other areas there is considerable communication and collaboration so I'll right my ship in that direction).

I think one issue that arises is that I often spend weekend time on big think that involves school--many don't like that because they feel weekends belong to fun, family, and friends. I don't disagree with that, but also for teachers to have voice they have little choice but to think during the weekend as that's when time for big think occurs since during the week their efforts are mainly pointed in the direction of time-on-task with and for students. On the other hand, decision makers use the time they have during the week for big think and decision making.

To create more distributive models of teaching where teachers' voice and choice is a mainstay of teaching/learning programs we have to make time during the week for teachers' to engage in authentic big think, idea share, questioning, and decision making. The way to do this is to include more hybrid models of teaching where teachers teach and lead. This helps to flatten the hierarchy and include greater voice and choice from those at the front line. I've thought about how we might do this and wrote about that in this post. At time schedules may look like educators have this time and voice, but sometimes these meetings do not take teacher voice, choice, and leadership seriously.

Why isn't this happening. It takes time and courage to change existing systems. To flatten the hierarchy with greater hybrid roles and distributive leadership means that administrators have to begin to trust educators more. They have to begin to recognize that professional educators are committed to and well-educated for positive teaching/learning decisions. They have to give up some of the control and work to collaborate and communicate more. This kind of change typically happens from the bottom up in systems since those at the helm are not eager to share the decision making, management, and leadership with those at the bottom layers of tight hierarchies. The challenge to incorporate teacher voice, choice, and leadership more seems to be more of an elementary and pre-school issue than a middle school or high school issue. It seems that elementary school teachers are led more than they are able to lead. I believe this may have its roots in gender bias since most elementary school teachers are and have been women over time.

In a sense, educators are often oppressed in schools, and MLK's quote about the oppressed speaks to this. His quote demonstrates that educators have to work together to gain greater voice, choice, and leadership in schools. Flattened hierarchies, hybrid roles, and greater voice, choice, and leadership will come from us. Yet how will that happen?
  • First we have to get educated and use the evidence that supports greater teacher voice, choice, and leadership in our advocacy. I have to put together the research I have in this regard in easy-to-access mini posters, sound bites, and images so I can easily convey the promise of this movement to those I advocate to and with.
  • Next we have to work together with our unions, collegial groups, state department of education, and other groups to promote better models of leadership and effort in schools. I believe that one reason schools are not meeting the potential possible is that we have to modernize the structures, schedules, and roles in schools. Too many schools still look and act like schools 100 years ago. There is room for change in this regard.
I want to continue to develop and grow ideas in this area as well as advocacy. I believe that schools can be better for all students, and I believe it is in our good communication and collaboration that will bring this about--communication and collaboration that is something that we can all continually improve at.