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Enabling Collaborative Teacher Learning to Take Flight

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Lisa Demers

on 25 August 2015

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Transcript of Enabling Collaborative Teacher Learning to Take Flight

of this presentation
In today's educational climate administrators face a plethora of responsibilities and need to harness the power of their team to impact learning.

Professional learning that enhances the competency of staff while impacting achievement provides a powerful synergy allowing administrators to address and meet the specific learning needs in their contextually diverse schools.

It is the intent of this presentation to provide you, as administrators with information to assist you in building collaborative professional learning structures in your schools that encourage all teachers to utilize promising practices.
Enabling Collaborative Teacher Learning to take flight
Before we can learn 'how', we must always start with '
' we do what we do
Establishing a clear learning focus-the
of professional learning
What the research literature tells us about enabling collaborative professional learning
Some key themes emerge in the research literature over the past 15 years regarding the key enablers of professional learning that changes teacher practice.

Establishing a clear learning focus

Building relational trust

Engaging in collaborative inquiry that challenges thinking and practice

Instructional leadership
An everyday challenge for administrators...
How can administrators build collaborative learning structures to encourage all teachers to utilize promising practices?
Establishing a clear learning focus-the
of professional learning
A school improvement agenda that isn't focussed enough often has little impact.

Establishing a learning focus means identifying an evidence based urgent student learning need and recognizing that this student need indicates a teacher learning need which indicates a leader learning need. Leaders need to support what teachers need to learn so that teachers can support what students need to learn.
Remember, the link between teacher practice and student learning is a strong and robust one (e.g., Darling-Hammond, 2000; Hattie, 2009; Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001). If students aren't learning, it raises questions about the efficacy of the teaching practices and subsequently, the learning needs of the professionals involved.
What do we mean by learning?
Researchers define learning as a permanent change in thinking or behavior.

What is the goal of a narrow learning focus?
To ultimately engage in deep professional learning so that classroom practice will change and student learning will improve.

Why is the learning focus narrow instead of broad?
The learning focus must be narrow enough to allow teachers to engage in a professional learning process that works to enhance depth of understanding.

How long should this be the focus?
The narrow learning focus exists for as long as the evidence of urgent student learning need exists. The evidence of the learning need must be derived from analyzing various data sources.

Beware of the '
activity trap'
....doing things that don't lead to acquiring new learning . (Katz, Dack, & Earl, 2009).
The foundation for learning.

The literature is resoundingly clear in the area of relational trust. Successful principals who lead successful schools establish relational trust.

When it comes to growth, relational trust pertains to feelings that the culture supports continuous learning rather than judging how weak or strong you might be.

Principals build collaborative cultures by establishing conditions of:

-offering feedback primarily for growth
-being open about results and practice
Healthy pressure
-setting high expectations
-technical and emotional
Peer supported interaction
s-opportunities to learn from and with each other
(Fullan, 2014)

Building Relational Trust
Two minute reflection break
"Relationality" or relational trust refers to the importance of relationships with those you lead. The author believes that relationality constitutes the essence of everything because nothing can exist in isolation and we need to see those around us as our responsibility. By empowering or disempowering others and ourselves, we grow relationality or diminish it. Leaders in education have a great responsibility to nurture a culture of empowerment or tolerate a culture of disempowerment. In addition, an affirming leader will also build structures, processes and rituals that strengthen the development of community."

Starratt, R.J., (2011). Refocusing school leadership. New York, NY: Routledge. (pp 73-96).
1.Read and reflect on the citation below about "relationality".
Use the questions below to guide your reflection.
2. As a principal, how do I nurture a culture of trust and empowerment with my staff?
3. In what instances do I need to commit more effort to nurturing trusting relationships? Why?
4. With a partner, share your thoughts.

Collaborative Learning structures-the
of professional learning
High-performing schools benefit from leadership that encourages “professional community,” an environment in which teachers collaborate to improve practice, and that broadens the base of leadership to include more than just the principal.
(Louis, Leithwood, Wahlstrom, and Anderson, (2010)
Engaging in collaborative inquiry- the
of collaborative professional learning
Collaborative inquiry is a methodology for moving a learning focus forward. It includes two components:

(working together)
(a search for deep understanding)

The inquiry part of the process begins with a curiosity or a specific challenging issue about learning or learners. The element of challenge is important because learning involves the examination of existing practices and assumptions.
Engaging in collaborative inquiry- the
of collaborative professional learning
Why can't we just keep doing things the way we have always done them?

REMEMBER......people need to know 'why' collaborative inquiry is important as compared to the traditional methods of professional development)...
Professional learning vs professional development
professional learning

implies an internal process in which individuals create professional knowledge through interaction with information in a way that challenges previous assumptions and creates new meanings.
professional developmen
has taken on the connotations of delivery of some kind of information to teachers in order to influence their practice
(Timperley, 2011)
professional development is planned haphazardly;

teachers feel that PD has been "done" to them;

reliable evidence is gathered rarely;

evaluation and assessment procedures are typically afterthoughts;

few professional development leaders engage in evaluation efforts that specifically target the impact of professional development on student learning. Instead, stories and anecdotes shared by dynamic presenters highlight evidence but are not scientifically valid;

school contexts exert powerful influence on the learning agenda;

schools vary greatly, and few “best practices” or strategies will work equally in varying contexts;

professional development that is collaborative and inquiry based will offset the contextual differences in schools;

professional development describes activities or 'doings', but it doesn't describe the extent to which practice or beliefs have changed.
(Guskey, 2009; Hattie, 2009; Katz, 2013; , Supovitz, 2006)
(Katz & Dack, 2013)
Effective professional
is characterized by:
A focus on subject and pedagogical content

Opportunities for active and inquiry based learning

Collective participation in learning

Sustainability over time

Alignment with school and jurisidiction policies

A supportive organizational culture
(Van Veen, K.,Zwart, R., & Meirink, J., 2012)
1. Relevant
Does quality evidence of student learning guide the inquiry?
2. Collaborative
Is teacher inquiry a shared process?
3. Reflective
Are actions informed by reflection?
4. Iterative
Do new understandings grow from cycles of inquiry?
5. Reasoned
Is analysis used to drive deep learning?
6. Adaptive
In what ways does your inquiry shape practice and practice shape your inquiry?
7. Reciprocal
How does your 'local' inquiry
about a practice connect with what others have discovered about it?
The question we are trying to answer should be in the form of a question because humans are
more motivated to answer questions rather than think about issues. (Katz, & Dack, 2013)

7 Characteristics of Collaborative Inquiry
These indications resonate with the 7 characteristics of collaborative inquiry on the next slide.
So....who has to ensure that collaborative learning gets off the ground to take flight?
"The most powerful way that school leaders can make a difference to the learning of their students is by promoting and participating in the professional learning and development of their teachers. The average impact (an effect size of 0.84) of these leadership practices on student outcomes was twice that of any other leadership dimension" (Robinson, 2011).
It is the Principal because...
Teacher Voice matters
Focussed learning
From the ground up approach
Shared facilitation duties
Limited teacher voice
Less focussed
From the top down
Receive information
While there are formal leaders (based on position and title) and informal leaders (those who are leaders based on expertise), it is the Principal
'who' leads
the instructional learning in their school while being learners themselves.
The notion of collaborative learning teams has been part of the educational landscape for years but hasn't always elicited desired results.


Rhetoric has outpaced the research about impactful changes in professional understanding, classroom practice and student achievement.
Poor understanding of the concept of rigorous inquiry into challenges of instructional practice is still approached too congenially to have impact. People engage in learning that seeks to confirm what they already believe, think and know because our brains are wired to think as little as we can. We are 'cognitive misers'. Stanovich (2009)

Fullan (2012) warns that working in isolation does not increase expertise while working together doesn't automatically increase it either. Beware of the trappings of 'contrived collegiality' where administrators mandate 'cozy collaboration' in which there is little focus, intensity and challenging the status quo.
In order to see the kind of professional learning that changes practice, we need to navigate barriers. Navigating through barriers requires intentional facilitation.

Intentional Facilitation

If we don't intentionally structure the process positively, it will structure itself.
Establish protocols or norms as a team if 'necessary'

Collaboratively develop and post agreements regarding the structure of professional learning time:

How do we want to be treated? What will that sound like? What will that look like?
How will we provide opportunities for all voices to be heard?
Abandon the language of resistance
Using a language of theory and theoretical difference takes the disagreement out of the realm of personality and into the impersonal realm of theory and theory evaluation. Depersonalize
practice and CELEBRATE the
diversity of opinions and beliefs.

(Robinson, 2011)
Set predetermined and focussed meeting times
Establish the importance of collaborative learning by setting times. Focussed learning can happen in an hour instead of unfocussed learning in half a day.
Be a 'lead learner' rather than a 'lead knower'
Model a growth-mindset:

Admit what you don't know and give your staff permission to not know "yet". Show them that you are willing to take risks and be vulnerable throughout the learning process.
(Dweck, 2006)
Empower teachers to see themselves as change agents
Teachers need to repeatedly know that they have the ability to impact student achievement. It is the Principal's role to empower and encourage them in their professional practice.
Celebrate learning together.
Use question prompts to shift from 'congenial' to 'collegial' dialogue.
Propose a shared focus or question to centre the work. If we are focussing on learning expectations represented in student work we may ask:

When students understand this, what will it sound or look like?
What are our expectations for struggling students?
What are misconceptions we might expect to see in student's work?
Empower teachers to share facilitation duties
Build capacity in all teachers by sharing the leadership responsibilities. This will perpetuate the importance of the team!
Always end with reflection
Have the group reflect on how the process worked, what they learned and share insights.

This should be done verbally or as an exit card after each session. Let the teachers have voice in deciding this!
Administrators have the ability to build collaborative learning structures that encourage all teachers to utilize the promising practices learned through involvement in collaborative inquiry by:
Establishing a clear learning focus rooted in data that addresses urgent student learning needs;
Building relational trust through the work of learning and intentionally facilitating the learning process.
Engaging in collaborative inquiry which is the vehicle that gives teachers time, voice and opportunities to learn promising practices in collaboration, instead of isolation
Principals supporting teacher learning by creating the conditions through which risk-taking, shared responsibility, challenging the status quo and confronting our biases emerge from open dialogue and discussion
Inquiry is not a 'project', an 'initiative' or an 'innovation' but a professional way of being. (Timperley Kaser, & Halbert, 2014).
Pitfalls of traditional professional
Why me?
Within cycles of inquiry, educators
for real purposes,
meaningful questions; they
take action
rooted in classroom practice; they
on evidence to
what has worked and what has not. In light of these challenges, they
build on
their professional knowledge,
engage with
relevant expertise and research,
existing practices and
new avenues of action. They
"This perspective on learning as a dynamic iterative process that connects educator and student learning helps to counter the view of collaborative inquiry as an event or product, an end in-and-of itself as exemplified in the statement, "we did our collaborative inquiry this month." (Capacity Building Series, 2014)
The promising practices stemming from collaborative inquiry
Read the article by Dennis Sparks and complete the activity on the next slide.
Building a strong foundation
Dr. Steven Katz keeps it real...
Look for contradictory information
By intentionally using contradictory information theory and practices are challenged. Without contradictory information, we are just confirming whatever we know and believe.
Why isn't this as easy as it sounds?
(Katz & Dack, 2013)
Use the assessment tool to reflect on your possible next steps
The principal matters. Teachers want to know that their leader will walk the talk with them and learn with them.
(Supovitz, 2006)
Why isn't this as easy as it sounds?
Keys to success
(Nelson, Deuel, Slavit & Kennedy, 2010)
(Capacity Building Series, 2014)
(Fullan, 2013)
Now go take flight!
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