collaborate (verb) (from Merriam-Webster)
i. to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something
ii. to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor
We are all still getting used to an earlier dismissal time on Friday. As you know, this change in schedule was put in place to create time each week for teachers to meet for collaborative planning. Students’ total time in school remains unchanged (10 minutes longer Monday-Thursday and 40 minutes earlier on Fridays) while teachers’ work time increased by 40 minutes.
Noted educational consultant Mike Schmoker suggests, “Collaboration allows teachers to capture each other’s fund of collective intelligence.” I could not agree more. Lawrence is fortunate to have a faculty that is knowledgeable and skilled. Collaboration time enables us to take advantage of the different areas of strength and expertise among our teachers.
Time is our most precious and limited resource in schools – and time for teacher collaboration is even more limited. In order to make the best use of this precious resource, we began making plans for collaboration time last May. Teams set priorities and developed plans for how they would use both the weekly Friday time, as well as eight after school faculty meetings that we decided to devote to supporting this work.
Here’s a sampling of what teachers are working on so far:
- Planning new mathematics curriculum as we transition to the updated Massachusetts Mathematics Curriculum Frameworks. K-5 teachers, meeting in grade level teams with a math specialists, are planning for changes in content, as well as how to provide an increased emphasis on mathematical practices such as problem solving and communicating mathematical reasoning.
- Reviewing and analyzing data, such as the fall results of the Benchmark Assessment System (BAS) in reading, as well as last year’s MCAS results, in order to plan for students’ individual needs, as well as to identify areas or standards that may need greater emphasis in our curriculum.
- Planning for the implementation of new K-5 science and social studies units.
- Planning Gr. 7 curriculum. Teachers meet with their content area colleagues to ensure that Gr. 7 classes (shared between two teachers) are aligned.
- Revising our Gr. 6-8 portfolios, including varying expectations by grade level and deepening student reflections on their learning.
- Special educators, literacy and math specialists, and ELL teachers participate in the above work with classroom teachers. Special educators also meet together to plan and develop curriculum modifications and accommodations.
- Art, Music and P.E. Specialists reviewed student IEPs in order to understand the accommodations that students need. Specialists who share grade levels also meet to keep their curriculum aligned.
- World Language teachers meet to plan the updated world language curriculum and keep sixth grade (shared by two teachers) aligned. The elementary Spanish curriculum (now in its 5th full year) needs to be updated annually as students move up with more Spanish.
Planning and updating curriculum and focusing on students’ needs are both important reasons for collaboration time. However, there is another advantage related to school culture. In the words of Roland Barth, the retired founding director of the Harvard Principals’ Center, “The nature of relationships among the adults within a school has a greater influence on the character and quality of that school and on student accomplishment than anything else.” I believe that collaboration time can play a vital role in promoting positive and productive adult relationships, as well as supporting the school culture described in our school vision: “A professional learning community that cultivates reflective practice, excellence in teaching, and a passion for learning.” Our students will be the ultimate beneficiaries.