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Sustainable Collaboration is a Team Sport

1000x1000_how-to-implement-a-culture-of-collaboration-and-communication (1)There have been many articulate discussions debating the differences between data collection and data analysis.  What do educators actually do with data in each scenario?  To add to the layers of complexity, there are intentional moves to clarify the difference between “teacher collaboration” and “teacher cooperation.”  Who knew!

But based on the current demands of the classroom teacher which includes, but is not limited to identifying symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome, differentiating instruction based on reading scores, learning all the skills needed to deal with difficult adults, using technology seamlessly, personally attaining high levels of education, having a willing involvement in best practice analysis in professional learning communities, showing up for work with a smile and a passion to teach, even though back at home, the toilet is plugged and the washing machine is on the blink.  This is a teacher’s life.  

However difficult it is, over the years, the teamwork approach of Bonneville School District’s faculty proves that the key to sustainability and growth is, to borrow a phrase from Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch,  “to find the bright spots.”   

B.S.D.’s Assistant Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme understands the “shock and awe” of technology for classroom teachers, especially when faced with the “day in the life of a teacher” added on top of it all.

“We try to ‘shrink the change’ by focusing on key indicators and helping teachers to learn about which assessments matter most for instructional decisions. Once-a-year summative assessments are not the most effective way to monitor learning for an individual student. Our  teachers are developing common formative assessments that focus on a few key learning objectives. Using these kinds of assessments frequently provides teachers with timely, specific feedback about which students are getting it and which ones need more time and support,” explained Woolstenhulme.

The book Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School (Teachers College Press, 2012), cites evidence that building “professional wisdom” which co-author Michael Fullan defines as  “Professional Capital,” shows how to demand more of the teaching profession by bolstering  the systems that support the teachers.  This is accomplished through careful, iterative protocols.

“One effective protocol that we have used is a Growth-Achievement matrix, which is a 3 by 3 grid with low, typical, and high growth and achievement groupings. This allows teachers to see which students are low-achieving and low-growing, which is the most urgent group for intervention. Then we find the students who have typical achievement but low growth, which is the next most urgent group, and so on along the matrix. This allows teachers to prioritize the urgency and intensity of their targeted interventions.”

Woolstenhulme also clarifies that the strong practices and continuous improvement cycles are supported collaboratively, and it calls for the development of wise judgement across the board.  

“Our mutual purpose–and the mission of our school district–is to design success for every student. This means that teachers, paraprofessionals, principals, counsellors, and district leadership all have a collective responsibility to work together to design the right instruction, the right assessments, and the right supports to ensure every student learns. We continually work to increase our focus on student learning, to use results to make better instructional decisions at every level, and to continually learn how to improve our efforts.”

So what do educators do with data?  You name it.  It’s done.

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