Monday, July 09, 2018

Focus the Big Team on Teaching/Learning Success

This diagram from NBPT is a good place to start when it comes to collaborating with your big team.
Every educator works with a big team of educators, specialists, special educators, assistants, therapists, tutors, guidance, coaches, family members, community members, and administrators. Sometimes the big team can translate into a tangled web when we don't make the time to sit down and discuss what it is that we are trying to accomplish together. If the big team tries to collaborate around all aspects of teaching and learning, it's likely that little will be achieved, but instead if the big team truly looks at what it is that they do and how they can work together to effect the best possible program and results for the children they serve, then that big team will do well.

As I work to try to collaborate better with the big team, I am thinking about how we will do that.

First, it's essential that we prioritize--what is most important to teach and do from the perspective of each member of the team and from the perspective of our collective work? As I think about this and think about our charge teaching fifth grade students, I created the following list:

  • Students read a variety of genre with enjoyment, fluency, and understanding.
  • Students write a variety of genre with enjoyment, fluency, skill, craft, and voice.
  • Students develop a strong foundation related to numeracy, mathematical concepts, and skill. 
  • Students understand and apply scientific concepts with confidence, process, precision, and creativity. 
  • Students develop and practice social emotional learning with strength and skill. 
As I think of this and I think of the greater team, I recognize potential roles:

Classroom Educator
The classroom educator builds a strong learning community that includes all stakeholders. He/she designs units of study and learning experiences that foster knowledge, concept, and skill development in all expected curriculum and standards-based areas of study. This educator scaffolds and differentiates the curriculum activities in ways that invite all students into the learning and leads them towards high expectations and meaningful results. When possible classroom educators tie their efforts to the efforts of specialists and other stakeholders too. 

Special Educator
The special educator looks deeply at the learning of individual students in relation to their identified needs and goals. This educator understands the broad curriculum program, standards, and goals, and prioritizes his/her work within that realm so that the students he/she is in charge of develop essential skills in reading, writing, math, and social emotional learning in long term meaningful and beneficial ways. The special educator assesses students' development informally and formally regularly and then adjusts his/her practice to best meet the developing students' needs and goals. Apt scheduling allows for the special educator to spend most of his/her time in beneficial small group, individual, and at times whole class instruction, guidance, mentoring, and coaching. The special educator teaches students how to assess and monitor their individual progress, revise learning strategies and attitudes to better meet goals, and advocate for help as needed. 

Specialists, like classroom educators, help students to meet specific content standards in meaningful, engaging ways. When possible, their efforts are coordinated with classroom unit and learning experience goals too. 

Like special educators, therapists clearly outline student goals with and for students and their families. Then they explicitly create learning paths with and for students to reach those goals. Students and therapists assess goal development regularly and when possible tie the learning to current curriculum and standards-based goals too. 

Teaching assistants or educational para professionals work closely with the classroom teacher, special educators, specialists, and therapists to meet the needs of individual children and the class in general. Typically assistants will play roles dependent on specific student/classroom needs in a classroom environment. Ideally assistants will have the opportunity to meet regularly with one or more educators to identify priorities, assess development, and revise and enrich as needed. It's essential that assistants receive regular breaks and time to chart, inform, and assess their efforts as well.

Administrators pay particular attention to the whole and then the parts. They assess if the system that is a school, schools, or a school system/district are working so that children are getting what they need to learn well and meet the expectations set. Administrators typically take a systematic approach to make sure that all that is less important is streamlined and easy to complete leaving time for the more collaborative, delicate, and integral work of a school system. Administrators create goals with and for schools and school systems, and then work with all stakeholders to reach those goals in thoughtful, engaging, authentic, and meaningful ways. These administrators delegate and distribute leadership so that they have time for the big think and leadership required to lead a successful, sensitive, and inclusive learning environment.

Coaches and Curriculum Directors
Beneficial coaches and curriculum directors work with educators, administrators, and students regularly to lead and teach in ways that translate into rich program development and good progress. These people listen to stakeholders, assess formally and informally, and design, revise, and enrich program with stakeholders to better students' opportunities for substantial and successful learning. Rather than think of themselves as people with all the answers or as the top of the hierarchy, in general, these roles are successful when instituted with an eye on flattening the hierarchy and distributing leadership--in general, I support co-coaching models where educators both teach and coach each other with their strengths, needs, and questions. I also support collaborative teams of building leadership and curriculum direction so that the two efforts work hand-in-hand with real-time learning/teaching situations and stakeholders. I'm not a supporter of leadership roles distanced from the day-to-day workings of a school as I believe that day-to-day time-on-task with students, educators, families, community members, and administrators makes decision making, research, reading, and support meaningful, relevant, and beneficial whereas leadership from a distance often does not match the day-to-day needs of teachers, students, families, and building administrators. 

Family and Community Members
It's essential to welcome family and community members into the fold of school decisions and events. Family and community members are our best friends when it comes to our collective ability to teach and lead well--when welcomed into education teams, they are supportive, creative, and integral members of the learning community. 

As we think of the curriculum map/schedule, weekly routine, and daily schedules, it's best to first think of the priorities--what is each of our roles with regard to student success and how do we use time effectively so that we can reap the good results of doing our jobs well with and for students. Too often we overlook the importance related to how we use time in schools and that fact lessens what we are able to do to teach well. 

When scheduling, begin by think deeply about the collective and individual priorities of the group. Then, beginning with the most important individual and collective priorities, schedule time to meet those needs. Create a pattern that works for all and then make a commitment to stick to the pattern. 

When scheduling you may want to consider the following:
  • Is it better for special educators to move from classroom to classroom during a day or would they be better off devoting whole days to single grade levels or classrooms. If they do this they could be better available for large blocks of project/problem based learning, field studies, and other special events. Plus there would be less time lost in transition.
  • Is it better for coaches to be available on same days to same people each week--when schedules are predictable it's more likely that educators will integrate those coaches into their efforts.
  • Should directors and administrators that lead teachers be scheduled into classrooms and programs regularly and be housed in specific schools? Should building administrators and curriculum directors share tasks of building leadership and curriculum thus creating a greater leadership team that sees the school priorities and efforts from multiple view points?
  • Should special educators have separate rooms or should they have their desks and files in specific classrooms? Would housing special educators in classrooms make their work and support of students more natural and ongoing? Yet would this provide the spaces necessary for quiet work and individual study?
  • Should there be more time set aside at the start of school for scheduling and prioritizing students' needs and program efforts? 
  • What role does communication play in all of this and what does ideal communication look like? 
Reflecting on, revising, and establishing modern day teaching/learning priorities and schedules can positively enrich teaching/learning success. What do you and your colleagues do in this respect? Is time for prioritizing goals and making schedules important to your staff? Do you recognize the strength that good service delivery maps and routines offer students? How do you make this happen? 

I'm thinking about this and welcome your thoughts and ideas.