Which school do you want to support?
When budgets are tight, districts and unions find it easiest to agree about safeguarding classroom instructional time as their top priority. In such circumstances, time for non-classroom work tends to be squeezed.
Most successful schools (and successful school leaders) cultivate “communities of learning.” In these schools, professional development and inquiry are integrated with the activities of teaching. That includes analyzing data together to improve instructional strategies, sharing perspectives regarding a student who is struggling, and collaborating on lesson planning. Such collaboration is hard to put into practice for many reasons, beginning with the limitations of time.
Collaboration, prep, staff development, and meeting time all occur during paid work hours, and as such are negotiated elements of the teacher contract. Put yourself in the shoes of a teacher who hasn't had a raise in a while: would you prefer for your union to negotiate for more pay in the contract, smaller class sizes, or more collaboration time? These priorities aren't always in conflict, but over time budgets require difficult choices.
Collaboration is also challenging for basic, human reasons that are far from unique to the world of school. Some principals are more effective than others at bringing teachers together and resolving differences of opinion about key decisions.
Some principals receive explicit training about how to bring teachers together into effective and sustainable Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Meeting together regularly to discuss their practice and address challenges, PLCs help create a culture of continuous improvement in a school.
At least, that's the theory. Research about the impact of PLCs has been almost amusingly equivocal. In one notable study, school district staff ranked PLCs as the form of professional development that they were most dissatisfied with. Most also rated it as a form of professional development that they wanted to spend more time on, though they rated lesson observation and coaching even more highly.
get in the groove
and from one another
learn to improve.
Teachers in most American public schools spend the vast majority of their time at school in front of the classroom. Time for preparation and collaboration is limited. It is interesting to note that the world's top-performing school systems, such as Shanghai and Finland, set aside significant and frequent time for teacher collaboration and preparation.
This kind of collaborative workplace helps make teaching attractive, at least in schools and districts that are successful in sustaining such environments. It is exciting and satisfying to work with others who share your calling.
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