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Professional Development
part of the Education Reform Network
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Collaboration Rationale

Download: Collaboration.doc

Some of the most important forms of professional learning and problem solving occur in group settings within schools and school districts. Organized groups provide the social interaction that often deepens learning and the interpersonal support and synergy necessary for creatively solving the complex problems of teaching and learning. And because many of the recommendations contained in these standards advocate for increased teamwork among teachers and administrators in designing lessons, critiquing student work, and analyzing various types of data, among other tasks, it is imperative that professional learning be directed at improving the quality of collaborative work.

Staff development provides teachers and administrators appropriate knowledge and skills regarding group processes to ensure various teams, committees, and departments within schools achieve their goals and provide satisfying and rewarding experiences for participants. Because acquisition of this knowledge and skill has not typically been a part of educators' professional preparation and because leaders often underestimate its importance, it is essential that professional learning focused on helping educators work together successfully be given a high priority. Organized groups usually go through several stages in their development as participants come together, begin to know one another at deeper levels, get clear about the group's purpose and ground rules, surface and address the inevitable conflict that such work elicits, and become effective at performing the group's work in a manner that satisfies both the task and interpersonal expectations of participants. It is important that participants understand that these phases are a natural part of group development and that they be given opportunities to learn strategies for addressing problems that arise along the way. Outside facilitators can be helpful to groups as they navigate these unfamiliar waters.

One of the most difficult tasks of such groups is constructively managing the conflict that inevitably arises when participants discuss their fundamental beliefs about teaching and learning and seek the best ways to improve student achievement. Some schools have managed conflict by steering away from controversial issues or pretending that significant disagreements do not exist. Such "pseudo community" or "contrived collegiality" is a barrier that inhibits educators from speaking honestly with one another about their views on important issues, which is a critical first step in conflict resolution. These candid conversations are essential in reaching consensus on long-term goals and strategies and in finding solutions to the perennial problems of teaching and school leadership.

While collaborative, face-to-face professional learning and work are the hallmarks of a school culture that assumes collective responsibility for student learning, technology will increasingly provide a means for new and different forms of collaboration. Technology will enable teachers and administrators from around the country and world to share ideas, strategies, and tools with one another in ways that will dramatically increase the number of collaborative links among educators. But electronic forms of such work will also present teachers and administrators with new challenges whose outlines are only becoming dimly visible as larger numbers of educators begin to use these processes to strengthen their teaching and leadership practices.

  • Cataloged: Sep-28-2003
  • Country: USA
  • Author/Creator: NSDC

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