Several years ago, I participated in an administrator instigated study group that best fit these descriptions from Zepeda (2013, p. 181, Figure 8.1):
- Topic Study Group— members select a book to study and discuss that meets their interest and needs.
- Professional Book Discussion Groups— initiated by a common interest to read a professional book or set of articles.
I found the book group to be beneficial and inspirational, as did many other staff members who participated. The formation of the book discussion groups offered an excellent combination of flexibility and structure that helped them be successful, and even transferred some of the best learning to the rest of the staff. The unfortunate thing is these successful collaborations were not repeated by the administrator again. To me, this was a missed opportunity to continue a successful type of collaboration and learning. I do not think there is a significant amount of resistance to restarting these groups, I just think the staff lacks the energy to get the groups started without some activation energy from the administrator. If I could go back, I would have asked the staff who participated in the book groups for feedback on the process, and then improved and continued it moving forward.
A type of collaboration I would be interested in experiencing that I have not yet experienced is lesson study groups. Zepeda (p. 225) explains that “Working on these study lessons involves planning, teaching, observing, and critiquing the lessons. To provide focus and direction to this work, the teachers select an overarching goal and related research question that they want to explore.” I am most interested in the opportunity to regularly observe and be observed by teammates with the intent of improving our instructional practices and lesson design. One of the biggest barriers to this close mutual observation would be trust and comfort regarding giving and receiving feedback on our efforts with students. A first step in building-wide use of lesson study groups would be to have a couple teachers or a grade level pilot the process, and share their experience with the staff. This could let staff members see how it could work, and what the study group members gained from the process.
With regards to my thinking regarding my school’s current collaboration practices, and its alignment to “best practice”, my thinking has changed a bit. I had appreciated and believed that our administrator provides a decent amount of flexibility in how we collaborate and learn as adults. I now believe that even more flexibility would be beneficial. This is because I see that what works for one group does not work for another. What if several models of collaboration were presented and offered to a staff, and each group chose the one that best fit their needs and the needs they were trying to address with their students? The more self-directed the learning is for a group of highly functioning adults, the more engaged they will be in the process. That said, if the staff in question was not at a “level” that allowed them to take proper advantage of such choice, I (as a leader), would look to implement one model of collaboration after working with an instructional leadership team in the building, and the staff as a whole, to identify an approach that would best benefit the entire group. If the group progressed enough, I would then look to increase the flexibility appropriately.
Zepeda, Sally J. (2013-10-02). Professional Development: What Works . Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.