Let’s Bring Departments Together

A major reason for the lack of collaboration in my organization is the psychological separation between departments. Not only do departments section themselves off during faculty meetings, celebrations, PD, etc. they separate themselves by their content areas to the students. My goal is to role-model collaboration to the students by increasing collaboration between departments. Observation Games outlines my proposal to change the way bellwork is being observed at Heritage High School. I would like to change the amount of observations and the way observations take place. My experience with bellwork observations is as follows: an administrator arrives in your room unannounced, observes your bellwork exercise, and places the rubric in your mailbox with a few points circled and maybe a sentence of feedback. I aim to change this practice of  observation using the six sources of influence.

1) Personal motivation: Currently in our district, teachers may earn an infinite amount of compensatory time, but can only use 16 hours over the course of the year, 8 in the first semester and 8 in the second. For a teacher to observe a peer they must give up their valued planning period, so why should they not receive comp time for their efforts to collaborate with their peers? However, the ability to earn comp time does not translate into motivation to earn that time if you cannot use the hours you earn. Therefore, I move that teachers be allowed to use 16 hours of comp time a semester to motivate teachers to complete their observations and participate in the other various methods of earning comp time: chaperoning after-school functions, teacher-parent conference nights, etc.

2) Personal ability: Observations are of no use if they are not done properly. A teacher that views checked boxes of a vague and confusing rubric to receive feedback on their performance may hear the wrong message or feel they were observed unfairly or unjustly. Observations need to incorporate deliberate practice. Teachers should discuss what the observer will be observing in detail (this could happen face-to-face or through email), record meaningful feedback to give back to the observee, and feedback should be discussed between the two teachers and if possible an administrator/3rd party. Teachers will need to know what this practice looks like; therefore, it could be modeled during a pre-planning day or in-service day. Teachers will then have the proper skills to observe each other displayed for them.

3) Social Motivation: This proposal asks teachers to complete more work in an already busy school-year. There will no doubt be an enormous amount of resistance to the idea of more observations and observations of other department members. The way to combat this is to gain support from the teacher leaders within the school. These are not necessarily the department heads. Teachers that are respected within the school must be part of teaching observation skills, and the professional development sessions must include as many teachers as possible to reinforce skills taught and learned. Endorsement of observations by the teacher leaders wipes the dirt off what is an obvious way to better personal skill within the classroom.

4) Social Ability: This is where observation of different department members comes into play. I would argue social ability is the reason teachers stick to their own departments rather than the departments not getting along. It is much more comfortable to socialize with peers that have commonalities through content area, than trying to empathize with peers outside of your content area. Teachers that observe classes outside of their department will come face-to-face with the goings-on of the teachers in their school and build relationships between their peers through noticing similarities and differences that each content area poses. This strengthens the bonds between the teachers and promotes further collaboration.

5) Structural Motivation: Why will teachers want to perform proper observations if improper observations are accepted? My organization uses the professional development platform ProGoe to document peer and administrative observations. This allows the observer to simply check a few boxes, click submit, and move on to the next task. This is an efficient way to document the observations but not necessarily meaningful. While there is a place to write in feedback, I have noticed that many teachers “pride themselves” in accomplishing their observations as quick as possible; therefore, I’m assuming checking boxes is the most used practice. I propose a mandatory write-in piece of feedback for at least one aspect of each of the five dimensions included within the observation.

6) Structural Ability: If teachers are going to be mandated to give written feedback, then they better know how to give proper feedback. The collaboration that happens during the reading or listening of feedback by the observee is arguably the most crucial point of the observation. I, personally, was lost for a week or two after my principal threw me through a loop by giving me feedback for my lesson planning when he only saw the implementation of the plan. Teachers must be instructed on what proper feedback looks like and sounds like. Teachers must also be instructed on how to respond to feedback. This is something that I believe can be accomplished by demonstrations by the teacher leaders during a pre-planning day or in-service day. Teachers are tired of seeing the same PD slideshows every year anyways.

This is going to be a mountain of a hike to accomplish, but by arranging support in the right places and dedicated work it is attainable. Teachers will not easily see the obvious opportunity to better their practices and their peer practices. However, by using crucial moments to demonstrate proper skills and value of observations, teacher leaders to create a bandwagon, and speaking up against those that aim to devalue the change, schools will build a strong culture of inclusiveness and collaboration starting with the teachers and ending with the students.

A Push for Student Growth creates Urgency for Change

The first step in creating change is identifying and outlining the purpose of your change. You must develop a “why,” a “how,” and a “what.” The order that these three stipulations are prioritized can make or break an innovation plan. The most effective plans for change begin with the “why” statement. Members of an organization are more likely to assist in your plan if they believe and support your “why” statement. Therefore, discover why you are attempting to create change and then move to the how and what.

Why = We believe that digital tools and cooperative learning provide an essential element to the learning experience of each student in our school.

How = The educators at our school use 21st century methodology and pedagogy to ensure the students receive the proper tools and opportunities to succeed in their communities after graduating.

What = Our students receive instruction on how to use the tools at their disposal to work through their assignments within the school and the issues that encompass their community.

These three statements come together to clearly describe the school’s mindset for developing positive, progressive citizens. However, these statements cannot be upheld without changes to the school. This creates an urgency to acquire the necessary digital tools for a 21st century classroom, instructional coaches that guide teachers on how to properly use new tools and techniques, and administration that holds each member of the school accountable to the standards set. Each statement is aimed at the hearts of all members of the organization. The statements, together, imply that the school culture is centered around student growth, and, that, is something that reaches every educators heart and personal “why.” Whether  the goal is for test scores to be higher, for the graduation rate to be higher, or the number of graduates attending higher education to be higher, student achievement and growth is at the core of the mission.