Collaboration. It’s a word we have a lot about, and often believe we do it, but it seems to be more about getting it done than getting it done right. Why? As leaders, we want teachers to collaborate with each other or around our ideas, but we don’t always seem to believe we are a necessary part of the collaboration. We need to move beyond ideas and engage in collaboration with our teachers, students, and families.
We need a deeper understanding about collaboration because it isn’t working to the impact it could.
Kuhn found that, “In individual assessments, performance on the problem a student encountered in the individual condition, and performance on the problem the same student encountered in the group condition, reflected equivalent mastery of concepts.” This isn’t just relevant for students, but for the adults in school as well. In other words, collaboration doesn’t always improve understanding.
One of the reasons why collaboration doesn’t always work as well as doing it by oneself is that adults are too apt to stay in the land of nice. Instead, we need to challenge each other’s thinking. Kuhn says, “More productive collaborations have been identified as those in which participants directly engage one another’s thinking. They listen and respond to what their peers say.” It means building collective teacher efficacy.
Tschannen-Moran & Barr define collective teacher efficacy this way: “Collective teacher efficacy refers to the collective self-perception that teachers in a given school make an educational difference to their students over and above the educational impact of their homes and communities.” It means fostering a school climate where teachers can work around a problem of practice or share best practices with one another.
That level of listening and responding, as well as engaging in other’s thinking, takes strong collaborative leadership. Collaborative leadership includes the purposeful actions we take as leaders to enhance the instruction of teachers, build deep relationships with all stakeholders through understanding self-efficacy (.63) and building collective efficacy (1.57) to deepen our learning together (DeWitt, 2016).
In order to challenge and engage, as well as really listen, we have to establish school climates where leaders empower stakeholders instead of enable them. This is not easy. Huggins et al suggest that any change in leadership style from the norm, “requires both principals and teachers to adopt new roles and responsibilities” (2016. p. 204). In order to adopt new roles and responsibilities and work toward a more collaborative school climate, we need to ponder the following questions.
- Do we really know what collaboration looks like?
- Do we expect people to collaborate and come up with the same end product?
- Do we expect adults to collaborate and come up with the answer we want as leaders?
- Do we go into collaboration as adults, even when we are doing it with students, and expect to learn something in the process?
- Does our school climate support collaboration or compliance?
In the End
Collaborative leadership, for most leaders, is a change in the norm. Many leaders take the job after years of teaching or working as an assistant principal or counselor. They do not always understand what true collaboration looks like, which involves going into professional learning and development with one idea and walking out with a better one. If we do more of that, we will have inclusive and supportive school climates that foster learning on the part of all stakeholders in school, even the school leader.
DeWitt, Peter. (2016). Collaborative leadership: Six influences that matter most. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Fuchs, L. S., Stanley L. Deno, and Phyllis K. Mirkin. (1984). The effects of frequent curriculum-based measurement and evaluation on pedagogy, student achievement, and student awareness of learning. American Educational Research Journal Vol. 21, No. 2, pp. 449-460.
Tschannen-Moran, M., and Marilyn Barr. (2004). Fostering student learning: The relationship of collective teacher efficacy and student achievement. Leadership and policy in schools, Vol. 3, Iss. 3.
Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (2016. Corwin Press/Learning Forward), and the forthcoming School Climate: Leading With Collective Efficacy (Corwin Press/Ontario Principals Council. August 2017). He writes the Finding Common Ground blog for Education Week. Connect with Peter on Twitter.