This fall as my practicum semester I will get to take on the role of a coach. To get prepared, I have been reflecting on what is essential for successful coaching. This ties along with our focus ISTE Coaching Standard: 1 Change Agent. While there are many essentials such as building relationships, and knowing when to move in and out of coaching roles, I chose to focus on the area of collaboration.
In my weekly reading, of Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, I came across a short line that really stood out to me:
“Any coach who is just getting started needs to understand that there is little in the culture of most schools that supports collaboration, risk taking, or innovation.” (Foltos, p 7)
This hit me deeply as an educator. The best teams I have ever worked with have been successful because of our collaboration. We were able to view all the students as our kids, which in turn helped us develop lessons together to help all the students succeed. When one of us failed, we shared it with the group. This allowed us to get ideas and feedback from our peers, which then allowed for growth.
The thought that many schools do not have an overall culture of collaboration is something that needs to change. As a future coach, I can’t expect educators to trust me in sharing their successes and more importantly, their failures if their school does not support a culture of collaboration. With that in mind, my research question focused on how a coach can help cultivate a culture of collaboration in the school(s) they are working in. I want to note that I recognize this is a broad topic and I can’t hope to cover it all in one blog post. What I will go over, is to share the beginnings of what I found in my research and share my thoughts on the ideas shared.
The first article I came across was directed at administration, but the suggestions made are applicable to coaching relationships. There were many ideas and suggestions, but the one I gleaned the most from was transparency. One example it provided had to do with a literacy curriculum. In one instance a principal and superintendent worked with teachers to develop a literacy curriculum. Test scores rose, and it was celebrated as a success. When that principal and superintendent moved on, the new leaders brought in a new literacy curriculum. Teachers were resistant to implement it, and test scores fell. The curriculums had similar foundations, however in one instance it was directed form the top down while the other situation, teachers had a say. By providing transparency in decision making in the first situation the leaders set up teachers for success which in turn trickled down to student success.
As a coach, I can see the applications. When working with another educator, coaches can be transparent in their thinking and information they share. Talking to teachers from the top down will not allow them to be active participants in decision making. Instead, coaches should plan with and work with the teachers. By working with them, and not just talking to them teachers will be more likely to be successful which will in turn provide success for their students.
Another strategy that I read about came in an article about Sammamish High School. In their school, they put a laser focus on creating a collaborative culture in their staff. They created teams that had both educators and administrators. They worked together to make decisions and move forward with their school. One idea that I really enjoyed was that they school made a conscious choice to use the expertise of their staff members to design professional development rather than looking outwards at consultants or district leaders.
This applies in coaching relationships because the educators we work with will be experts in different areas. If we look at them as the experts they are and specifically look for their strengths, we can use them to build each other up. I think this will also help with the connotation coaching has in some school systems. Sometimes it can be viewed as a teacher having a weakness so they have to work with a coach, where instead it could be looked at as coaches working with teachers to leverage their strengths to help them improve in all areas.
- In our age of technology there is a world of educators at our fingertips. Teachers should be encouraged to see what’s out there and gather ideas. One place teachers can look is Twitter.
- Creating critical friends’ groups. Allows for teachers across disciplines to work together voluntarily. It can become a safe place to bounce ideas and team up.
- Celebrate cultural differences. Instead of focusing on negatives with differences in teaching styles or cultures, use it as a learning tool. Different doesn’t mean opposing, so don’t look at coaching or teaching as a “one size fits all”
In this post I have briefly touched on my learnings from my research. The culture of collaboration is a topic that could have several detailed posts. As I move forward with my practicum coaching, I hope to foster a culture of collaboration with the teachers I work with, encouraging collaboration to move outside of grade level teams and encompassing the entire school. If you have any thoughts or ideas that could be used to foster collaboration in schools, share it below!
- Caskey, Mickey and Carpenter, Jan. (2014, October). Building Teacher Collaboration School-wide. AMLE. Retrieved from https://www.amle.org/BrowsebyTopic/WhatsNew/WNDet/TabId/270/ArtMID/888/ArticleID/446/Building-Teacher-Collaboration-School-wide.aspx
- Davis, Lauren. (2020, February). Teacher Collaboration: How to Approach It In 2020. Schoology Exchange. Retrieved from Teacher Collaboration: How to Approach It In 2020
- Dhawan, Erica. (2017, January). How to Create a Culture of Collaboration. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/ericadhawan/2017/01/27/how-to-create-a-culture-of-collaboration/#4d9f407033fe
- Kohm, Barbara and Nance, Beverly. (NA). Creating Collaborative Cultures. ASCD. Retrieved from https://pdo.ascd.org/LMSCourses/PD13OC010M/media/Leading_Prof_Learning_M4_Reading301.pdf
- Foltos, Les. Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin, 2013. Web.
- Sutton, Paul S. and Shouse, Andrew W. (2016, April). Building a culture of collaboration in schools. Phi Delta Kappan. Retrieved from https://kappanonline.org/sutton-shouse-building-a-culture-of-collaboration-in-schools/