I just got finished reading “The Tough Work of Improving School Culture” by Brendan Keenan, Ed.D., MSW which was published by Edutopia.org, and it has really stirred my imagination. To summarize, the author discusses the difficulty of shifting school functionality from top-down approaches to innovation and culture improve to bottom-up teacher collaboration approaches. Keenan discusses the bottom-up approach in the context of k-12 schools, but in reality it can be applied to pre-k programming as well.
If the goal of a preschool or childcare center is to be innovative and to provide the most cutting edge learning experiences possible, a bottom-up approach which involves staff members at all levels is the best way of achieving this goal. The bottom line is that administrators don’t have a monopoly on good ideas, and are often removed from the classrooms. Teachers are the educational experts, and we should listen to them.
Keenan argues that one of the best ways to go about improving teacher collaboration in a school setting is through the creation of norms. Norms refer to the informal guidelines utilized for social interaction. Keenan (who is a school principle at Bagnall Elementary School in Groveland, Massachusetts) utilizes the graphic below to convey what school-wide norms should be.
I found this graphic to very helpful in conveying some important pieces to successful teacher collaboration. Collaboration is difficult because there is a social element that requires teachers to be vulnerable, and really put their ideas and thoughts out there for criticism and support. Having norms makes the process of collaboration a bit more predictable. In addition, norms make the process of collaboration more efficient since everyone is operating with the same values and assumptions.
Some things to reflect upon:
- Does your school/child care center utilize norms to help assist in the collaboration process?
- Are the norms openly talked about at your school/center?
- How can we ensure that the goal of increasing student learning outcomes is at the center of teacher collaboration?