Disciplined Collaboration: Allowing Freedom Within Form (Finding Common Ground)


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

This post was originally posted on Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground blog on the 17th of May.


In a recent post, Peter DeWitt reflected on why faculty meetings can often be a waste of time. He provided three reasons:

  • The information could have been provided through an email
  • Staff not involved in constructing the meeting
  • A lack of a focus on learning.

In conclusion, he described how when he was principal he came to the realisation that what was needed was to “co-construct meetings together and focus on learning.” This focus on learning reminded me of a comment from Viviane Robinson’s book Student-Centered Leadership that, “the more leaders focus their relationships, their work, and their learning on the core business of teacher and learning, the greater will be their influence on student outcomes.”

My school has made a significant change this year in regards this, with a focus on co-constructing meetings and learning through the introduction of Disciplined Collaboration.Led by the work of Professor Alma Harris and Dr. Michelle Jones, Disciplined Collaboration in Professional Learning(DCPL) is a model for empowering teachers to own the process of learning.

Many educational initiatives often start out with a clear set of practises in mind. Disciplined Collaboration instead provides a structure for staff to enquire into student learning through the analysis of data, diagnosing teaching and learning issues that students actually face, working collaboratively to build teacher efficacy and then returning to data to measure the impact.

The model is best understood by considering it as three clear stages: collaboration, innovationand impact. Overall, it is designed with the dual role of improving student outcomes and moving professional learning away from the mere acquisition of knowledge and skills, to a more active role of construction and co-construction of professional knowledge.

One of the challenges associated with Disciplined Collaboration is creating the right conditions to support collective inquiry in order to determine success. A part of this is having a clear theory of action, providing staff with the appropriate skills to support collaborative learning, as well as fostering a culture of trust in which accountability for impact is shared. This is all connected with the notion of distributive leadership and the mobilisation of expertise across the board. According to Harris and Jones, the place of formal leadership is to provide meaningful opportunities for informal leadership to prosper.

There are many similarities to other models, such as Professional Learning Communities andCommunities of Practise. However, Harris states, “it does not matter what you call it, what matters is that the collaboration is ‘disciplined’.” If we truly want to make change then we need to be disciplined.

A New Way of Collaborating

Previously, the focus had been on developing a guaranteed and viable curriculum, where students had the opportunity to learn and the time to do it. However, it was found that within this map there was not necessarily enough differentiation in what was being taught. One of the reasons for this is that curriculum and content was set during one day long planning session and then elaborated on throughout the term. The issue was that this presumed that, as teachers, we know what bait fish will be biting in ten weeks time, which is not always the case. So the focus was turned to working in teams to clearly identify both the needs of the cohort, as well as the particular needs of the class.

For example, starting with Fontas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System, the group I am a part of enquired into the results and it was identified that a particular area of need was fluency. So to start with, teachers built focused content knowledge around fluency. It was identified that there are characteristics associated with reading fluency, something that had largely been overlooked up unto that point. With this new knowledge, the challenge then was to take this into the classroom. So a check-list was developed to ascertain where the specific problem lay and go deeper in regards to supporting student growth. Instead of supporting students with every aspect, teachers are then able to pull out particular groups of students for more focused attention.

This change has not meant moving away from the guaranteed and viable curriculum, but to make sure that what is being taught is at the point of need. So although the focus may still be on poetry, this focus was made specific to needs of the students in class. In addition to this, Disciplined Collaboration brings with it an increase in teacher capacity and deeper knowledge of learning taken back into the classroom.

In the End

Clearly, this is a new approach and has a long way to go to being fully unpacked and implemented. However, there are already some discernible changes, in particular, the professional conversations amongst staff, a focus on learning during meeting times and the trust from leadership. Whereas meetings in the past were facilitated by curriculum leaders, teams are now left to enquire themselves, with leaders touching base to check if any support is needed, if not they move onto the next group.

I think that it is important to remember, no one tries to be a poor teacher. A point George Couros made recently. The question then is what disciplined structures are in place to support and empower every teacher to grow professionally? Surely working collaboratively is at the heart of this.


For those interested, here are some additional resources for getting started:

Evidence Based Learning Cycle (Big and Small Media): A great collection of links and resources

Disciplined Collaboration in Professional Learning: An AITSL site dedicated to the project, with a great introduction to the model.

Adapted from the work of Harris and Jones with AITSL. Used with permission from St. Pauls School.


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Are Ideals Really Ideal? (Finding Common Ground)

 
‘Nepal – Embraced by Shangrila’ creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by dhilung: http://flickr.com/photos/dhilung/3904555723
This post was originally posted on +Peter DeWitt‘s Finding Common Ground blog on the 6th of January. It seems with the latest changes to the Performance and Development Process and +Will Richardson‘s message in his #TL21C Keynote to change just 10% of your practise pertinent to repost it here.
Recently, as a part of the Ed Tech Crew Christmas Hangout, +Darren Murphy posed the question, what would your ideal school be? It got me wondering, what does the talk of ideals really achieve?
Often discussions about the ideal school converge with the amalgamation of a diverse range of ideas and practises. Where there is not only a wide range of technology on offer, but it is ubiquitous. Where connections are made around the world. Where students are creators of original content that is published for authentic audiences. Where learning happens in open and flexible spaces, which have the ability to be manipulated to suite a range of needs and purposes. Where teachers are seen as lead-learners, that is facilitators and motivators who help students to manage their own learning. Where learning happens when it needs to happen, not necessarily when it is forced to happen. Whatever is included within this educational cocktail, it can just about be guaranteed that it is not usually found within the dominant status quo.
What was interesting about the responses from the various participants was that no one had actually experienced their ideal school. Although everyone had seen aspects of such learning, with different schools showing strengths in various areas, no one had actually witnessed the magical Shangri-la, that ideal school that encapsulates everything. What then is the purpose of such ideals? If they are lists of attributes that never actually exist in their entirety, what purpose do they serve? Should ideals be our barometer, our measuring stick of success or are they more a point of inspiration, those ideas that drives us towards greater things?
I came upon a great quote in my feed the other day from Rebekah O’Dell who said that, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” I think that this is a really good point. We should never limit our dreams. However, what are the use of dreams and ideals if all they do is set us up for perpetual failure? I am not saying that failure is a bad thing, but surely if there is little hope of success, isn’t it a little counter-productive.
Although it is important to dream and dream big, at some point our efforts need to turn to finding pragmatic solutions for the now. They need to be ideas and initiatives that respond to the problem at hand. Instead of calling for a revolution, our attention should be on how we can evolve education one change at a time.
Sometimes our desire to change education is beyond our means. Whether it be because we are not a part of leadership, there are no funds to support such a change, it does not fit within the school’s annual implementation plan, the list goes on. The challenge for us in this situation is often how we actually respond, just as much as what our eventual response is. Instead of baulking at the challenge, one answer is to break the problem down into its parts. In doing so, it is important to look at what it is that is trying to be evolved and consider whether there is anything that we can do to get one step closer towards our ideal.
Take for example the ideal of the global classroom, an environment where teachers and students connect and collaborate with others all over the world. For some this is a choice out of reach based on various decisions, whether it be because of the policy of the school, lack of resources or the need to get permission of parents. However, what is possible is to create a means to collaborate within school, creating space to share and celebrate outside of the classroom, providing staff and students with opportunity to learn together, whether it be across different year levels or learning areas. Although this may not be flattening the walls globally, it at least flattens the walls locally.
What is important in turning an ideal into some sort of reality is setting goals. A good criteria to support the development of goals is the SMART acronym. That is that the goal is specific, able to be measured, actually attainable, realistic and is bound by time. Associated with this, it is important to make explicit any steps, strategies and speed humps at the start, as well as reflect upon any failures and celebrate the successes along the way.
For instance, last year, having read quite a few people share about the successes associated with project-based learning, I really wanted to trial it in my class. So after looking at all the subjects that I taught, I decided that it would fit best with my Digital Publishing Elective, particularly in regards to the development of the school yearbook. From this point of view, focusing on a certain unit of work within a particular class meant that it fitted with all the different attributes of a SMART goal. In addition to this, choosing a subject where I was the sole teacher allowed me to easily manage the strategies and speed humps, as well as clearly manage the celebrations and reflections.
Not all change needs to be linked to a revolution, take for example +Pernille Ripp‘s fantastic list of simple ideas of how to re-energise the classroom after the break. With the new year having just rolled over, what is your educational resolution this year? What is something that you feel needs to change in education and what steps are you taking to change it?

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