What Works - Collaboration Works!

Larry Kugler is volunteering in a South African school this month.  This is a reposting of a previously published blog.

The February 2015 issue of Educational Leadership is titled Improving Schools; What Works?” It is chock full of really good stuff. Last week I wrote about Karin Chenoweth’s article that highlighted practices that research says lead to improvement.  This week I want to continue this thread by highlighting another article in this issue by Greg Anrig, “How We Know Collaboration Works.”  Both articles refer to practices that link to effective schools. 

Anrig, in addition to referring to his own set of documented practices, cites two large studies that support the same basic set of practices. The table below summarizes the findings in both articles.  In some cases I’ve quoted from the articles; in others I’ve summarized the findings.  I have not reported all factors cited in each article or study but have included those mentioned multiple times.

What is particularly striking is the similarity in these findings. Four basic sets of practices are noted across these articles:

  • Collaboration
  • Assessment
  • Trust
  • Leadership

 Anrig goes on to provide examples in three diverse school systems that have a history of embracing these practices.

  • Cincinnati, Ohio, a large urban school system, has employed a collaborative model dating back to the 1980s.  They utilize a team-based instructional program and use their most effective teachers to coach their peers.
  • The Springfield, Massachusetts, schools were in such disarray that they were taken over by a board appointed by the state.  From there, a joint labor-management group comprised of union, district and school-board members surveyed administrators and teachers and identified a key area of agreement – teachers needed to be involved in the decision-making process. Simultaneously, collaborative school leadership teams were established to increase parental and community engagement and school-based coaches provided support for the teaching staff.
  • Hillsborough County, Florida, the eighth largest school district in the United States, has embraced collaboration for decades.  This shared decision-making model spans curriculum alignment, test writing, textbook selection, and professional development. With about 57% of its diverse student population eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch, Hillsborough has exceeded expectations and outperformed many other wealthier districts in Florida on the state assessments.

 A telling observation that Anrig makes is that these practices reinforce one another. Schools strong in all five areas he identifies were 10 times more likely to improve than schools weak in most areas.  Conversely, a school’s weakness in even one area could jeopardize progress. The five areas cited by Anrig were:

  • an aligned curriculum and assessment with meaningful teacher involvement,
  • effective professional development,
  • strong relationships among administrators, teachers, parents, and community members,
  • a student-centered approach to teaching and learning, and
  • strong leadership that engaged all stakeholders who became invested in the school improving.

 The thread running through all of this is the importance of collaboration. And providing the bedrock for effective collaboration is trust, mentioned throughout both articles and both studies. 

 OK. I’ll admit right here that Maureen's blog from Tuesday is stuck in my head.  One of her obsessions is “questions.” 

  I guess I’m afflicted with the same obsession, because this emphasis on “trust” has me wondering how do you build trust? Is it simply an outgrowth of collaboration? Are there ways to enhance the building of trust? I can imagine schools where the Culture of Candor flourishes and trust is built and can also imagine schools where it does not thrive. 

 I know this first hand, from both a positive and negative perspective.  On one end of the spectrum, was the director of my division when I moved to the central office.  She would begin a discussion with the words, “We are going to brainstorm so let’s hear your ideas.” Now we know that during brainstorming ideas are just thrown out and not evaluated at that time.  The evaluation of the ideas comes later. However, within moments we’d hear these words from her mouth, “That’s not workable.” I remember one time she replied to the high school ESOL staff member when he suggested an idea, “ You teach high school so you don’t know about elementary instruction.”  Well you can imagine how such comments were received.  They certainly did not build trust. They actually accomplished the opposite, closing down thinking and limiting our ability to solve problems.

However, on the other end of the spectrum, I’ve written before about my experience as a team leader in the elementary school where I got my first job.  The principal would often bring issues to the LT to be discussed, brought back to our teams for feedback and input, and then decided at the next LT meeting.  And these were substantive issues that built trust because everyone knew that his or her voice was being heard.  Our principal also built trust between the administration and the teachers by placing the responsibility in the teams for purchasing materials and deciding on teaching strategies that supported the standards and the curriculum. He was available to give us guidance and he also made clear at staff meetings and in informal conversation what his beliefs were and knowing this guided our work.


So my questions are:

 How do you build trust with your teachers, parents, and community?

What specific approaches do you use that help create this trust?

 What do you do that helps your teachers build trust with their students and their parents?

 Please go to Share Your Stuff and help all IndistarConnect users build more collaborative and trusting Leadership Teams by sharing you practices and challenges.

 Attached is a link to a very interesting YouTube video about collaboration.  It is found in the Teacher Union Reform Network.  Click the Turn Talk page below and scroll down to Turn Talk #7 – Learning To Live Together: Building a Culture of Collaboration Focused On Improving Teaching And Learning.  Particularly interesting is the second half of the Talk ( at about the 21 minute mark) when Dr. W. Patrick Dolan suggests a framework for collaboration that has the potential for building trust in a Culture of Candor. The first half is also worth watching. 

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Paul Axtell

With more than thirty years of experience helping organizations and individuals be more effective, Paul Axtell has honed his insights in executive offices and training programs for everyone from office staff and line workers to managers and team leaders.

A large focus of his work is how to run effective and productive meetings—to turn them from something people dread into useful, productive sessions with trackable results.

Paul is the author of multiple books, including Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, Being Remarkable, and Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids. He can be reached at <a href="http://www.paulaxtell.com">www.paulaxtell.com</a> and via email at paulaxtell@mac.com.
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