Creating a Culture of Collaboration After COVID
As Robert John Meehan so eloquently stated, "The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration, our growth is limited to our own perspectives."
Creating a culture of collaboration, particularly after COVID, requires administrators to look positively at the past school year to identify how we have grown as educators amid a global pandemic as well as opportunities for improvement. Take the time now to reflect and reassess your schools' mission statement, teacher needs, scheduling, and student data. When planning for the upcoming school year, reflect on how your school's daily operations align with the three “big ideas” of a PLC.
Big Idea #1: A Focus on Learning. Begin by reflecting on your school mission statement, which should tell stakeholders how the adults in the school or building are going to support student learning. Too often, mission statements instead focus on student performance. Adults cannot always control students' actions, but as educators, we can set our mission on focusing on how the adults in our school will act to help each child reach their highest potential. Now is the time to review your mission statement and work collaboratively to make certain it is up to date and addresses how the adults will support student learning. When the adults are learning, the students are learning.
It also is important to assess what your teachers have learned through the pandemic. Many teachers learned how to build upon their repository of technical skills to create blended learning opportunities for students. Some teachers may need professional development to deepen their knowledge base as it relates to technology or content. You may have new faculty members that need professional development on the PLC process, common formative assessments, or unwrapping standards. As an administrator, take the time to develop a needs assessment questionnaire for your faculty to guide you in planning your schools' professional development opportunities for the upcoming school year.
Big Idea #2: A Culture of Collaboration. Do you have a plan that fosters a culture of collaboration? Many schools have been entirely remote over the past year, which also meant collaborative time being remote. As schools are slowly beginning to transition back to in-class environments, do you have a plan for those teachers who are returning to their classrooms to plan collaboratively? Take the time now to ensure that you have created school schedules for grade-level, content area, and vertical PLCs, along with a dedicated time and location for collaborative meetings.
Next, reflect on how your teams utilize collaborative time. In a true collaborative culture, successful teams have an attitude of giving up autonomy for the greater good of the team. Do teachers come prepared for collaborative time by bringing their materials and ideas to share best practices and work collectively? Do your teachers arrive with data and operate as "…members of a collective effort to improve the school's capacity to help all members learn at high levels (Eaker, R., DuFour, R., Dufour, R., 2002)”? Teachers working collectively ensure that all students learn at high levels with a guaranteed and viable curriculum across grade and content areas.
At the beginning of the year, have each collaborative team establish norms for their collaborative time to ensure that all teams understand what is expected. As the principal, you might set the tone by having your team create school norms at the first school faculty meeting. Establishing norms helps both novice and veteran team members understand the importance of collaborative time.
Big Idea #3: A Focus on Results. Take the time to review end-of-the-year data for your students and your school. How have your students progressed overall? How are your grade levels or content areas progressing? Are you offering summer learning? If so, assess how the students perform in summer learning. What steps do you need to take to continue their learning trajectory? Decide if you will offer before or after school tutoring opportunities for your students. Do you need to plan for flex time during the day for extension or remediation of the standards? Your student data should give you an idea of how you need to prepare as a leader to help support your students in their learning process.
Above all, one of the best things a principal can do is to show grace to their faculty. Showing grace sets the tone for not only a culture of collaboration but shows that you, as the administrator, care. Keep in mind that people don't care how much you know until they realize how much you care about them. Perhaps as a back-to-school gift, you could give each faculty member a book on self-care. An example is Tina Boogren’s 180 Days of Self-Care for Busy Educators. Dr. Boogren’s book features strategies and techniques that educators can utilize to promote self-care throughout the school year. Creating a culture of collaboration increases teacher morale and student achievement by fostering a community where students and adults are caring, sharing, and learning together.
Boogren, T. (2019). 180 Days of self-care for busy educators. Solution Tree Press.
Eaker, R., Dufour, R., Dufour, R. (2002). Getting started: Reculturing schools to become professional learning communities. Solution Tree Press.