Keys points on teacher collaboration between schools

I am a strong believer in teacher collaboration.  I truly believe that teacher inquiry is one of the best ways for teachers to receive effective PD.  Simply put – they are given control of their own learning, something we want our students to do.  Here are some of my thoughts on how to set up a system of teacher collaboration between schools.  This works especially well for small schools where there may only be one teacher per grade.
First, you need principals who truly believe in teacher empowerment.
The basic idea is to put teachers in charge of their own PD.  the feedback I received from teachers  is that this was the most effective PD  they received all year.  This is backed up by a number of articles in the Ontario Ministry of Education Capacity Building Series, Fullan and other authors.
The process has a number of key steps:
1.  Bonding is essential – the first time we did this we had several wine and cheese socials just to get teachers to know each other.  We did this after school and we invited our Superintendent to the first one – always a good idea..  I recommend that this be done before the end of September.   Food is the key so we try to do potlucks to keep expenses down.
2.  Patience is the key!  It can take up to a year before teacher groups really click and real inquiry happens.  The most important point for principals is to stick with it.
3.  Throw in a little PD each time teachers get together.  We started by explaining the whole process and what we were trying to achieve.  We moved on to explaining the inquiry process – the School Improvement Plan (SIP) is a perfect template for teacher inquiry.  We had to reteach this because many teachers struggled with writing inquiry questions and what monitoring looked like.
4.  Let teachers choose their own teams.  Generally, teachers form in grade-level groups, FSL teachers work together as do resource.  We do not determine the groupings and they can change over time.
5.  While we have an umbrella question (digital media), the teachers come up with their own inquiry.  This needs to be determined during the first pd session.  We usually split the staff so that only half the teachers are out at any time.
6.  Teachers are given one half day to use at their discretion.  They usually determine that date on the first day.  At the first PD day we set a final date when the inquiry needs to be done.  We try to use Board PD days if possible to cut down on using our PD budget.  During this day, groups can report on some aspect of their inquiry and use the extra time to plan a second inquiry.  Usually, we can get two inquiries during a school year.  This is usually a very busy day – some groups decide on completely new inquiries, some decide to advance and refine their first inquiry.
7.  Reporting is very important.  Principals develop a Google form or doc that must be completed before the first PD session is over.  We start by making this easy, the questions below are usually used.
I) What is your inquiry question (using proper format)
II) When and where does your group plan to meet and what is the purpose of the meeting (it is really great to have the ‘host’ principal visit with the team when they are at their school).  We then put all these dates on a special Google calendar that is shared with all staff.  We also put together a Google + Page so groups can share their material – this usually takes some time to catch on.
III)  How do they plan to monitor their students to extract some sort of data.
IV) We include space for observations and conclusions, but these sections can’t be filled out yet.
Really important – the principals review the reporting and comment where necessary.  The inquiry question for each group is then transferred to the SIP document.  Adding to the SIP continues all year.
The reporting gets much better over time, but this can take some time and some editing by the principal group.
Basically, that’s it.  This system works best for small schools where there may only be one teacher per grade.  The other essential ingredient is the principal who is responsible for keeping the process going throughout the year.

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